Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two BCTs, some Marines, and an SFA brigade?

Today's NYT tells us, as expected, that the bulk of the new troops headed for Afghanistan will end up in the south.

An American military official said Wednesday that the bulk of new combat forces approved by President Obama would be sent to southern Afghanistan, an area including Helmand and Kandahar Provinces that is the financial and spiritual base of the Taliban as well as the deadliest part of the country for American troops.

Two combat brigades, one from the Marines and one from the Army, will go to the south, while another Army brigade will be sent to eastern Afghanistan, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Army combat brigades usually comprise about 5,000 soldiers.

The flow of forces will begin “in earnest” next month, the official said, and a majority of troops will be deployed by next summer.

In Helmand, the new Marine brigade will nearly double the Marines’ 10,000-strong force. When these troops are combined with British forces, Helmand may end up with well over 20,000 troops, as many as were typically deployed in Baghdad. Helmand covers a far larger territory than Baghdad but has about one-fourth of the population.

I'm really confused about what the hell we're talking about here, to be honest with you. First of all, Army combat brigades don't "usually comprise about 5,000 soldiers." They're usually about 70-80% of that size -- around 3,500. And what are we talking about when we say a "Marine combat brigade"? It's certainly not a Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which is a task-built, combined arms force built around a reinforced infantry regiment. I've seen reference elsewhere to a Regimental Combat Team from Camp Lejeune heading over, but I'm not sure about this. The Marines confuse everything by tailor-making every deploying force, so there's no stock size for an RCT. What I can tell you, though, is that an RCT is not going to come close to "double[ing] the Marines' 10,000-strong force."

It seems to me that we're talking about four total "brigades": one Marine Regimental Combat Team, two BCTs, and one (Army) SFA brigade. But then, yet more confusion:

Speaking to reporters at his headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday, the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, said the new American deployment, along with expected NATO reinforcements, was “sufficient.”

“I think that we’re going to have exactly what we need to move forward,” said the general, who had earlier sought a fourth brigade.

Excluding support units, about one-quarter of the new forces will serve as trainers for Afghan forces. The rest will be traditional combat units teamed with Afghan security forces.

Wait, what? McChrystal's wanted "a fourth brigade," but he's getting only... four brigades? Did he want four Army brigades plus the Marines, and now he's only getting the three (two BCTs and the SFA bde)? I guess that's it, and they're talking about a fourth maneuver brigade.

It's also misleading to say that "about one-quarter of the new forces" will go to the training mission; by my math you have ~5-8K Marines and ~7-8K soldiers in the additional maneuver units, and then about 3-3.5K soldiers in the SFA brigade, plus whatever Division staff and support elements go, which means that trainers make up something more like 10-12% of the total numbers. I guess this math could be screwed up if you're chopping some of those Marines off into ETTs, but I don't know anything about how that works. And finally:
The three new brigades will join the equivalent of what are now roughly five United States combat maneuver brigades and two training brigades, and bring the total number of American troops in Afghanistan to almost 100,000.
So that's (1) 4/82 and (2) the 48th BCT (Georgia ARNG) as the two brigades doing the advisor/training mission, to be joined by one additional SFA brigade. And the three new maneuver elements will join (1) 4/4 Infantry; (2) 3/10 Mountain; (3) 4/25 Infantry; (4) 5/2 Infantry (Stryker) plus 1-12 Infantry (and international elements) in TF Kandahar; and (5) RCT 7 as the five combat maneuver brigades the article references. (I'm sure Tintin will correct me if I'm wrong here. After all, I am ripping off his Afghanistan Order of Battle!)

The Army is gonna start notifying brigades next week, apparently, so things should get a bit clearer then.

UPDATE: Changed the title, as I'd confused even my damn self.


  1. I need some sort of visual aid for all of this....

    *Seriously, one of the reasons I look through a microscope for a living is become I am essentially a visual person. I can't learn from words, alone, and I sometimes think I'm ever so slightly dyslexic or something. Writing is hard for me. I'm not joking with this last part, btw.

  2. oh, wait, there's a graphic at the NYT site, isn't there?

    i give up

    - Madhu

  3. Ok, according to that VISUAL AID, are we "squeezing" the border? Which I know is essentially impossible, I guess I mean, again, it's not just the south, is it?

    - Madhu

  4. Hey, al Sawha does exactly what I ask - a post about visualization using the whiteboard pictured in the NYT article.

    Cool. You really can find all kinds of wonderful on the internet, if you want. Or garbage. Or points in-between. Up to you and all that.

    I'm done now and will stop harassing this blog.

    - Madhu

  5. My favorite part of the blurb?
    "Helmand covers a far larger territory than Baghdad but has about one-fourth of the population."

    That's basically, "A watermelon has four less legs than a mouse, but considerably more mass."

  6. That's basically, "A watermelon has four less legs than a mouse, but considerably more mass."

    I'm embarrassed to admit how long I laughed at this.

  7. That's basically, "A watermelon has four less legs than a mouse, but considerably more mass."

    I'm going to plagiarize the hell out of that.

  8. Is there something I'm missing about the watermelon analogy?

    The excerpt, to me, just read as: hey, it's really big and rural out in Afghanistan.

    I suppose it's like, "South Dakota is bigger than New York City, but has X percentage of population." Which, um, yeah.

    "It's clear to me that McChrystal has prioritized Helmand (and likely Kandahar province to the east) as the areas where additional US forces can potentially have the greatest impact, making it critical for us to really understand the situation on the ground there and the challenges ahead."

    Greatest impact for what?

  9. Is there something I'm missing about the watermelon analogy?

    I think the point -- and the reason, for me, that it's so funny -- is that it's absolutely ludicrous to make basically any comparison between the two, even though it is technically possible to do so.

    Greatest impact for what?

    I guess, theoretically, making visible progress in the whole "taking the initiative" department by extending government control into areas that were previously inaccessible. Or at least sending troops there, if not government control.

    This comes back to the question of whether it's advisable to spend your lives and dollars more expensively in difficult areas or more cheaply in less-difficult spots when what you're essentially tryng to do is get the Afghans ready for the time when we leave. I'd suggest that it's far more productive to consolidate control in the geographic areas and governance fields where the Afghans are currently able to hold their own than to try to spread the limited quantity of poorly-tasting butter even thinner across the bread. But GEN McChrystal disagrees, and I guess we'll have to expect he'd know better.

  10. "Changed the title, as I'd confused even my damn self. "

    Sounds like a new name for the blog.


  11. Gulliver, you've got the current brigades right (1-12 IN is detached from 4/4 ID). I am as puzzled as you are as to how all this adds up to 30,000 troops (or 33,000, since they're apparently allowed to fudge it within a 10 percent margin).

    The Marine part makes sense - Military Times is reporting that in addition to deploying a second RCT (and four or so infantry battalions, I assume), 2nd MEB will be replaced not by 1st MEB as planned, but by I MEF (Fwd), replicating the command arrangement in Anbar. No telling whether this division HQ will be responsible just for Helmand-Farah, which would be kind of weird given how poor an excuse for a division HQ exists at RC-S in Kandahar, or what. But that does explain how you could get up to 8,000 or 9,000 more Marines - the MEF will likely come with extra air and support units, too, and its a big headquarters.

    That still doesn't make 30,000, though. Maybe a third combat aviation brigade will be deployed (it would make sense; two CABs and the Marine air contingent are barely adequate for the current troop levels), and I assume there will be some extra logistics units and maybe a fires brigade or something like that to do base security (route and base security has nothing like the troop levels devoted to it in Afghanistan that it always did in Iraq). Beyond that, a year from now it would make sense for a U.S. division headquarters to take over RC-S, and maybe the IJC headquarters will be bulked up...but I don't see how the numbers add up.