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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. military could send more troops to Afghanistan ahead of schedule, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

"I think that we are clearly working very hard to see if there are opportunities to send additional forces sooner rather than later," Gates said at a news conference. "No decisions have been made; no recommendations have been made."

Asked if he was looking at extending tours or deploying troops before they have a full year of dwell time at home, Gates said planners are looking at a variety of options on how to respond to the situation in Afghanistan.

"I have sought assurances that there will be no return to longer than 12-month deployments, so that’s not something that we are considering, and I am not aware of any plans to extend anybody beyond the extensions that have already taken place," he said.

This April, President Bush committed to sending more troops to Afghanistan but he did not say how many or when they would arrive.

Officials have said that an increase in troop strength in Afghanistan would be conditioned on further drawdowns in Iraq.

Gates said additional troops would make a "significant difference" in the situation in Afghanistan.

"There is no question that the absence of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border is creating an opportunity for more people to cross the border and launch attacks," he said.

He also said the Pakistanis need to do more side of their border to combat militants.

"The bottom line is this: We’re seeing a greater number of insurgents and foreign fighters flowing across the border with Pakistan, unmolested and unhindered," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also at Wednesday’s news conference.

Mullen, who recently returned from Pakistan, said all sides must do a better job of policing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and eliminating insurgent and al-Qaida safe havens.

"The border there is a really critical issue that we’re going to have to solve, certainly that’s a message that I delivered to each of the leaders that I visited in Pakistan, and it has to be solved sooner rather than later," he said.


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