WASHINGTON — Grappling with a record death toll in an overshadowed war, President Bush promised Wednesday to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan by year's end. He conceded that June was a "tough month" in the nearly 7-year-old war.
The nation's top military officer agreed Wednesday that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan but said he does not have sufficient forces to send because of the war in Iraq.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said insurgent Taliban and extremist forces in Afghanistan have become "a very complex problem" that is tied to the country's extensive drug trade, its faltering economy and the porous border region with Pakistan.
Mullen said military commanders are looking at the prospects for sending additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009 but that conditions in Iraq would have to continue to improve for that to happen. The war in Iraq has occupied as many as 20 military brigades during the troop buildup over the past year. The military is reducing that force to 15 brigades this year.
"We all need to be patient," Mullen said. "As we have seen in Iraq, counterinsurgency warfare takes time and commitment. … I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send into Afghanistan, until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq."
Roughly 32,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, including 14,000 serving with NATO forces and 18,000 conducting training and counterinsurgency. That's the largest U.S. presence since the war began.
While Bush noted that June was also a tough month for the Taliban, the once-toppled Islamist regime in Afghanistan has rebounded with deadly force. More U.S. and NATO troops have died in the past two months in Afghanistan than in Iraq, which has triple the number of U.S. and coalition forces.
In June, 28 U.S. troops died in Afghanistan, the highest monthly total of the entire war, which began in October 2001. For the full U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, the death toll was 46, also the highest of the war.