Permissible Arms

Keeping up with the Gates

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, us defense, us military by Karaka on 7 October 2009

Secretary Gates has been doing a veritable sightseeing tour, talking to the Air Force, the Association of the US Army, GWU, and John King all in the space of about two-three weeks. His speech before the AUSA this past Monday caught my attention.


General Odierno said last week that violence is down 85 percent over the past two years – an accomplishment made possible by the hard work and sacrifices of many thousands of U.S. soldiers. At the same time, Afghanistan has been on a different, and worrisome, trajectory – with violence levels up some 60 percent from last year.

Less significant for the comparison, more for the numbers. Sixty percent more violence in Afghanistan–yet still you’re four times more likely to come to harm in Iraq. As we withdraw, I wonder how that figure will change. And I wonder how it’s measured–is that violence to troops, international civilians, local civilians, or all three?

The active Army has surpassed recruiting and retention goals recently, allowing the service to reach its goal of enlarging to 547,000 soldiers earlier this year. Considering the stress on the force, and upcoming deployment rotations, I’ve also authorized a temporary expansion of an additional 22,000 soldiers to get through this high-demand period. This temporary increase will not add new force structure but will fill out the units we already have. The goal is to end stop-loss and increase dwell time.

Word is that the USMC hit their recruiting goals as well. Interesting. Ninth year of war, and we’re hitting our goals.

Even with all these efforts to mitigate the stress on the force, the reality is that a significant numbers of soldiers will continue to be deployed for the near- to mid-term. In fact, right now there are more soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan combined than were deployed to those two countries during the height of the Iraq surge.

To be honest, I think that speaks more to paucity of resources granted both occupational security programmes prior to FY09 than it does a real reflection of martial deployment in and of itself, but worth noting.

One of the most important is the Advise and Assist Brigade – the AAB – that has three main functions: traditional strike capabilities, advisory roles, and the enablers and command and control to support both functions. In July, I visited the first AAB deployed to Iraq. I was impressed with the ability to retool a standard brigade combat team in only a few months and with relatively small force augmentation. By the end of next year, we plan for the Iraq mission to be composed almost entirely of AABs, and the expectation is that, some time down the road, the same will be true in Afghanistan.

Now that’s interesting. Can anyone point me to some more information on the AAB (that’s not behind a logon .mil site)? The CAC Blog gave me a quick briefing but more info is always better. This summer press release mentions four brigades, but I’m curious as to how many have been trained and prepped for deployment.

Perhaps the greatest change, however, is on the ground level with the men and women on the front lines. Young officers and NCOs at the front have always had to make profound life-and-death decisions. In today’s conflicts, their responsibilities are even greater and more complex: playing the roles of warrior, diplomat, mayor, economist, city engineer, and tribal liaison – all often at the same time. We must ensure that the kind of mental agility, entrepreneurial spirit, and independent judgment required to be effective downrange carries over into future assignments. It’s a safe bet that a leader who thrives in an environment of this complexity can adapt quickly to other missions and other forms of war. But, looking forward, we must find a way to retain seasoned young officers and NCOs and give them opportunities to use these same talents when they move on from combat positions of momentous responsibility to more mundane assignments in the bureaucracy. Their battlefield experience must form the core of an Army prepared to fight wars in the future.

You know, sometimes I forget that the majority of the troops currently serving the US military are of my peer group; this served as a needed reminder. The same people I knew from high school, college, from my small town in the South, those are the people who now have this experience. Important thing for me to remember. Retaining them would be very valuable to the military complex.

I’m kind of looking at Secdef Gates like a Where’s Waldo picture: where will he show up next?


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