4 years, 10 months ago
So Bruce Rolston and I had been debating the issue of large versus small footprint in Afghanistan, and Tim Lynch weighs in with this interesting take:
I’d like to clear up my position on the number of troops deployed which, given my tendency to write about things that irritate me, may not seem consistent. In fact I am going to prove my suitability for government service by stating unequivocally that you are both right.
When I write that we are turning the corner in the South I do so because I have seen the Marines there doing what Marines do – figuring out how to accomplish their assigned mission using a combination of innovation and solid infantry fundamentals. But the Marines have essentially a reinforced division fighting in the sparsely populated Helmand Province which gives them enough boots on the ground to be effective. And I remain flabbergasted by the thousands of support troops and massive headquarters supporting the Marines. The Marines should be focused on securing the people by separating the population from the Taliban which is best done by relentlessly hunting them down and killing them. But they are now doing nation building tasks they should not have to do because our State Department and USAID are incompetent.
Yet even with the added burden of doing missions other governmental agencies are designed and funded to do there are too many of the wrong types of people deployed in country. I have always said that PRT’s are a massive waste of money and personnel because they, by design, cannot accomplish what they are assigned to do. I would add that when you walk into the C9 or C6 or C3 sections of the MEF HQ and see a half dozen full bird Colonels in each it doesn’t take a military expert to figure out something is amiss.
We are not going to build Afghanistan into a functional nation. But we can build the Afghan military into a functional tool while providing the room for them to grow with our own maneuver battalions. To do that requires lots more boots on the ground but outside the wire of the dozens of massive bases we have built in Afghanistan. You can deploy and support those troops with about 50% of the people currently stuffed into the massive FOB’s.
We need more trigger pullers but less troops. We need more reconstruction but don’t need PRT’s. We need a clear mission with more of the ROE decision making passed down the chain of command, not more general officers. And we need to figure out how to do the hold and build with the TTP’s I use which is currently a bridge too far for both the military and the other governmental agencies who are spending billions while accomplishing nothing.
Tim makes an interesting point concerning support to infantry ratio, a theme that has been discussed here, here, here, here and here. Micromanaging the military has also taken a prominent place in our inspection here at The Captain’s Journal. As for ROE, I have always been a proponent of pressing both responsibility and authority down in the chain of command. Micromanaging the ROE caused the deaths of three Marines and a Corpsman.
As if on cue (maybe they’re listening to Tim and/or me), the support to infantry ratio is about to change in Afghanistan.
U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan are seeking ways to maintain the level of combat troops there, even as they make plans to cut the overall number of American personnel to meet the White House’s mandate to start shipping out forces by summer.
Under one early proposal, commanders in Afghanistan would cut from 5,000 to 10,000 staff positions, maintenance personnel and intelligence analysts. But the number of Army and Marine infantry would be untouched, as would brigade and battalion headquarters.
A senior military official said Gen. David Petraeus has yet to authorize any formal planning for the July 2011 drawdown of forces that President Barack Obama announced more than a year ago. But other officials said Gen. Petraeus and administration officials in Washington appeared to back the general approach of culling support positions that may be redundant or expendable, while preserving, or even increasing, the proportion of front-line infantry troops in the field.
“You’re still engaged in a war and you don’t want to give up combat power,” said an administration official. “Why would you send home gunfighters and keep cooks? It doesn’t make sense.”
The plan to reduce troop levels, which President Obama announced when he committed 33,000 additional troops for Afghanistan in December 2009, has been a running source of tension between the White House and the military. Reducing troop levels is a political priority, especially with anxiety on the left about the length and cost of the war. Military commanders are wary that too fast a withdrawal could imperil what they see as their fragile gains.
Gen. Petraeus believes he has been given wide latitude by the White House to determine how to cut, according to a military officer familiar with his thinking, and also understands the cut must be more than 2,000 people. Officials believe reducing forces between 5,000 and 10,000 could satisfy demands within the White House for a substantial
reduction. But cutting at the upper end of that range could entail reducing the military’s firepower, they say.
Although there is no official cap, military officials in Afghanistan have been told they can’t exceed about 98,000 troops, which is close to the current deployment.
Some senior officers believe keeping the same number of combat troops in Afghanistan after the beginning of the drawdown is critical to breaking the will of the Taliban to keep fighting after the summer. “The message [we are hearing] from the Taliban is that we are leaving,” said a senior defense official. “A significant number will leave, but I guarantee there won’t be any combat forces cut.”
Separately from the July drawdown, officials say top commanders in Afghanistan are reviewing the makeup of their forces, looking for support troops that could be sent home and replaced with additional front-line “trigger pullers.”
“We’ve got a lot of guys who never leave the wire,” said one military officer, referring to a military base’s perimeter. “I think we’re asking what each one of them does and do we need what they do.”
There are worse things the Pentagon could be doing than listening to Tim – and um, me.