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History > 2008 > USA > Wars > Afghanistan (V)




Gates Arrives in Afghanistan


December 12, 2008
The New York Times


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Defense secretary Robert M. Gates said on Wednesday that the Pentagon, which plans to send 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, was trying to get thousands of the additional combat forces into the country as soon as next summer, a sign of the seriousness of the threat facing the United States against the Taliban.

The soldiers were requested by Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. The first of them, about 3,500 to 4,000 troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., are scheduled to arrive next month.

Mr. Gates said he hoped to deploy an additional two combat brigades in Afghanistan by the summer as part of an effort to combat growing violence and chaos in the country. He declined to name the specific units. Pentagon officials have said it would take 12 to 18 months overall to get all 20,000 American troops to Afghanistan.

The reinforcements will increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan to about 58,000 from the current level of 34,000. Mr. Gates said that the planned drawdown of some soldiers from Iraq in January had enabled the military to begin sending additional forces to Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates made his remarks to reporters on his plane en route to Kandahar, where he arrived on Thursday to meet with General McKiernan. Later in the day, Mr. Gates is to answer questions from American forces in Kandahar at a town-hall style meeting, his first experience with such a format.

President-elect Barack Obama vowed repeatedly during the campaign to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, which he declared the central front in the war against terrorism. His call for more troops here was consistent with the views of top commanders, although Mr. Gates, who is staying on as Mr. Obama’s Defense Secretary, made clear that the new administration’s military policy in Afghanistan is far from settled.

“But I have not heard anybody talking about forces beyond those that General McKiernan has already requested,” said Mr. Gates, who has been in recent conversations with Mr. Obama and in meetings with the president-elect’s transition team. “And I think that’s a discussion that the new administration will have as we look to the future.”

Mr. Gates said that his view would be to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army, particularly as the United States increases its military presence in the country.

“The history of foreign military forces in Afghanistan, when they have been regarded by the Afghan people as there for their own interests, and as occupiers, has not been a happy one,” Mr. Gates said. “And the Soviets couldn’t win in Afghanistan with 120,000 troops. And they clearly didn’t care about civilian casualties. So I just think we have to think about the longer term in this. I think we’re going to be in this struggle for quite a long time, and I think we have to make sure we’ve got some of the basics right.”

Mr. Gates said he had talked on the telephone with Mr. Obama since they first met in Washington on Nov. 10 and that the conversations since then have largely focused on personnel, including who will assume the top jobs under Mr. Gates at the Pentagon.

“It’s a dialogue,” he said. “I do not have specific candidates for specific jobs, and so they’re providing me with names and I’m giving them feedback.” Mr. Gates added that he would interview all prospects for senior-level positions and make recommendations to Mr. Obama.

“I guess the way I would leave it is I believe I have substantial influence over those decisions, but if the president of the United States wants to appoint somebody to a job, nobody in the executive branch has a veto,” Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates also said there had been “some occasional awkwardness” as he makes the transition from one commander-in-chief to another. For example, he said, he has sometimes had to chose between attending what is known as a “principals”’ meeting at the White House — a session with the secretaries of State, Treasury and other Cabinet members, without the president — or a session with Mr. Obama’s transition team.

“I haven’t missed any meetings with the president, let me put it that way,” Mr. Gates said. “But let’s just say that if I’m faced with a choice between attending a principals’ meeting on an issue that I think is not particularly hot and a meeting with the transition folks, I’ll opt for the latter.”

Gates Arrives in Afghanistan, 12.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/world/middleeast/12gates.html






6 Afghan Police

Killed in Mistaken U.S. Strike


December 10, 2008
Filed at 4:17 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. Special Forces killed six Afghan police and wounded at least 11 early Wednesday in a case of mistaken identity after the police fired on the Americans during an operation against an insurgent commander, officials said.

A U.S. military statement said police fired on the American forces after the troops battled and killed an armed militant in the city of Qalat, the capital of the southern province of Zabul. The Americans returned fire on the police but only later learned their identities.

''Coalition forces deeply regret the incident of mistaken fire,'' said Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman. ''Initial reports indicate this was a tragic case of mistaken identity on both parts.''

Gulab Shah Alikhail, the province's deputy governor, said U.S. Special Forces carried out an operation in a small village near a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Qalat. The police, thinking it was a Taliban attack, opened fire, he said. Then a helicopter fired on the security post and destroyed it, he said.

The attack collapsed the police station's roof and damaged a civilian home nearby, said Gilani Khan, the deputy provincial police chief.

''Unfortunately, the Special Forces didn't inform the police that they were going to the village,'' Alikhail said.

U.S. officials quietly admit that they are hesitant to share detailed plans of raids against militant commanders for fear that government officials connected to the Taliban could tip off the militants of the impending operation.

The U.S. said the target of Wednesday's raid was a militant commander ''known to coordinate attacks against coalition forces along Highway One,'' Afghanistan's main highway that circles the country. The statement did not say if that commander had been killed in the operation.

Friendly fire between U.S. or NATO forces and Afghan troops or police happens several times a year. President Hamid Karzai has deplored the deaths of Afghan civilians during U.S. or NATO operations but has said that some friendly fire deaths are inevitable during war.

Officials from the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and U.S. forces traveled from Kabul to Qalat on Wednesday to investigate the deaths.

    6 Afghan Police Killed in Mistaken U.S. Strike, NYT, 10.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2008/12/10/world/AP-AS-Afghanistan.html






U.S. Plans a Shift

to Focus Troops on Kabul Region


December 7, 2008
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.

It will be the first time that American or coalition forces have been deployed in large numbers on the southern flank of the city, a decision that reflects the rising concerns among military officers, diplomats and government officials about the increasing vulnerability of the capital and the surrounding area.

It also underscores the difficult choices confronting American military commanders as they try to apportion a limited number of forces not only within Afghanistan, but also between Afghanistan and Iraq.

For the incoming Obama administration, a first priority will be to weigh which is the greater risk: drawing down American forces too quickly in Iraq, potentially jeopardizing the gains there; or not building up troops quickly enough in Afghanistan, where the war effort hangs in the balance as security worsens.

The new Army brigade, the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., is scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan in January and will consist of 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers. The “vast majority” of them will be sent to Logar and Wardak Provinces, adjacent to Kabul, said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for the American units in eastern Afghanistan. A battalion of at least several hundred soldiers from that brigade will go to the border region in the east, where American forces have been locked in some of the fiercest fighting this year.

In all, the Pentagon is planning to add more than 20,000 troops to Afghanistan in response to a request from Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. Those troops are expected to be sent to violent areas in the south. But they are expected to be deployed over 12 to 18 months. Nearly all would be diverted from Iraq, officials say.

The plan for the incoming brigade, then, means that for the time being fewer reinforcements — or none at all — will be immediately available for the parts of Afghanistan where the insurgency is most intense.

It also means that most of the newly arriving troops will not be deployed with the main goal of curbing the cross-border flow of insurgents from their rear bases in Pakistan, something American commanders would like and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has recommended.

In recent months, amid a series of American military operations that caused civilian casualties, Mr. Karzai has repeatedly said that the fight against the insurgents should not be waged “in the villages” of Afghanistan but rather in the rugged borderlands to the east and south.

In an interview, the president’s spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said there was no conflict between the January deployment and Mr. Karzai’s declarations. While Mr. Karzai had requested a focus on border areas, the spokesman said, additional reinforcements were also needed throughout the country, including in Wardak and Logar.

There are about 62,000 international troops currently in Afghanistan, including about 32,000 Americans, a military spokesman said, but they are spread thinly throughout the country, which is nearly the size of Texas.

American commanders say they desperately need more. Military officials say that if General McKiernan’s requests are met, deployments in the next year and a half or so will include four combat brigades, an aviation brigade equipped with attack and troop-carrying helicopters, reconnaissance units, support troops and trainers for the Afghan Army and the police, raising American force levels to about 58,000.

The United States and NATO forces are hoping to expand the Afghan Army to 134,000 from nearly 70,000 over the next four or five years.

Col. Gregory S. Julian, a top military spokesman, said that for security reasons he could not say where exactly those troops would go, but NATO’s southern command in Afghanistan includes Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul Provinces.

Of immediate concern, American and NATO commanders say, is the need to safeguard the capital, to hit new Taliban strongholds in Wardak and Logar, and to provide enough security in those provinces for development programs, which are essential to maintaining the support of Afghan villagers.

Unlike in previous winters, when there was a lull in fighting as many Taliban fighters returned to Pakistan, American commanders expect more Taliban fighters to remain in Afghanistan and continue the fight. If so, the change would seem to reflect an effort by the emboldened insurgency to maintain its momentum and hold newly gained territory.

Wardak and Logar had been relatively secure until late last year. But by most accounts, Taliban activity has soared in the two provinces in the past year, as the insurgents have stepped up attacks against Afghan and foreign forces, sometimes even controlling parts of major roads connecting Kabul to the east and south.

The number of attacks in Wardak by the Taliban and other insurgent groups has increased about 58 percent since last year, and in Logar about 41 percent, according to statistics collated by Sami Kovanen, a security analyst in Kabul.

Insurgents now have significant influence, if not control, in much of the two provinces, said Mr. Kovanen, who draws his information from a wide range of government, nongovernment and private sources.

The American military command said it had incomplete statistics for the level of violence in those provinces. “Frankly, in Wardak and Logar, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Colonel Nielson-Green said in an e-mail message. “There are few of our forces present in those areas, hence the reason for the incoming brigade there.”

“I suspect that violence will increase as we place this unit but will go down over time,” she added, “because we assess that there are considerable enemy support areas in both provinces and we will be going after them.”

In June, three American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed in an ambush when their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades as they drove through Wardak Province.

In August, three Western women and an Afghan driver, all working for the International Rescue Committee, a relief group based in New York, were killed in Logar. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The next month, the governor of Logar Province and three of his guards were killed in the explosion of a mine buried in a road.

American and NATO military commanders eventually hope to turn over the country’s security to Afghan forces, but the Afghan police and military are nowhere near ready to assume that responsibility, officials say.

The Afghan government has already begun to work with local and provincial elected officials to extend the influence of the central government in the region, improve public services and gain the support of residents. But the government’s efforts have been continually hampered by criminal gangs and insurgent groups.

Sediqa Mubariz, a member of Parliament from Wardak, said in an interview that she would welcome any additional American troops in her province.

Ms. Mubariz said security had been so poor that since last year she had not been able to travel from Kabul to her home district in Wardak, only 50 miles away.

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Kabul, and Kirk Kraeutler from New York.

    U.S. Plans a Shift to Focus Troops on Kabul Region, NYT, 7.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/world/asia/07troops.html






Military Analysis

Afghan Strategy

Poses Stiff Challenge for Obama


December 2, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — One of the most difficult challenges President-elect Barack Obama’s national security team faces is Mr. Obama’s vow to send thousands of American troops to help defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Military experts agree that more troops are required to carry out an effective counterinsurgency campaign, but they also caution that the reinforcements are unlikely to lead to the sort of rapid turnaround that the so-called troop surge in Iraq produced after its start in 2007.

After seven years of war, Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.

American intelligence reports underscore the seriousness of the threat. From August through October, the average number of daily attacks by insurgents exceeded those in Iraq, the first time the violence in Afghanistan had outpaced the fighting in Iraq since the start of the American occupation in May 2003. Almost half of the insurgents’ attacks were directed against American and other foreign forces, while the remainder were focused on Afghan security forces and civilians.

“Afghanistan may be the ‘good war,’ but it is also the harder war,” said David J. Kilcullen, a former officer in the Australian Army who recently left his job as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s senior adviser on counterinsurgency issues.

During the Bush administration, the Afghan conflict has taken a back seat to Iraq, where the American military struggled to combat a virulent insurgency and tamp down an explosion of sectarian violence. According to the latest data from the military command in Baghdad, violence in Iraq has been rolled back to the levels of early 2004.

But violence in Afghanistan has climbed. The 267 allied military deaths this year are the most ever. (The monthly total peaked at 46 in June and August but dropped to 12 in November, partly because of seasonal variations in the fighting, according to a count by icasualties.org.)

Declaring Afghanistan to be the central front in the struggle against terrorism, Mr. Obama talked during the campaign of sending at least two more combat brigades to Afghanistan — in effect staking the reputation of his new national security team on the outcome of that war, which appears to be stalemated, at best.

Mr. Obama and his aides have yet to outline a strategy for precisely how many reinforcements would be sent and how specifically they would be employed.

But the Pentagon is already planning to send more than 20,000 additional troops in response to a request from Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials say that force would include four combat brigades, an aviation brigade equipped with attack and troop-carrying helicopters, reconnaissance units, support troops and trainers for the Afghan Army and the police.

The first of the combat brigades is to deploy in the eastern part of Afghanistan, while the rest of the brigades are expected to be sent to southern and southwestern Afghanistan. All told, it would increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan to about 58,000 from the current level of 34,000, and add to the approximately 30,000 other foreign troops who are operating there under a NATO-led command.

The Pentagon schedule for sending the troops bears little resemblance to the 2007 buildup in Iraq. Pentagon officials said it would take 12 to 18 months to deploy the reinforcements. (In contrast, more than five brigades were sent to Iraq for the surge within five months.)

Poor roads and limited military infrastructure in Afghanistan complicate the task of deploying the troops.

In addition, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has emphasized that Afghan troops, not American or NATO troops, should ultimately shoulder the burden of fighting the war.

Military officers say that some general lessons can be carried over from the counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, like the paramount importance of protecting the population.

But for all the difficulties the American military has confronted in Iraq, the conditions there were more conducive in some important ways to a successful surge than in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is not Iraq,” said Ali A. Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister, who projects that it will take 10 years to establish stability in the country. “It is the theme park of problems.”

One major difference is that Iraq is a heavily urbanized society. When President Bush announced the Iraq troop surge, the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was focusing its attacks on Baghdad. By deploying five additional combat brigades in and around the city, the United States was able to concentrate its combat power in the area that its primary foe had chosen as the main arena.

In Afghanistan, while there are important cities like Kandahar that experts say need to be protected, much of the population lives in rural areas.

“Fifty percent of Afghans continue to live in villages of 300 persons or less, and 75 to 80 percent live in a rural environment,” said J. Alexander Thier, an expert on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace, a government-financed research center. “The insurgency is rural-based.”

Another critical difference pertains to the local army and the police who fight alongside the Americans.

When the buildup began there were more than 300,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers. The quality of the Iraqi troops was uneven, and they depended on the Americans for airstrikes, artillery and some logistical support. But the Iraqi security forces demonstrated with their March offensive in Basra that they were able to deploy over long distances; and they have now expanded to more than 500,000.

In contrast, Afghanistan has a minuscule military for a nation with a population of 32 million — several million more than Iraq — and a territory that is a quarter larger than Iraq. The Afghan Army is nearly 70,000 strong, and the Afghan police number about 80,000, though many police officers are regarded as corrupt or ineffectual.

According to current plans, the Afghan Army is to be expanded to 134,000 troops over the next four or five years, at a cost to the United States and other foreign nations of some $17 billion. American officials have been looking at ways to accelerate that growth and perhaps expand it even further. To improve the Afghan forces, American brigades are expected to partner with them and conduct joint operations.

The conflict in Afghanistan is also complicated by a haven for militants just across the border in Pakistan, where a sympathetic Pashtun population is in control and has been able practically to ignore the Pakistani central government.

For the military effort in Afghanistan to succeed, the Pakistani military would have to establish control of much of that lawless territory: a formidable task that would require a new emphasis on counterinsurgency by the Pakistani military and a greater willingness on the part of Pakistani leaders, who may be distracted by the flare-up of tensions with India after the attacks in Mumbai last week.

For all that, the political weakness of the Afghan government may be American officials’ biggest worry.

While Iraq is rife with sectarian tension and political rivalries, Iraqis have a tradition of a strong centralized state. In Afghanistan, power has long been decentralized and distributed, and there is broad dissatisfaction with President Hamid Karzai, who is expected to campaign for re-election next year.

“In Afghanistan, there is no memory of a centralized state,” said Marvin G. Weinbaum, a former analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and a scholar at the Middle East Institute. “What they do have is a memory of a central government of limited scope and limited reach. Their expectations were driven up by our rhetoric and our proposals, and now somehow we have to find a way to meet those expectations.”

Another reason sectarian violence declined so drastically in Iraq was the alignment of Sunni tribes with American forces. The Sunni Awakening in Anbar Province was under way before the surge, but the arrival of additional troops reinforced the effort there and encouraged the growth of Awakening movements in other parts of Iraq.

In Afghanistan, the tribal network is far more fragmented, and commanders are wary of building up the strength of one tribe for fear of alienating a rival tribe.

General McKiernan said in a recent address to the Atlantic Council that he was trying to develop a “bottom up” approach in which tribal elders, religious figures and other community leaders would form local councils that would be given the authority and resources to help with security. American officials have been trying to win Mr. Karzai’s support for the effort, which would establish community national guard units in local districts to supplement the efforts of the Afghan Army and the police.

There has been much debate in recent weeks about the usefulness of talking with Taliban insurgents and encouraging them to put down their arms. But the prevailing view among senior American military officers is that such efforts are unlikely to be fruitful until the United States and its allies have more military leverage. Many insurgents, intelligence analysts say, have little motivation to reconcile with the Afghan government now, because they believe that the government is weak and that they are on the winning side.

Surveying the battlefield, even advocates of troop increases are forecasting a long struggle. The directors of the multinational Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul, Col. John Agoglia of the United States Army and Lt. Col. Trent Scott of the Australian Army, say that more American and international troops are needed to protect the Afghan population and hold ground that can eventually be handed off to expanded and better trained Afghan forces. But they have some sobering advice for the commanders of newly deploying units.

“They must deploy prepared for a long fight,” Colonels Agoglia and Scott said in an e-mail message. “They must think long term and realize that victory is unlikely on their watch. They must build a solid foundation on which their successors build on gains made.”

Afghan Strategy Poses Stiff Challenge for Obama, NYT, 2.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/02/world/asia/02strategy.html




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