Afghanistan is the top priority for U.S. military leaders in re-allocating forces as they become available, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told about 500 airmen here yesterday.
â€œIâ€™m short of forces right now in Afghanistan,â€ Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said. â€œBut as we continue to come down in Iraq, I have options with my forces, and my first priority, in terms of what I do with those forces, is Afghanistan.â€
Commanders in Afghanistan have requested an additional 25,000 troops to help in fighting terrorism and improving governance and essential services for the Afghan people, Mullen said.
Some 20,000 U.S. forces are on tap to deploy to Afghanistan in the coming months, including an Army brigade â€“ about 3,500 soldiers â€“ from 10th Mountain Division in January, Pentagon officials said. The additional forces will bring the U.S. troop strength there to more than 50,000.
â€œOne of my biggest concerns is balancing the overall requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan,â€ Mullen added, noting that forces in Iraq recently shifted from 15 brigade combat teams to 14, with 101st Airborne Division soldiers redeploying without replacements.
The forces included in the Afghanistan troop increase range from infantryman and engineers to medics and aviators, and are Marines as well as soldiers, Mullen said.
â€œWe have to focus on all the enabling capabilities,â€ the admiral said. â€œThose enabling capabilities are medical and aviation — principally helicopter support — [and] engineers, and we are pushing all of those forces very hard as well.â€
As forces decrease their footprint in Iraq, the Defense Department can improve â€œdwell timeâ€ at home stations between deployments. The Army recently shortened its deployment rotations from 15 months to 12, with a year at home stations. The Marine Corps has been rotating seven months deployed and seven months at home for most of the war on terror, Mullen said.
Many servicemembers have deployed to the Middle East as many as five times, Mullen added. That type of stress on the force and their families has concerned the Defense Department for some time. The Army is trying to grow by 65,000, while the Marines hope to boost their numbers by 27,000 to increase time at home between deployments, he said.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to build some dwell time at home,â€ Mullen said. â€œWeâ€™re going to have to figure out a way to increase our dwell time, and thatâ€™s the balancing act weâ€™re in right now.â€
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service