U.S. Seeks Sweeping Changes in Command Structure for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

About five months ago The Captain’s Journal published Command Structure Changes for Afghanistan, which Glenn Reynolds linked at Instapundit. We were prescient and properly predicted that in order to give General Petraeus the power and authority to implement a coherent counterinsurgency strategy with unity of effort throughout the organization, U.S. forces would need to be completely under his command at CENTCOM. Glenn had a nose for news too in taking interest in this subject, and it appears that the U.S. is pushing for just what we recommended (and even a little beyond).

The Bush administration is pushing for sweeping changes to the military command structure in Afghanistan, so that the head of international forces would report directly to US Central Command instead of Nato.

The changes would have huge repercussions for Nato, whose officials have stated that Afghanistan is a “defining moment” for the organisation’s ability to conduct large-scale operations abroad.

The Independent has learnt that the proposal to streamline the complex chain of command, enabling US General David McKiernan to be answerable to superiors at Centcom in Tampa, Florida, rather than Nato, is before Robert Gates, the American Defence Secretary.

Mr Gates is due in the UK today after a visit to Afghanistan where he spoke about the deteriorating security situation with senior Western officers and Afghan ministers. At the same time, in a mark of the seriousness with which the Americans view the situation, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, flew to Pakistan from where Taliban fighters are mounting cross-border raids.

Any move to make the Afghan war an American-run operation would be controversial in some Nato countries. There is already public disquiet in countries such as Italy, Germany and Canada over the conflict.

Nevertheless, altering the command structure is an option in a wide-ranging plan by Washington to acquire greater control of the mission in Afghanistan. A violent Taliban resurgence has made the past three months the most lethal for Western forces. President George Bush has recently announced that several thousand troops will be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan, and General David Petraeus, who led the “surge” in Iraq, credited with reducing the violence there, is returning to the US in overall charge of both missions.

But it is the proposed change to the command structure in Afghanistan which is seen by the Americans as crucial to whether or not the Afghan mission succeeds. Officials point out that in Iraq, General Petraeus was in sole command, which allowed him to carry out his counter-insurgency plan. In Afghanistan, however, different Nato countries are in charge of different regions, often with different rules. Forty nations ranging from Albania and Iceland to the US and Britain are involved in Afghan operations. The force in southern Afghanistan, the main theatre of combat, includes troops from Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Australia, Romania and nine other nations.

US forces sent to Afghanistan recently from Iraq claimed that operations were being stymied because of the multi-layered command structure. Colonel Anthony Anderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines complained publicly: “We are trying to keep our frustration in check … but we have to wait for the elephants to stop dancing”, a reference to the alleged clumsiness of the international command.

Lt Col Brian Mennes, commander of Task Force Fury, a parachute battalion serving in Kandahar, said at the end of his tour: “We don’t understand where we are going here, we desperately want to see a strategy in front of us.”

The British and Canadians are contributing mightily to the campaign in Afghanistan. But as examples of strategic incoherence, the German rules of engagement only allows firing in self defense, and Australian infantry troops are required to sign formal documents declaring that they have not provoked combat operations (their special forces are the only troops allowed to engage in kinetic operations).

Without drastic changes in the nature of the mission of NATO troops, it is doubtful that even placing them under the command of General Petraeus will change much. This is partly why we have recommended more U.S. troops. Petraeus must have access to resources that will operate with regard to unity of command, unity of strategy and unity of mission. Time is short in the campaign, Pakistan’s intentions cannot be trusted, and the security situation is degrading.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,NATO,Petraeus and was published September 18th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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