Afghanistan deployments set to slow

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen on Thursday said additional troop deployments to Afghanistan likely would happen at a slower pace than the surge in Iraq because of the lack of infrastructure in Afghanistan.

In Iraq, the Pentagon was able to deploy five brigade combat teams over a five-month period. The same may not be possible in Afghanistan, Gates told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The situation in Afghanistan is very different than the situation we faced in Iraq, in the sense that we do not have the same kind of transportation access to Afghanistan that we did in Iraq,” Gates said. “So almost everything of consequence has to go in by air.”

Additionally, because of the military drawdown and change of rotations in Iraq and rotation of forces in Afghanistan, “the ability to receive significant quantities of equipment and people in a relatively short period of time [in Afghanistan] is very different than the situation in Iraq,” Gates said.

Neighboring Kuwait served as a staging base for the U.S. military in Iraq, but a similar scenario is not available for the operations in Afghanistan.

“And we don’t have the infrastructure in Afghanistan,” Mullen added.
Mullen stressed that the Pentagon has worked on “the potential Afghanistan challenge for weeks.”

“We think we have a way ahead,” he said. “It’s not going to be a brigade a month because of the infrastructure piece, the ability to receive it, literally, in Afghanistan.”

Gates said that the Pentagon was able to quickly identify and deploy roughly 2,800 military members with critical capabilities to Afghanistan. Those deployments were not held up by the current review of strategy the Obama administration is conducting.

“I anticipate that as soon as the president makes his decision, we can probably begin flowing some forces pretty quickly after that,” Gates said. Gates refused to give a timeline for when President Barack Obama might announce his decision of whether to send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Gates said on Thursday it was too soon to set a timeline to transfer security duties from NATO-led troops to Afghan forces, as proposed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Brown is proposing a timetable for a gradual security handover to Afghan security forces starting in 2010.

“I would rather have those on the ground in Afghanistan make the judgment call about when a province or a district was ready to be turned over rather than specific — specific dates,” Gates said. “My assumption would be that there will be some districts and some provinces where that handover could come relatively soon.”