- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

In what may be a late Christmas present to some members of the famed 10th Mountain Division headquartered in Camp Drum, N.Y., Pentagon officials announced that the 4th Brigade that had been scheduledtodeployen masse to Afghanistan would now only send a smaller element. At the moment a battalion task force from the 4th Brigade is scheduled to deploy, a considerably smaller numberthanoriginally scheduled.

Why the cutback? Simple, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said from the outset, “we’ll stay as long as we’re needed, not a day more.” At this point NATO has “stood up to the mission” in the words of a senior Defense official, and is taking responsibility for thesouthernareaof Afghanistan.

“This move indicates that the operations in the south are transitioning from combat to stability operations,” that same Pentagon official explained. What that means is that the Taliban/al Qaeda threat has been diminished to the point that rebuilding and helping secure the country can be done in relative security. This does not mean that America is done with Afghanistan, not by a long shot.

Assessments of troop levels will continue to be what the Defense Department calls “conditions based” and will be flexible and responsive. U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been so effective because we have tailored forces to respond to changing needs. During war, U.S. forces must occasionally be repositioned for contingency missions. Meanwhile, U.S. special-operations forces will ruthlessly continue the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts and will be prepared for intelligence and other covert operations throughout the battle area.

“This troop adjustment will not in any way reduce our commitment to the counter-terrorism mission in country,” the Pentagon affirmed. We will also continue to carry the lion’s share of air, artillery, and logistics support as we have done from the onset of combat operations. The repositioning can take pressure off of the Army and Marine units that have done most of the heavy lifting in the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Southeast Asia.

Pentagon officials are heartened by NATO’s continued willingness to participate in the mission of Operation Enduring Freedom. Cynics have said that in the post-Cold War days NATO is an organization in search of a mission. Most European armies are hollow shells, highly unionized and ineffective in serious combat operations. The professionals left in Europe’s armies welcome the opportunity to contribute to mission success in Afghanistan stability operations.

The slow transition from combat to stability operations, along with increased multinational presence, is good for Afghanistan and good for America. For decades all over the world — in Germany, Japan, South Korea and other places — we have drawn down forces and turned operations over to local authorities when the situation became stable. This transition encourages optimism because it is a strong affirmation of the ability of Afghanistan to stand on its own with a freely elected, democratic government. As the legitimacy of the Karzai government improves, Afghanistan moves from the dark, isolated days of the medieval Taliban into the modern community of nations.

Even with a repositioning, some U.S. forces will remain to protect Afghan freedom. We ought to expectrealisticallythat American forces will be present in some form in country for many more years. Such are the realities of the world as it is, not as we wish it were.

What is occurring in Afghanistan is a template of sorts — given the caveat that there are major differences in the two situations — for what Pentagon officials anticipate happening eventually in Iraq. As local Iraqi forces increase in capability — and with some outside augmentation — then the U.S. forces will draw down and reposition over time. It must not be a panicked, humiliating retreat, as some defeatists advocate, but a timed, phased, well-considered approach that turns power over to the local people and allows them to take charge of their destiny.

Combat commanders consistently recommend a logical, effective strategy that injects common sense and military professionalism into a situation dominated by political gamesmanship, hysteria, disinformation and irrational hatred of the president, the military and the country. To be victorious, America can’t yank the rug out, as we did to our Vietnamese allies, but must implement a deliberate, calculated force adjustment of the kind that marked our successful disengagement from other historic battlefields. This is the recipe for victory, and the approach now ongoing in Afghanistan demonstrates and reinforces its validity.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu is a military analyst and author of “Separated at Birth.” Retired Maj. Gen. Paul E.Vallely is a military analyst for the Fox New Channel and co-author of “Endgame.” Both are contributing authors to the newly released “War Footing.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide