The United States is sending an additional 1,400 Marines to southern Afghanistan to help counter a Taliban offensive ahead of mandated US troop reductions, a Pentagon official said Thursday.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates had “approved additional Marine forces to southern Afghanistan to exploit and consolidate gains already achieved and apply pressure on the enemy during the winter campaign,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said.
The Wall Street Journal Thursday reported that combat forces could start arriving in Afghanistan as early as mid-January and that commanders were considering an even larger boost of up to additional 3,000 troops.
President Barack Obama last month said the US war plan in Afghanistan was “on track,” but warned that gains won by his surge strategy at a heavy human cost were fragile and reversible.
That assessment came one year after Obama announced both a surge of 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan and the conditions-based troop drawdown beginning in July 2011.
The new Marine deployment is seen as a surprise given the preparations for withdrawals by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, where a war against Taliban insurgents has dragged on for more than nine years, with nearly 2,300 coalition deaths, about two-thirds of them Americans.
US commanders are under pressure to show clear security gains in Afghanistan in 2011 and successfully counter any upswing in Taliban attacks in the spring, lest the Pentagon’s war strategy be seen as flawed.
There are currently some 97,000 American personnel in Afghanistan. Officials said the new Marines would not put the total number of US combat forces above the limit authorized by the president, according to the Journal.