The Army, stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wants to spend nearly $3 billion extra to accelerate its expansion of the active-duty force, Army Secretary Pete Geren said Thursday.

Geren said he has discussed the proposal with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and expects a decision soon.

In an interview with a group of reporters, Geren also said it was possible that even while five Army combat brigades are withdrawn from Iraq between December and July, the number of non-combat troops there could stay the same or even increase. He stressed that he was not predicting any particular level of support forces in Iraq in 2008 but also was not assuming the number would be lower by then.

It has generally been assumed that the number of support troops in Iraq would decline next year as part of the plan announced by President Bush earlier this month to withdraw five combat brigades by July.

In January, when Bush announced his intention to send five extra combat brigades to Iraq in a change of war strategy, he also approved a plan to increase the size of the Army by 74,000 soldiers over five years. The rationale was that the Army needs to get bigger in order to sustain a long-term commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan without wearing out the troops and alienating their families.

The Marine Corps also is expanding for the same reason.

Geren said the Army now sees a need to accelerate its growth plan, as strains on troops continue to mount. He said the Army estimates it will cost an extra $2.7 billion to $2.8 billion — mainly in added personnel costs — to accomplish the 74,000 increase in four years rather than five.

"We have concluded that we could expedite the growth by a year, and that would reduce stress on the force," Geren said.