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McChrystal Troop Boost Comes Friday

The long expected request for more troops from Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal will come within the next two days, his commander, Gen. David Petraeus said yesterday. While he wouldn’t elaborate on the “pre-decisional” size of that request, Petraeus said both he and Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen endorsed McChrystal’s new strategy for Afghanistan that was leaked earlier this week.

As for the size of the force that might ultimately be sent to Afghanistan, Petraeus said the oft cited counterinsurgency doctrine yardstick of twenty counterinsurgents per thousand civilians only applies to those specific areas most plagued by insurgent attacks, it doesn’t mean that troop density is needed across the entire country. Further, they don’t all have to be U.S. troops, he said, they can be Afghan troops and police.

The nation’s most heavily engaged combatant commander did identify a critical shortage of forward air controllers in Afghanistan, specially trained troops who call in close air support for hard-pressed troops, called Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTAC). “Big shortage of those out there, especially as we now proliferate these security teams out there in platoon sizes, special forces teams that need the JTACs.” We have written here recently about the shortage of forward air controllers in Afghanistan.

Petraeus said he recently requested help from the chiefs of both the Army and Air Force to provide more JTACs to his troops on the ground. Other “very high demand, low density skill areas,” he highlighted included electronic warfare officers and troops with language and cultural skills.

Just ten percent of the districts in Afghanistan see seventy percent of the attacks, he said, so McChrystal will concentrate his forces “in those areas where the insurgency is most threatening the population and you have the most people.”

Prior to the Iraq surge in 2007, Petraeus and his commanders identified the insurgent “hot spots,” and focused their forces there, establishing small combat outposts in the neighborhoods. A similar approach will be followed in Afghanistan, with the Kandahar area figuring prominently in McChrystal’s counteroffensive, Petraeus said, speaking at a Marine Corps University sponsored conference in Washington, D.C.

I asked conference participant Marine Col. Julian Alford, who will command a Marine Regimental Combat Team in Afghanistan next year, how big a force would be needed to deal with the Taliban threat in Kandahar. He said one brigade could control the city, but the troops would have to be deployed inside the city. The Canadians who currently have responsibility for Kandahar, don’t patrol inside the city, he said. That will change he assured me. Interestingly, Alford, who served on previous Afghan commander Gen. David McKiernan’s team, said McKiernan had a sound, “two year” plan for Afghanistan that was similar to the one now being proposed by McChrystal

U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan will increase from around 31,000 in January to around 68,000 by the end of the year. Troops there “desperately” needed more helicopters, Petraeus said, so the Combat Aviation Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was sent to Kandahar. Along with the helicopters brought by the Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Helmand, total rotary wing numbers have doubled in Afghanistan.

A “significant” endeavor, Petraeus said, is the advise and assist brigade of the 82nd, augmented by substantial numbers of junior officers and NCOs, that will soon be arriving in the southern part of the country to partner with Afghan Army units. Petraeus is trying to ensure that units who have spent time in Afghanistan, such as the 173rd Airborne Brigade, will return there, bringing with them hard gained institutional knowledge and experience on specific areas of operation.

In Afghanistan, Petraeus and McChrystal are trying to imitate the highly effective command structure established in Iraq, “one truly optimized over time for the conduct of counterinsurgency operations.” Petraeus said a host of essential “enablers” are still on the way to Afghanistan, a reference to either national level intelligence operators and special operations forces or more surveillance drones and aircraft, or both.

Any notion this humble reporter may have had that cyber war might not be the threat some make it out to be were dispelled yesterday when the nation’s top combatant commander identified U.S. capabilities in cyber space as one of the “big capabilities” that are lacking, and one he highlighted to the QDR strategic review team. “Cyberspace is a battleground, it cannot be uncontested, the enemy cannot have free reign out in cyberspace anymore than they have free reign in a geographical location.”

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