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With Afghan Plan Under Fire, Pentagon Issues First Deployments

December 7, 2009 at 3:55 PM EDT
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More than half of the 30,000 additional soldiers President Obama will send to Afghanistan received their deployment orders Monday, despite lingering questions over a planned drawdown beginning in 2011.
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JIM LEHRER: Thousands of U.S. Marines and soldiers got ready to go to Afghanistan, while, at the same time, NATO defense ministers discussed their contributions to the cause. Judy Woodruff begins our report.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sixteen thousand U.S. soldiers and Marines have begun getting their formal orders to join troops already on the ground in Afghanistan. They account for more than half of the 30,000 reinforcements being sent to the war zone by President Obama.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, Joints Chiefs Chairman: And I’m extremely confident we can succeed in this mission, in great part because of you. But I don’t underestimate the challenge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, visited soldiers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, this morning. It’s home to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which had orders to return to the fight even before the president’s announcement.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN: I am sure that we will sustain an increased level of casualties. I expect a tough fight in 2010.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Mullen briefed some of the 8,000 Marines who will be part of the first wave of this coming surge.

The lead contingent, 1,500 Marines, will leave Lejeune before Christmas. They will be followed by 6,200 more from the base after the first of the year. In addition, 800 Marines from Camp Pendleton, California, will head over come spring. And the Army will send around 3,500 troops from the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, New York.

The 30,000 total in-bound Americans will be joined by at least 6,800 NATO troops. In Brussels today, defense ministers from 25 of the 44 nations in the alliance confirmed the pledges they made last week.

Meantime, another U.S. ally visited the White House today for talks with the president. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan now has nearly 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, largely deployed in and around the capital, Kabul.

The timetable for when American troops leave Afghanistan also remained an issue. Mr. Obama announced last week that a drawdown would begin in July 2011.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton elaborated on the Sunday talk shows.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. Secretary of Defense: This is a transition that’s going to take place. And it’s not an arbitrary date. Obviously, the transition will begin in the less contested areas of the country. But it will be the same kind of gradual, conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Those conditions will be determined in part by the readiness of Afghan security forces. Training them is a linchpin of the president’s strategy.

But there was another reminder today that much of the fight remains beyond Afghanistan. Synchronized bombings in a marketplace killed at least 36 people in Lahore, Pakistan, near the Indian border. A massive fire engulfed parts of the Moon Market during its busiest time of the day. And, hours earlier, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border.