Thursday, April 24, 2008

US considering command structure changes for Afstan

The problem of command structures in Afstan has been noted for some time. From the Manley panel report:
...a top-heavy command structure at ISAF headquarters in Kabul; an absence of a comprehensive strategy directing all ISAF forces in collaboration with the Afghan government; limitations placed by some NATO governments on the operations of their units, which effectively keep those forces out of the conflict; and inadequate coordination between military and civilian programs for security, stabilization, reconstruction and development. One source of ISAF inefficiencies, cited by senior NATO officers, is the too frequent rotation of ISAF commanders at its Kabul headquarters and in the regional commands...
And it's not just ISAF, it's the links between ISAF and US Operation Enduring Freedom; Paddy Ashdown wrote in July 2007:
One can normally at least rely on the military to understand the importance of unity of command. But in Afghanistan, even this is absent. The US military are not exclusively under the command of Nato's mission in Afghanistan...This is exactly the fractured command structure that led to the US disaster in Somalia.
As for US forces (see Update):
Combined Joint Task Force-82 (CJTF-82)[now Combined Joint Task Force-101] is a U.S.-led subordinate command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). CJTF-82 serves as both the National Command Element for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, reporting directly to the U.S. Central Command commander, and as ISAF’s Regional Command – East...
Now the US is thinking openly about the problem. But any proposed changes that would somehow give Centcom a greater direct role vis-a-vis ISAF, or that would weaken ISAF authority over US forces in Regional Command South, would certainly be "a sensitive matter in terms of the eyes of our allies". The cat's amongst the pigeons--as it should be--but real improvements will be a hard sell indeed.
Central Command normally supervises U.S. military involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But a year and a half ago most of the international forces in Afghanistan, including most of the U.S. troops, were put under NATO control, leaving the Central Command chief outside their chain of command.

That is something Secretary Gates says U.S. officials might want to change.

"There's been a lot of discussion in this building about whether we have the best possible command arrangements in Afghanistan," said Secretary Gates. "I've made no decisions. I've made no recommendations to the president. We're still discussing it."

Afghanistan currently has a dual command structure, with some of the 35,000 U.S. troops, and some forces from other nations, still under the original U.S.-led coalition that invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Some officers complain that the dual command is not as effective or coordinated as it should be. But Secretary Gates says it may be difficult to change.

"The command structure, I think, is a sensitive matter in terms of the eyes of our allies," he said. "And so if there were to be any discussion of changes in the command structure, it would require some pretty intensive consultations with our allies and discussion about what makes sense going forward."

Secretary Gates says there have been no such consultations so far.

But unless the structure is changed, General Petraeus' ability to impact the military effort in Afghanistan will likely be limited, as was the ability of his predecessor Admiral William Fallon. Still, Secretary Gates says he expects General Petraeus to have some focus on Afghanistan...

The questions about the Afghanistan command structure persist in spite of the fact that both the top NATO commander in the country and his superior at NATO military headquarters near Brussels are Americans. But those officers are limited by NATO policy decisions, made by consensus, and by restrictions most member states put on the use of their forces [that's not what a pernicious Canadian professor would have us believe].


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