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More US troops for Iraq, Afghanistan

Published Mar 12, 2007 12:00am

WASHINGTON, March 11: US President George W. Bush is sending 8,200 more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan on top of reinforcements announced earlier, the White House said.

In a letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives, made available to the media on Sunday, Mr Bush asked Congress for an additional $3.2 billion to pay for the new reinforcements.His new plan calls for sending 4,700 more troops to Iraq and 3,500 troops to Afghanistan.

The extra troops are in addition to a 21,500-troop build-up that President Bush announced for Iraq in January.

There are currently around 141,000 US troops in Iraq, including the first deployment of soldiers after the January announcement.

The budget revisions come as many US lawmakers opposed to the build-up are debating funding for the war.

Most of the 4,700 troops meant for Iraq will be used to provide support to the US combat brigades already deployed there and to handle more Iraqi prisoners.

US authorities believe that they may have to hold more prisoners as they expand their efforts to curb violence and strengthen their control over Baghdad.

Additional troops for Afghanistan will be used to accelerate training of local forces, doubling President Bush’s previous troop increase to fight an expected spring offensive by the Taliban insurgents.

President Bush’s decision to send more troops to the two war zones coincides with reports in the US media that the Pentagon is struggling to choose Army units to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan longer or go there earlier than planned. Five years of war have made fresh troops harder to find.

Faced with a military build-up in Iraq that could drag into next year, Pentagon officials are trying to identify enough units to keep up to 20 combat brigades in Iraq. A brigade usually has about 3,500 troops.

The likely result will be extending the deployments of brigades scheduled to come home at the end of the summer, and sending others earlier than scheduled.

“In Iraq particularly, the moves could fuel suspicions that a troop increase initially described as a temporary ‘surge’ may grow larger and last longer than predicted,” the Washington Post commented on Sunday.

The latest surge in US troop presence in Iraq goes against the mood of the new Democrat-controlled Congress which is trying to set a 2008 deadline for withdrawing American troops from the Arab country.

President Bush aides said this week that the president would veto any move to set a deadline, but Speaker Pelosi blasted the threat as indicating Mr Bush’s desire to continue an unpopular war.