- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The first wave of President Obama’s new Afghanistan surge will add about 16,000 U.S. troops who got their orders over the past few days, the Pentagon announced Monday.

About 1,500 Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina will leave for Afghanistan later this month, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. He would not be precise about when those troops will arrive, but military sources have said the first forces are expected on the ground by Christmas.

After Jan. 1, the Marines will begin sending an additional 6,200 from Lejeune, Mr. Whitman said, and 800 from Camp Pendleton in California.

The Army also will begin sending in the first of its forces - a training brigade from Fort Drum in New York with about 3,400 members. Mr. Whitman said about 4,100 support forces from various places will also deploy early next year.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signed the deployment orders last week. They cover a little more than half the 30,000 additional troops approved by Mr. Obama as part of an overhauled war plan announced last week.

The overhaul followed three months of deliberations about whether and how much to expand an already record U.S. fighting force of about 70,000.

Not covered in Monday’s announcement are the expected deployments of two Army brigades from Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Those and additional training or support units are expected to be announced in a second wave of orders in the coming weeks.

In a related development, NATO allies confirmed pledges Monday for nearly 7,000 additional troops to serve alongside the U.S. forces committed to Afghanistan, amid “clear indications” that even more European reinforcements could follow in coming months.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that a force-generation conference Monday at NATO’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, had confirmed earlier promises of nearly 7,000 new troops.

“I should add that we also have clear indications of additional contributions to come in 2010 that will bring the total contribution by the non-U.S. members of the mission to in excess of 7,000,” he said.

Germany and France have said they would wait for next month’s London conference on Afghanistan before deciding on whether to deploy more forces. The two countries are among the largest NATO contributors, with 3,100 and 4,300 troops respectively, but their contingents are dwarfed by the United States’ 71,000 troops.

The ability to secure additional troops for the escalating war at a time of growing public opposition in Europe is seen as a crucial test of NATO’s relevance as a credible military partner to the United States.

NATO military chief Adm. James Stavridis said he expected a “significant proportion” of the reinforcements to be instructors for the expanding Afghan security forces.

“We are really emphasizing training as the success strategy,” Adm. Stavridis told reporters. “We’re talking to each of the allies and asking them what training capabilities they can offer up, and we’re getting a very good response on that.”

The Afghan army has about 94,000 troops, and is slated to expand to 134,000 next year. The police force numbers about 93,000 members and is also expected to grow significantly.

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