ARLINGTON, Va. — About 4,500 troops from the 101st Airborne Division have been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan to maintain U.S. troop presence in that country, Defense officials said Wednesday.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team and division headquarters with the 101st are expected to arrive in Afghanistan in early 2008 to replace elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

The 101st paratroopers’ missions will include counterterrorism missions, assisting with reconstruction, and training and equipping the Afghan security forces, he said.

The deployment shows the Department has decided to continue its decision to increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan to two combat brigades, a Defense Department news release says.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided to boost U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan after increased fighting in 2006, which saw roadside bomb attacks double in certain parts of the country.

In February, the Defense Department announced that the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team would deploy to Afghanistan instead of Iraq.

There are between 25,000 and 27,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, Defense and NATO officials said.

The troops with the 101st are not the 3,400 trainers that commanders in Afghanistan have requested to help train Afghan police officers, Whitman said.

In March, Defense officials said commanders had asked for the extra trainers to embed with Afghan police.

So far about 200 troops have been ordered to go to Afghanistan to fill the need for police trainers, Whitman said.

“The department continues to determine how to further support the request for additional trainers,” Whitman said. “We’re also working with our NATO allies and partners to see what they can do to provide more trainers also.”

There is no time line to fill the entire request for trainers, he said.

The trainers are critical to coalition efforts to develop the Afghan National Police, said Army Maj. Sheldon Smith, a spokesman for Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.

Initial coalition efforts to build the Afghan security forces focused on the Army, Smith said.

“Now it’s time to turn attention to police because the police in many areas are the first line of defense, especially in a lot of the provinces and districts, they — in many cases — end up engaging with the Taliban first.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up