Talking Proud - The American withdrawal from Afghanistan 2011

President Obama has set out his plan for our withdrawal from Afghanistan, one with which his military chain of command is not pleased. I intend to start tracking this withdrawal in a serial article updated as I get new information. I began my effort on June 24, 2011.
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2011 Report



Be sure you understand the phrase “military advisor”

Advisor

US politicians and even our military leaders have said we have changed strategy in Afghan, moving now away from combat to advising Afghan forces. Let’s make sure we understand what is often entailed in being a “military advisor.” This photo shows one. This is a US Army special forces soldier with the Afghan Army troops he is advising. They are engaged in a firefight in Ghazni Province, December 27, 2011. Our forces have to go out with the forces they are training and advising to help them along and observe how they handle themselves. So when you hear “military advisors,” do not think they will see no combat. Most will see plenty of it, embedded with the Afghan force they are advising. (123111)

US puts brakes to construction at FOB Sharana

Sharana

The US has stopped major construction projects planned for FOB Sharana in Paktika Province as a result of the decision to withdraw 33,000 troops by September 2012. The plan had been to build a runway long enough for C-17 cargo planes, a power plant and accommodations for more forces in the volatile province. The US has also cancelled building ANA and ANP outposts and checkpoints. FOB Sharana was to be one of the largest US bases in Afghan. Such cutbacks are occurring across Afghanistan. All this said, the military plans to leave a brigade in the province until 2014. Right now, the 172nd Brigade is there. (123111)

Speed of US withdrawal from Afghan post-2012 undecided

General Allen, USMC, ISAF-A commander, says is in full synch with the president in withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2012. But there is disagreement about the speed of withdrawal thereafter. General Allen has said his instructions are that the withdrawal then will be strategy-based, with which he agrees. But there are questions about that. Allen wants to keep 68,000 troops in Afghan as he accelerates turnover of the country to the Afghans. His feeling is to keep as many US forces there to weigh in when required during that accelerated withdrawal. He wants to reduce the risk of a accelerate turnover. VP Biden, however, is said to favor a more rapid withdrawal during the November election season. For their part, the Taliban is said to have taken a beating in 2011, but is also thought to be preparing to take over several kep province as soon as the American and NATO leave. The Afghan armed force currently has 180,000. Allen’s turnover plan is said to include Ghazni and Wardak provinces; Nuristan and Kunar provinces on the Pakistan border as well as Helmand and Kandahar provinces during spring 2013. By mid-2013, responsibility could be transferred for Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces, on the eastern border. (122611)

US withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan is complete ahead of schedule

US officials say the Obama mandated withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan has been completed ahead of the December 31, 2011 deadline. They say there are now 91,000 US troops left. Another 23,000 are to be withdrawn by summer 2013, though there are indications this is not locked in concrete. I do not yet know the breakdown for who has left. American strategy is shifting from fighting to advising and supporting. That said, General Allen, our commander there, said last week, “We're not going to be done by the end of 2014 … The message that we will be here in some form … is a very important message for the Taliban." (122311)

Marines tearing down bases in Afghan in preparation for withdrawal

FSBSaenz

MarineM1777Howitzer

Marines from the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) have destroyed Firebase Saenz (top photo shows bulldozing effort during destruction of Saenz) in Afghan’s Helmand province as part of a larger tear-down plan in preparation for withdrawal from the country. The base was destroyed during December 13-15, 2011. It used to host Marine artillery units operating the M777 Lightweight howitzer cannon (bottom photo) supporting ground forces in northern Helmand. They will work through Christmas and New Years dismantling more bases in the province. The photo shows Marines firing the M777, a 155 mm Artilllery piece. The Marines plan to leave Helmand Province during 2012, ahead of the 2014 schedule. The idea was for the British to fill the void, but there are indications the British will not do that, and instead are themselves considering an early withdrawal from the province. (122211)

NATO forces to do more advising, less fighting

General Allen, USMC, ISAF commander Afghanistan, said through 2012 our forces will be doing less fighting and more advising. That is because US force levels will drop to below 70,000 by the end of 2012, and there is a decline in homeland support for the war. Therefore more risks will have to be taken allowing Afghan forces to carry the ball. AS an editorial said,e while I know our commanders have emergency exit plans, I am a bit concerned about how such plans will work, since Afghanistan is landlocked and bounded by Iran and Pakistan. Airlift cannot do the whole job. (121411)

US withdraws 4,000 of the 10,000 due to be withdrawn by year’s end

CrockerRyan
The US has withdrawn 4,000 troops from Afghanistan of the 10,000 it planned to withdraw by year’s end. The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, said, “We are on a timeline, as you know. Ten thousand out by the end of the year, that is being met.” He also aid that 23,000 more are to be withdrawn by September 2012, and that that “basically recovers the surge … Beyond that, there are no decisions … And as far as I’m aware, there are no formal recommendations yet.” (121011)

Ambassador Crocker suggests US forces could remain in Afghan beyond 2014

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, has suggested that US focus could remain in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal deadline. But like Iraq, the Afghans would have to ask. He said, “They would have to ask for it … I could certainly see us saying, ‘Yeah, makes sense’ … There is nothing in the Lisbon declaration on 2014 that precludes an international military presence beyond 2014. That is to be determined by the parties, who could be numerous, not just us, as we get closer to that date.” Eileen O’Connor, a spokeswoman for the embassy, added, “The president never excluded the possibility that there would be some U.S. forces here, but he stressed that security would be under Afghan lead by 2014 … The president has always spoken of a responsible winding down of the efforts here, so talk of the possibility of some troops still being here post-2014 is not a change in policy.” (121011)

General Allen seeks slowdown to Afghan withdrawal

General John Allen, USMC, commander ISAF-Afghanistan, is recommending that troop reductions in Afghanistan pause for 2013 once the planned reductions for 2012 are completed. He is looking to maintain a 68,000 US troop level until 2014 at least. The concern is that cores at lower levels than that will not be able to clear and hold. There has ben a recent fervor in Washington get out early. General Allen appears to oppose that. It is not known whether he has shared his opinions with CENTCOM and the JCS, but it is known that he has shared them with visiting congressional delegations, which could put him on the hot seat in the White House. (120711)

US Marines preparing to leave Afghanistan

OperationCleanSweep

US Marines at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan are preparing to leave that country in what is known as “Operation Clean sweep.” The Marines have reported that beginning about two months ago, “the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) began the process of accounting for, sorting and redistributing Regional Command Southwest’s gear and equipment in Operation Clean Sweep aboard Camp Leatherneck … This operation is part of RC (SW)’s plan for redeployment, reintegration, reconstitution and recovery (R4), which is a four-part term commonly used to refer to the concept of how the Marine Corps will most efficiently and effectively leave Afghanistan.” The photo shows boxes of excess gear and equipment are staged at the sort lot aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, November 24, 2011 as part of Operation Clean Sweep. After being inventoried and cleaned, this gear will be shipped back to the United States or to a unit currently deployed. (120512)

While everyone is talking drawdown in Afghan, NATO plans major offensive in the east

Drawing down US and NATO forces in Afghanistan is on everyone’s lips, but NATO plans first to launch a major offensive in eastern Afghan. This offensive could last two years, and will involve ground and air forces. The objective is to reduce the influence of Pakistan-based enemy forces to the point where they can be contained by Afghan forces alone. You can look for anxiety along the Afghan-Pakistan border to increase as a result. Look for cross-border drone raids at intense levels. US forces will move from Kandahar and Helmand over to the east to lay on the pressure. General Allen, USMC, the ISAF commander, has decided that despite the current flap over the recent attack against Pakistani forces, he must step up the pressure on eastern areas. He describe the operations forecast for the east to be “substantial.” (120411)

NATO transfers security responsibilities over Parwan Province to Afghans

ParwanProvince

NATO transferred security responsibilities over Parwan Province to Afghan forces on December 1, 2011. Bagram AB is in this province. This is part of a second stage of such transfers that will occur over the months ahead. Some 18 provinces total are to be affected. (120311)

Canada shuts down Kandahar, to leave base on December 12

CanadaLowersFlagKandahar

The Canadian flag has been lowered at Task Force Kandahar, Afghanistan and Canadian soldiers began shipping their stuff home. The troops themselves are scheduled to leave on December 12, 2011. Canada will send a group of 950 to Kabul to help in training. That will mark Canada’s only presence. Kandahar has been among the most dangerous provinces in the war. The photo shows Brigadier General Charles Lamarre, right, Commander of Mission Transition Task Force, saluting the Canadian flag while the flag party lowers it for the last time during flag lowering ceremony at Kandahar Airfield on December 1, 2011. Canadian Special Forces were the first from that country to enter the Afghan War in November 2001. Canadian forces have been at Kandahar since 2006, which is the year the Taliban relaunched its aggressive fighting. (120311)

Pakistan poses serious problem for Afghanistan’s future and raises questions about safety of US forces when as they withdraw

Chinese-Pakistan

The Stratfor Global Intelligence Group has highlighted some serious problems with Pakistan that may not have been obvious to us all:

  • Pakistan believes the NATO war will not conclude successfully. Regardless, NATO forces will withdraw. So Pakistan has to deal with the consequences.
  • The Taliban will likely rule Afghanistan again and Pakistan has no problem with that. Pakistan therefore will not help NATO fight the Taliban as the Taliban post-war would retaliate against Pakistan.
  • Pakistan will have to deal with the Taliban government in Kabul. Collaboration with the US is therefore out of the question.
  • A Taliban government in Kabul hostile to Pakistan could create an environment for civil war in Pakistan.
  • The recent attack against Pakistan forces on the border has given Pakistan a chance to reposition itself to deal with all the above.

As an editorial comment, Pakistan’s alliance with China will grow as an offset to the growing US-India relationship. Afghanistan’s only importance is that Pakistan must be sure the post-war Afghanistan government, probably a Taliban government, will not interfere in Pakistani internal affairs. Should Pakistan develop a good relationship with the new Afghan government, China will benefit as well and would support such an improvement. (120211)


Senate wants US forces out of Afghanistan before December 2014

Lisa Mascaro reported for the Los Angeles Times on November 30, 2011 that the Senate quiety approved a measure attached to a broader defense bill requiring the president to remove US forces from Afghanistan more swiftly than the planned December 2014 date. Should the bill pass, the president will have to present a new withdrawal plan within 90 days of passage. (120211)

Afghan troop withdrawal plans announced --- cut 40,000 overall by end of 2012

Deb Riechmann and Slobodan Lekic reported for AP on November 29, 2011 that NATO drawdown plans in Afghanistan have been released. A summary follows:

  • A total of 40,000 out by end of 2012
    • US 33,000, one third of its current 101,000
  • 14,000 out by end of 2011
    • US 10,000
    • Canada has already removed 2,850
    • France and Britain will send home about 400
    • Poland 200
    • Denmark and Slovenia about 120 combined
  • 26,000 more out by end of 2012
    • US 23,000: USMC drawdown will be significant
    • Germany 950
    • France 600
    • Britain 500
    • Poland 400
    • Belgium 290
    • Spain 156
    • Sweden 100
Other countries are finalizing their plans (112911)

Marines will begin leaving Afghanistan next year, in droves, but ….

AllenAmosToolan

General John Allen, USMC, left, ISAF commander, General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, and Marine Major General John Toolan, right, the senior U.S. commander in Helmand Province, confer at Combat Outpost Alcatraz on November 23, 2011, just north of Sangin. Are they in synch?

AP reported on November 26, 2011 that General James Amos, CMC, has said the number of Marines in Helmand will decline markedly in 2012. Those who stay will focus on training and not combat. About 10,000 Marines had been deployed to Helmand as part of the surge. There are now about 19,400 Marines in Helmand, and that is scheduled to decline to 18,500 by year’s end. Amos is predicting the Marine mission in Afghan will end in the next 12-18 months, as much as two years before the December 2014 deadline. AP said General Allen, the ISAF commander in Afghanistan, was ordered by higher authority to reduce US forces by 10,000 by year’s end and 23,000 more by the end of 2012. Allen expects this 23,000 to start deploying en masse in summer 2012. Allen intends to beef up forces in eastern Afghanistan, especially special forces. He has said he needs to expand the security zone around Kabul. Interestingly, Major General Toolan, the I MEF commander of Marines in Afghan, is not sure he agrees with this approach, opining there is still a lot to do in southern Afghan. (112611)

General Allen wants to speed up US withdrawal from Afghan

General John Allen, USMC, ISAF commander, reportedly is preparing a request for 1,700 more military personnel to come to Afghanistan to accelerate training for the Afghan security forces, all in an effort to accelerate the US withdrawal. Some believe that this will mean more US forces will remain on their bases and fewer will be out in the field fighting. The 1,700 troops would be divided into hundreds of US adviser teams and would be stationed far from US bases. US special forces will continue to be in the fight. The overall idea appears to pressure the Afghans to take charge. The question will be whether they can handle it. (112511)

General Amos says US will start winding down COIN operations in Afghanistan in strategy shift

GeneralJamesAmos
General James Amos, USMC, Commandant, Marine Corps (CMC) told The Hill on or about November 17, 2011 that US forces in Afghanistan will draw down by 30,000 by September 2012, less than a year from now. He also said US force will transition from counterinsurgency (COIN) operations to training and advising. He said the US goal is for Afghan forces to take over key provinces by then. There are doubters. Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who often advises the Pentagon, said “(The US) has yet to present a credible and detailed plan for transition that shows that the U.S. and its allies can achieve some form of stable, strategic outcome in Afghanistan.” Indications are that the British will return to taking charge of Helmand Province as the US Marines leave. This of course begs the question as to whether the Brits will be back in a position where they have too much to handle given their manpower. (111811)

General Allen addresses US withdrawal plan from Afghanistan

AllenJohn
General John Allen, USMC, ISAF commander, Afghan, did an interview with TOLONews recently outlining his vision of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The US now has about 100,000 troops there; the rest of ISAF contributes about another 40,000. The Obama plan is to draw down to about 68,000 by September 2012. Nothing is firm yet, but he believes the US will drop to 10-20,000 troops by the end of 2014. Conventional military operations will stop around then. The US will revert to a training mode. Allen separates Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) counterterrorism forces from US ISAF forces; OEF forces now number about 10,000. It is not clear to me whether this 10,000 is included in the overall 100,000 there now, nor is it clear whether they will draw down or whether they are included in the 68,000 level to be achieved in 2012. Allen did suggest that training for the Afghan military and police will not be finished by the end of 2014. This is not much of a plan being made available to the public. One problem is that in Washington officials are looking at an accelerated withdrawal. I do not know how that synchs with General Allen’s vision. (111511)

Brits to play major role to cover US force withdrawal

BritSoldiershelmand082011

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported on November 7, 2011 that the British intend to take responsibility for a larger area of Helmand Province to cover the US withdrawal from there. Through much of the Afghan War, the Brits ran Task Force Helmand for the entire province, but recently ceded southern and northern Helmand to the US Marine surge and now focus just on central Helmand. Throughout their stay in this province the British have taken very heavy casualties. The British intend to maintain their 9,000 troop level, but spread them more thinly. There are currently 20,000 US Marines in the province and the US reportedly is considering dropping that to 6,000. The risk here is that the British experienced a lot of problems running Task Force Helmand undermanned, under equipped, and overstretched, that is, thinly manned in the province as a whole. There is a chance this could happen again. The British still intend to leave in 2014, but there is speculation the US is going accelerate its withdrawal. (111011).

US turnover of Nangalam Base in Pech Valley a failure for ANA

NangalemPechValley

The US Army turned over Nangalem Base to the Afghan National Army (ANA) in March 2011. Since then, the ANA commander went AWOL, his deputy ordered the men not to shoot at passing enemy, and there were rumors the deputy commander was going to allow the enemy on to the base. Some ANA troops expressed grave concern that their commander went AWOL and that their deputy was up to his nonsense. As a result, US Army troops have returned and taken the base back. This bodes ill for a 2014 withdrawal and especially for an accelerated withdrawal, if you care that the ANA is going to do this. US commanders say ANA troops by and large have performed admirably, so this may be an isolated thing. Since 2007, the US has bragged that the Pech Valley area was a model. Perhaps not so. The photo presented by The Wall Street Journal, credited to Michael M. Phillips, shows a view of Nangalem village from the base. (111011)

Kuwait does not want to host more US troops

Stars & Stripes reported on November 7, 2011 that Kuwait does not want to host 4,000 more US troops following the US withdrawal from Iraq. It’s not clear whether this is a final decision, though the source was the defense minister. This will throw a wrench into US plans to increase US force levels in the Gulf region. Kuwait is accepting the flow of US forces out of Iraq but

USAF general says no plans to defend Iraqi airspace

HandyRussell
Major General Russell Handy, USAF, commander 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task-Force Iraq said on November 7, 2011 there are no plans to have US aircraft protect Iraq’s airspace once US forces leave at year’s end. The Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) is in the process of acquiring a squadron of 18 F-16s but this will take a long time to mature, Handy estimates at least two years. Ten Iraqi pilots are in the US now training on the F-16. They have pilots who have flown Russian-made MiGs so it is not completely foreign to them. I am surprised by Handy’s assessment. A nation cannot be sovereign unless it can protect its airspace, and right now the Iraqis have almost nothing they can use to do that. I thought for sure the Iraqis would want USAF and USN airpower to be available, even if the aircraft were located outside the country. But that does not appear to be the case. (110711)

Afghan forces growing anxious at prospects of US withdrawal

AfghanLogisticsTraining

Stars & Stripes reported on November 5, 2011 that friction is developing between US and Afghan forces as the US slowly starts to withdraw. The Afghans are worried about taking on more responsibilities alone, especially logistics responsibilities. Some have accused the US of withholding supplies. Individual US units are trying to wean the Afghans off their support and are in many cases denying assistance. The main problem appears to be logistics; the Afghans are no where near ready to take on this job. They are not even sure how to acquire meals to take on patrols, they do not know how to obtain construction materials, or do vehicle repairs. The US military has set up a supply system for them to use, but the Afghans prefer the Americans operate the system rather than their having to. There is also a problem of corruption, with Afghan forces stealing supplies and selling them. Indeed a growing concern among the Americans is that the Afghan War is becoming more and more a logistics war. SecState Clinton said recently, “You know, when we are so dependent upon long supply lines — as we are in Afghanistan, where everything has to be imported — it’s much more difficult than it was in Iraq, where we had Kuwait as a staging ground … You offload a ship in Karachi. And by the time whatever it is — you know, muffins for our soldiers’ breakfast or anti-IED equipment — gets to where we’re headed, it goes through a lot of hands. And one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money.” The photo shows an Afghan National Police (ANP) student studies basic logistics training at the Afghan Ministry in Interior (MOI) August 1, 2010. The Afghan MOI is providing the first ever computer based logistics training for ANP personnel. (110711)

US forces turn over dangerous outputs to ANA

WazaKhwaMOve

US forces turned over the small Combat Outpost Waza Khwah to the ANP 7th Battalion on November 6, 2011. This outpost is only 25 miles from the Pakistani border in the volatile Paktika province. While the base is small and involved only 250 US troops, it is the largest base yet to be turned over by the US. Some 33,000 US troops will behind to withdraw by year’s end. The APA 7th is thought to be among their very best battalions and its members believe they can handle the job. A company from Task Force Blackhawk were stationed there. This withdrawal was very hard, as forces had to drive through difficult terrain to get there, then they had to pack and upload, and also employ helicopter lift to get things out, including the trips.
This turn-over is worth watching as an indicator of what it will be like to withdraw from Afghanistan and to observe how the Afghans conduct themselves with the enemy. The photo shows SSgt Cory Simpson, USA, 172 Support Battalion, 172nd Infantry Brigade, working with a lift hook of a crane to attach to the tops of shipping containers that have to be uploaded on to trucks, October 10, 2011. (110711)


Accelerate withdrawal from Afghanistan?

The Wall Streel Journal reported on November 3, 2011 that the Obama administration is considering changing the US military’s mission in Afghanistan to an advisory role and scaling back combat duties prior to the end of 2014. It is exploring continuing training but switching its counterterrorism strategy to a targeted one which attempts to take out enemy leadership and network cells. The Journal said the US could have such a plan ready for announcement by May 2012’s NATO meetings. The US might declare a formal end to combat operations, though special forces would remain involved with Afghan forces. The administration is very reluctant, however, to say this means an end to the Afghan war, so the plan at present remains cloudy, and, of course, secretive. This may be a “raise it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes” political maneuver, it is hard to tell. One has to wonder why impact these leaks will have on US forces engaged in combat in Afghanistan. (110311)

Russia fears US withdrawal from Afghanistan

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Joshua Kucera, writing for The Atlantic, has said that Russia fears and is angry about the thought of US military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Their fear is that the Islamic enemies the US and NATO have been fighting in Afghanistan will then threaten the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union and walk their extremism right up to Russia’s borders. Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, told Le Figaro, "We do not want NATO to go and leave us to face the jackals of war after stirring up the anthill. Immediately after the NATO withdrawal, they will expand towards Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and it will become our problem then.” Andrei Zagorski, an expert on Russia's relations with the West at Moscow's Institute of World Economy and International Relations said, "Moscow is afraid, first and foremost because what the U.S. and the coalition were doing is very much in the interest of Russia, keeping the Taliban as far away as possible from Central Asia and Russia.” There is a concern, however, that Russia is bluffing, that it feels the US will never leave, but is using the idea that we will withdraw to harnes the Central Republics back into the Russian sphere. (102611)

Aussies plan on leaving bases by early next year

AustralianForceAfghan

Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith announced on October 15, 2011 that Aussie forces will withdraw from more than a dozen bases by early 2012 to just four. Smith said the Taliban have not been a significant problem for them. However, they will remain in country until the 2014 deadline. There are some who dispute the level of success described by Smith. They have been operating largely in Uruzgan Province. US special forces are also operating there and together with the British they have been concentrating on capture and kill missions of Taliban leaders.(101611)

Surge troops will stay longer than originally planned

President Obama had ordered 33,000 surge troops to Afghanistan in late 2009. Commanders want them to remain for as long as possible. The plan at present is to bring 10,000 home by year’s end as planned, but leave 23,000 until the end of the 2012 fighting season, which most interpret as sometime in October 2012. SecDef Panetta was careful not to pin down any dates, but experts say it will go beyond the original plan to bring them home during summer 2012. The fighting season could extend into October. (101411)

US Army officer refuses to respond ANA call for help

As a follow-on to the story below about the ANA not being ready to fight alone, AFP reported on September 27, 2011 that a US Army back up force for an Afghan police checkpoint refused to respond to an Afghan Army captain’s call for help while under fire. AFP said Captain Michael Kolton, in charge at US Combat Outpost Monti in rural northeastern Afghanistan, through his interpreter, told the Afghan captain to “kill some bad guys for us,” and then refused to respond. Kolton said later, "They have got to believe in themselves. They're physically capable. The bottom line is: do it yourself." (092811)

ANA not ready to fight alone

CaldwellWilliam
Lt. General William Caldwell, commander of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, said on September 26, 2011 that none of Afghanistan’s 180 Army battalions is capable of operating alone. Nonetheless, he said they’ll be ready by 2014, that they are making significant progress. Caldwell said more than 800 military trainers will be deployed to Afghanistan by March 2012. He expects this trend to continue as other US forces withdraw. Military trainers, especially those training combat forces, almost always go out on missions with their trainees and almost always are in the fight that ensues. (092711)

Mullen says Afghan withdrawal on track, but ...

CJCS Admiral Mullen told the Senate Armed services Committee on September 22, 2011 “We are on a pace and even slightly ahead of our end-strength goals for the Afghan national security forces … We are well-postured to begin the withdrawal of 10,000 American troops by the end of this year.” However, Mullen indicated the US and Afghans do not yet share a common strategy as US forces withdraw. He said the Taliban are now “concentrating their efforts on attacks that will produce a maximal psychological impact for a minimal investment in manpower or military capability.” He added, “Success in the region will require effort outside the realm of security … We must agree upon a strategic partnership declaration with Afghanistan that will clarify and codify our long-term relationship.” (092311)

“Tricky questions and troop transfers in Afghanistan”

NeumannRonald
I have used the title of an article by Ronald Neumann published recently in Foreign Policy. Ronald E. Neumann was U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 until 2007 and has visited regularly since. Neumann says violence in southern Afghanistan is on the decline but persist as a major problem in the east against the threats posed by the Haqqani Network supported from bases in Pakistan. As a result, military commanders are having to decide how apportion declining forces to handle the challenges. Thinning out in the south risks a significant upsurge there. Neumann argues “the decisive battles for the south have yet to begin … The struggle for control of the population will be the decisive battle … psychological as much as physical.” It is not clear to me what he wants out commanders to do. The president has spoken and has forced a faster and steeper withdrawal than the military wanted. The British experience in Helmand has shown how too few forces means a lack of success. Neumann talks in terms of taking risks in the south and the east and urges military and civilian leaders to work it out --- but does not say how to work it out with the withdrawals underway. He acknowledges the Afghan Army has not yet stood alone and on their own --- they have not yet been truly tested. From where this editor sits, our commanders have a real problem on their hands, and the enemy knows it.

KabulaAttacks

As an aside, Haqqani Network attacks against NATO headquarters and the US Embassy in Kabul will demand another look at repositioning more forces in and around Kabul. The attacks agains Kabul, should they increase or should we see multiple attacks at multiple targets especially inside cities, concerns will arise that we are approaching a Tet kind of situation in the Indochina War, though on a smaller scale, that in turn would impact their negotiating position. (092011)

Troop and funding cuts coming to Afghanistan forces and government

RodriguezDavid
General David Rodriguez, USA, commander, US Forces Command (FORSCOM), and a 40 month veteran of the Afghan War, told AP on September 12, 2011 that as US forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, the remaining force will have to be spread thinner, one brigade doing the job of two for example. He also said that overall, the Army would be cut back by 50,000 soldiers to a force level of about 520,000. He said soldiers will have to learn how to do more with less, be more flexible, and be trained in multiple functions. Forces will no longer be tailored for certain eventualities, but instead will have to be able to handle a variety of missions. The Pentagon has also announced it will cut aid to Afghanistan from $13 billion to below $6 billion by 2014. The Afghan Army and Police will suffer the most as the US is footing nearly the whole bill for them at present. That is because the government brings in only about $2 billion in taxes. Combine this with the faster cut to force levels in Afghanistan than the military leadership wanted, and it becomes obvious that there is a gap between the military and the president on what ought to be done. As an editorial note, given such cuts, non-DoD elements of the executive department are going to have to start doing their jobs overseas instead of handing them to military combat forces deployed to fight. For example, the Agriculture Department will have to send people overseas to teach foreigners how to grow crops rather than rely on the sons and daughters of farmers in the military. Furthermore, the US military will have to cut back on all its nice-to-have, feel-good humanitarian missions abroad and leave those to the State Department and others.(091311)

Afghan Army deserting in droves

The Washington post reported on September 3, 2011 that one in several Afghan Army soldiers has deserted in the first half of 2011 as US forces turn over responsibilities to the ANA. The would be 24,590 soldiers deserting compared to 11,423 during the same period last year. (090311)

Transition to Afghan control not going so well in Mehtar Lam, Laghman Province Afghan

MehterlamAfghan

On July 20, 2011, I reported US forces turned over control of Mehterlam, the capital of the eastern Laghman Province, to the Afghans on July 19, 2011, and that US forces would retain security control over the rest of the province for the time being. The Afghan National Army (ANA) and police (ANP) are finding the going very tough in Mehterlam. It remains a center of enemy attacks and killing, employing rockets, grenades and machine gun fire. In the last month, the enemy has killed a judge, a prison guard and a local official. People live in fear. The enemy appears ready now to attack cities and districts turned over to the Afghans. (082611)

US forces in Afghan until 2024?

Ben Farmer reported for AP and The Telegraph (UK) from Kabul on August 19, 2011 that the US and Afghanistan are close to signing a deal for US forces to remain there until 2024. The US would provide weapons and equipment, and store, support and maintain them, provide fixed wing and helicopter support to ground forces and to maintain air superiority, and special forces to work with Afghans and hunt down al Qaeda and others. (082011)

Allies taking a beating in Afghan

In addition to the 30 American troops lost in the CH-47 shoot down, the Allies have lost nine more in the last three days to the enemy. Eight of the nine were killed by IEDs. Five of the eight have been identified as Americans, killed by an IED in southern Afghanistan on August 11, 2011. Two more died on August 12 in separate blasts in the south. Also on August 11, a French soldier was killed in a roadside blast in the east and another NATO soldier was killed in the south on that same date. (081511)

GAO pounces on Marines for Afghan equipment removal policy and a new “Marine reset strategy”

AmosMarines
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report on August 4, 2011 that criticized the Marines’ plan to remove equipment from Afghanistan. Perhaps more important, tied into this is a newly emerging Marine strategy to develop policies that enable it to continue combat operation abroad, re-arm, and reposition forces around the world. The Marines are calling this a Reset Strategy.” This means the Marines are in the process of “how to” reconstitute and modernize the force post-Afghanistan. In the case of Afghan withdrawal, this translates to figuring out what to keep, fix and upgrade and what to eliminate. Marine leadership has voiced concerns about refreshing the Marines such that they are not operating like the US Army. This is an interesting twist to one of the impacts of withdrawing from Afghanistan. The Marines have to “reset.” One of the resets is to downsize. General Amos, Commandant of the Marines, told Marines at Cherry Point on August 9, 2011 that the drawdown will be from 200,000 to 186,000 and could start as early as 2013 vice previous plans for fiscal 2015. (081211)

NATO to identify next set of regional handovers in two months

MedleyDominic
NATO’s (ISAF) Senior Civilian Representative Spokesman in Afghanistan, Dominic Medley of Great Britain, speaking at a joint press conference with ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, Bundeswehr, said on August 8, 2011, “We would expect another announcement in September or October on the second group of areas that would enter transition … Key to the weeks and months ahead is to keep the pressure on the insurgency and on the battlefield and parallel to this is the continuing an extensive training and equipping of the Afghan national security forces. The ambassador is continuously impressed with the capability of Afghanistan's forces. Every day they stop attacks across the country and every day their effectiveness and capability grows.” (081011)

Transfer to Afghans not going well in Helmand

Matt Millham reported for Stars and Stripes on August 8, 2011 that transfers of responsibility to Afghan Army (ANA) and Police (ANP) is not going well in parts of Helmand Province, highlighting the Garmsir District as one. Millham said, “The district’s intelligence chief, Mir Hamza, warned Marine commanders in July 2011 against withdrawing from the district out of fear the Taliban would quickly retake it. He said, ‘If the Marines leave the district, the whole province will be destabilized.’ ” Some are saying it could take a decade for a full handover. The Marines are growing increasingly frustrated. (080911)

General Allen to present drawdown plan in October

General Allen is scheduled to present his plan in mid-October for withdrawing 10,000 troops by year’s end. It is surprising that he is waiting that long. This means he will have to pull out 10,000 troops in 2-3 months, from my perspective, a monumental task unless various commands have already been notified to start packing. Military leaders believe the Taliban intends to remain in Afghanistan near term to regain lost ground. (080111)

NATO turns over Panjshir Province, most of Kabul Province next

Panjshir

NATO turned over control of Panjshir Province to the Afghans in the northeast on July 24, 2011. This is the sixth of seven areas to be transferred to the Afghans this month. Most districts in Kabul Province will be turned over soon to the Afghans, which will mark the final set of transitions requested by Prsident Karzai. I reported earlier this month that General Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh, Panjsher police commander said on July 6, 2011, "Due to limited number of forces in Panjsher, we cannot take the security responsibility for this province. And because Panjsher is bordered by insecure provinces, we need a huge force.” That said, Keramuddin Karim, Panjsher governor and the US ambassador said the Afghans will be able to handle it. We’ll see who was right. (072611)

US ambassador says no “rush to the exits” in Afghan


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Newly sworn in US ambassador to afghan, Ryan Crocker, has said there will be no US rush to the exits in Afghan. Following his swearing in ceremony this weekend, Crocker said, "We must proceed carefully. There will be no rush for the exits. The way we do this in the months ahead will have consequences far beyond Afghanistan and far in the future … The coming year will be critical in setting the right glide path.” Interestingly, he added, “Beyond 2014 - even when Afghans have transitioned to a full security lead - I'm confident that we and the international community will be in a position to work with Afghanistan to prevent any forcible return of the Taliban to power.” (072511)

Northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif turned over to Afghans

NATO forces turned over the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to Afghan forces on July 23, 2011. This is the fifth of seven areas to be transferred to the Afghans this month. See map below to identify location. (072511)

Italy turns over Herat city

Italian forces turned over Herat City, Herat Province to Afghan forces on July 21, 2011. This is the fourth of seven areas to be transferred to the Afghans this month. See map below to identify location. (072211)

British turn over Helmand capital

British forces have turned over Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand Province, to the Afghans. This is the third of seven areas to be transferred to the Afghans this month. See map below to identify location. (072111)

US turns over security of Mehterlam, capital of Laghman province in the east

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US forces turned over control of Mehterlam, the capital of the eastern Laghman Province, to the Afghans on July 19, 2011. US forces will retain security control over the rest of the province for the time being. This is the third of seven areas to be transferred to the Afghans this month. See map to identify location. (072011)

Recap of foreign troop withdrawal plans

Thus far I have noted the following withdrawal plans from Afghan:

  • France 1,000 of 4,000 out by end of 2012
  • German plans not totally clear; Parliament extended its mandate to January 31, 2012 setting the maximum troop strength at 5,350; earlier this year Germany had 4,860 service personel in Afghan
  • Britain 460 within six months
  • (071911)

Canadian combat forces begin to leave --- glimpse of what it takes to leave

The Canadian government said it was terminating its combat operations in Afghan and withdrawing in 2011 and it meant it. One hundred twenty Canadian troopers left Afghan on July 18, 2011. The plan was to withdraw one battle group by the end of July, and everyone else by year’s end. Canadian forces have been in Afghan for 10 years. Canada has had about 2,850 troops there until the withdrawal began The Vancouver Sun on July 20, 2011, gives an interesting glimpse at what it takes to move out even a small combat force like this. Imagine what it will take to bring home the Americans:

  • Wash away as much desert dirt from the equipment as possible
  • An estimated 130 football fields of equipment requiring 1,800 containers must be inspected and decontaminated
  • Destroy or sell equipment too expensive to ship or too beat up
  • Clean up and destroy all garbage
  • Remove all usable furniture and ship
  • Convert unusable metal items to scrap and sell outside Afghan
  • Burn all tent canvasses
  • Fumigate, clean and inspect 1,000 vehicles, including 90 light armored vehicles and 20 leopard tanks; strip them down, engines, gears, everything, then reassemble
  • Same for all weapons from side arms to artillery
  • destroy all ammunition
  • Employ C-17 Globemasters and Russian An-124 aircraft to transport sensitive gear such as guns and light vehicles
  • Await the cool weather of the fall to ship out other heavy equipment; not even heavy transport aircraft can get the lift in the high heat to get this stuff out
  • Transport about 50 percent of the containers by Afghan trucks to Karachi for shipment
  • Employ about 1,200 soldiers to do all this
  • (072011)

Enemy killing Afghan civilian at unprecedented rate

The UN has reported that anti-government elements, to wit the Taliban et al, our enemies, is killing Afghan civilians including women and children at a rate 15 percent higher than this time last year. Some 15,000 have been killed in the first six months of 2011, of whom 80 percent were killed by the enemy. This ramp up in violence is occurring as the transition proceeds. (071911)

The 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Iowa National Guard has left Afghan

The 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Iowa National Guard has left Afghan. Reports are it departed on July 13, 2011, about 650 strong. No rotation unit will replace it. It is part of the 10,000 troop withdrawal that is to be complete by year’s end. It was stationed in the northern Parwan Province.

General Allen takes over NATO and US command in Afghan

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General John R. Allen, USMC, assumed his duties as the Commander, International Security Assistance Forces – Afghanistan and United States Forces – Afghanistan on July 18, 2011. General Petraeus is on his way back home, expected in the fall to take over CIA. He has set these as his top priorities:

  • “Continue to momentum of our campaign by relentlessly pressuring the enemy.
  • “Accelerate the tremendous work of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) and the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) in the continued development and fielding of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)
  • Coordinate and cooperate closely with our Afghan partners­­- both government and security forces- to set the conditions to support the process of Transition
  • Remain an innovative, agile, and responsive security force as the campaign evolves.”

Admiral Mullen, CJCS, promoted Lt. General Allen to the rank of four-star general. As an aside, I understand that that two other three star flag officers, the operational commander and the training commander, are leaving. Experts say that Allen’s job is to accomplish the transition out. (071811)

NATO turns over Bamiyan Province, Panjshir is next

NATO forces have turned over Bamiyan Province, Afghan to the Afghans on July 17, 2011. It is in central Afghan, has experienced little to no fighting, and has had very few foreign troops, mostly from New Zealand, deployed there since the war began. Bamiyan is one of seven areas to be turned over to the Afghans this month. Panjshir province, in the east, is next. Transition there has already begun. Its history int he war is much like that of Bamiyan. These are the only two provinces scehduled this month to be turned over in their entirety. Other areas to be handed over are the provincial capitals of Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, Herat in the west, Mazer-e-Sharif in the north and Mehterlam in the east. Afghan forces will also take control of all of Kabul province except for the restive Surobi district.

Russia has concerns as NATO forces plan withdrawals from Afghan

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Thus far, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany have announced withdrawal schedules from Afghan. Canada has already stopped combat operations there. With that in mind, there is talk among regional Islamic organizations of creating an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia once NATO leaves. And that poses a threat to Russia. Russian planners are already looking at stationing forces in some of the former republics of the Soviet Union, cumulatively known as the “stans, especially Tajikistan Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Add further infiltration of Pakistan and Afghanistan and the problem would appear worthwhile keeping in mind. Furthermore, there is a history of such caliphates forming in early Muslim expansion conquests in northern Africa, Southwest asia and Central Asia. (071711)

Iowa Guard squadron prepares to leave Afghanistan, first withdrawal unit to go

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The 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment, Iowa National Guard handed over its responsibilities on July 13, 2011 and is now readying to leave Afghanistan as the first US unit in the planned withdrawal to leave Afghan. The squadron is 650 strong. The 1-113 Cav arrived in November 2010 as part of the surge. The squadron was overseeing and securing Parwan including the area outside Bagram AB. It will be replaced by a unit already on station, about 300 soldiers. (071411)

German general argues for sustained effort in Afghan, but ...

RichardRossmanith
Maj. Gen. Richard Rossmanith of the German army, ISAF’s deputy chief of staff for stability, spoke in Washington on July 13, 2011 and said, “We have achieved quite something; however, challenges are still out there ... We need to continue our common effort [in Afghanistan] ... We need to stay together ... We need to maintain the momentum. There is a realistic chance to get the job done in the right way, and we have a chance to actually achieve our objectives in this mission.” Well, that is easy for this German officer to argue. He oversees more than one hundred military and civilian members representing 50 nations working to develop governance and sustainable economic in Afghanistan. In other words, he is not involved in war fighting, but instead is involved in matters of state which, in this editor’s opinion, have nothing to do with why US forces were sent to Afghan in the first place. In this editor’s opinion, the US overthrew the Taliban government and could have left then, returning as necessary with small, highly lethal forces to attack and destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban as needed, and then leave. In and out, no need to stay, especially to spread democracy and teach economics. (071311)

Panetta reaffirms US commitment to Afghan people

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SecDef Panetta met with President Karzai on July 9, 2011 in Kabul and reaffirmed the US commitment to Afghan. He said, “I assured him the U.S. is committed to the long-term security of the Afghan people ... Our goal here is to ensure that Afghanistan is stable in the future and can secure, defend and govern itself so it can never again become a safe haven for al-Qaida and its militant allies.” Note he did not commit to the Karzai government, but instead the Afghan people. This editor is intrigued by this statement. In retrospect, the US could have ousted the Taliban government and left, or ousted the Taliban government, destroyed al Qaeda in Afghan, and then left. But instead, the US is trying to create a friendly government that will help protect the US from terrorists operating from within its borders.

While he told this to President Karzai, while on his way to Afghanistan, he gave an interview during which he said this:

"In many ways the military and CIA and others have done what the president asked us to do ... We’ve been able to disrupt, dismantle al-Qaida. We've been able to, in many ways, return Afghanistan to itself ... That’s key and the area we have to focus on ... From every thing I've seen, we've made good progress on that, but I think there's a lot more work to do in terms of being able to transition responsibility to them." (071111)


British plan slower withdrawal than originally envisioned

PM Cameron addressed current British troop withdrawal plans for Afghan on July 6, 2011. The plan says 460 will leave this year, 500 in 2012, leaving 9,000. The latter 500 will not be combat forces. The US will withdraw 10,000 this year, and 23,000 by September 2012. Of course, that will leave a large US force there in 2012, estimated at 70,000, so one must be careful comparing apples and oranges. (070911)

Panjsher police commander says cannot secure province alone, governor disagrees

Panjshir

General Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh, Panjsher police commander said on July 6, 2011, "Due to limited number of forces in Panjsher, we cannot take the security responsibility for this province. And because Panjsher is bordered by insecure provinces, we need a huge force.” That said, Keramuddin Karim, Panjsher governor and the US ambassador said the Afghans will be able to handle it. (070911)

Afghan drawdown underway, sort of...

The withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is underway. Two squadrons of the Iowa National Guard, 1-134th Cavalry, 300 troops, Kabul, and 1-113th Cavalry, 500 troops, Parawan Province eave this month, about 800 troops. Next out will be the 3-4 Marines, departing Helmand Province in late fall. The 3-4 Marines are the first full combat unit to go, about another 800 troops. All these withdrawals will not be replaced. AP has reported that the full plan for reducing US forces will not be worked out until fall. Given that, and given that 10,000 must leave by yea’s end, it would appear departures occurring this year will be announced piece-meal. (070711)

President Karzai’s ability to govern in doubt as US forces withdraw

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Afghan President Karzai is locked up in multiple political battles that raise serious doubts about his capacity to govern, all at a time when the US is pulling out 5,000 troops soon, and 5,000 more by year’s end. There is even action underway to impeach him. Questions are now on the surface about how the Afghan Security Services can take over security for the country with Karzai in such an embattled position. Departing Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army general, unleashed a barrage directed at Karzai recently, saying this: "I must tell you I find occasional comments from some of your leaders hurtful and inappropriate ... When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost, in terms of lives and treasure, hear themselves compared to occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest, and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people … they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here." (070511)

Afghan Army takes complete control of Camp Hero buildings

On July 1, 2011, Afghan National Security Forces at Camp Hero, Kandahar province, were the first in Afghanistan to transition coalition-maintained buildings, some 17, to complete Afghan control. All the structures were American built. Many more structures at the base will be transferred to the Afghans in the ensuing months. US forces will remain, mostly Corps of Engineers, to help the Afghans learn how to operate and maintain the buildings. (070511)

US special forces may surge in Afghanistan as offset to withdrawals

Stars and Stripes reported on July 4, 2011 that there may be a mini surge of special forces troops into Afghanistan to help offset the planned withdrawals this year of more conventional forces. The Times of Australia has estimated there are 7,000 US Special Forces in Afghanistan at present. (070411)

White House develops new strategy for Afghan

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A new strategic doctrine for Afghanistan has emerged from the White House, with counterterrorism chief John Brennan’s fingerprints all over it. He has apparently been working on it for some two years. The strategy now is to target specific terrorists and terrorist leaders, I call them enemy, instead of seeking land battles. Brennan unveiled the new doctrine on June 29, 2011 before the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He told his audience, "Our best offense won't always be deploying large armies abroad, but delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us.” The idea is to target specific groups and leaders and “decapitate their leadership.” The new strategy has raised many questions, arguably the biggest being whether we are still fighting a global war on terror or whether we are confined to the group of countries now in the list, like Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. For example, what about Iran? The strategy also raises questions about how the Taliban fits in this strategy --- is it our objective to destroy the Taliban, or not? What does seem clear is that this strategy supports a large combat force withdrawal from the Afghan War, which is the chief executive’s goal. This would also seem to drown out departing General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy, which is troop intensive but tries to win the hearts and minds. This will also have an affect on military force structure and one has to wonder whether this will cause cancellation or termination of certain weapons systems not particularly useful for this strategy --- for example, the tank. (063011)

General Allen will slow down withdrawal if needed

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Lt. General John Allen, USMC, nominated to replace General Petraeus, USA in Afghan, told his Senate confirmation hearing on June 28, 2011 he would slow planned withdrawals if the situation on the ground deteriorates. While he supports Obama’s withdrawal plan, he said it was more aggressive than what military commanders wanted. That said, he believes he has enough flexibility to decide when units leave. He presently envisions special forces staying until the end. He is expected to be approved and in place in July. One has to wonder how much flexibility he has given the 2012 election. (062911)

Petraeus has to come up with new withdrawal plan for Afghan

General Petraeus, USA, told Congress on June 23, 2011 that he has to go back to Kabul to work out a plan for his new Afghan withdrawal orders. Admiral Mullen, USN, CJCS, told the House Armed Services Committee that same day, “(Petraeus and his designated successor, Marine Lt. Gen. John R. Allen) will be given the flexibility -- inside these deadlines -- to determine the pace of this withdrawal and the rearrangement of remaining forces inside the country.” (062711)

Gates says withdrawal means transition from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism strategy in Afghan

SecDef Gates said in a recent interview that US strategy in Afghan will transition from counterinsurgency, a manpower intensive strategy that requires protection of civilians, to a counterterrorism strategy that targets terror leaders. He said the transition will occur over time and will start to become more clear in 2012 and 2013, when the Afghans take greater responsibility for protecting their population. (062711)

Lashkar to be first Afghan withdrawal point

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The Lashkar Gahill area of Afghan’s southern Helmand province looks like it will be the first place to experience a major US military withdrawal this summer. Efforts began on June 19, 2011 with the 3rd Brigade, 215th Corps, whose soldiers have begun setting up their own checkpoints and have begun taking over security of the city. The city is hosting a major US Marine base, Camp Leatherneck. This will result in an Afghan takeover of security responsibilities there. There is disagreement among Afghan and American officials and military people there whether the Afghans can hold once US forces are withdrawn. They have defeated enemy advances through the present, but it will be different without the Americans there backing them up. There are 19,000 Marines, 11,000 British soldiers and 12,000 Afghan soldiers in the province at present. This had long been a Taliban stronghold until reinforcements arrived and stayed. Lashkar is the capital of the province (062711)

Obama lays out withdrawal plan phase 1

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President Obama on June 23, 2011 set out his Afghan military withdrawal plan, its first phase. He said he would withdraw 33,000 troops by summer 2012, September 2012 at the latest. The first 5,000 will return in July 2011 and another 5,000 by year’s end. He said, “We have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat.” His top military men, Admiral Mullen, USN, CJCS, and General Petraeus, USA, commander NATO forces Afghan, opposed this plan as too aggressive. So did SecDef Gates. They argued that this will hurt logistical support for the upcoming summer fighting season. However, Mullen has since said he endorsed the plan, though he said that “only the president can really determine the acceptable level of risk.” While Obama focused on al Qaeda, Petraeus focused on the Taliban, which is the main force against which his people are fighting. White House officials said there have been no terrorist threats against the US from Afghanistan, only Pakistan. Afghan President Karzai’s reaction was, “The number of troops that he has announced to be withdrawn is a sign that Afghanistan is taking over its own security and is trying to defend its territory by its own means. So we are happy about the announcement." (062511)