Sunday, March 22, 2009

AfPak: US strategy to be rolled out/Aussie troop increase?

Looks like things are ready to move, with the US military getting just about what they wanted last year:
Behind the Afghan Strategy

By Jim Hoagland

You will hear a lot about President Obama putting his stamp on the war in Afghanistan over the next two weeks. But you won't hear the whole story. Smart generals and smart ambassadors don't upstage the boss, and Gen. David Petraeus and diplomat Richard Holbrooke are as smart as they come.

You will hardly see their fingerprints, even though the shape -- and the fate -- of the new Afghanistan strategy will depend greatly on the work and ideas of these two skilled policy operatives. Similar in drive and vision, they bring contrasting histories of involvement in American wars to their current assignments, and history is everything in Afghanistan, the land known as the graveyard of empires.

An informal beginning to the Afghan "rollout" -- D.C.-speak for a coordinated but segmented sales job of a new initiative to Congress, the media and diplomats of other nations -- will come in Brussels tomorrow, when Holbrooke will brief NATO allies privately on the strategic review ordered by Obama.

Then the president crosses the Atlantic to address three leadership summits, including NATO meetings in France and Germany April 3-4. Obama should be wise enough to avoid making a major issue of seeking new European troop commitments to Afghanistan[more here, including current troop strengths]. He will not want an air of confrontation to hover over a 60th-anniversary gathering that will also celebrate France's formally rejoining the alliance's military structure after a 43-year absence.

Instead, Obama plans to ask the Europeans to shoulder more of the financial and police-training burdens in Afghanistan [emphasis added--Update: note this, "Canada is to nearly double the number of police mentors it sends to Afghanistan and intends to base a senior Mountie in Kabul to advise on policing issues, RCMP commissioner Bill Elliott said Sunday.Canada will have 50 police mentors in Kandahar by the end of this summer...] as the United States increases its military presence and shifts its counterinsurgency tactics to give greater protection to Afghan civilians and the 38,000 American troops already there.

According to U.S. and foreign officials, Petraeus -- the regional commander for the Afghan and Iraqi theaters -- convinced the president last month that sending 17,000 new soldiers to Afghanistan will enable U.S. and allied commanders to reduce their reliance on the airstrikes and Special Forces raids that have inflicted growing civilian casualties [emphasis added] and provoked bitter outbursts from President Hamid Karzai.

Obama is considering sending another U.S. combat brigade of trainers [emphasis added--presumably in addition to the two National Guard brigades already assigned to the job] to help urgently double the size of the Afghan army. If he approves that deployment, Obama will come close to meeting the total increases that the military had sought from President George W. Bush before he left office. Bush deferred the request to Obama, although Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates supported earlier action.

[In September 2008 ISAF and US forces commander Gen. McKiernan wanted four US manoeuvre brigades; three are being provided--see here, here and here. That means only one more would be needed to fulfil Gen. McKiernan's wish. I strongly suspect that it will be sent, very likely to the Kandahar area to join the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team that's coming soon.]

Petraeus would also apply in Afghanistan another feature of the surge strategy that he championed in Iraq's Anbar province. U.S. intelligence estimates that only 5 percent of the Taliban are "hard core" ideologues sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and Petraeus wants a significant outreach by provincial Afghan officials and the U.S. officers who work with them to the "recoverable" Taliban [emphasis added]. National reconciliation would come later...
And the Aussies may step up too:
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Sunday [March 22] that he would consider sending more Australian troops to Afghanistan if the U.S. asks for them...

Australia is a staunch U.S. ally and has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan's south, where a Taliban insurgency is raging. Two Australian soldiers were killed in combat last week, taking the country's death toll to 10 and putting the war back in the domestic political spotlight.

Top Australian officials say the war in Afghanistan is going badly and that more troops are needed. But Canberra says those extra troops should come from European countries first [good luck with much--the US seems to have given up on that, see above] because Australia is already doing its part...

"They may put to me a request for further Australian commitment and I will, together with my colleagues, consider all those things on their merits," Rudd told Nine Network television. "It doesn't mean you say yes, or say no, it may mean some change in the current configuration of what we do."..
This is the make-up currently of Aussie forces in Afstan; perhaps the change in configuration might be to give the infantry a distinct combat role--more at Update here.


Blogger fm said...

It's been coming for a while and if you ask serving soldiers they will even tell you the units that are earmarked to go, though its most likely merely prudent planning at this point. Something had to give, of course. You can't have the government running around criticising everyone else and then not cough up some forces of our own. The real question is whether we take command of the province or not. Reading between the lines at a recent Senate committee hearing, I gained the impression that we might contribute forces in the form of a battle group that operated wherever they were needed in the south with the US taking over the province. If that were the case, however, I would think the army would prefer it to be a fairly large and balanced force (largely self reliant) of at least Battalion strength and I do wonder whether the government has the political guts to do that. Plus force protection would still be needed for the engineers in Uruzgan (I think the army is capable of it for at least a couple of years, provided East Timor stays quiet). We'll probably know a few weeks after Rudd grandstands with Obama, though the decision has probably already been made.

10:10 p.m., March 22, 2009  

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