9,000 Marines get ready to deploy to Afghanistan

KABUL — Days after President Obama outlines his new war strategy in a speech Tuesday, as many as 9,000 Marines will begin deploying to southern Afghanistan to renew an assault on a Taliban stronghold that stalled earlier this year amid a troop shortage and political pressure from the Afghan government, senior U.S. officials said.

The extra Marines — the first to move into the country as part of Obama's escalation of the eight-year-old war — will double the size of the U.S. force in the southern province of Helmand and provide a critical test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's struggling government and Gen. Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy.

"The first troops out of the door are going to be Marines," Gen. James Conway, the Corps' top officer, told fellow Marines in Afghanistan on Saturday. "We've been leaning forward in anticipation of a decision. And we've got some pretty stiff fighting coming."

The Marines will quickly be followed by about 1,000 U.S. Army trainers, who will deploy as early as February to speed the growth of the Afghan National Army and police force, military officials said.