A change in plan
When the “surge” of US troops to Afghanistan was authorized in 2009, an operational plan was created also. Operations would concentrate first on suppressing the Taliban insurgency in South Afghanistan. In 2010 and 2011, the majority of US “surge” troops would be concentrated there. In 2012, after the insurgency was suppressed in South Afghanistan, some US forces would be shifted to East Afghanistan and counterinsurgency operations would then start there while the US forces remaining in South Afghanistan would ensure the Taliban did not return.
In June 2011, however, President Obama announced that the US “surge” troops would be withdrawn earlier than originally planned. Operations had suppressed the insurgency in South Afghanistan in 2010-2011. But the shift of US forces to East Afghanistan in 2012 would not occur. Instead, the troops would be withdrawn. Now, the original plan for operations in East Afghanistan was no longer possible. A new plan would be needed.
In his testimony to Congress yesterday, General Allen gave some insight into a new East Afghanistan plan. Operations would still be conducted there, but they would be on a smaller scale and they would entail taking higher risk for the rest of the country.
A smaller-scale operation in East Afghanistan (RC-East)
East Afghanistan (RC-East) can be divided into two regions. “Northern” RC-East includes the provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, and Nangarhar. “Southern” RC-East includes the provinces of Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Logar, Wardak, and Ghazni.
Both the northern and southern regions of East Afghanistan have strong Taliban insurgent activity. Both also provide the Taliban with infiltration routes into Afghanistan from their safe havens in Pakistan. The original 2009 plan called for counterinsurgency operations to be conducted in both of these regions. However, the new plan calls for operations only in a portion of “Southern” RC-East, in the provinces of Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, and Paktia (Paktika and Khost are not included). The plan for operations in “Northern” RC-East has been canceled.
A higher risk for the rest of Afghanistan
With the early withdrawal of “surge” troops, fewer remaining US troops overall means that even the smaller operation in “Southern” RC-East will be possible only by taking greater risks in the rest of the country.
With operations canceled in “Northern” RC-East, no additional troops would be sent there. In fact, some US troops would be withdrawn from there and sent to “Southern” RC-East. With troop strength below even the current level, Northern RC-East will be at a higher risk from insurgent infiltration and operations. This region includes the important city of Jalalabad as well as the Khyber Pass, a main transportation route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kunar and Nuristan provinces are already considered havens for the Taliban and allied terror groups, with several districts already under enemy control.
In addition, General Allen testified that he is considering transferring some troops from South Afghanistan to participate in the “Southern” RC-East operation. Troops in South Afghanistan are currently charged with holding the gains made during counterinsurgency operations in 2010 and 2011. While the decision has not been made, it risks losing some of the gains made in South Afghanistan to insurgent re-infiltration.
A heavier role for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)
Why would General Allen accept this higher-risk plan? Partly, General Allen is relying on the Afghan National Security Forces to perform better than expected. In the areas where US Forces are being drawn down, he will be relying more heavily on the ANSF to prevent insurgent reinfiltration. In his testimony he said: “The growth of the [Afghan National Security Forces] has been dramatic,” and noted that the Afghan army is moving to “full partnership with us within this comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.”
General Allen has taken a further measure to support the ANSF in this increasingly difficult mission. In February, the US Army announced that it would deploy an addition 1,800 army and civilian trainers and advisers to support the ANSF.