Defense Department Announces New Forces for Afghanistan Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2008 The Defense Department announced today the deployment of two additional units to Afghanistan, following up on President Bush’s announcement last week that he will beef up the U.S. presence there while reducing it in Iraq.
Up to 2,000 Marines assigned to an air-ground task force will deploy to Afghanistan in November, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The task force will be organized based on specific requirements on the ground, he said, but will include 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and other Marine Corps units. Collectively, the task force will include a headquarters and ground combat, aviation and logistics elements from units across the Marine Corps.
The task force will replace the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, both slated to redeploy in November after a one-month extension of their Afghanistan tour. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered the additional Marine forces to Afghanistan earlier this year over concerns about a possible spring offensive.
In addition, the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, from Fort Drum, N.Y., will deploy about 3,700 soldiers to Afghanistan in January, Whitman said. The soldiers, who initially had been slated to leave for Iraq in November, will now be assigned to increase the capabilities of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The brigade returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in July 2007.
The United States, with 31,000 servicemembers already in Afghanistan, will continue to be the biggest contributor to ISAF, Whitman said. NATO members have promised to commit more troops to ISAF, the alliance’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe, but continue to come up short.
Bush announced during an address at the National Defense University that the United States would continue to reduce its troop strength in Iraq, based on security progress made as part of the new strategy and troop surge there. With the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies regaining strength and creating safe havens in Pakistani tribal areas, Bush said, he would redirect some forces headed for Iraq to Afghanistan.
“The mission of these forces will be to work with Afghan forces to provide security for the Afghan people, protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and democratic institutions and help ensure access to services like education and health care,” he said.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a weekend interview he remains convinced that victory in Afghanistan is possible, due in part to the U.S. and NATO effort.
“Our troops are doing spectacular work on the ground,” the chairman said on CNN’s “American Morning” program. “They’ve made a difference.”
Mullen said the main goal is providing a level of security in Afghanistan that is sustainable so the other factors to develop the country can take hold as they have in Iraq.
“I’m very concerned, and will remain concerned,” he said of conditions in Afghanistan. “I want to focus on it. I’m optimistic in the long run.”