More Troops, Centralized Command Boosts Afghan Campaign, General Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2008 The pending deployment of thousands of additional U.S. troops and extra equipment to Afghanistan in tandem with a streamlined command structure will boost the campaign to win the war there, a senior U.S. officer posted in Afghanistan said today.
“We are certainly optimistic,” said Army Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, who wears two hats as a senior operations staff officer for both NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
“There’s no doubt in our mind that we can win and will win this fight,” Tucker told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference. He opened the briefing with a black-and-white video depicting insurgents emplacing roadside bombs that were quickly being destroyed by missiles from an unmanned aerial assault vehicle.
Some 20,000 U.S. forces are on tap to deploy to Afghanistan in the coming months, said Tucker, who noted that a contingent of 10th Mountain Division soldiers is scheduled to arrive in January. The extra forces will bring the total U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan to more than 50,000.
The troop plus-up includes Marines as well as soldiers, Tucker said. He added that he and other commanders view it as more of a reinforcement than a surge of forces, as were sent to Iraq. The additional ground forces, he said, will be deployed to interact with and protect villagers who inhabit Afghanistan’s rural hinterland, thus counteracting insurgent efforts to coerce the population.
The deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan will be accompanied by helicopters, as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets, and logistics and transportation elements, Tucker said. Afghanistan lacks a good road network, and helicopters are especially useful for transporting troops and equipment across the rural and mountainous terrain, he said.
The extra troops and equipment were requested by Tucker’s superior, Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO ISAF as well as U.S. Forces Afghanistan. McKiernan, who already commanded NATO ISAF, was appointed commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan when the command was activated Oct. 6.
McKiernan’s appointment “has been enormously successful” and has streamlined and centralized the chain of command in Afghanistan, Tucker said.
Meanwhile, Pakistani infantry troops continue to assist the war effort by targeting and attacking insurgents holed up in Pakistan’s ungoverned regions near the border with Afghanistan and providing increased protection for coalition supply convoys that transit Pakistan before entering Afghanistan, Tucker said.
The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, have not affected Pakistani military efforts to confront insurgents operating in their country, Tucker said. Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists camped out in northwest Pakistan’s federally administered tribal area have been known to cross the border to commit mayhem in Afghanistan.
“General McKiernan would tell you that there can be no success in Afghanistan without addressing the issue of the porous borders and enemy sanctuary” in Pakistan, Tucker said. Recent efforts by Afghan military and police coordinated with the Pakistani military and frontier corps have been “very effective” in targeting insurgents’ trans-border activities, he said.
As temperatures fall in Afghanistan, Tucker said, he anticipates “a very active winter” campaign against the enemy.
Yet, to ultimately succeed in Afghanistan, Tucker echoed McKiernan’s belief that military power, or security, must be combined with governance, reconstruction and economic and political aid for an Afghan culture that historically has lacked a central government.
“There is a fear that security can outrun governance, because governance shores up what security you’ve attained,” Tucker said. “And governance, of course, is something that we can’t do for them; they have to do [that] for themselves.”
Afghanistan also needs “the mentors, the coaches and the teachers to help them through that process” to establish centralized government, he said.