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ARLINGTON, Va. — Planners are looking to send more troops to Afghanistan, but they cannot meet commanders’ need for three additional brigade combat teams "without making some very hard choices," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.

"That would require us either drawing down more forces than we have drawn down to date from Iraq, or mobilizing Reserve forces — the Guard, etc. — to do those, to do things of that size," Morrell told reporters Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said officials are working to send additional troops to Afghanistan "sooner rather than later."

Morrell said the Joint Chiefs are looking into the matter, but he did not get into specifics. "I think if it were possible to do this year, we would certainly look to doing it this year, but those are among the things that are being discussed right now: what is possible, what additional forces can be provided and how soon can they be provided?"

Defense officials would not confirm media reports on Thursday that planners will soon give Gates recommendations to send hundreds of extra troops to Afghanistan in specialties such as explosive ordnance disposal, route clearance and aviation.

President Bush has pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan in 2009, but he hasn’t said how many or when they would get there.

Those decisions may be up to the next president, Morrell said at Wednesday’s news conference.

Bush had committed the United States to sending "an unknown but not insignificant" number of U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year, Morrell said.

"How many, whether it’s the three additional brigades that the commanders want, I think, is a question, frankly, for the next administration," he said.

Asked why commanders in Afghanistan were not getting the forces they need, Morrell said the U.S. military is engaged in wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the wider war on terrorism.

"There are multiple demands on our forces," he said. "That’s the reality of life at this point.

"The focus on our efforts clearly has been in Iraq," Morrell said. "[That is] the battleground which Osama bin Laden identified as the central front in their war against us; the place in which they sought to set up a foothold for their caliphate that would reach into Europe. That has been the focus of the terrorists’ efforts; therefore, it has been the focus of our efforts."

U.S. efforts to train Iraqi security forces have led to a shortfall of trainers in Afghanistan, where a March 2007 request for 3,400 additional trainers has gone largely unfilled.

With recent successes in Iraq, the U.S. military has the "luxury" of being able to add troops to Afghanistan, Morrell said.


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