Pentagon seeks stability in Afghanistan deployments

As part of the counterinsurgency mission, US Army units will return to the same regions in order to build on experience and develop stronger relationships on the ground.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The US Army announced that it would begin deploying the same headquarters units to the same regions in Afghanistan in a sign that the new US commander is serious about creating an effective counterinsurgency mission there.

The announcement Thursday comes as the US assesses the form and size of its commitment in South Asia and what the top commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, deems is necessary to get the job done.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Great Britain made a forceful speech Friday outlining why British troops must continue fighting there amid waning public support in both the UK and the US for some have called in comparison to Iraq "the righteous war"

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The Pentagon announcement Thursday means that the Army will deploy the same three or four division headquarters to the same regions in Afghanistan to maintain relationships with the Afghan people. Normally, units rotate in and out depending on the availability of forces – whoever is free, goes. Now there will be some predictability of units in Afghanistan.

"This is counterinsurgency best practice. This is wonderful," says John Nagl, a noted counterinsurgency expert and president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington. "Counterinsurgency is all about personal relationships and in-depth cultural, economic and political knowledge."

Ultimately, there will be more predictability at home, too. But first, morale will take a hit. To make the continuity of deployments happen, the Army has to extend one division headquarters – the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg, N.C. already in Afghanistan – by about 50 days and another unit by about two weeks.

The Pentagon will also cut short by about six months the amount of time another division, the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Ky., will have at home. Over time, units will see a more predictable deployment cycle, with more time at home, the Army said.

"These force flow adjustments are intended to increase dwell over time toward the 'one-year deployed, two years at home' ratio we've been looking to get to for some time," says Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the Army.

The move could have a dramatic effect on the ground in a war that has not been going well and for which there is diminishing public support. Public opinion polls suggest Americans' patience with the eight-year war continues to diminish absent a strongly articulated strategy from the Obama White House that had made "fixing Afghanistan" a chief campaign priority.

Meanwhile, the war has gotten costly: 44 Americans killed in July and 51 in August – a record high.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended the mission Thursday, saying the US can win there and opening the door to sending more American troops in coming months.

And in London Friday, Prime Minister Brown took "head on" the arguments being made that the Afghanistan strategy is flawed. Noting terrorist attacks like those in Bali, Madrid, Mumbai, and London, Brown said the objectives in Afghanistan are doable and the strategy is being put in place to "complete our vital task."

"These are aims that are clear and justified – and also realistic and achievable," he said. "It remains my judgment that a safer Britain requires a safer Afghanistan."

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Click here to read more about Gates's defense of US engagement in Afghanistan.

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