Washington, Nov.27 : US President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to send at least 20,000 more US soldiers into Afghanistan in a "surge" similar to the deployment in Iraq. The Telegraph said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has been asked to stay on in the post, has supported Obama's move.
Gates is a strong believer in an Afghan surge, which would not only put thousands more boots on the ground but involve negotiations with malleable branches of the Taliban.
It would also aim to boost co-operation with Iran and Pakistan where some elements have supported the anti-Western insurgency.
There are already 32,000 American troops already serving in Afghanistan, and the fresh deployment is seen as important because of the presidential elections to be held in Afghanistan in September 2009.
"The most important objective for us for 2009 in Afghanistan is a successful election," he said at a meeting of defence ministers from the eight countries fighting in southern Afghanistan.
"One of the things we talked about was trying to surge as many forces as we can prior to the election, to try and provide a secure environment for the election," he added.
Gates added that he wanted to send another three brigades of combat ground forces and an aviation brigade, beginning as early as next spring.
A Pentagon official said the plans are likely to be drawn up before Obama takes office on January 20.
Most will be sent to the poppy-growing South, where the need for more Western forces is greatest, and where 8,000 British troops are currently fighting.
A spokesman said the final number was likely to be "well north of 20,000", and indicated that countries such as Britain already fighting in the south would not face strong US demands to provide more troops.
Those would be placed on NATO participants not yet involved at the sharp end.
Over the weekend, Obama reiterated that he wanted to begin drawing down the 146,000 US troops in Iraq as soon as he takes office, saying he wanted to "shore up efforts" in Afghanistan.
During the election campaign, Obama said his administration would dispatch two or three additional brigades to Afghanistan in 2009, on top of the brigade President George W Bush decided to send this January.
Each brigade contains between 3,500 and 4,000 soldiers.
Some estimates for the numbers needed to fight the Taliban are however now running much higher than the initial 20,000 foreseen by Gates.
Current and former US officials have warned that a surge of forces into Afghanistan will not necessarily meet with the same success as the troop build-up in Iraq.
Some analysts believe Washington ultimately will need more than 100,000 troops to stabilise Afghanistan before the Afghan army is ready to take over security.