In an unannounced move, US President Barack Obama is dispatching an additional 13,000 US troops to Afghanistan beyond the 21,000 he announced publicly in March, the Washington Post reported on Monday. Also, Japan’s defense minister has said Japan will discontinue refueling support for US forces.
The additional forces are primarily support forces — such as engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts and military police — the Post said, bringing the total buildup Obama has approved for the war-torn nation to 34,000.
“Obama authorized the whole thing. The only thing you saw announced in a press release was the 21,000,” a defense official familiar with the troop-approval process told the daily.
The report, posted on the newspaper’s Web site late on Monday, came as Obama weighs a request from the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for more combat, training and support troops, with several options including one for 40,000 more forces.
However, the newspaper noted that the maximum number of US service members expected in Afghanistan by year’s end — 68,000 — would remain the same.
Major deployments of support troops have not been publicized by the Pentagon and the White House in the past. When former US president George W. Bush announced a US troop increase in Iraq, he only mentioned 20,000 combat troops and not the accompanying 8,000 support troops.
The troop increase approved by Obama brought the level of US forces deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters to a total greater than during the peak of the surge in Iraq in late 2007 and early last year.
At the start of this month, some 65,000 US forces are currently in Afghanistan and about 124,000 in Iraq, compared to around 26,000 US troops in Afghanistan and 160,000 in Iraq at the height of the Iraq surge, according to a troop count by the Post.
Meanwhile, Japan will end its refueling mission in support of US-led operations in Afghanistan when its legal mandate expires in January, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said yesterday, a month before Obama visits Washington’s close Asian ally.
“The law will expire in January. We will solemnly withdraw based on the law,” a ministry official quoted Kitazawa as telling reporters.
It is the clearest statement so far by Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s new government, which has pledged to take a diplomatic stance more independent of Washington, that it is set to end the nearly eight-year-old mission.
The mission supplies fuel and water to US and other ships policing the Indian Ocean for weapons and drug smugglers as well as terrorists.
The previous Liberal Democratic Party administration, during whose tenure the operation began, was trounced in an August election by Hatoyama’s Democratic Party, which had opposed the mission in the past.
US ambassador to Japan John Roos said this month that Washington was open to discussing alternatives, which Japanese media reports have said could include job training to help Taliban fighters re-enter civil society.
It was unclear, however, whether Kitazawa had spoken out of turn. Hatoyama’s government has had trouble establishing a clear line of command concerning who articulates decisions since taking office last month on a platform that promised to put politicians, not bureaucrats, in the driver’s seat on policy.
On Monday, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told reporters in Islamabad it would be difficult to submit a bill to extend the mission to an extra session of parliament that begins later this month, Kyodo news agency said.
“I think Minister Okada made his remark in the sense that that there may not be enough time for the law to be submitted in the extraordinary parliament session, and that is where we stand at this stage,” a senior foreign ministry official said.
“But the government has not necessarily reached an agreement on whether there could be some sort of law to take care of it before the Jan. 15 expiration,” the official said.
Okada, on visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan this week, pledged continued support for Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts and has repeatedly said that Tokyo would not “simply” extend the mission, but he has declined to elaborate on what that means.
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