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Airborne Units to Stay in Afghanistan into 2015

Troops from the Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions will likely be part of the 9,800-strong force staying in Afghanistan in 2015 as part of President Obama’s overall war plan, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Friday.

In naming elements of the 2015 force for the first time, Gen. John F. Campbell, the outgoing Army vice chief of Staff, said that he “absolutely” expected units of the 101st and the 82nd to be part of the force that he will command in 2015.

Units of the 101st and 82nd were scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in the fall and Campbell said that “we will shape them to be part of that 9,800.”

Last week, the Defense Department announced that about 1,000 troops from the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st and 900 troops from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st would deploy to Afghanistan at an unspecified date in the fall. In addition, DoD said that 1,725 troops from the Combat Aviation Brigade of the 82nd would also deploy in the fall.

The DoD announcement pointedly did not state the length of the deployments, which are usually nine months, but Campbell said he was counting on troops from the 101st and 82nd to remain in 2015.

The 82nd and the 101st have frequently deployed units to Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade of the 101st and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st are in Afghanistan finishing up nine-month deployments.

The White House in late June submitted an overall war budget request of $66 billion for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1. The vast majority of the funding -- $59 billion -- would go toward the Defense Department's operations in Afghanistan. The latter figure is almost $21 billion less than the placeholder value the department submitted in its original budget request.

Under President Obama’s plan announced in late May, all 30,000 U.S. combat troops currently in Afghanistan will leave at the end of 2014 and a force of 9,800 will remain in advisory and training roles in 2015.

The troop strength would be halved in 2016 and all U.S. troops would be out in 2017 with the exception of embassy security and troops in an Office of Security and Cooperation, similar to the one in Iraq.

However, the plan was contingent upon the Afghans signing a new Bilateral Security Agreement to allow for the continued presence of U.S. and coalition troops past Dec. 31.

President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the proposed BSA. Both candidates in the runoff election to succeed Karzai have agreed to sign, but the elections results currently are subject to a lengthy audit.

Campbell was confirmed last week by the Senate as the new commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He will succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who has been confirmed to succeed retiring Marine Gen. James Amos as Marine Commandant.

In his last Pentagon briefing as the Army’s No. 2 officer, Campbell said that he expected the formal change of command ceremony in Afghanistan to take place around Aug. 26. Campbell acknowledged that he would be moving into ISAF headquarters in Kabul at a “time of uncertainty” for the transition from a combat role to a training and advisory role for U.S. forces.

Campbell also said that he would conduct his own overview of the Obama plan and make recommendations for changes if he felt they were necessary. “I’ll take a hard operational assessment of it when I get on the ground,” he said.

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