Obama's new strategy to grow Afghan forces

Washington Post:

President Obama will deploy as many as 4,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, beyond the 17,000 he authorized last month, as trainers and advisers to the Afghan Army, according to a senior Pentagon official who has seen the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy Obama will unveil Friday.

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While additional U.S. combat troops will enhance the ability of the multinational coalition force to hold ground in southern Afghanistan's Taliban strongholds, increased training and equipping of Afghan security forces is the ultimate exit strategy for the United States and NATO, administration officials said.

Afghanistan's defense minister has said he plans to double the size of the Afghan Army to 134,000 by 2011, but coalition forces until now have been unable to provide trainers and mentors, equipment and transport for the existing Afghan force.

The extra 4,000 troops, expected to deploy in June, are to fill that gap. In a sign of the new importance the administration is placing on the mission, a brigade of the U.S. Army's vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is being broken up into 10 to 14 member advisory teams, the Pentagon official said. Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams.

"The change couldn't be more dramatic," said John Nagl, a former Army officer and president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense think tank. "The 82nd Airborne Division is the nation's shock force. They are the most elite troops in the Army. This shows how important the mission is to the Obama administration and the high priority the Army is giving it."

The deployment suggests a different approach than the one taken by U.S. forces in Iraq, where the main focus was on using large U.S. combat brigades to protect the local population and decrease sectarian violence.

The U.S. teams, who will live and fight with Afghan forces, also provide a critical link to U.S. fighter jets, bombers and helicopters, should the fledgling Afghan forces be overwhelmed by Taliban fighters.

The assignment also represents a major cultural shift for the service. Most rising Amy officers have gone out of their way to avoid advisory duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, preferring assignments with more traditional combat brigades and battalions. Advisory team jobs have been widely seen as career killers.

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I don't think the comparison to Iraq is accurate. Actually we grew the Iraqi army to a much larger force than the projected Afghan force and also worked with local Iraqis in neighborhood watch programs that increased the force to space ratio. I think we need to send more combat troops in addition tot he training forces in order to deny space to Taliban fighters and help protect people.

I do have a lot of respect for John Nagl and if he is upbeat about the program then it is worth giving a chance. Nagl worked closely with Gen Petraeus in writing the Counterinsurgency Manual used by the Army and Marine Corps.

The NY Times is reporting on the agreement of Taliban units to close ranks in fighting the US surge. I think this is actually good news for our side. Even if they work together they do not have the military capacity to defeat our forces, but if they adopt a central command and control, it will make it easier to gather intelligence on their operations and thwart their plans. One of the strengths of insurgency warfare is the dispersal of forces and controls. The Taliban are doing the opposite.

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