The drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan, announced by President Barack Obama in his speech on June 23, has begun. Two units, comprising about 1,000 troops, will leave Afghanistan over the next two weeks.
There are currently 100,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. President Obama’s speech announced that the drawdown would start this summer with a total of 10,000 troops withdrawn by the end of 2011. An additional 23,000 would be withdrawn by September 2012. These 33,000 troops comprise the surge of forces sent to Afghanistan that began in December 2009.
The first withdrawals
The first unit to withdraw will be 650 troops from the 1st Battalion, 113rd Cavalry Regiment, part of the 2/34th National Guard brigade, which arrived in November 2010. The 1/133th Cav is based in Parwan province, a relatively stable area just north of Kabul. They replaced a National Guard battalion already stationed there. The mission of the 1/113rd Cav was to secure the province, including the area around a major US base at Bagram. In addition, they trained and advised the local Afghan National Police (ANP). After they leave, these 650 troops will be replaced by 300 troops drawn from other units already in Afghanistan. The unit that was to replace them (elements of the 45th National Guard Brigade that have arrived from the US as part of the regular rotation of units) was diverted to Iraq.
The second unit to withdraw will be the 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment. They also deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 2/34th National Guard brigade in November 2010. Their mission was to train and advise Afghan National Police units in the Kabul area.
The withdrawal of a third unit has also been announced, but it isn’t scheduled to leave until later, in November 2011. There are 800 Marines of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment currently stationed in an area south of the town of Sangin in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Sangin has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in Afghanistan over the past year. The two successive Marine units preceding them had been part of the surge; before that, the area had not been occupied by US forces.
The Marines’ mission was to clear and then provide security along a strategically important road. The road connects central Helmand (which includes the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and the ring road that connects to the rest of Afghanistan) to northern Hemand province (which includes the towns of Sangin, Musa Qala, Now Zad, and Kajaki). Sangin, Musa Qala, and Now Zad have been the sites of major combat with the Taliban for control of northern Helmand province. Kajaki is the location of the economically important Kajaki dam and its electrical generators which could provide electricity for the entire region.
“Their presence there in that area took a lot of pressure of [sic] those road builders and, again, disrupted the enemy in an area where he had not expected to see coalition troops,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, then the top Marine commander in Afghanistan, in March. “It was one of his few remaining hideouts, if you will, within the province. Because of the fact that you only have them for a short period of time, we’re not in a hold phase with those troops, but we’re doing some clearance and some disruptions.”
Therefore it is likely that a replacement for 3/4th Marines will be found, drawn from other units in the area.