The United States has extended the tours of duty of 3,200 troops in Afghanistan and plans more than US$8 billion in aid for the country in a drive to halt a Taliban resurgence, officials said on Thursday.
The troops from the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, were due to complete a year-long deployment next month, defense officials said. But their tour has been extended by up to 120 days, the Defense Department said in a statement.
With more than 4,000 people dying in violence, last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban hard-line Islamist government in 2001 in response to the September11 attacks on the United States.
U.S. commanders have said they expect the Taliban to try to increase the level of violence again in spring. Fighting in Afghanistan traditionally subsides in the winter but picks up again after the snows melt.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week on a visit to Afghanistan that he was sympathetic to requests by U.S. and NATO commanders for more troops.
By keeping in place both the brigade and the soldiers who have arrived to replace them, commanders can significantly boost the size of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, most of whom form part of a NATO force charged with stabilizing the country.
"This extension will provide military capability for NATO to maintain the initiative and build upon the success achieved in promoting stability and security, while denying safe haven for the Taliban," the Pentagon said.
The U.S. administration also plans to ask Congress for more than US$8 billion in aid, a senior official said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to provide an exact amount for the budget request but said it was "very substantial."
"We believe that our approach is going to reinforce the successes we have had in Afghanistan. There are still challenges," McCormack told reporters.
The troop increase comes as U.S. President George W. Bush is also sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq in an effort to contain an insurgency and sectarian conflict. Critics including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democratic presidential hopeful, have urged Bush to focus instead on bolstering forces in Afghanistan.
There are some 24,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including both those whose tours are being extended and those originally intended to replace them, defense officials said.