That last paragraph highlights why GEN Casey's endorsement of an Afghan "surge" is so unexpected (well, at least by me) and potentially important: his priority over the last several years -- even as commander of MNF-I -- has often seemed to be the health of the Army rather than accomplishment of the mission. On the one hand, Casey's support for additional forces is a welcome development as it demonstrates his prioritization of strategic objectives: the Army is a tool in the national arsenal, a means through which national objectives are accomplished; its health should not in itself be the priority. (Of course I understand that there's a useful deterrent effect to be gained from maintaining a robust, mobile, expeditionary ground force, and I'm not suggesting we should allow it to atrophy. Rather if the president and the Congress determine that its use and possible degradation are necessary in the pursuit of the national interest, then casualties, OPTEMPO, equipment wear, dwell time, and so on become secondary concerns.)
"I believe that we need to put additional forces into Afghanistan to give Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal the ability to both dampen the success of the Taliban while we train the Afghan security forces," Gen. Casey said on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," referring to the U.S. commander in Kabul.
Gen. Casey declined to say whether he backed Gen. McChrystal's specific request for
40,000 additional troops. But he joins other military officials, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in voicing public support for a new buildup.
Gen. Casey's backing could carry more weight than others'. When he was commander in Iraq -- a position he held until early 2007 -- the general was only a reluctant supporter of the "surge" of forces into Iraq. At the time, he expressed concerns that more U.S. troops could anger Iraqis and put dangerous levels of stress on American forces. He has raised similar concerns about repeated deployments since taking over the top Army job in 2007.
Now on the other hand, I'm not sure a service chief should be weighing in on the resource requests of a combatant or theater commander. He's well within his rights to say "the Army can (or cannot) support this request with existing resources," or "here are the potential consequences (in dwell time, overall readiness, etc.) of sending additional troops." But is it his job to be passing judgment on how the mission gets accomplished, or what the political leadership should be providing resource-wise to the battlefield commander?
At the end of the day, the modern Army's primary function is to serve as a provider of trained and ready land forces for employment by the combatant commanders. (There's a reason we have an Army Chief of Staff rather than an Army Commanding General.) GEN Casey should've spoken up when he was a field commander. It's that guy's job to determine what forces are neccessary to accomplish a specific mission; the service is there to serve him.
As for now, he might've missed his window. He's gotten it exactly backwards: service chiefs should be concerned with the health of their service, with the sustainability of each particular mission and deployment, and with the effects of conflict on the force as it plays a part in the bigger picture.