The Pentagon says orders to deploy additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan may not be issued until after a White House strategy review is completed. Previously, officials had said the troop deployment orders would come soon, regardless of the conclusions of the strategy review.
It was just last week that Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell confirmed what he had said before, that regardless of what strategy President Obama adopts for Afghanistan, more troops will be needed to improve security.
"My understanding is that whatever decision is made, on additional forces for Afghanistan, will likely take place in advance of the conclusion of the strategy review that this White House has undertaken on Afghanistan," said Morrell.
Morrell also said the logistics of sending tens of thousands of troops half-way around the world would require those decisions before the White House review is completed, which could be several weeks or more.
But another Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said Monday the strategy review and the troops deployment decision are being conducted in "parallel" and that "time will tell" which is completed first.
"There is certainly a fairly unanimous understanding that some level of force increase is necessary in Afghanistan. How much? When? All those things, those are being looked at. But is it conceivable that you could have some announcements about deployment orders, additional forces going into Afghanistan, before the strategy review is totally completed? Sure," he said. "Is it possible that we might not have those announcements until the strategy review is completed? Sure."
Whitman called weekend news reports of a delay in the troop deployments "fundamentally misinformed." The reports, including one in the Times of London, said President Obama decided to hold any deployment announcement at least until the strategy review is farther along.
Whitman said there was never a firm date for the deployment announcement, which many observers had expected last week. But at the same time, Whitman acknowledged he was being less "definitive" on the timing than his colleague Geoff Morrell has been in recent weeks.
And while the White House review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is continuing, Whitman also said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has not changed his view of the need for about 10,000 more U.S. combat troops and thousands more support troops to be sent there this year, in addition to several thousand who have already arrived.
"There has been no change to what the secretary has characterized in the past in terms of what we believe is not only necessary, but also the timelines in which he remains hopeful to provide some of that capability," said Whitman.
The United States has about 36,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the further deployments could bring the number to about 60,000. U.S. officials have signaled that the Obama Administration, will continue to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy, trying to improve security, move to local control and reconciliation, and promote economic development. But they also say some broader Bush administration goals, such as establishing a western-style democracy and society, may be put aside, at least for the next several years.