Obama orders thousands of U.S. troops to Afghanistan

17/02/2009 - 22:47

By Andrew Gray

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, in his first major military decision, has authorized the Pentagon to send an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan to tackle worsening insurgent violence, the White House said on Tuesday.

"This increase is necessary to stabilise a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said in a written statement.

As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to focus more attention on the war in Afghanistan, where Taliban militants and other insurgents have stepped up their campaign of violence in the past two years.

"The decision was communicated to the Pentagon yesterday. The orders were signed today," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters travelling with Obama in Denver.

The 17,000 troops include an Army brigade equipped with Stryker armoured vehicles, a Marine expeditionary brigade and support personnel, officials said.

The forces are part of an anticipated U.S. troop build-up that could expand the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to 60,000 troops, from a current 38,000, in coming months.

There are also some 30,000 troops from NATO nations attempting to stabilise Afghanistan.

The announcement comes while the White House is still conducting a broad review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan.

The deployment provides two of three extra combat brigades requested by top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Army General David McKiernan.

Most of the extra forces are expected to be sent to southern Afghanistan, where a shortage of U.S. and NATO troops face an intensifying Taliban insurgency.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington and Caren Bohan in Denver, editing by Vicki Allen)

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