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US May Double Troop Presence in Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer says the United States may double the number of troops it has in Afghanistan next year. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, says as many as 30,000 more troops could arrive by mid-2009.

Admiral Mullen told reporters in Kabul the additional troops may reach Afghanistan in spring or summer, to join the 31,000 U.S. troops already there. "Some 20- to 30,000 is the window of overall increase from where we are right now," he said.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, has asked for at least four more brigades, or about 20,000 troops. Many of the incoming personnel are being shifted from Iraq. Admiral Mullen says the first of those brigades is expected to arrive in January. "An additional brigade, of the four brigades that are required out there, but an additional brigade that six months ago was not identified had been re-missioned and will show up in Afghanistan next month," he said.

General McKiernan requested the additional troops to fight a rising Taleban insurgency. Admiral Mullen acknowledges that violence in Afghanistan has been increasing, and he says having more U.S. troops there will help reduce the violence, so the Afghan people can work on developing their government and economy.

"Clearly the violence level in 2008 was up. The Taleban and extremists are more sophisticated, more effective. They have not won any battles, but they have certainly increased the level of violence. And we are very focused on that, and that is why the additional forces are so important, to be able to provide security for the Afghan people so these other areas can be developed," he said.

One reason for optimism, Admiral Mullen says, is the increasing level of cooperation from the Pakistani army with U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. He says troops on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are making progress in slowing the influx of Taleban and other insurgents into Afghanistan. "And it has really disrupted the flow of insurgents across that border. We are not where we need to be. We need to be coordinated and synchronized on both sides of that border - but the Pakistani military has been committed to that, and has done that in recent months, and it has had a positive effect on reducing the insurgents that have crossed that border," he said.

Admiral Mullen plans to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Sunday, and visit Afghan government leaders on Monday.