20,000 additional troops requested for Afghanistan

Washington Post:

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan now believe they need about 20,000 additional troops to battle a growing Taliban insurgency, as demands mount for support forces such as helicopter units, intelligence teams and engineers that are critical to operating in the country's harsh terrain.

The troop requests, made in recent weeks, reflect the broader struggles the U.S. military faces in the Afghan war. Fighting has intensified, particularly in the country's eastern region, where attacks are up and cross-border infiltration of insurgents from Pakistan is on the rise. U.S. troop deaths in 2008 are higher than in any other year since the conflict began in 2001.

The Pentagon has approved the deployment of one additional combat battalion and one Army brigade, or about 4,000 troops, set to arrive in Afghanistan by January. Commanders have already requested three more combat brigades -- 10,500 to 12,000 troops -- but those reinforcements depend on further reductions from Iraq and are unlikely to arrive until spring or summer, according to senior defense officials. Now, U.S. commanders are asking the Pentagon for 5,000 to 10,000 additional support forces to help them tackle the country's unique geographic and logistical challenges.

Afghanistan's rugged mountains, bitter winters and primitive infrastructure pose a major hurdle as the U.S. military seeks to build up its combat forces there. The conditions contrast with those in Iraq, where roads, runways and built-up urban areas helped absorb nearly 30,000 U.S. forces during the troop "surge" last year.

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Afghanistan's austere environment means the military cannot simply redirect the flow of heavy, medium and light forces from Iraq, said Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We need bed-down spots for those forces, infrastructure that would support them," Cartwright said in recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Are we to keep them in centralized enclaves? Are we going to start to get them out into the country? That means that you have to have a basing construct that allows that, and the mobility, and the communications to allow that," he said.

The pressing needs in Afghanistan include a U.S. aviation brigade with about 2,500 troops and attack and transport helicopters; three battalions of military police totaling more than 2,000 troops; as well as Army and Navy engineers, combat hospitals, bomb-clearing teams, and civil affairs and psychological operations soldiers, according to Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, the top commander for day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan.

Equally essential are intelligence and surveillance capabilities, such as Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, that provide full-motion video of the battlefield, said Tucker, deputy chief of staff of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO-led command based in Kabul.

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This request does not sound like it would address the need to increase the force to space ratio in Afghanistan. In fact it will increase the need for force protection by combat forces. I suspect that is why some have argued for an increase in special forces troops who can train indigenous forces and become real force multipliers in the Afghan environment.

The story does not really address how the Pakistan offensive may impact troop needs in Afghanistan. I think they clearly need to increase the force to space ratio to the extent that they can protect the people in all parts of the country. The best way to do that is to grow the Afghan army at the same time we are adding forces. We also must build an effective local militia that can stand up to the Taliban raiders.

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