1,400 More U.S. Troops Headed to Afghanistan

U.S. Private Timothy Goldsmith (C) from 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat, 101st Airborne Division uses a mine detector to search for Improvised Explosive Device's during a walking patrol near the village of Khesrow Olia in Arghandab Valley of Kandahar Province, Jan. 3, 2011.
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Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to send 1,400 more U.S. Marines to the front lines in Afghanistan ahead of an anticipated Taliban offensive in the spring, reports CBS Radio News correspondent Cami McCormick.

A senior Pentagon official confirmed the relatively small troop increase, which was first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal. The official wouldn't give specifics, but told CBS News it was, "safe to say (the Marines) will be on ground this month and will be focused in south."

According to the report in The Journal, that number could double by the spring to 3,000 additional American forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

The officials say the influx of troops will be focused on Kandahar province -- where the American military has focused its fight in recent months. The decision to send another 1,500 troops later in the winter or early spring could come down the road, sources told The journal.

CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan

Gates' decision is a clear indication of the ongoing difficulty American forces and their allies in Afghanistan face in combating Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants. Some security advances have been made during the autumn and winter months, but commanders know those gains could be reversed as insurgents flood back into the country from Pakistan as the weather warms in the spring.

President Obama has ordered U.S. commanders to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.

The Journal reports that, in addition to the added boots on the ground, commanders also seem to be shifting the duty of the American forces already in place, with some assigned to training Afghan troops being taken off that task and returned to front line fighting.

When Obama approved the 30,000 troop surge for Afghanistan, he also approved a 10 percent clause which would allow the Pentagon to put in as many as 3,000 more troops without coming back to the White House for permission. Half of that number were already allocated. So, the 1,400 increase this month would appear to be the balance of that 10 percent clause.

Although it won't require congressional approval, the decision to send more American men and women directly into harms way, just months before they're due to start coming home, may raise some eyebrows among Mr. Obama's critics in the now-Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and renew debate about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Retired Army Maj. Mike Lyons, a CBS News military analyst, predicts, however, that the new deployment number is "too low for the president to really suffer any kind of political backlash."

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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