WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2009 - President Barack Obama has ordered a Marine expeditionary brigade and an Army Stryker brigade combat team -- totaling 12,000 Soldiers and Marines -- to Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signed the orders today. The Soldiers are part of the 2nd Infantry Division's 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Lewis, Wash., and the Marines serve with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Of the 12,000, 4,000 are Soldiers and the remaining 8,000 are Marines. Both units will deploy later this spring.
This is the president's first deployment decision. "There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm's way," Obama said in a written statement released by the White House. "I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action."
The president's decision is for up to 17,000 servicemembers to deploy. The 5,000 other Soldiers and Marines are "enabler forces," Defense Department officials said. These troops generally deploy in smaller units and cover such necessary capabilities as engineers, command and control, communication, intelligence and military police.
The deployment partially fulfills the request that Army Gen. David D. McKiernan made upon taking command in Afghanistan last year. McKiernan is the commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
"General McKiernan's request is months old, and the fact that we are going to responsibly drawdown our forces in Iraq allows us the flexibility to increase our presence in Afghanistan," the president said.
Both units had been slated to deploy to Iraq. They will be based in Regional Command South, Defense Department officials said.
Obama called the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan "resurgent," and said the groups threaten America from safe havens along the Pakistani-Afghan border.
There are 38,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan and about 19,000 other troops from 42 different countries.
"This reinforcement will contribute to the security of the Afghan people and to stability in Afghanistan," Obama said. "I recognize the extraordinary strain that this deployment places on our troops and military families. I honor their service and will give them the support they need."
The president said the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. The deployment is aimed at stabilizing the country. The 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team was the most recent reinforcement to Afghanistan. The Fort Drum, N.Y.-based unit has begun operations in Regional Command East.
In addition, the 82nd Airborne Division's Combat Aviation Brigade based at Fort Bragg, N.C., will deploy to Afghanistan later this spring. Aviation assets are needed in the rough terrain of Afghanistan.
McKiernan has asked for another brigade combat team, or its equivalent.
The White House is conducting a strategic review of the situation in Afghanistan. "This troop increase does not predispose the results of that strategic review," Obama said. "Instead, it will further enable our team to put together a comprehensive strategy that will employ all elements of our national power to fulfill achievable goals in Afghanistan."
The president said any move the United States makes will be done in consultation with friends and allies.