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Gates Does Not Expect to Raise Afghanistan Troop Commitment This Year

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not expect to send many additional troops to Afghanistan this year, beyond the 68,000 already approved.

Secretary Gates told a gathering of soldiers, some of whom may soon deploy to Afghanistan, that the U.S. troop commitment to the country likely will not increase in the near future. But he said he could not make a definitive statement until he sees the 60-day review by General Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

"We'll see what General McChrystal recommends. But I think there will not be a significant increase in troop levels in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000, at least probably through the end of the year. Maybe some increase, but not a lot," he said.

The United States is in the process of nearly doubling its troop presence in Afghanistan as part of the new strategy announced by President Barack Obama in March. The strategy calls for clearing more areas of the country of Taliban and al-Qaida influence, and enabling the Afghan government to begin to provide security, economic development and social services.

The current focus by some of the first additional U.S. troops to arrive is an offensive in southern Helmand Province, which officials say is succeeding in driving out Taliban forces and establishing a long-term presence by U.S., coalition and Afghan forces.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a Taliban commander said he had captured one American soldier in Paktia Province, in the east, and threatened to kill him if U.S. military operations continue. U.S. forces have been distributing leaflets in the region encouraging local residents to help in the search for the soldier.