U.S. commanders in Afghanistan now believe they need about 20,000 additional troops to battle a growing Taliban insurgency, as demands mount for support forces such as helicopter units, intelligence teams and engineers critical to operate in the country's harsh terrain.
The troop requests, made in recent weeks, reflect the broader struggles the military faces.
Fighting has intensified, particularly in the east, where attacks are up and cross-border infiltration of insurgents from Pakistan is on the rise. U.S. troop deaths in 2008 are higher than in any other year since the conflict began in 2001.
The Pentagon has approved the deployment of one additional combat battalion and one Army brigade, or about 4,000 troops, set to arrive by January.
Commanders have already requested three more combat brigades – 10,500 to 12,000 troops – but those reinforcements depend on further reductions from Iraq and are unlikely to arrive until spring or summer, according to senior defense officials.
Now, U.S. commanders are asking the Pentagon for 5,000 to 10,000 additional support forces to help them tackle the country's unique geographic and logistical challenges.
Insurgent violence is escalating in Afghanistan, where the toll in U.S. troop deaths has reached 150 this year, in contrast to 117 for all of 2007. Overall attacks in the country are up about 25 percent from January to October this year, compared with the same period last year, according to ISAF data.
“The Afghanistan insurgency has gotten significantly more intense,” said Michael Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations, who is working on a Bush administration review of Afghanistan strategy.