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ARLINGTON, Va. — Now in the 12th month of its deployment to Afghanistan, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division will be extended for up to 120 days, the Defense Department announced Thursday.

The extension comes after Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent visit to Afghanistan, after which Gates said he was open to commanders’ request for more troops.

No other units in Afghanistan are slated to be extended at the moment, a senior Defense official said Wednesday.

In a separate move, a battalion with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division that had been sent to Afghanistan to temporarily boost forces will be heading back to Fort Polk, La., the official said.

Recently, the outgoing commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan said he had asked for permission to extend the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, but the official said the unit will return to the United States to reconstitute itself with the rest of the brigade combat team.

There are currently 24,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan serving alongside about 22,000 NATO troops, according to the Defense Department.

The extension of the 3rd BCT is meant to, “Provide military capability for NATO to maintain the initiative and build upon the success achieved in promoting stability and security, while denying safe haven for the Taliban,” according to a Defense Department news release.

But Taliban attacks against coalition forces have risen sharply since Pakistan signed a truce with Islamic militants in the border area of Waziristan in September.

Since then, Pakistan has raided suspected Islamic militant hide-outs, such as an October airstrike against a religious school in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Still, between 2005 and 2006, the number of attacks on coalition forces per year more than tripled, from 1,500 to 5,000.

Despite the surge in violence, the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was called away from providing air support to coalition forces in Afghanistan to be part of the U.S. Navy presence off the Horn of Africa.

A second carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, has been dispatched to the U.S. Central Command theater of operations.

More aidAfter the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion, the Bush administration is preparing a series of military, economic and political initiatives aimed partly at pre-empting an expected offensive this spring by Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

Even as it trumpeted a change of course in Iraq this month, the White House has also completed a review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

It will ask Congress for $7 billion to $8 billion in new funds for security, reconstruction and other projects in Afghanistan as part of the upcoming budget package, officials said. That would represent a sizable increase in the U.S. commitment to the strife-torn country. Since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, the U.S. has provided a little more than $14 billion in assistance for Afghanistan, the State Department said.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.


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