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Why McChrystal may not get more troops for Afghanistan

The pace of the drawdown in Iraq and an effort to expand soldiers' time at home could limit troop availability in the short-term.

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If the top commander in Afghanistan asks for more US troops to accomplish the mission there, he will encounter a Pentagon that is reluctant to green-light the request.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that Gen. Stanley McChrystal is free to ask for whatever he thinks is needed for the mission. But should the general ask for tens of thousands of more forces, as some analysts involved in his Afghanistan assessment have suggested, those troops may not be available right away.

Mr. Gates indicated as much Thursday when he said that providing more forces to Afghanistan in the near term would be a challenge because the drawdown in Iraq won't begin substantively until early next year.

"Until the more accelerated drawdown in Iraq begins after the elections there, it will be a challenge for us, and particularly as we seek to increase the dwell time at home for our forces," Gates said at a briefing at the Pentagon. "Dwell time" is the amount of time troops spend in the US between deployments. It gives the soldiers time with their families and helps ease the strain of long deployments.

Gates has made lengthening that time at home a priority as he manages demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. Asked if dwell time was more important than the mission in Afghanistan, Gates said, "I think you have to balance these things."

The defense secretary has authorized the Army to expand by 22,000 soldiers in order to have a big enough force during the drawdown in Iraq and the surge in Afghanistan. But that will take time, leaving a potential shortage in the short-term.

For now, no demand

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