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Afghanistan Troop Increase 'To Start In Two To Three Weeks'

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the first deployments of a 30,000-strong "surge" announced by President Barack Obama will start arriving in Afghanistan in 2-3 weeks.

Speaking before a Senate committee in Washington, Gates said American reinforcements "will be deployed and concentrated in the southern and eastern parts of the country." He said the surge would last 18-24 months.

"The goal of the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qaeda and to prevent its return to both countries. The international military effort to stabilize Afghanistan is necessary to achieve this overarching goal," Gates said.

"Defeating Al-Qaeda and enhancing Afghan security are mutual reinforcing missions. They cannot be untethered from one another, as much as we might wish that to be the case."

The defense secretary also said the United States has asked NATO allies to offer 5,000 to 7,000 additional troops for the mission in Afghanistan, and to help more with training Afghan security forces.

He added that the goal of starting to transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces in mid-2011 is "critical, and, in my, view achievable."

Gates, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mike Mullen, the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate committee to build support for Obama's plan to send 30,000 more U.S troops to Afghanistan.

The deployment will bring U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000 soldiers.

Obama's announcement of the deployment came following a three-month review of U.S. strategy in the Afghan war, which was launched in late 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America that were blamed on the Al-Qaeda network.

compiled from agency reports