London, Sep 24 : The US said today that an additional 14,000 troops could soon be deployed in Afghanistan, signaling the biggest military reinforcement in the country since the war began.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that up to three combat brigades, each including about 3,500 soldiers, could be sent to Afghanistan by mid-2009.
They would bolster an additional 3,700 ground troops recently promised by President Bush for January, The Times reported.
Gates warned, however, that a troop "surge" could be counter-productive in a country with a historic resistance to outsiders.
"I think we need to think about how heavy a military footprint the United States ought to have in Afghanistan. Washington might be better off channeling resources into building and expanding the size of the Afghan National Army as quickly as possible," he said.
Gates added that US forces were currently too stretched to handle such a redeployment now - even as American troops are being pulled out of Iraq.
His testimony came as Bush Administration officials reportedly met this week to discuss the overall war strategy in Afghanistan, including proposed increases in American troop levels.
The military shortfall in Afghanistan has been a common complaint from commanders. While the number of US troops in Afghanistan has grown from fewer than 21,000 two years ago to 33,000 today.
General David McKiernan, the top American commander in the country, said last week that he needed as many as 15,000 combat and support troops to stem militia violence, which has risen by 30 per cent this year.
Britain has about 7,300 soldiers in southern Afghanistan, fighting alongside US, Canadian, Dutch and Afghan Government forces.