By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 2, 2009 - The 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama is sending to Afghanistan will focus on reversing the Taliban's momentum, a senior Defense Department official said last night during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable following the president's announcement of his new strategy. "What we are sending into Afghanistan by the end of next summer will be more troops, more quickly than any other proposal before the president," said David S. Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. "What we are doing here is we are putting in the hands of General McChrystal more troops sooner in order to have the impact on the momentum of the Taliban." Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal commands U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.
The need to slow down the Taliban's momentum is necessary for success in Afghanistan, said Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., director of the Joint Staff's Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell, who accompanied Sedney during the roundtable. The improvised explosive device threat in Afghanistan has increased by 75 percent across the board, particularly in the south, he noted.
To combat that momentum, he explained, most forces deployed to Afghanistan will be used in a bridging role.
"The initial forces going in will include an additional Marine regimental combat team going to southern Afghanistan to be a part of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, and they will assist in securing the population in central Helmand," Nicholson said. Other U.S. forces will be sent to Kandahar and an additional brigade combat team involved in counterinsurgency will be deployed in the east, while trainers will assist Afghan security forces in close partnering, he added.
The close partnering is a critical component of McChrystal's plan as forces move forward, Nicholson said.
"They become a catalyst for the accelerated development of the capability of the Afghan forces," Nicholson added. "Additional trainers will enable greater capacity in the training base to train more Afghans to achieve acceleration and a growth in the Afghan army that we are looking for."
He added that trainers "see a definite difference in their progress when closely partnered."
Nicholson, who has gained extensive experience in Afghanistan over the past four years, said the Afghan security forces need U.S. assistance.
"They clearly need our help," he said. "I would characterize that help as a bridging force to get us through the necessary combat operations to secure the population in some key areas."
The surge of the additional troops and equipment can be accomplished by summer, the general said.
"In southern Afghanistan last year, we introduced close to 20,000 troops in about the same amount of time," he noted. "It is very challenging, but it can be done."
In addition to the influx of U.S. forces sent to Afghanistan, Sedney said, international partners will supply an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 troops to help with the effort. Nicholson added that NATO forces -- such as troops from Romania, Denmark, Estonia, Australia, United Kingdom and Denmark -- have done a lot of the heavy lifting in some of the highest combat areas, such as Helmand province.
"We have 17 nations in the southern region of Afghanistan. Six of those nations are providing a battalion or more of soldiers," he said. "These soldiers fight, and these nations have done a lot of heavy lifting for the alliance down there."
Despite restrictions some nations place on how their forces can be used, international partners have paid a heavy price, Nicholson said. "While certainly caveats are a concern, rightfully so, there are a lot of our allies who are operating in some very tough areas, and have taken some very high casualties," he said.
Sedney added that the focus of the effort will be on the Afghan security forces' ability to take the lead in security responsibilities by the summer of 2011.
"We have been building, are building, and will build even more intensively Afghan national security forces -- Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police -- that will fill the goal that President [Hamid] Karzai set out in his inauguration speech," he said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)