Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Last Surge

As I suspected, winning in the east of Afghanistan will require more forces than we have deployed there. And we will add them despite our reduction in forces over the next 9 or 10 months:

Allen said Afghan security forces, often criticized for weak battlefield performance, desertion and a lack of will, are closer to being ready to assume lead responsibility for their nation's defense than many people believe.

"The Afghan national security forces are better than they thought they were, and they're better than we thought they were," Allen said.

That is why he thinks it's safe to lessen the Marine's combat role in Helmand, reduce their numbers and put the Afghans in charge.

That approach also allows Allen to build up elsewhere. He said that in 2012 he will put more U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, increase the number of U.S. special operations forces who are playing an important role in developing Afghan forces, and add intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources. He said he plans to add "several battalions" of U.S. forces in the east. He gave no specific troop number, but a battalion usually totals about 750.

"I'm going to put a lot more forces and capabilities into the east," he said. "The east is going to need some additional forces because our intent is to expand the security zone around Kabul."

I think we have 10 Coalition battalion-sized forces in the east now, so this amounts to another reinforced brigade at our disposal, plus special forces, recon, and firepower assets. Obviously, much of the reinforcement has to come from Afghan forces to build sufficient troop density.

Marines wonder whether it is safe to shift focus to the east and leave Helmand and Kandahar provinces mostly in Afghan hands to defend. Hard to say if we are risking losing the south in order to take a shot at winning the east. But we kind of have to. Our troops will leave, and the clock is running out on nailing down the east in preparation for major reductions in troop strength by 2014. Is it better if we stay in the south and hold it but don't gain the east?

At least by shifting, we have a chance at holding the south and taking the east. That's the only way to go if we play to win.