NATO's adventures in the real world II: bulking up in Afghanistan

Bob Gates, who has until now been a bit of a post-Rumsfeld housekeeper as the U.S. Secretary of Defense and who is sometimes mentioned as a possible SecDef for Barack Obama, is reported to be preparing a major housecleaning for the U.S. military deployment in Afghanistan. Just inevitably, that would have repercussions for the Canadian mission.

Much of the Gates plan will have to wait until the new year, when there’ll be a new president, who Gates hopes will be sending a substantial new U.S. troop contingent to Afghanistan. In the meantime, his plan seems to involve bringing Operation Enduring Freedom, the standalone U.S. combat mission, under direct command of the NATO commander for Afghanistan, David McKiernan. So the guy in charge of building roads and training police can work more closely with the guy in charge of hunting down insurgents, because it’ll be the same guy. And then there’s this, which strikes closer to home:

One goal of the command restructuring would be to allow the movement of American and allied troops — including the British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers who participate in a full range of combat missions — to support one another in a more seamless fashion.

I’m not sure what to make of the plan to double the size of the Afghan army, because I do believe that was always the plan. I hope to be talking to some old acquaintances at NATO HQ in Brussels today, so if I can nail down how much of a change this represents, I’ll let you know.

When I was in Kabul, Kandahar and Qalat last October, military commanders discussed their mission’s medium-term prospects as a range of possibilities from optimistic to pessimistic. Basically all the pessimistic projections have borne out since then. I also met three American general officers, one active in the East, one responsible for police training, and McKiernan’s predecessor, Dan K. McNeill. All mentioned, not really as a complaint but simply as a fact of life, that they couldn’t get everything they asked the Pentagon for because Iraq had first call on U.S. resources. At least to some extent, that seems to be changing.

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