The Pentagon has extended the tour of 2,200 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Afghanistan, after insisting for months the unit would come home on time. The Unit is doing combat operations in the volatile south and will stay an extra 30 days and come home in early November rather than October, according to Marine Col. David Lapan.
Military leaders as recently as Wednesday stressed the need for additional troops in Afghanistan, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, has repeatedly said he did not intend to extend or replace the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, calling their deployment there an extraordinary, one-time effort to help tamp down the increasing violence in the south. Asked about the possibility of an extension in early May, Gates said he would “be loath to do that.” He added that “no one has suggested even the possibility of extending that rotation”; nonetheless, Lapan said Thursday that commanders in Afghanistan asked that the Marines stay longer.
The Pentagon announced in January that the MEU was being ordered to Afghanistan, mostly as a result of failed efforts to press other NATO nations to increase their troop levels at the time had failed. Commanders faced with increasing violence have said they need at least 7,500 more troops in Afghanistan. President Bush and defense officials have said they hope to identify additional units by the end of the year that could go to Afghanistan early next year.