Fort Drum Troops Face More Time in Afghanistan Soldiers based at Fort Drum, N.Y., were supposed to returng this weekend from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. But the Pentagon has extended their stay for several months to meet a new challenge from the Taliban.
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Fort Drum Troops Face More Time in Afghanistan

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Fort Drum Troops Face More Time in Afghanistan

Fort Drum Troops Face More Time in Afghanistan

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Even as opposition grows to a surge in Baghdad, there's a push for more troops into Afghanistan.

Lieutenant General KARL EIKENBERRY (U.S. Army): It's going to be a violent spring, and I would expect that we'll have more violence into the summer.

MONTAGNE: That's Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. military official in Afghanistan, speaking last week as he gave the new secretary of defense a tour of the region.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon agreed to Eikenberry's request for more troops to handle the growing violence there. What that means for the 3,000 soldiers in the Army's 10th Mountain Division is they won't be returning home as early as they thought. Their combat tour is being extended for up to four more months.

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us on the line now.

And Tom, give us the details on that.

TOM BOWMAN: Well, what we're seeing is extending the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division by up to four months. Now these troops were supposed to come home to Fort Drum, New York, starting this week. Now they'll be extended well into the spring. And what Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry is doing is he's trying to increase the number of troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban over in Afghanistan. He's seen more attacks in the past 12 months than in 2005. And these troops will be right along the frontlines with the border in Pakistan.

And what you're seeing is a lot of the Taliban fighters and al-Qaida fighters leaking over the Pakistan border into Afghanistan, and a lot more violence in the southern part of the country and western part of the country, in the more remote areas. So these troops will be used to try to tamp down that increasing violence, particularly when you see it starting in the spring.

MONTAGNE: Will this move in Afghanistan lead to a buildup there? Of course, most of the troops there now are NATO troops and that's a big issue, right?

BOWMAN: That's right. You know, they wanted more NATO troops, and they're unable to get them. Some of the combat troops are coming from England and Canada, but some of the NATO countries are not sending in combat troops: France, Germany, Spain and Turkey.

MONTAGNE: I mean, they're sending those troops, they're sent up in areas where there's really no fighting going on.

BOWMAN: Exactly. That's right. Most of the fighting, of course, is in the southern part of the country around Kandahar. We have a lot of Canadian troops. And along the border with Pakistan is where you see a lot of the sharp fighting. But again, some of the larger NATO countries have not been willing to send in combat troops.

MONTAGNE: And this push for more troops in Afghanistan is interesting, because it's quite different than the Iraq situation. There are calls from sort of all sides of the political arena to get more troops there.

BOWMAN: That's exactly right. You know, for example, Hillary Clinton has called for more troops over in Afghanistan. And I think there's a concern that a lot of the gains that they've made over the past five years in Afghanistan could be lost if they don't send enough troops in.

MONTAGNE: But that also that more troops would actually help?

BOWMAN: Exactly. There's a belief that they will help. That they can get this violence under control and tamp it down particularly in the south, in western parts of the country where you seen an up-tick in violence.

MONTAGNE: Now you've been embedded with units serving in Afghanistan and also Iraq. What happens when they get the word that they're not coming home?

BOWMAN: Well, it's very hard on families, and particularly young soldiers and their families. They're not used to these extensions. They haven't spent a lot of time in the military, so it's very, very difficult on them. The older soldiers, they're almost used to it. A few of them told me that, you know, I'm not going to believe I'm at home until I'm actually hugging my family. So in the back of their minds, they're always expecting some sort of an extension at the end.

But again on the younger soldiers and families, it's very, very difficult. And also in a place like Fort Drum, many people in the community, you know, work at the Fort, it's a huge part of the community. So it really affects the whole region with something like this happens.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tom Bowman.

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