Afghanistan troops timeline gets its first revision

A senior American officer said Monday that the entire 30,000-strong Afghanistan troops surge will not be in country until November. The original plan was to send troops to Afghanistan more quickly to bring them back quickly.

Omar Sobhani/Reuters
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Monday.

The full complement of American forces deploying to Afghanistan under President Obama’s new strategy will not arrive until November, a top commander here said.

The new, more gradual timeline means it will take longer for Mr. Obama’s surge of forces to arrive, thus potentially blunting their impact in the surge’s initial phases and leading to a slower drawdown of forces after July 2011. It comes as the military confronts the realities of deploying such a large force into a landlocked country with little in the way of infrastructure.

Originally, the Obama administration had hoped to accelerate the deployment of the 30,000 additional forces in its get-in-and-get-out approach. The idea was to deploy new forces quickly and then begin a gradual withdrawal in July 2011. Senior administration officials said Dec. 1, the day Obama announced his new strategy, that it would take six months for all 30,000 troops to arrive.

But in subsequent testimony on Capitol Hill, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the bulk of the forces would deploy in the summer and “finish out by fall.” But the commander for day-to-day operations here said Monday it will probably take a bit longer.

“It will happen between nine and 11 months by the time you get it all done,” Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) Joint Command, told reporters in Kabul Monday.

Why the delay?

“It depends on so many things,” Rodriguez said. Security, logistics challenges and weather all have to “line up perfectly.”

Weather is a perennial challenge in this mountainous country with few passable roads where logistics depend on airlift. Defense Secretary Robert Gates confronted this firsthand just last week when his helicopter flight was grounded due to heavy fog.

Rodriguez said he is confident the troops would get here in time to make a difference on the ground. “I don’t think we’re far off from where everyone is trying to go,” he said.

The deployment of roughly 30,000 troops to Iraq in the spring of 2007 did occur faster, but Iraq’s infrastructure is far more developed.

Meanwhile, the first contingents of troops have already begun to arrive, including Marine and Army units that will conduct combat operations as well as perform much-needed training of Afghan national security forces. Most will head to the southern reaches of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, where US and allied forces are targeting insurgents and drug routes, while also attempting to isolate the insurgency by protecting the population and building the capacity of local security forces.

A 'more sophisticated' insurgency

The American forces arriving in Afghanistan will confront a growing threat from the Taliban, which numbers at about 25,000 individuals, according to officials. Veterans of the Afghanistan mission will find a different country than the one they saw a year or two ago, said Mullen, on the first of a seven-day tour through the region.

“The insurgency has grown more violent, more pervasive, and more sophisticated,” Mullen told reporters. Insurgents have a “dominant influence” in 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, he added.

Mullen said he remains concerned about the growing level of collusion between the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and other extremist groups taking refuge across the border in Pakistan.

“Getting at this network, which is now more entrenched, will now become a far more difficult task than it did even a year ago,” he said.


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