Gates will receive the proposal by General Dan McNeill, the commander of the Nato-led force, on Friday but was not expected to make a final decision the same day, Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Wednesday.

 

Morrell said Gates's thinking "has evolved on this such that the

commander needs additional forces there, our allies are not in a

position to provide them, so we are now looking at perhaps carrying

a bit of that additional load".

 

Anticipation v deterioration

 

"People are suggesting it reflects a deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, and I would argue that it is more a move of anticipation of what we expect to be another attempt at a Taliban spring offensive," Morrell said.

 

"Afghan security forces will be the force that will remain in Afghanistan and protect its peace and security, as well as defend the country"

General Mohammed Zahir Azimi, defence ministry spokesman
He added that if approved, the troops would be in position by April, for a

one-time seven-month deployment "to beat back another attempt at a Taliban offensive".

 

A Pentagon official said they would be sent to Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

 

The proposal includes a marine battalion that would be tasked to train Afghan security forces, he added.

 

Most of the 26,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan are under the 40,000-strong Nato-led International Security Assistance Force.

The Afghan government welcomed the Pentagon plans, although it admitted that the long-term securitysolution is to bolster Afghan forces.

"Afghan security forces will be the force that will remain in Afghanistan and protect its peace and security, as well as defend the country," General Mohammed Zahir Azimi, defence ministry spokesman, said.

However, Ajmal Sohail, head of the Afghan liberal party, told Al Jazeera that that 3,000 troops was not enough personnel to fight the Taliban and other forces that were working against the government.

"They should try to convince the American government to bring some more troops here, and they should try to convince the other Nato countries to help," he said.

"The insurgency in Afghanistan, especially the Taliban, they are getting strong, especially for the coming spring."

 

Civilian killings

 

Also on Wednesday, two US marines involved in the shooting of more than a dozen Afghan civilians testified that their unit was responding to an ambush so intense that the crossfire downed tree branches as their convoy of Humvees fled.

 

"We were taking semiautomatic small arms fire all along this road," Sergeant Benjamin Baker told a fact-finding panel at Camp Lejeune.

 

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission had concluded that the marines had fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and civilians in vehicles on March 4 last year.

 

An army investigation found 19 Afghan civilians killed in the shooting and 50 wounded, but defence lawyers said the toll was lower and argued that the shooting was justified.

 

Earlier, Sergeant Brett Hayes told the panel the convoy was fired on at least three times after it resumed its course following a car bomb attack.

 

"I'm 100 per cent sure we were taking fire," he said. "And I'm sure we had to kill some guys who were shooting at us."

 

Baker and Hayes were testifying on the second day at a rarely-used court of inquiry.

 

The panel will also recommend whether Major Fred Galvin, the commander of the special operations company, and Captain Vincent Noble, a platoon leader, should be charged with a crime.