Nearly 1,000 U.S. civilians will be stationed in Afghanistan by the beginning of 2010, the special envoy for the region said Monday, suggesting the slow-moving "civilian surge" is finally picking up steam.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters the administration is seeing gains both in the number of civilians assigned to the war zone as well as the duration of their tours.
"We are dramatically increasing our personnel," he said. "This is an extraordinary increase."
The so-called "civilian surge" had gotten off to a slow start after President Obama called for a "dramatic increase" in U.S. civilians in Afghanistan in March. As of August, no more than 100 civilians had been sent to the country. The civilians were expected to help with everything from agriculture to business and provide a critical counterpart to the increased troop presence in Afghanistan.
Holbrooke, speaking after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned from her first trip to Afghanistan as secretary, said Monday that the administration expects to have 974 civilians in Afghanistan by early 2010, up from 300 earlier in the year. He said most of the civilians were on six-month tours when the administration came into office, but that those tours have been eliminated.
"More and more people are signing up for lengthier tours," Holbrooke said, adding that the civilians' spouses have also been encouraged to move to Afghanistan, in turn making longer tours possible for some officials. "It's a very large increase, proportionally larger than the military."
Holbrooke said more civilians will head to Afghanistan next year.
Holbrooke is among the top diplomatic and military officials expected to attend a strategy session Monday night with President Obama, his ninth session on Afghanistan with his national security team.
The president is weighing whether to approve a request for tens of thousands more U.S. troops to the war zone.