President Barack Obama will meet today on his first full day in office with SecDef Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen and CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to discuss how to expedite the withdrawal of 140,000 U.S. troops from Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan. Obama senior advisor David Axelrod confirmed in inaugural day interviews that Obama is committed to something approaching the 16 month withdrawal timeline he campaigned on, although, in the weeks since his election, Obama has demonstrated a pragmatic flexibility and a willingness to change course on campaign pledges.
While commanders in Iraq have said there is no way troops can be pulled out at the rate of two combat brigades a month, the Center for American Progress, which has provided lots of staff to the new administration, has an admittedly short on detail video on their site on how to do just that, and have all combat troops out in ten months. Its unlikely troops will be withdrawn at that rate. But come out they will. The recently inked status of forces agreement with Iraq calls for all coalition combat forces to be out by the end of 2011.
The Pentagon will have to decide what portion of the mountains of equipment sitting in Iraq they want to bring home, how much will be given to Iraq, and how much will stay there as the newest location for pre-positioned war stocks. It makes sense to give a lot of the older equipment sitting in Iraq to the Iraqis; the U.S. is transferring 8,500 up-armored Humvees to Iraq’s security forces.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has repeatedly and very publicly called for more troops to help stem that country’s accelerating slide off the cliff (something no commander in Iraq did for five years as conditions there went from bad to awful). The word is some 30,000 more troops, including four combat brigades, will arrive in Afghanistan over the next year. Obama said he wants to accelerate that deployment. Expect more Army aviation units to be sent over as soon as they can be freed from the Iraq rotation.
The AP reported this week that McKiernan wants a Stryker brigade. The Canadians have reportedly had good results with their Strykers (LAV III, same chassis) in southern Afghanistan, around Kandahar. Strykers would be great for patrolling the ring road south of Kabul, where the Taliban have struck repeatedly in recent months, and the highway from Kabul to Jalalabad and the Pakistan border, another increasingly ambush-prone zone. Iraq commanders have long had an entire brigade dedicated to supply route security there, particularly on the MSR running from Kuwait to Baghdad.
As we’ve discussed here before on DoDBuzz, the Stryker is not a fighting vehicle, but it is an excellent low-intensity battlefield taxi as it can carry lots of troops and equipment. Running presence patrols on the ring road might sound like the worst kind of counterinsurgency tactic, but somebody needs to secure the highway, as the Afghan Police are clearly not up to the job, and such patrols can be useful if they free up other light infantry units to get out in Afghanistan’s remote villages and stay there.
Army officials are trying to figure out how to free up a Stryker brigade for Afghanistan as the two brigades that are available for deployment later this year (June-July timeframe) are both slotted for Iraq. Although, Stars and Stripes reported that one of those brigades, the 3-2 Stryker Brigade out of Ft. Lewis, Wash. was in Europe last fall taking part in an exercise with Afghan coalition partners Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, against simulated Taliban insurgents. That brigade is commanded by the very bright and experienced Col. David Funk, a rising Army star, and would take to Afghanistan counterinsurgency experience gleaned from two Iraq rotations.
Update: According to a White House Press release, those present at the war council this afternoon will include:
"The Vice President, a representative from the State Department, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, National Security Advisor General James Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, General David Petraeus, Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General Ray Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq who will join via video conference."