Thursday, August 21, 2008

US looking seriously at building-up Afstan troop strength soon

I think the amount of detail in these stories is significant; really up to the politicians now if assurances can be given about Iraq.

1) The Army:
The Pentagon will be sending 12,000 to 15,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, possibly as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009.

A request by Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, for three U.S. brigades with support staff has been approved [emphasis added]. "Now that means we just need to figure out a way to get them there," adds a senior defense official.

The troops are slated to arrive earlier than has been previously discussed, on the heels of the deadliest months for American forces in Afghanistan since the war began.

The first wave of soldiers will be a U.S. Army brigade from the 10th Mountain Division, according to a senior military official. This brigade is scheduled to ship out between November and January, while two other brigades are likely to arrive "sometime in the spring or summer of next year [emphasis added]," the official adds.

And there may be even more to come. "I've also asked for some additional forces on top of that for the current fight," says McKiernan, who wants to bolster the 101st Airborne Division in Regional Command East, which has been rocked by recent insurgent attacks. In July, nine U.S. troops were killed by insurgents who overran a combat outpost on the Kunar border of eastern Afghanistan. This week, militants tried but failed to overrun a base in Khost, just a few miles from the border, launching waves of attacks just before midnight on Monday.

Finding those particular troops to supplement the 101st, however, depends on conditions and troop levels in Iraq, adds McKiernan, who took over the NATO command in June. "That's really a zero-sum decision."

He disputes the notion that the three brigades on the way represent a troop "surge" for Afghanistan, predicting the need for an extended involvement of a larger force. "I've certainly said that we need more security capabilities," he says. "But I would not use the term 'surge,' because I think we need a sustained presence."

Both major U.S. presidential candidates have called for putting a greater military emphasis on Afghanistan, and it now appears that whoever wins the election will inherit a growing war already underway.

In March, 3,500 troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived to bolster NATO forces. Originally slated to return to the U.S. in October, they have seen their tour extended by one month...
2) The Marines (the "even more"--or is a Marine Expeditionary Unit one of the three brigades mentioned above?):
When the Pentagon rushed 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan in the spring, the orders were clear: the mission would be for seven months, no longer, and the Marines would not be replaced once their deployment was finished.

But with the Taliban, possibly in alliance with Al Qaeda, resurging, plans have changed. First, the stay of the Marines from Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., was extended for 30 days, pushing their arrival back home to late November.

Now there are growing indications that a different Marine unit, possibly including troops and equipment from several Marine bases, will replace the 2nd battalion, 7th regiment from Twentynine Palms and/or the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune.

In Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine commander, appears on the verge of suggesting a significant drawdown of forces there, freeing troops for Afghanistan [emphasis added]. He has already redeployed eight helicopters and Marines to fly and maintain them to Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Lt. Col. Rick Hall, commander of the Two-Seven, told reporters by telephone that he hopes that a replacement force is ready to continue the work his Marines have done in disrupting the Taliban and mentoring the Afghan National Police. The 30-day extension, he said, will allow a better transition.

Thirteen troops and an interpreter from the Two-Seven have been killed. Dozens more have been wounded. Not to send a replacement unit would be a major disappointment to his Marines, Hall said.

"I think it would be quite a blow to all of us," he said.

The Marine Corps has tweaked training at its desert and mountain sites to be more "Afghanistan-centric." Hall said he sends back "lessons-learned" virtually every day so they can be incorporated into training, particularly on how to work with the Afghans.

"We know we've made a difference in the lives of these people," Hall said. "We've given them a sense of liberty."

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of the Marine Forces Central Command, with authority for Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a separate interview that no decision has been made on whether to replace Hall's troops or those from Camp Lejeune.

But if the commander-in-chief and Defense secretary want a Marine replacement for Afghanistan, what is called a Marine air-ground task force -- infantry plus aircraft squadrons -- could be quickly assembled [emphasis added], Helland said.

"Absolutely," he said.

--Tony Perry, at Camp Pendleton
This is what the Commandant of the Corps was saying last week:
Security gains made in southern Afghanistan could suffer if US Marines are pulled out later this year without replacements, the head of the Marine Corps has warned.

General James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, said the US Marines will be unable to provide more forces until there is a significant draw down of their numbers in Iraq [emphasis added].

No firm plan has been made regarding who will replace the 2,200 Marines in the southern Afghanistan when their tours end in November, Conway told AFP.

Conway made the remarks last week in an interview with a reporter who traveled with him on a visit to Afghanistan, where 3,500 Marines have been deployed, and to Iraq, where 24,000 Marines are stationed.

"Our experience has been -- and it's drawn principally from Iraq -- (that) when you are in an area for a while, people will eventually come to trust you, they rely on your security, they will give you intelligence and expect you to continue to provide that security," said Conway on a stop at the Marine base outside the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

"If you leave those people, the method of the Taliban or of the Al-Qaeda is to come in and exact a punishment," he said.

His warning comes amid rising violence in eastern Afghanistan and around Kabul. The Marines have been credited with helping keep the Taliban forces at bay in southern and western Afghanistan since arriving in March.

Conway cautioned that pulling out without a replacement would make it more difficult for Marines -- or any military force -- when they returned [which strongly suggests to me that Marine replacements will in fact be found - MC]...

If the Marines return to Afghanistan after this deployment they will need to come back in much larger numbers [emphasis added], Conway said.

"We are undermanned in order to be able to do all we need to do in the south," he said.

Conway noted that the Marine battalion based in Farah province [the southern part of Regional Command West] is responsible for 6,178 square kilometers (16,000 square miles) of territory.

"That's a huge area of responsibility. We can't nearly be every place we need to be in sufficient strength to manage that," he said.


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