WASHINGTON – It will be left to the next administration to decide on any sizable troop increase for Afghanistan, the Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday.
U.S. commanders in the nearly seven-year-old war have been asking for three combat brigades, or roughly 10,000 more troops, to help confront increasing violence in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that officials have been looking for ways to send additional forces as soon as possible — likely in smaller units and fewer than commanders want.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told a news conference Wednesday that the decision on how and when to meet the request for the larger amount is "a question, frankly, for the next administration," which will be chosen in November's presidential election.
His comment came as President Bush was arriving at the Pentagon for a briefing by top military leaders.
Bush has made the five-year-old war in Iraq the Defense Department's top priority, and defense officials have been candid about the fact that the focus on Iraq has meant fewer troops and other military assets available for the campaign in Afghanistan.
"That is the war which we have focused on," Morrell said of Iraq, asserting, "That is the war we are now winning."
Officials have said that if improved security conditions in Iraq hold, they hope to be able to devote more troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban is resurgent following its ouster by the U.S.-led invasion of late 2001.