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The Pentagon may deploy an additional 3,400 Marines to Afghanistan this spring to conduct combat operations and train Afghan troops.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is studying a proposal that would bring in the Marines for a seven-month tour, beginning around April, according to military officials. Fighting in Afghanistan — where a resurgent Taliban has NATO officials requesting more troops from alliance nations — historically picks up when the winter snows begin to thaw.

The additional Marines, made up of combat aviation and infantry units, would not be replaced when they leave after seven months. Defense officials would not say where the Marines would come from, other than to say that they would not be retasked from Iraq.

Most of the Marines would be sent to the south, where they would bolster the British, Dutch and Canadian troops fighting there. Some of the Marines would be used as trainers for Afghan troops.

A Defense official told Stars and Stripes on Thursday that about 2,200 of the Marines would be involved in combat operations, with 1,200 training Afghan forces.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman, said the proposal would officially be submitted to Gates on Friday.

“The secretary is going to want to think long and hard about it before he approves it, because it involves a serious additional commitment of U.S. forces,” Morrell told The Associated Press.

There are currently around 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan; around 15,000 of them fall under the command of NATO, which is the overall command for the 42,000 foreign troops in the country.

NATO and American officials have pleaded with alliance nations for months to send more troops and equipment to Afghanistan, where violence picked up in 2007.

According to news reports, the proposal is supported by Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, has requested an additional 7,500 troops from the alliance. McNeill was unavailable for comment Thursday, a spokesman in Kabul said.

The spokesman referred questions on the proposal back to the Pentagon.

A NATO spokesman in Belgium said, “We are aware of the reports of discussions in the United States with regard to the possible deployment of more U.S. forces to Afghanistan.

“Any decision by a NATO-ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) nation to increase its capabilities in theater would be welcome,” the spokesman said. “The requirement for in-theater air transport of equipment remains, and NATO will continue to implement the decision to lease helicopters to meet this requirement.”

In March, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told reporters he expected the Corps would “absorb a good chunk” of the request for training teams, but he did not expect to see a significant increase in the number of Marines in Afghanistan due to the difficulty in getting equipment there.

“It’s easier for Army units to fall in on the Army equipment that’s there as opposed to us occasionally putting a battalion in place,” Conway said later at a May 17 news conference. “So in that instance and in conjunction with the plus-up that took place, we simply could not provide another battalion.”

Since then, a Marine Expeditionary Unit that was part of the “surge” in Iraq has left Anbar province, and two battalions that were also part of the surge will not be replaced, meaning more Marines are available for Afghanistan, a second military official said Thursday.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.


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