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Pentagon Denies Report of 'Unannounced' Troops in Afghanistan

By Al Pessin
13 October 2009

The Pentagon says a Washington Post story claiming it is making an "unannounced" deployment of 13,000 additional troops to Afghanistan is inaccurate.

A Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Dave Lapan, says the Post story itself notes that the 13,000 support troops are within the overall maximum authorized by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

"The story confirms that 68,000 is still the number. So nothing is missing. Nothing is hidden. The 13,000 doesn't somehow increase from 68 [thousand] to above that. So we've consistently said by the end of the year, on the current glide path, 68,000. And as the story acknowledges, that's where we'll be," said Lapan.

He explains, as Pentagon officials have in the past, that the deployment of major combat or training units always requires the deployment of additional support troops. The support troops perform a variety of functions such as mine clearance, equipment servicing, construction, air support, medical services and many others.

When President Obama took office in January, there were about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Within weeks, he approved a Pentagon request for an additional 21,000 combat and training troops, plus support units. Shortly afterward, officials made public that the support troops would number up to 13,000, bringing the overall total to 68,000 by the end of the year -- a doubling of the deployment from when he took office. The 68,000 figure has been widely reported ever since.

Again, Colonel Lapan.

"The sense that there are somehow 13 [thousand] that weren't authorized or that are somehow new, well then that would make the 68 [thousand] number go up by 13,000, wouldn't it? But it's not," Lapan said.

The Pentagon says there are now about 65,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with more on the way in the coming months. There are also about 39,000 troops from other NATO and coalition countries.

President Obama and his national security team are considering a request from his new commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for a substantial number of additional troops. The official number is secret, but news reports say the general wants about 40,000, possibly more.

The request is controversial, not least because with the U.S. troop level in Iraq expected to remain around its current 120,000 for at least several more months, the strain on the U.S. Army is considerable.

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