Saturday, May 03, 2008

Expanding the US's role in Afstan

Looks like they're starting to get really serious:
The Pentagon is considering sending as many as 7,000 more American troops to Afghanistan next year to make up for a shortfall in contributions from NATO allies, senior Bush administration officials said.

They said the step would push the number of American forces there to roughly 40,000, the highest level since the war began more than six years ago, and would require at least a modest reduction in troops from Iraq.

The planning began in recent weeks, reflecting a growing resignation to the fact that NATO is unable or unwilling to contribute more troops despite public pledges of an intensified effort in Afghanistan from the presidents and prime ministers who attended an alliance summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, last month...

The increasing proportion of United States troops, from about half to about two-thirds of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, would be likely to result in what one senior administration official described as “the re-Americanization” of the war [emphasis added--won't that get some Canadians' knickers knotted?]...

There are about 62,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, about 34,000 of them American, up from just 25,000 American troops in 2005. The American troops are divided into a force of 16,000 who operate under NATO command and 18,000 who conduct counterterrorism and other missions under American command outside the NATO structure, according to Pentagon statistics. The initial planning under way would send about two additional brigades of American forces, or about 7,000 troops [emphasis added--more here towards end], to Afghanistan next year. That would meet two-thirds of what commanders have portrayed in recent months as a shortfall of three brigades, or about 10,000 troops, including combat forces, trainers, intelligence officers and crews for added helicopters and troop carriers...

According to an accounting of the pledges compiled by NATO officials at the end of the [Bucharest] meeting, Georgia, whose application for a fast track to membership was rebuffed, pledged 500 troops. Poland pledged 400 in addition to the 1,000 there now to operate and maintain eight helicopters. The Czech Republic pledged 120 special operations soldiers.

Italy, Romania and Greece made promises for military or police training teams. Azerbaijan, not a member of NATO, offered to more than double its current force, adding 45 troops. New Zealand offered “a modest increase” to support a civil provincial reconstruction team. Two other nations promised to consider contributions but asked NATO leaders not to disclose their pledges because of their domestic political situations...
I don't think this American fully understands the Canadian scene:
Canadians might take heart that the arrival of the marines, even though said to be temporary, is beginning to look more and more like a mid- to long-term commitment of additional U.S. forces," says Col. Tom Lynch, a serving U.S. army officer who was special assistant to the American ambassador in Kabul in 2004, and is now on sabbatical at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank.

"That should hopefully make Canadian willingness to participate in the mission far more resolute."...
Plus US action on this front looks ever more likely:
The idea of giving the U.S. military more authority in areas of Afghanistan now under NATO command is "worth taking a look at," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.

It was the first time Gates had indicated he was receptive to the idea, which has not yet been developed into a formal proposal but is under active discussion in the Pentagon...

Taliban resistance has stiffened in southern Afghanistan since NATO took command there in mid-2006. Some in the Pentagon believe the fight against the Taliban could be strengthened if the U.S., whose span of control is now limited to eastern Afghanistan, were also in charge in part or all of the south.

The internal Pentagon discussions reflect concern at a lack of continuity among NATO forces and a view that, in the long run, NATO may be better off focusing mainly on areas of Afghanistan, like the north and west, where there is less fighting but a great need for noncombat aid.

Changing the command structure to give a U.S. general more control in the south would, in effect, mark a partial "re-Americanization" of the combat mission . That could be politically controversial [emphasis added--those Canadians' knickers must be knotting even now], given U.S. interests in maintaining close ties with NATO in fighting terrorism.

NATO now has overall responsibility for the mission in Afghanistan, and that would not change if a U.S. general were put in charge in the southern sector. But it would give the Americans a greater degree of control.

Gates indicated he did not expect the idea of changing some of the command arrangements to lead to final decisions any time soon.

"I think that this is a matter that is going to get looked at over probably some period of time," he said. "It will require consultation with our allies, particularly our partners in regional command south [emphasis added--putting our troops under a US commander would certainly raise a stink here]," referring to an area of southern Afghanistan that is currently under the command of a Canadian general and is due to switch to a Dutch commander before the end of this year.

Gates said there are other aspects of the command arrangement in Afghanistan that should be reviewed.

"We need to take a look also at some of our own command and control arrangements," he said. "For example, does it make sense to have two combatant commands involved in one country?" Gates was referring to the fact that Afghanistan itself is in the command area of U.S. Central Command, although the U.S. European Command is also involved because of the presence of NATO forces.

Gates was asked whether political sensitivities in NATO might make it impossible to agree on a wider U.S. command role.

"We are basically just trying to see, how do you best provide for unity of command? How do you have the most effective operations possible in Afghanistan?" he replied. "We won't do anything without prior consultation with our allies." [emphasis added]
The Conservatives and Liberals demanded more NATO help in the south. Be careful what you wish for in Canadian politics. The government can only feel uncomfortable and I can easily see the Liberals decrying a large increase in the US (a NATO member remember) role. As for the NDP and the Bloc: screaming blue murder.


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