The Pentagon''s chief said Thursday he could send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year than he''d initially expected and is considering increasing the number of soldiers in the Army.

Both issues reflect demands on increasingly stressed American forces tasked with fighting two wars.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates'' comments came during a short visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York — an Army post that that he said has deployed more soldiers to battle zones over the last 20 years than any other unit. Two Fort Drum brigades are headed to Iraq in coming months, and a third is currently in Afghanistan.

Asked about Afghanistan by one soldier, Gates said, "I think there will not be a significant increase in troop levels in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000, at least probably through the end of the year. Maybe some increase, but not a lot."

So far, the Obama administration has approved sending 68,000 troops to Afghanistan by the end of 2009, including 21,000 that were added this spring.

The White House has wanted to wait until the end of the year before deciding whether to deploy more, but Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Gates does not want to discourage his new commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, from taking a frank look at how many troops he needs.