| Ander Nieuws week 52 / nieuwe oorlog 2008 |
The New York Times
December 6, 2008
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.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
| Ander Nieuws week 52 / nieuwe oorlog 2008 |