WASHINGTON – A deployment order signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (search) went out Wednesday night for 700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division (search), who will head to Afghanistan (search) as a "very public display of U.S. solidarity" during the historic elections there, FOX News has learned.
Several senior military officials said Thursday morning that the 700 — roughly a battalion — will be on the ground in advance of the Oct. 9 national elections, and will stay in Afghanistan for some 30 to 45 days at the most. The aim of the deployment of a unit such as this one — "crack troops," as one senior official described them — is to patrol populated areas and provide "visible, static security."
"This is a symbolic gesture by the United States to an ally that is on the verge of free, Democratic elections," one senior official said. "We want to show our goodwill and commitment."
Senior defense officials said the unit, already trained for the mission, had been on standby for quite some time and could be on the ground in short order. More troops could follow if needed, one official said.
The troops are not expected to participate in any offensive operations, however.
"They are there to be seen," an official told FOX News. "One more battalion isn't going to make much of any difference for operations other than election security."
NATO is said to be preparing to bolster its own forces in Afghanistan in advance of the elections.
FOX News' Bret Baier and Ian McCaleb contributed to this report.