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Combat troops to replace support troops in Afghanistan as Obama’s war escalates

by Kenneth J. Theisen Thursday, Sep. 03, 2009 at 8:07 AM

The Los Angeles Times reports on September 2nd that the Pentagon is planning on replacing up to 14,000 U.S. “support” troops in Afghanistan with “combat” troops (see http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/afghanistan/la-fg-afghan-troops2-2009sep02,0,6170770.story). The Times reports the support units will be replaced by "trigger-pullers,” according to Department of Defense (DOD) officials.

Army General Stanley McChrystal, the lead U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan recently completed a review of U.S. Afghan operations and has forwarded a report on his review to Obama. While that report does not contain any recommendations for more troop levels at this time, various “leaks” from the military have indicated he will ask for more troops in another request to the president at some time in the coming weeks.



If the Times story is accurate, this “replacement strategy” is a likely measure to increase U.S. combat power in the country which has seen a rising level of violence since Obama took office. The U.S. has launched military offensives repeatedly in Obama’s escalation of the war in that war-torn nation. The war has also been expanded into neighboring Pakistan with frequent missile strikes. Shortly after taking office, Obama announced that he would send an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total of U.S. troops to about 68,000 by the end of 2009. This force level does not include the thousands of additional NATO forces under McChrystal’s command or the various Afghan puppet forces of the Karzai government.



According to the Times, “many of the noncombat jobs are likely to be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan.” (In another related report it was recently reported that private contractors paid to guard the U.S. embassy in Kabul have engaged in “lewd conduct” and are undermining “morale” of embassy guards and others. See http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/09/01/national/w090119D39.DTL)



Private contractors have become an essential element for the U.S. war machine. Tens of thousands have been employed at any given time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them are also “trigger pullers” who have killed many innocent civilians. The use of private contractors has allowed U.S. officials to hold down the number of U.S. troops deployed and somewhat deflected public anger at the size of U.S. military deployments. It has also drained billions from the U.S. taxpayers into the coffers of politically connected contractors such as Blackwater and Halliburton.



According to an August 13th Congressional Research Service report, “As of March 2009, there were 68,197 DOD contractors in Afghanistan, compared to 52,300 uniformed personnel. Contractors made up 57% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan. This apparently represented the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States.” (See www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R40764.pdf)



Will this replacement strategy lessen the need for more U.S. troops? Not likely! According to the Times story, “The changes will not offset the potential need for additional troops in the future, but could reduce the size of any request from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander, [Pentagon] officials said.”



Two DOD officials told the Times that they estimated the total of support troops that could be replaced by combat forces could be between 6,000 to 14,000 troops. Army Colonel Wayne Shanks, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the Times, "We have asked all commands to take a hard look to reduce redundancy, eliminate any excess and generally look for efficiencies in all our structures." He referred to this as “streamlining.”



It should not be surprising that the Pentagon is attempting to maximize it killing power in any way possible without the resort to massive escalation in troops. One reason is that escalation of the Afghan war is not popular politically. A recent CNN poll indicated that 57% of those Americans polled currently oppose the war there. Another Washington Post/ABC News poll also indicated the war is unpopular despite Obama’s claims to sell the war as a “necessary war” needed to defend Americans from “terrorists.”



Another reason is that McChrystal needs more combat forces to implement the U.S. Afghanistan counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. This COIN strategy calls for taking villages from the Taliban and then holding the ground taken. But this strategy is troop intensive and all U.S. military “experts” agree that the U.S. does not have nearly enough of its own troops, or allied troops, to successfully implement the strategy over the long-term.



But regardless of this new “streamlining” strategy, the fact is that any escalation of Obama’s war will only mean increasing the death and destruction brought to the Afghan people. This war which began in October of 2001 was not “necessary” then and is not “necessary” now to the American people or the people of the world. It is an imperialist war that is only “necessary” to the imperialist ruling class headed now by President Obama. What is necessary is that we mobilize people in their millions to demand an end to this war. That is a necessity that demands that each and every one of us join in this effort.

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