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Marines await word on deployment

Troop assignments not yet clear
In a little noticed development last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered 2,500 to 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan as soon as possible to meet imminent threats from roadside bombs.


MARK WALKER | Posted: Monday, September 21, 2009 8:00 pm

Gates was responding to a request from the overall U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for more bomb disposal and route clearance teams, medical rescue units and intelligence specialists. All are needed to combat the rising use of roadside bombs, the No. 1 troop killer in Afghanistan.

Which troops are getting those assignments remained unclear Monday. But as military officials and the Obama administration debate the next steps in the fight for Afghanistan, more local Marines and sailors are preparing to be sent to the front lines.

Maj. Eric Dent, at Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon, said it is unclear if more Marines will get the call to join the more than 11,000 leathernecks already in Afghanistan.

"We still don't know if the Marine Corps is going to get tasked with this or not," Dent said.

Camp Pendleton officials also said they were awaiting word to see if some of the immediate needs McChrystal has identified will be filled by Marines and sailors from the base.

Camp Pendleton's 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment has been deployed in the country's volatile Helmand province since the spring.

More than 200 members of the base's 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion are heading to Afghanistan in the coming days to take over management of special forces missions in western and northern Afghanistan.

By year's end, the U.S. is expected to have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, along with 32,000 from NATO countries. The U.S. now has about 62,000 troops there.

The additional 2,500 to 3,000 anti-roadside bomb troops are not expected to increase the troop level beyond the 68,000 now authorized because McChrystal has indicated he may send a like number home.

But military advisers have been suggesting in recent weeks that a troop surge is needed to tame a recalcitrant insurgency. President Obama is weighing that option, among others.

Several thousand Camp Pendleton Marines and sailors will be aboard ships in the Middle East in the coming weeks as the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit sails from San Diego in the next few days.

Throughout the height of the Iraq war, local troops on similar cruises were often ordered into battle. That could happen to the 11th MEU troops if President Barack Obama orders a buildup beyond the already approved 68,000.

So far this year, 211 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan compared with 155 total U.S. deaths in all of 2008, a figure that was the highest annual death toll since the war began in fall 2001