O RLY? Must've missed that.
When President Obama outlines his new strategy for Afghanistan tonight, a pivotal element will focus on the country's south, where an influx of troops will try to secure the Taliban's spiritual center and seize a major center for bomb-making and drug-trafficking.
New forces will be concentrated most heavily in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, said officials familiar with the planning. Those provinces are part of Afghanistan's Pashtun heartland, where the roots of the Taliban movement are deepest.
But elsewhere in the news, if not in the president's speech, there are signs of exactly that. Not 24 hours have passed since the escalation announcement, and we're already seeing hints that somebody understands that the "break the Taliban's momentum" part is more important and maybe even doable -- at least in the here and now, in the next 18 months -- than the "increase Afghanistan's capacity" bit.
(Huge hat tip to Tintin for this link.)
A crack U.S. unit from the 82nd Airborne Division was placed under Canadian command at midnight Tuesday night in order to "create a ring of stability" around Kandahar City before "the fighting season" kicks off again next May.
The 2nd battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division is to be deployed in the Taliban-infested district of Arghandab by Christmas, Canadian Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard confirmed Wednesday.
Ok, big deal, right? Well, dig a little deeper and it is a pretty big deal: 2-508 is a component part of the 4th BCT, 82d Airborne Division, which -- as you already know -- has been in Afghanistan since earlier this month serving as a "modular brigade augmented for security force assistance;" that is, as an advisory brigade.
The Americans, known as the Red Devils, headed to Arghandab are already on their second tour in Afghanistan, arriving three months ago from Fort Bragg, N.C. Before getting their new battle orders, they had been scattered across Afghanistan training police.As I said before, I've been told that SFA brigades would retain the capability to perform full-spectrum operations. I guess we're about to find out whether Gian Gentile's claims are true or not -- whether purpose-trained, COIN (/advisory)-oriented infantrymen will forget how to fight.
This is interesting largely because it turns the theme of last night's speech -- that the next 18 months will be about helping the Afghans to stand up, so that we can stand down (Obama h/t George Bush) -- entirely on its head. Here's a concrete example of a purpose-trained advisory unit, a brigade that's designed to be chopped up into advisory teams, reconstituting itself as an infantry battalion to engage in offensive combat operations in an insurgent-controlled area. (And under Canadian OPCON, at that!) Here's Tintin's commentary on that (posted from email with his permission):
It makes sense why they need to do this, in the short term: Arghandab is out of control. Before August, small Canadian elements ventured in there once in a while. In mid-August, a U.S. Stryker battalion, 1-17 Infantry, took charge, and since then it has taken insanely high casualties to IEDs (like, as bad as the worst-hit battalions in Iraq 06-07) -- 21 KIA so far, including a company commander. (The rest of the brigade has lost 6 KIA). It has some people wondering whether Strykers or their tactics are appropriate for the area, although there's not even close to enough information out there to speculate about that, and it makes it obvious that Arghandab is too lightly held.This is decidedly not about helping to train Afghans better and faster. So again, it's going to be interesting to see which additional units end up in Afghanistan in 2010 and how many of them end up tapped for the SFA mission. As far as I can tell, the Army is only equipped to prep one brigade at a time for SFA functions down at Ft. Polk, though I could be wrong about this, so that means at best we're talking about getting maybe three brigades -- 10K or so -- into the advisory role by the end of 2010 (including 1/4 ID, which takes over for 4/82 some time around next summer). Of course, plans could change, training could be sped up, and the entire SFA brigade concept could be abandoned, I suppose, if it doesn't jibe with operational requirements. I suppose we'll wait and see.
Whatever ends up happening down the line, this is a really interesting development in the here and now. I haven't even touched the other interesting revelation (or so it seems) that springs from this bit of news and which the story cited at the beginning of this post speculates about: that new forces and operations will be concentrated in insurgent-controlled areas in the South, rather than being used to consolidate ISAF and government control in so-called "light green" areas. There's enough there for a whole series of posts...