The Pentagon is preparing to send at least 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan in April to bolster efforts to hold off another expected Taliban offensive in the spring, military officials said yesterday.
The move represents a shift in Pentagon thinking that has been slowly developing after months of repeated insistence that the U.S. was not inclined to fill the need for as many as 7,500 more troops that commanders have asked for there. Instead, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pressed NATO allies to contribute the extra forces.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday that a proposal will go before Mr. Gates tomorrow to send a ground-and-air Marine contingent as well as a Marine battalion — together totaling more than 3,000 forces — to southern Afghanistan for a "one-time, seven-month deployment."
Mr. Gates, he said, will want to review the request and is not likely to make a final decision tomorrow.
"He will take it and consider it thoroughly before approving it," Mr. Morrell said. "I just want to get people away from the idea that this is going to be imminently approved by the secretary."
He said Mr. Gates "has some more thinking to do on this matter because it's a serious allocation of forces."
Mr. Morrell added that Mr. Gates' thinking on the issue has "progressed a bit" over time as it became clear that it was politically untenable for many of the NATO nations to contribute more combat troops to the fight.
"The commanders need more forces there. Our allies are not in the position to provide them. So we are now looking at perhaps carrying a bit of that additional load," the spokesman said.
Mr. Morrell said the move was aimed at beating back "another Taliban offensive," which is expected this spring — as has occurred in previous years.
When Mr. Gates was in Afghanistan last month, commanders made it clear that they needed the additional forces.