Afghanistan Campaign Gripped by Confusion

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

In Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan we discussed the possibility that Secretary of Defense Gates would demand changes in the strategic alignment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Promotion of General Petraeus to Commander of CENTCOM without a realignment of U.S. troops to his direct command (they currently report to NATO command) removes the possibility for any strategic changes needed to make the campaign successful.

There are further developments in the potential realignment of forces, and General McNeill has made his position known.

The top NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday he favored talks to end the rotating command among allied forces in the violent south of the country, where the United States has added more troops.

U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill also said he still needed more troops and aircraft for his 50,000-strong force, declaring he was a “fairly frugal dude” and only asked for what he needed.

“I am in favor of a dialogue by the policymakers and the politicians about the consideration of one country leading a multinational headquarters in the south,” McNeill told reporters in Washington by videolink from Kabul.

But as soon as McNeill said these words, politics seemed to spell the end of the potential realignment.

NATO will continue to rotate command of its troops in the violent South of Afghanistan despite U.S. generals’ concerns that the arrangement disrupts operations, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

To minimize problems caused by the changeovers, each nation with major troop contingents in the South will take command for one year rather than the current nine months, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.

The announcement appeared to end a debate within NATO that some diplomats saw as an attempt by the United States to take charge of southern Afghanistan, the scene of the heaviest fighting between allied troops and Taliban insurgents.

The new arrangement does mean the United States will command NATO forces in the South — but not until late 2010. The Netherlands and Britain will each have a year in charge first after Canada’s command ends this November.

So the debate has ended with politics as the winner, and the U.S. will take over in the South where the Marines were recently deployed, but not until 2010.  Next in the tortured story, the Marines may be looking at a realignment of forces to focus on Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps may begin shifting its major combat forces out of Iraq to focus on Afghanistan in 2009 if greater security in Iraq allows a reduction of Marines there, top Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the proposal by the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, to focus his force on Afghanistan — which they rejected late last year — could be reconsidered.

“Should we be in a position to move forces into Afghanistan, I think that certainly would come back into consideration,” Mullen said at a Pentagon briefing. He said that he understands it is challenging for the Marines to have “a foot in both countries” and that Conway seeks to “optimize the forces that he has,” but stressed that any shift is likely to occur “down the road.”

Gates said he agrees that the Marine Corps shift is “a possibility” for next year. He explained that when he earlier said the change “wouldn’t happen on my watch,” that was not an unchangeable policy decision — he meant it would not unfold until 2009, when he plans to step down.

But by then the Afghan troops are supposed to take over operations.  “Afghanistan’s national army will have the manpower to take the lead in fighting the Taliban by early 2009, helping NATO forces move toward a support role, the general in charge of Afghan troop training said.”

So NATO stays in charge, while more U.S. Marines are deployed to Afghanistan – under NATO control without a coherent strategy – and the U.S. takes over operations in the South in 2010, but this is irrelevant because by this time the Afghan troops will have taken charge.

Got it?  Actually, with this plan, The Captain’s Journal has a different prediction in mind.  The Taliban win because of our inept vacillations and political games.

  • trollsmasher

    I was under the impression that a part of US Forces in Afghanistan were still outside ISAF command? In my humble opinion U.S. Forces except those training Afghan forces should be placed outside the NATO command structure. NATO has proven to not be the best warfighters but seem to do a credible training job. Lets just hope the German ROE do not rub off on them.
    Also did anyone notice that the offical press of Afghanistan is calling on the U.S. to start sustained attacks into the FATA against Taliban and AQ training camps and C3. This has to be done.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    All U.S. troops are under the authority of NATO. You’re right, that the NATO forces do appear to be good at training, force protection and Kabul security. They should focus on this, split the forces into NATO and U.S., and let the U.S. focus on the Taliban and population with U.S. forces reporting to CENTCOM but matrixed as necessary to NATO for selected missions. Otherwise, the Petraeus promotion will make no difference.

  • Aercdr

    A large number of US troops are here in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, not ISAF. Those forces do come under CENTCOM. There is a “dual-hatted” command structure that has an American general performing both duties. US troops include SOF and a wide-variety of other forces.


You are currently reading "Afghanistan Campaign Gripped by Confusion", entry #1112 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,NATO,Taliban and was published May 26th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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