U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says there is still no plan to send additional U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan, even though he has said he would like to do so "sooner rather than later."  VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Two weeks ago, Secretary Gates said officials were "working very hard" to figure out which additional U.S. combat forces could be sent to Afghanistan to deal with increased violence during the current summer fighting season.  At a news conference on Thursday, he said no such forces have yet been identified, but he did not rule out getting additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan before the fighting season ends.

"I'm just saying that we're still working through it and I haven't received any recommendations yet from the chiefs [of the military services] or from the Central Command commander," he said.

Secretary Gates did confirm that a small number of U.S. troops may be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming weeks to work in particular specialties, such as disposing of explosives and helping with civilian development and governance projects. 

"The numbers are not significant.  At most, a couple of hundred, maybe," he said.

For a larger force of combat troops, Secretary Gates is waiting to see a formal recommendation from military leaders.  And he says any major deployment to Afghanistan will have to await recommendations on future troop levels in Iraq, which are expected in September.
Earlier in the week, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell indicated that while there is concern about increased violence in Afghanistan, officials do not see the situation as "desperately urgent." 

"Though the situation is serious and the commanders need additional troops, there is not the sense in this building among military planners, among the civilian leadership, that the situation is desperate, precarious or urgent.  It is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed," he said.

According to the Defense Department, July was the first month in which more U.S. troops died in Afghanistan than in Iraq.  The department says nine died in Iraq, but five of them died in accidents and other non-combat events.  In Afghanistan, 20 U.S. troops died in July, four of them from non-hostile causes.  The Afghanistan total includes nine troops who were killed in one insurgent attack on a remote outpost.