WASHINGTON —Officials say President Obama is nearing a decision to add tens of thousands more forces to Afghanistan, though not quite the 40,000 sought by his top general there, as Pentagon planners work to make room for the influx.
Administration officials told the Associated Press on Monday that the deployment would most likely begin in January with a mission to stiffen the defense of 10 key cities and towns.
An Army brigade that had been training for deployment to Iraq that month may be the vanguard. The brigade, based at Fort Drum, in upstate New York, has been told it will not go to Iraq as planned but has been given no new mission yet.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, meanwhile, said Obama would meet again Wednesday with key members of his foreign policy and military team but was unlikely to announce final plans for Afghanistan until late this month, when he returns from an extended diplomatic trip to Asia.
Gibbs said the Pentagon is "working on additional recommendations" to present to Obama and that Obama has made no decision on troop numbers, or even on what the ratio should be between combat troops and trainers.
Several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been made also said a substantial increase in troops is all but inevitable, but the precise number is less important than the message that an expansion and refocus of U.S. commitment in Afghanistan would send.
It soon will be three months since Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal reported to Obama that the U.S. mission was headed for failure without the addition of about 40,000 troops.
The officials dubbed the likely troop increase "McChrystal Light" because it would fall short of his request. They also said addition small infusions of troops could be dispatched next spring and summer.