WASHINGTON (AP) - The military is beginning a big building effort in Afghanistan to house the roughly 20,000 additional troops who are expected to begin pouring in early next year, a top military officer said Friday.
Maj. Gen. Michael Tucker, deputy commander for operations for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters that military leaders are anticipating a "very active winter" of insurgency attacks.
And while he provided few details, he said there is a "very huge building campaign that has already begun. We're pushing dirt as we speak to prepare for the arrival of these forces."
He could not quantify the number of buildings or contractors involved, but said the military has done several in-depth studies over the past month and a half to determine exactly how many buildings, helicopter pads, dining facilities and even latrines will be needed.
U.S. defense officials have said they will build up the number of forces in Afghanistan as soon as they are able to free up troop commitments in Iraq. Commanders in Afghanistan have said they need four more combat brigades, along with thousands of other support forces, including intelligence, surveillance, aviation and logistics personnel.
One combat brigade is expected to arrive in Afghanistan in January, but the other three have not yet been identified.
According to defense officials, the 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, based in Hawaii, is expected to go to Afghanistan early next summer, but that unit will replace one that is already there and is scheduled to leave. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the final orders have not yet been signed.
Tucker said at least some of those extra forces will be Marines, but he would not say how many or when they might arrive.
Officials balk at likening the impending troop escalation in Afghanistan to the surge in Iraq that is credited in part for the decline in violence there. But some of the goals are the same.
Military leaders say they need to improve security and tamp down the stubborn insurgency in the more rural regions of the country, so they can reach out to the populations there. That strategy mirrors the counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, where troops pushed into difficult neighborhoods to clear out militants, and maintained the security long enough for governance to take hold and reconstruction and repairs to begin.
In Afghanistan, however, the population if more far-flung, in rural communities that stretch up into the rugged mountains - where passage in the winter is sometimes impossible.
More troops are needed in order to get to some of those more remote locations, Tucker said.
He also repeated assertions that U.S. and NATO forces are prepared to fight on aggressively through the winter - a time when insurgent activity has historically slowed due to the harsh weather.
This year, military leaders have said they cannot relax and allow the enemy to rebuild during the cold months.
"We anticipate a very active, a very active winter," said Tucker, adding that forces will press to attack the insurgency in its safe havens - largely in the mountain border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. "We see no change in our operation. And if he wants to continue to fight through the winter, we'll be here to fight him."
He added that the U.S. and NATO troops have already stepped up their counter-narcotics operations - an agreement that was reached by allied defense ministers at a meeting in Budapest earlier this year.
Some allies, he acknowledged, are reluctant to participate in more aggressive operations, but are contributing in other ways, such as helicopter transportation, medical evacuations and intelligence gathering.
There are currently 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 with the NATO-led coalition and 18,000 training the Afghan security forces and fighting insurgents.
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