Saturday, November 22, 2008

US Marines, National Guard in Afstan/Future US strength increases

Some significant developments.


In spring 2008 some 3,200 Marines arrived [see 2) at link] in Afstan: the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Regional Command South (2,300) and the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (900--numbers in both case approximate) in Farah Province, Regional Command West, the latter mainly supposed to train the Afghan police. In the event, however...
Marines with 2/7 handled operations in the Helmand (RC South) districts of Sangin, Gereskh, Musa Qaleh and Now Zad, and the Farah province districts of Delaram, Golestan, Bakwa and Bala Baluk, Frushour said. Afghan forces and International Security Assistance Forces commanded by Army Gen. Robert Cone have since taken over Sangin, Gereskh and Bala Baluk, Marine officials said.
And during the Marine deployments:
...The 24th MEU and another Marine unit in Afghanistan — Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines — realigned to form a special purpose MAGTF [Marine Air Ground Task Force] of their own this summer to mirror the organization of the Marines taking over...
About those taking over:
The commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit handed over control of a Marine task force deployed to southern Afghanistan to train police and provide security against insurgents, a Marine spokesman said.

Col. Duffy White, commander of Hawaii-based 3rd Marines, took over for Col. Peter Petronzio, 24th MEU commander, in a ceremony at Kandahar Air Field, Marine officials said.

White will lead Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force — Afghanistan, a 2,000-strong unit made up of elements from North Carolina, California and Hawaii. It is expected to be based at Camp Bastion, a British military base in volatile Helmand province [emphasis added]...

Elements taking over in Afghanistan include headquarters elements of 3rd Marines; Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 3rd Battalion 8th Marines; Hawaii-based Combat Logistics Battalion 3; and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, [CH-53s] which is based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. The unit will handle five districts in Helmand and Farah provinces...
More on the change-over here--note:
The two battalions celebrated together as TF 2/7 prepares to be replaced by 3/8. While operating throughout the Helmand and Farah provinces, TF 2/7 has carried out the mission of conducting counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on training the Afghan National Police [emphasis added].
So in the end some 3,200 Marines in RC South and West ended up in one Task Force operating in both RC South and West--but with this weird bifurcation of command:
For example, about 2,200 U.S. servicemembers assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit now report to ISAF [i.e. really under US General McKiernan--not RC South], while the 1,000 or so Marines [the 2/7] assigned to the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan report to U.S. Central Command [not ISAF at all]...
Hence the new HQ for all US forces in Afstan: U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A).

Meanwhile, there are still some 1,200 fewer Marines in Afstan than there were. But, with the earlier deployment of a US Army battalion to RC South, total US troops in the south and west remain about what they were in summer 2008 before the Army battalion arrived.

Lots more on what the 2/7 ended up doing in Afstan here:
...when they were sent here in April as a stopgap measure to help an overwhelmed NATO force, the plan had been to spend the time mentoring Afghan national police.

It didn't turn out that way.

Instead of training policemen, the lightly equipped 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division found itself engaged in firefights with insurgent units of 100 or more fighters. They faced Taliban snipers and roadside bombs.

Twenty members of the 1,000-member battalion died in combat [By comparison sixteen members of the CF' mission died during the same period].

"It definitely was a lot worse than we expected," said Cpl. James Flores, 22, of Thousand Oaks. "A lot more active." [That tells a tale, does it not -- more here.]

The Two-Seven has begun returning to its desert base in Twentynine Palms; the bulk will be home by early December. The members take credit for leaving behind 800 trained Afghan police, hundreds of dead Taliban fighters and nascent diplomacy with village leaders.

They also served notice that the Marines were back in Afghanistan to stay.

Based in part on the experiences of the Two-Seven and the grit of its individual members, Marine Corps officials are planning to greatly expand their numbers here -- an unexpected result of a deployment that wasn't even supposed to be...

An unspecified number of Marine special operators are also in Afghanistan...
National Guard.
The Guard soldiers at Ft. Bragg are the main body of a 2,700-strong force of Illinois Guardsmen and are nearly done with a 57-day training cycle before heading to Afghanistan. They leave in December, when they will join 65,000 American and NATO forces battling Al Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban...

Hoping to break a building stalemate in Afghanistan, the military has requested 20,000 troops to follow Illinois' 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The Illinois troops have reached Afghanistan in stages, with the critical assignment to advise the police and Afghan National Army. Three Illinois soldiers already have died there...

Only about 300 of the Illinois troops will live and work in the 16-person teams that train Afghanis, and have already begun their mission. An additional 2,400 will support that effort, said Illinois Guard Col. Scott Thoele, the force deputy commander.

The Illinois soldiers will be spread around the country. Trainers who advised Afghan forces in the past say the situation has only grown more complicated...
As for future US efforts:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday [Nov. 21] that he supports a fresh troop buildup in Afghanistan -- officially estimated at more than 20,000 U.S. troops in the next 12 to 18 months -- to fight a growing insurgency and to safeguard the 2009 Afghan elections. But he stressed that in the long run the conflict should be "Afghanistan's war."..

Gates said he intends to meet the requests of top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan for an increase of four more combat brigades and an aviation brigade, as well as thousands of support troops -- a total reinforcement of "well north of 20,000" in the coming year and a half, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

The troops would deploy primarily to eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, where the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division is headed in January, as well as to southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency is based.

"It's important that we have a surge of forces before the election. And my speculation would be that people will want to focus that surge in areas like RC [Regional Command] South to ensure that people can register and vote," Gates said at a news conference in Cornwallis, Canada, where he attended a two-day meeting with defense ministers from Canada, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Estonia and other countries [Denmark and Romania - MC] that have a total of about 18,000 troops in southern Afghanistan...

In south Afghanistan, additional U.S. combat units are also needed to move throughout the region and prevent insurgents from exploiting the boundaries between British, Canadian and other allied forces that now concentrate their operations in different provinces, officials said. "The enemy we are dealing with in Afghanistan does not respect . . . boundaries," said a senior defense official traveling with Gates, pointing to the movement of fighters and the trafficking of weapons and drugs across provincial lines...
I'll bet new US forces in RC South will really be under U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and not the commander of RC South. At least until the US takes over command of RC South in late 2010 as Mr Gates said it would at the news conference (I've seen no coverage of that--my prediction was right).

As for those "four more combat brigades"--I'd assume they include the 3rd Brigate Combat Team, 10th Mountain but not the Illinois Guard brigade. Anyone else have any ideas/insights?

It will be up to Mr Obama to take the decisions when he becomes president on January 20. I'm pretty optimistic he'll agree (it would be a Good Thing if he kept Mr Gates on too). By the way, can you imagine Canadian general officers publicly saying what strength increases they think they need when the government has not yet agreed to them?

Update: Another surge, one the Canadian media will not notice (via Moby Media Updates):
KABUL, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- The visiting Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller on Saturday announced furthering financial and military support to Afghanistan.

"We will double the amount of money which goes to the reconstruction and development. We also send more troops to Afghanistan [emphasis added]," Moller told reporters here after meeting his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

However, Moller did not specify the number of troops which will be sent to the war-torn country in January 2009, but added his country's parliament is passing a "new strategy for support of Afghanistan."

Denmark has contributed 249 million U.S. dollars to the war-battered Afghanistan since 2002.

Some 780 Danish troops have been serving in Afghanistan [at Helmand with the Brits] mostly in the shape of the civilian-military units of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) within the framework of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The Danish Foreign Minister also asserted that the royal European state would continue to help Afghanistan in the field of education, health and giving training to Afghan police forces.
The Danes are making a very big effort given their population--more here, here and here (with tanks).


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