U.S. Troop Levels in Afghanistan Slated to Drop Next Year
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2005 The number of American troops serving in Afghanistan, currently about 19,000, is slated to decline by about 2,500 next year, a senior U.S. military officer said here Dec. 19.
Improved Afghan National Army and police forces and an expanded NATO contingent are enabling the reduced American military presence, Air Force Lt. Gen. Gene Renuart, the Joint Staff's director for strategic plans and policy, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
"It's a good-news recognition of progress in Afghanistan, of success in our desires to build governance and improve the economies and to advance the quality of life of the Afghan people," Renuart said. Afghanistan's new parliament, the country's first elected legislature since 1969, met in session in Kabul Dec. 19.
Senior Afghan, U.S. and NATO leaders collaborated in the decision to reduce the U.S. troop presence, Renuart said.
The Afghan National Army now stands at about 27,000 troops, Renuart said, noting that about 55,000 Afghan police have been trained and deployed. Afghan army soldiers work closely with U.S. Special Forces during counterinsurgency operations, he said, while the police attend to local law enforcement in cities, towns and other municipalities.
"Both of those capabilities have improved to the point that they can assume more and more of the role of both working internal security and hometown security for the Afghan people," Renuart said.
NATO is slated to expand its International Security Assistance Force, consisting of troops from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Romania and Canada, into southern Afghanistan next year, Renuart said.
"NATO has done great work in the central Kabul area, as well as regional command North and West," Renuart said. "And their ability to now take on an expanded role in the south is also NATO's recognition that we're making great progress."
The 4th Brigade of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division was notified in December 2004 that it would deploy to Afghanistan, Renuart said. The improving situation, he said, has negated the need to deploy the entire brigade. So only one battalion-sized task force of about 1,200 soldiers from that brigade will be sent to southern Afghanistan in mid-2006 to assist ISAF, Renuart said.
As part of next year's troop transition, American and Canadian forces, Renuart said, will relieve the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade that's now serving in southern Afghanistan.
The remainder of the 4th Brigade, Renuart said, will remain at Fort Polk, La., and will be ready to deploy to Afghanistan within 15 days if required.
The remaining 16,500 or so U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Renuart said, will stay focused on capturing and killing terrorists, primarily in the eastern portion of the country.
"The (U.S.) mission is clear," the three-star general said. "It is to continue to root out and find those elements of al Qaeda and Taliban and other insurgents within Afghanistan that could cause instability."
Renuart cautioned that terrorist activity conducted by al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in isolated parts of Afghanistan makes those areas very dangerous.
"But security is expanding, not retreating," Renuart said. The diminished Taliban, he said, haven't a chance of returning to power.
"The capabilities that NATO will bring into the country," Renuart said, "will more than ensure that any time the Taliban would try to take advantage of these transitions ... they'll be met with very capable forces able to defeat them at any turn."
Renuart also praised the competence and contributions of the U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan.
"We're winning this, and it's because of their great effort that we're able to make these adjustments in cooperation with our friends the Afghans and with our friends from NATO."