Asia Crisis

US military chief still expects Afghan troop boost

FORT DRUM, N.Y., Feb 9 (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer said on Monday he still expects to send up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, even though the Obama administration is reviewing its war strategy.

Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said providing security had to be the bedrock of any effort to stabilize Afghanistan, where insurgent violence has risen dramatically in the past two years.

But he also said he did not foresee the U.S. troop increase going beyond the extra 20,000 to 30,000 requested by U.S. Army General David McKiernan, the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

"It is not possible to win this, or succeed in Afghanistan, militarily alone," Mullen said at a town-hall style meeting with soldiers at Fort Drum, a military base in New York state that is home to the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division.

"But the military side of this is a necessary condition, without which success can't be generated," Mullen added.

"The commander on the ground has asked for additional forces and meeting those requirements against the overall strategy is something that I have an expectation ... to get directed to do," he said.

The United States has 37,000 troops in Afghanistan and its NATO allies have around another 30,000 military personnel there, battling the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to devote more troops and other resources to Afghanistan.

But he has not ordered more forces there since taking office on Jan. 20 and his administration is conducting a review of Afghanistan policy, due to be concluded by early April.

Officials have said troop deployments could be announced before the review is complete but the new administration wants to be sure it is up to speed on the issues before it sends forces into harm's way.

Some extra forces requested by McKiernan have already deployed, or were ordered to do so, under the Bush administration.

The largest element of the buildup so far, the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, deployed last month.

But the NATO commander has also asked for another three brigade-size combat units -- which typically have around 3,500 troops each -- and a host of support forces.

Mullen said any troop increase must be accompanied by more U.S. civilian experts to improve governance and development in areas that have been cleared of insurgents.

"It's got to be met with a commensurate surge from the other agencies, particularly the State Department," he said. (Editing by Anthony Boadle)