Thursday, January 7, 2010


Transportation officials confident in Afghan deployment

by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

12/4/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- U.S. Transportation Command officials are confident they can accomplish the mission of delivering 30,000 U.S. troops and their equipment to Afghanistan when they are needed.

Planners at the command based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., are working with operations specialists at U.S. Joint Forces Command and U.S. Central Command to fulfill President Barack Obama's decision to deploy the troops to Afghanistan in the first half of 2010.

Command officials already are transporting about 1,000 Marines to the country as part of the mission.

"Both CENTCOM and U.S. Transportation Command are very well prepared for this surge of forces going in," said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Lally, the command's director of operations and plans. "We've been deploying and redeploying forces into and out of Afghanistan for years. We've been sustaining those forces there. So the processes, procedures and force structures are in place to move additional forces in and also sustain them. We feel very comfortable that we have the assets in the air and on the sea to make the move."

The two commands have been working together closely. CENTCOM officials invited TRANSCOM planners in at the beginning of the process to work on the flow and phasing for getting additional forces into Afghanistan, officials said.

Before the movement can really begin, commanders in Afghanistan must say where the troops will be based.

"They are working through that right now, making sure as we deploy forces into theater, there are places for those forces to bed down, to make sure they have food, water and so on," General Lally said.

Commanders in Afghanistan need to sequence the forces into theater to achieve their combat goals.

"In the coming weeks, we'll figure out how much needs to move in January, February, March to make sure we can meet the objectives of having all these forces in there by the summer," General Lally said. "Whether I have 20,000 people there in April and 30,000 there in September, or 26,000 there in April and 30,000 there in July, we don't have that level of detail from the commander, (Army) Gen. (Stanley) McChrystal, on what his requirements are yet."

For units deploying in April, May or June, TRANSCOM officials have the option of using sealift to get the equipment in.

"The units that have to be there in January obviously must fly, and we've already started working that," he said.

Complicating the situation in the CENTCOM theater is the massive drawdown in Iraq. Roughly 120,000 U.S. servicemembers are in Iraq and by August 2010 there will be about 50,000, with all out by the end of 2011. Also, the Marine regiment going into Afghanistan now will get equipment both from Iraq and the United States. Other units will be in the same situation as the deployment continues.

TRANSCOM officials will use all modes of transportation -- military and civilian -- to get troops and their equipment to the theater.

"On passenger movements, 95 percent of the troops that go into Afghanistan go by commercial air," General Lally said. For air cargo, commercial shippers carry 45 percent and 55 percent via military planes. About 75 percent of routine sustainment cargo goes in via commercial air and 25 percent via military.

Unit moves change the equation with the majority of equipment flown in via military air.

"You expect that because a lot of our equipment is outsized and it doesn't fit very well into a 747," General Lally said. "So we use C-17 (Globemaster IIIs) and C-5 (Galaxies) for the military equipment and the palletized cargo fits very well in the holds of our commercial partners."

The commercial partners have "stepped up to the plate" for this movement and for flights into CENTCOM in general, TRANSCOM officials said. There has been no need to call up the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to handle the flow to the region, and officials do not expect to use this option.

"Our commercial partners have been outstanding," an official said.

Also, CENTCOM officials are working with Joint Forces Command officials to identify the forces that will deploy.

"We're involved with that process, because that will determine when these forces are trained and available for transportation," said Col. Gregory Schwartz, the TRANSCOM operations planner responsible for CENTCOM.

The two commands are meeting to figure out "the detailed data on what needs to be moved, who needs to be moved, where it needs be moved from and where in theater it needs to go," Colonel Schwartz said.

When TRANSCOM officials, who are developing the plan to get forces into Afghanistan, moved troops into Iraq, they had the luxury of an intermediate staging base in Kuwait. Troops could marry up with their equipment in Kuwait -- a country with excellent airports and seaports -- and conduct training before moving into Iraq. There is no such intermediate staging base for Afghanistan.

"Our people have to be ready when they arrive in Afghanistan," General Lally said. "It is a tight timeline. We move equipment by surface. It arrives in Karachi, Pakistan, we off-load it and truck it up to whatever base, and fly the units in. Every day we have teleconferences to synchronize that the passengers and equipment arrive at the right time. There's a lot more work and coordination involved to make sure this happens correctly."

The command also ships goods via the Northern Distribution Route, which uses Russian and Central Asian railroads to get supplies to Afghanistan. State Department officials are working with the countries along the routes to allow different equipment and supplies. State Department officials also are working with Russia to expand the overflight permissions, Pentagon officials said.

TRANSCOM officials have a strong track record for support to CENTCOM. In 2004, the command coordinated the changeover of American troops in Iraq. Three months later, the command transported 250,000 servicemembers, and equipment, into and out of Iraq. It was the largest troop movement in the U.S. military since World War II, command historians said.

But the deployment of 30,000 to Afghanistan will not affect the command's ability worldwide, General Lally said.

"We may ask for a bit of flexibility from the other combatant commands, but they will receive what they need, when they need it," he said.

Lynn says fight against IEDs remains priority

by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

12/31/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Defeating the terrorists' weapon of choice is and will remain a priority for the Defense Department, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here Dec. 30.

Mr. Lynn spoke during a Pentagon ceremony where Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz stepped down as director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization and Army Lt. Gen. Michael Oates took up the charge.

The organization looks for ways to defeat terrorists using car bombs, roadside bombs, as well as suicide vests, all examples of improvised explosive devices. The bombs are the biggest killers of American servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The weapon is a tactical device that has impacted the operational missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We must preclude the IED from impacting us strategically," General Metz said. "We cannot allow this weapon to influence the national-level decisions of our most senior leaders."

"Under (General Metz's) leadership, JIEDDO has moved forward on three lines of operation: attacking the networks that place IEDs, devising ways to defeat the device and training our forces to counter the threat," Mr. Lynn said.

The organization, only four years old, is a model of rapid acquisition, Mr. Lynn said. Its military and civilian staff quickly finds and employs ideas and technologies that can help servicemembers in harm's way. The organization operates with the services and combatant commands in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The threat continues, Mr. Lynn said, noting that in October IEDs claimed the lives of 41 coalition soldiers in Afghanistan and one soldier in Iraq. The devices "are a clear and present danger," he said.

And the enemy knows how to use the devices.

"In Afghanistan we are up against a determined and clever foe who mastered the use of this deadly technology long before our forces set foot in the mountains of the Hindu Kush," Mr. Lynn said.

The Soviets lost nearly 2,000 soldiers and 1,200 vehicles during their nine-year war in Afghanistan, he said.

"That IEDs have defeated another technologically advanced military in the very same place we fight now, only adds to the urgency of our mission," Mr. Lynn said. "Our ability to project power in this world of asymmetric threats and to secure our population at home depends on JIEDDO's success."

Measuring success remains an issue for the organization.

"We may never find a way to determine how many lives and limbs we are saving, how many warfighters return home with their eyesight and how many have avoided serious burns that would have left them in pain for the rest of their lives," General Metz said.

The departing general thanked his staff, citing their dedicated and professional service. He also told them he is proud of the work they did together and the record they have made. He said getting the organization made a permanent entity was the toughest challenge of his time.

Still, a number of challenges remain, he said.

"JIEDDO's establishment is a mandate to bring us to the reality of the enemy we currently face," General Metz said. "Our role is to ensure that the fight we are currently in has a champion; one that can take prudent risks and rapidly respond to the warfighters' needs."

The organization has a transparent process in place to manage funds, "but if we add more and more layers of bureaucracy and thus time to get things done, we relinquish the initiative to the enemy," the general said. "The enemy is smart, innovative, agile, cunning and ruthless."

Minimizing bureaucratic roadblocks will assist JIEDDO, General Metz said, since the enemy operates in disregard of Defense Department contracting rules and budget cycles.

General Oates thanked General Metz "for looking out for our soldiers" and said he was proud and happy to be part of the organization. The incoming general also pledged to work with all to solve the very complex problem posed by improvised explosive devices.

Pressured On Opium Crops, Many Afghan Farmers Switch To Cannabis

By Ron Synovitz
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

March 7, 2009

Opium-poppy eradication has been hailed as a success in much of Afghanistan's north and east, allowing counternarcotics officials to declare 18 provinces there as "poppy-free" despite record opium cultivation in the south and southwest.

But UN officials tell RFE/RL that many former opium farmers in those poppy-free areas have switched to another lucrative and illegal drug crop: cannabis.

As a result, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says, Afghanistan is now the world's largest producer of two illegal drugs -- heroin from opium poppies and cannabis.

The UNODC's latest assessment on the Afghan narcotics trade, released in February, says cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan is likely to fall this year compared to the record crops of previous years.

It says the 18 provinces labeled "opium-free" in 2008 will probably remain so in 2009. It also says seven other Afghan provinces are likely to reduce opium-poppy cultivation this year -- including the biggest opium-producing province, Helmand, in the volatile south.

That means opium cultivation in Afghanistan is now overwhelmingly concentrated within the seven most unstable provinces in the south and southwest.

But officials in neighboring countries say the size and frequency of drug seizures from smugglers near the Afghan border continues to increase -- highlighting the fact that many Afghan farmers who have stopped growing opium poppies are now growing cannabis crops instead.

In Plain View

UNODC spokesman Walter Kemp tells RFE/RL it is becoming "increasingly obvious" that the successes of opium-eradication programs in parts of Afghanistan are being offset by record cannabis cultivation:

"In Afghanistan, most of the attention is on opium," Kemp says. "But Afghanistan is now one of the biggest, if not the biggest, producer of cannabis in the world. This is often in provinces that have become opium-free. So we do have concerns that although some provinces are becoming opium free, they are not completely drug-free because they are growing cannabis."

Reports from RFE/RL correspondents in northern Afghanistan suggest that many farmers who used to grow opium poppies have responded to the pressure of poppy eradication programs by growing cannabis instead.

In fact, UNODC data suggest that more than 70,000 hectares of Afghan farmland is now being used to grow cannabis -- putting Afghanistan ahead of Morroco as the leading producer of cannabis and hashish made from cannabis.

Kemp admits that eradication efforts in recent years have been so focused on opium cultivation that cannabis farming has been able to proliferate:

"There's been a lot of focus on the opium cultivation -- and therefore opium eradication or finding alternatives to opium," Kemp says. "Less attention has been on finding out exactly how much cannabis there is, and also using development incentives and security deterrents to reduce the problem of cannabis cultivation."

Bigger And Badder

Security experts say local Afghan militia commanders who once funded their private armies with profits from the illegal opium and heroin trades still have their smuggling networks in place. But now, instead of sneaking relatively small packages of opium or heroin out of Afghanistan, drug traffickers increasingly smuggle larger shipments of hashish, made from cannabis.

Bobojon Shafei, a spokesman for Tajikistan's counternarcotics police, tells RFE/RL that the size and number of narcotics shipments being seized at the Afghan border continues to increase.

"Drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Tajikistan [has] only increased," Shafei says. "You know in comparison with 2007, last year's production of drugs in Afghanistan increased. If we look at the first two months of this year, we can see that confiscation of drugs has increased. That is why we can confirm [overall] production of drugs [in Afghanistan] has increased."

A recent attack on Tajik counternarcotics officers near Afghanistan's northern border has raised concerns in Dushanbe about the power and boldness of traffickers with ties to Afghan drug lords in the so-called opium-free provinces.

Local officials in Tajikistan's southern Khation Province tell RFE/RL that about 30 gunmen attacked the border crossing at Sari Ghor on the night of February 27, killing two officers and injuring at least three border guards before fleeing back to the Afghan side of the border.

Shafei says the attackers included smugglers from both sides of the border. Shafei also suggests that Tajik authorities let down their guard because they had not seen such a violent attack in the area for years:

"We did not expect that smugglers would be heavily armed," Shafei said. "We did not expect that drug-smugglers from [the Tajik] side and their accomplices from the Afghan side of the border would attack our officers. It is the first such case in several years."

Officials in Dushanbe say the killing of the Tajik counternarcotics officers may have been a retribution attack by drug smugglers. Several weeks earlier, Tajik border guards had killed six Afghan smugglers and confiscated a large amount of narcotics -- including hashish from cannabis -- that they were trying to smuggle into Tajikistan.

Subsistence Question

The Afghan government has launched poppy-eradication programs across Afghanistan with varying degrees of success. One complication is that many poor Afghan farmers have become dependent on the income they can earn from narcotics.

Internationally backed Afghan government eradication programs aim to help farmers develop alternative crops as a source of livelihood -- from fruits and vegetable crops, to spices or even fish farming.

But farmers who have joined those programs -- sometimes after having their poppy crops destroyed -- complain that the income from growing legitimate food crops does not come close to the amount of money they earned from opium poppies or cannabis.

There also is debate within NATO about whether NATO-led ISAF troops should get involved in drug-eradication efforts, which some alliance members consider to be an issue for law enforcement rather than military troops.

General John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, said during a visit to Afghanistan in December that he was surprised to discover a gap between the approval by NATO defense ministers of aggressive counternarcotics missions in Afghanistan and the actual conduct of NATO troops there.

NATO officials in Brussels have declined to list the countries that oppose widening NATO's ISAF mandate to include attacks on narcotics networks. And no country has publicly expressed legal objections to a wider counternarcotics mandate.

But several NATO countries have described their reluctance publicly -- including Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report


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