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Gates Signals Openness to Adding Troops in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Thursday he would be open to sending more troops to Afghanistan, despite mounting questions on the war.

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    Pentagon leaders today sought to shore up support for the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan. They said the new strategy needs more time, and they left the door open to asking for more troops.

    NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our lead story report.


    After nearly eight years, 738 American deaths, and a record number of U.S. forces now on the ground, today's Pentagon briefing focused on a still-secret assessment of the war now being reviewed by President Obama.

    It was authored by General Stanley McChrystal, overall commander in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the report shows the fight is not going well, but he rejected calls to pull out.

    ROBERT GATES, U.S. Secretary of Defense: I don't believe that the war is slipping through the administration's fingers. And I think it's important — first of all, the nation has been at war for eight years.

    The fact that Americans would be tired of having their sons and daughters at risk and in battle is not surprising. I think what is important is for us to be able to show over the months to come that the president's strategy is succeeding.


    That strategy, begun last spring, sent another 21,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan. But casualties also have been rising, with two more Americans killed in a bombing today.

    Currently, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan stands at 62,000 troops. It's set to reach an all-time high of 68,000 by the end of the year. Still, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, said today it's not the size of the force, but how General McChrystal uses it.

    ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: It should come as no surprise to anyone that he intends to use those forces under his command to protect the Afghan people, to give them the security they need to reject the influence the Taliban seeks.

    Now, you have heard me talk for much of the last two years about Afghanistan. You know how much I remain concerned about the situation there. There is a sense of urgency. Time is not on our side.


    Admiral Mullen conceded, it's up to Congress to go along with a request for more troops, if the president and McChrystal ask for them.


    Congress will respond as — as they see fit with respect to that. I'm very aware of the debate. I'm raised — I'm a Vietnam veteran. I'm raised in a country that — that actually cherishes that debate. That said, from a military perspective, again, we have a mission that we're doing the best we possibly can to carry out.


    U.S. leaders also are dealing with allegations of gross misconduct by private guards at the American Embassy in Kabul. Gates today was guarded in his response.


    I don't think we have the information to — to be able to say what ought to be done. But, if those allegations are true, those activities are not just offensive to Afghans and Muslims; they're offensive to us, and — and inexcusable.


    The secretary did say he plans to give President Obama his own assessment of the overall situation in Afghanistan early next week.