Friday, May 09, 2008

ISAF: US getting really serious about stronger command role in south

American generals are now taking action; that slightly disingenuous "one country" surely is meant to be the US (unless the Americans would settle for the UK and the UK accepted):
NATO could change its rotating command of southern Afghanistan [see end of link, more here] and give the role to a single country, amid concern that the current system is boosting the Taliban insurgency, NATO's top US general [SACEUR] said Thursday.

"Everything is open," General Bantz Craddock told AFP when asked how command of the Taliban hotbed area, which currently alternates between Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, was likely to change.

Craddock said he received a letter from the commander [US General Dan K McNeill] of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, saying "it would be better if we had one country take lead as opposed to rotate."

ISAF includes 47,000 soldiers from 40 countries who work alongside a separate US-led coalition numbering about 20,000 and the Afghan security forces to defeat extremist violence.

Regional governors from Afghanistan warned earlier this week that failure by Western powers to coordinate their military deployment could ultimately play into the hands of the Taliban, because some countries had gained a reputation as softer targets while others were more aggressive.

Craddock said he would make a recommendation but the decision would be made in the political arena.

He added that "from a military perspective, unity of command does make a lot of sense ... on the other hand you want a full participation."

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month that he expects a significant addition of US forces in Afghanistan next year, though the Pentagon has stressed that such a move would depend on deep troop cuts in Iraq...

The US generals would not be taking these actions without political support in Washington--I hope the US has conducted some serious diplomacy trying to ensure that we, the Brits and the Dutch may be amenable. I also wonder how much real consultation there has been by General McNeill with senior officers in Afstan of other ISAF contributors.

The command of ISAF itself seems to have stopped rotating for the time being.

Update: More Marines would certainly lend weight to the US case. From horses' mouths:
The Marine Corps may begin shifting its major combat forces out of Iraq to focus on Afghanistan in 2009 if greater security in Iraq allows a reduction of Marines there, top Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the proposal by the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, to focus his force on Afghanistan -- which they rejected late last year -- could be reconsidered.

"Should we be in a position to move forces into Afghanistan, I think that certainly would come back into consideration," Mullen said at a Pentagon briefing. He said that he understands it is challenging for the Marines to have "a foot in both countries" and that Conway seeks to "optimize the forces that he has," but stressed that any shift is likely to occur "down the road."

Gates said he agrees that the Marine Corps shift is "a possibility" for next year. He explained that when he earlier said the change "wouldn't happen on my watch," that was not an unchangeable policy decision -- he meant it would not unfold until 2009, when he plans to step down.

Gates said that the Pentagon is still looking at options to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan in 2009, but that there is no plan to extend the seven-month deployment of about 3,200 Marines dispatched there this spring. "I'd be loath to" extend the Marines beyond November, when they are scheduled to leave Afghanistan, he said.

A senior military official said this week that after a "vigorous debate," Mullen, Conway and other members of the Joint Chiefs recently hammered out their priorities for employing stretched U.S. ground forces: first, Iraq; next, Afghanistan; and finally, bringing troops home to increase the amount of time they have in the United States to train and recuperate...


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