Monday, July 21, 2008

Will the National Guard Pay the Price for Afghanistan?

It is generally admitted that the Bush administration abandoned Afghanistan when it went after Saddam Hussein.

So there was something amiss – logically – in the July16, 2008 Defense Department Operational Update Briefing by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen.

Gates opened with the announcement of the nomination of LTGen Craig McKinley to be the next head of the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the elevation of that position to a four star (full general) billet. Gates also nominated the departing Chief of the Bureau, LTGen Steve Blum, to be the first Guardsman to occupy the position of Deputy Commander of Northern Command, created after September 11 to coordinate, inter alia, DoD’s contribution to homeland defense. This also is a four star billet.

Next subject was Admiral Mullen’s recent visit to Iraq and Afghanistan. On Iraq, should the improved security achievements hold (he too was able to walk openly in the Jamila Market in Sadr City), Mullen said he would feel comfortable recommending a further reduction of U.S. forces.

On Afghanistan, he called for greater effort by U.S., other NATO countries, Afghan and Pakistan armed forces and other security organizations to cut the large-scale infiltration from the training camps in Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Consider also that U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have publicly called for more U.S. and NATO troops to counter the influx of better trained Taliban loyalists, insurgents, muhajadeen, and terrorists. Admiral Mullen has countered that he doesn’t have any more forces and won’t have until troop levels fall in Iraq.

There had been much discussion about raising the NGB Chief to four stars, and the change was authorized in the FY2008 legislation. Putting a NG general into the Deputy’s slot in Northern Command also makes sense as the primary force structure responding to another terror incident will be NG units.

But, if Admiral Mullen doesn’t have troops to send to Afghanistan now, and should the pace of fighting in Iraq not diminish so that he can make a recommendation to reduce troop levels there, the only source of additional troop strength is – once again – the NG, and once again to the detriment of their missions within their states.

Moreover, the most effective troops for the missions along the Afghan-Pakistan border are not going to be NG units but Special Forces. But the president has given the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command the lead role in combating al-Qaeda and fighting the “Global War on Terror.” And always in the background is the constant murmuring echo that still emanates from the neo-cons – something to the effect of “bomb bomb Iran.”

It all sounds so familiar as in "we've been here before" when the NG was sent on repeated tours to Iraq because there were not enough troops to respond to Bush's wars.

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