Stronger U.S. role likely in Afghanistan
The Pentagon wants more control over NATO there in light of Taliban resurgence.
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In Afghanistan, the senior NATO commander owns only about half the troops, the rest of which are American and fall outside the NATO chain of command. Additionally, each regional command, led by a different country's military, takes a different approach.Skip to next paragraph
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Violence, while limited to about 10 of the 365 districts across Afghanistan, is on the increase. And much of it stems from insurgents and other terrorist groups who cross the border into Afghanistan to conduct attacks and then retreat back across the border into the tribal region of Pakistan where they are essentially out of reach of coalition forces.
The US has had to stand back and rely on the fledgling efforts of Pakistani military and the Frontier Corps, which operates in much of the Pakistani border region, to go after these insurgents. That has unfolded with limited success thus far.
Changes are afoot, but they will be gradual as the sensitivities of doing anything that could be perceived as American heavy-handedness is a political thorn bush for the US.
Nicholson's deployment is "still being worked," says another military official, in part because of the political sensitivities of sending an American there. But the significance of the deployment of Nicholson and his small staff to the Regional Command South sector is that he will be able to help direct US military operations in the south.
Currently, for example, the contingent of US Marines working in the south fall under a NATO subordinate command that is shared by the Canadians, the Dutch, and the British. But in that particular case, the Marine efforts can be hampered by working under a foreign commander whose approach is not always as aggressive as that of the Americans.
The rotation of command in the southern sector is currently held by the Canadians. This fall, the Dutch will lead Regional Command South for 12 months, followed by the British for another year. It is likely the US in 2010 will then take over command of the south altogether, and retain it indefinitely, sources say.
An ultimate takeover, at least in some form, of the southern sector by the US is not ideal but would be welcome, says Carter Malkasian, director of the Stability and Development Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, a think tank in Washington.
"I think it would be better if we had allies stepping in to do it," he says. "But if they are not going to do it, in the end [US control] is a good thing because it will help improve the security situation."
But any push to remake the strategy in Afghanistan must take a regional approach, say experts such as the retired senior officer and others. For example, sources say McKiernan may also be given a more formal authority over the senior military official in the US Embassy in Pakistan, Rear Adm. Michael LeFevre.
There has been much focus on amping up the number of troops in Afghanistan. But most analysts who study the problem in Afghanistan, as well as many military commanders, recognize that more troops will not be the cure-all. Most important, they say, is a well-defined counterinsurgency strategy to support not only combat activities but also reconstruction and stability initiatives that typically make up the lion's share of any counterinsurgency strategy.
Nonetheless, the US seems poised to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan with perhaps as many as 3,500 or so leaving before the end of this year, says Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
"They are actively involved in determining whether or not additional forces can be sent to Afghanistan, perhaps as soon as this year," says Mr. Morrell.