Exclusive: Gates Delays Troop Decision

ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: ABC News has learned that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to delay a decision to send additional troops into Afghanistan until after the Obama administration concludes its ongoing review of the strategy for Afghanistan. 

The surprising decision comes after the much anticipated proposal to send three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan -- or 17,000 troops as reported by ABC News last week -- was presented to Secretary Gates for his approval this afternoon.  The Pentagon troop proposal anticipated a large Marine brigade to be followed by two Army Brigade Combat Teams, including a Stryker Brigade.  The top US general in Afghanistan , Gen. David McKiernan favors using the armored vehicles as a way of extending his troops' presence to remote regions of Afghanistan.

Gates told Congress last week that he anticipated that should a decision to send additional brigades be made, "we could have two of those brigades there probably by late spring, and potentially a third by mid-summer."

It's unclear how long the decision will be delayed given that the reviews are expected to go on for at least another few weeks and possibly a few months. 

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters on Tuesday that any troops decision did not hinge on the conclusion of the reviews. 

"My understanding is that whatever decision is made on additional forces for Afghanistan will likely take place in advance of the conclusion of the strategy review that this White House has undertaken on Afghanistan," said Morrell.

ABC News has learned that the review conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff favors a limiting of the objectives for Afghanistan, moving away from the broad goal of democracy-building in Afghanistan towards providing regional security for both Pakistan and Afghanistan and preventing al Qaeda from maintaining a safe haven in Pakistan. 

The Obama administration will also receive a recommendation from Gen. David Petraeus, who heads Central Command, and from Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s civilian envoy to Afghanistan.  The reviews were begun under the Bush administration last fall, one review conducted by the White House czar on Iraq and Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, has already been completed. 

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