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Pentagon: Strain on US Forces is Key Issue in Request for Marines for Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer says he would like to be able to send 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan, as regional commanders have requested. But he says senior leaders are concerned about the impact the deployment would have on already-strained U.S. ground forces. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Admiral Mike Mullen says Defense Secretary Robert Gates hosted a meeting of top commanders Friday morning to discuss their request, but he says no decision was made. The admiral indicated the request might have already been granted except for concern about the stress the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put on U.S. forces at their current deployment level.

"The strain on the force is something that's front and center in my mind all the time, and all the leadership. If we had these forces readily available, I think we would have decided earlier. That is a really tough situation. And at the same time, we believe that additional forces in Afghanistan can have a big impact. It's the mission versus the strain, very specifically," he said.

Admiral Mullen says the American general who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeil, attended the Pentagon meeting. U.S. officials have pressed NATO allies to come up with the extra forces needed in Afghanistan, but Secretary Gates indicated last month that he has come to believe they just might not be able to. Secretary Gates has said he will decide soon on whether to send the 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan, adding to the 27,000 U.S. troops already there.

Admiral Mullen also told a news conference Friday he is very concerned about al-Qaida's continuing presence in Pakistan, just across the border from Afghanistan. He says the safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas has "a significant impact" on the situation in Afghanistan. But the admiral says it is up to the Pakistani government and military to address the problem. He says U.S. commanders are working with the new chief of Pakistan's army, General Ashfaq Kiani, to find ways to address the problem.

"We're looking for additional ways, or different ways, to address this. That's not going to happen overnight. And he's a brand new chief and he just took over. But I know his concern is [the same] as ours," he said.

Admiral Mullen says the urgency has increased as al-Qaida has turned its attention to fomenting violence inside Pakistan as well. He says the United States is ready to help Pakistan fight al-Qaida, but he says any direct U.S. military action inside Pakistan would be determined by the Pakistani government.