When Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal laid out his strategy this past summer, the one that was then leaked to the press, he said success required a “discrete jump” in troop strength to knock the Taliban on their heels and regain the initiative. Last night, Obama ordered just that, an additional infusion of 30,000 troops, bringing U.S. ground force strength in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000 by the middle of next year.
Within hours of Obama’s speech, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance would send a fresh infusion of at least 5,000 troops, and probably more; that would bring the non-U.S. NATO contingent to 48,000 soldiers. The Afghan Army numbers around 94,000 troops and the Afghan police bring another 93,000 shooters to the fight. That will give McChrystal around 330,000 troops with which to launch a counteroffensive in 2010.
The Soviet 40th Army in Afghanistan numbered 118,000 at the height of the war in the 1980s. Of course the Soviets battled a far larger Mujaheddin enemy than the coalition faces today. The Taliban are believef to field no more than 25,000 fighters.
“The Afghanistan-Pakistan review led by the President has provided me with a clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task,” McChrystal, in Kabul, said in a statement released after Obama’s address. He clearly appreciates the “commitment” to the war effort the troop surge demonstrates as he mentioned the word four times in a four paragraph statement.
Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen said in a Pentagon press release that the military leadership “fully and unhesitatingly” supports Obama’s strategy. That the Pentagon gets the political wrangling surrounding Obama's decision was clear in a headline on the DoD web site that reads: “McChrystal Voices Support for President’s Strategy.”
McChrystal will use the reinforcements to hit the Taliban hard and reverse their momentum, said Brig. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, director of the Pentagon’s Afghan and Pakistan coordination cell last night speaking to reporters. “It’s important to get the forces in to reverse momentum as quickly as possible and buy space and time for the growth of the Afghan forces.” Fully recognizing the enormous logistical burden placed on the military by the pace of Obama’s deployment orders, Nicholson said it “can be done” and the infrastructure to support the movement of men and material to the austere battlefield in Afghanistan was already underway.
As for where the troops will be going: Nicholson said a Marine Regimental Combat Team would be sent to Helmand province to support the Marine Expeditionary Brigade there now. At least one Army brigade, and probably more, will be sent to Kandahar and the surrounding area and another brigade combat team will be sent to Regional Command East.
Nicholson said the additional U.S. troops would act as a “catalyst” to speed the training of Afghan soldiers and police; the Afghan police are currently fighting as light infantry, he said, because of a shortage of Afghan army soldiers. More trainers and key enablers, such as artillery, intelligence, combat engineers, route clearance teams will bolster Afghan army and police units. “The Afghans tend to fight well as infantry, and we can produce infantry units fairly quickly, but these enabling capabilities and the leadership in general are two areas where we act as a catalyst for their development,” he said.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Anthony Cordesman, in a written commentary posted after Obama’s speech, said the speed of the President’s new troop surge is hugely important as it will give the Taliban less time to adapt.
Counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen emphasized that same point in a speech recently to a Washington audience. “One of [the Taliban’s] biggest strengths is that they’ve shown the ability to absorb and adapt to successive increases in foreign presence. Anything less than about 20,000 troops, going in at any one time, they’ll just take it in stride and adapt. They’ve done that four times already. They’ve shown the ability to really absorb and come back stronger the more troops we put in on the ground,” he said.
Obama’s timetable for the troop surge and then setting conditions to begin withdrawing troops by the middle of 2011 is almost exactly the strategy suggested by former Afghan commander, retired Gen. David Barno, earlier this year in Senate testimony. He said a troop buildup and counteroffensive should be launched in 2010-2011 and then a “transition” phase should begin, transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan security forces.
Current U.S. force dispositions, according to a Pentagon press release:
Some 8,000 Marines of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade of Camp Leujeune, N.C., are fighting in southern and western Helmand province and in the western border province of Farah. Two U.S. Army BCTs are operating in RC South. The 2nd Infantry Division’s 5th Stryker BCT of Fort Lewis, Wash., operates in eastern and northern Kandahar province and western Zabul province, and the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th BCT of Fort Bragg, N.C., performs advisory roles and training in the region.
Of the four Army BCTs operating in eastern Afghanistan, the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd BCT of Fort Drum, NY, has operated in the Logar and Wardak provinces since January, and the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Airborne BCT of Ft. Richardson, Alaska, has been engaged in Paktia, Paktika, and Khowst provinces since March. In addition, the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th BCT of Fort Carson, Colo., deployed to Nuristan, Nangahar, Kunar and Laghman provinces in June, and the 48th BCT of the Georgia National Guard deployed as an advisory brigade to Regional Command East in May.