Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said at a Pentagon news conference yesterday that he specifically requested the Stryker brigade for its versatility.
“I asked for a Stryker capability, with one of the brigade combat teams, so that it could provide the mobility, the situational awareness, the protection,” McKiernan said. “And, quite frankly, it provides a lot of infantrymen. And that would give us an ability to maneuver capabilities in the southern and southwestern parts of Afghanistan.”
The brigade will bring about 4,000 soldiers and nearly 300 Strykers to the fight in Afghanistan. They will be operating in the country’s southern region and along the Pakistan border, areas that don’t have a sufficient security presence, preventing governance and infrastructure progress, McKiernan said.
“We need persistent security presence in order to fight a counterinsurgency and to shape ‘clear, hold and build’ in support of a rapidly developing Afghan capacity,” he said, referring to the strategy of clearing an area of insurgents, preventing them from returning, then taking advantage of the improved security to build governance and infrastructure.
The additional troops also will have a dual responsibility in training and organizing Afghan police forces and army, he said. Military leaders there hope to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 troops as soon as 2011. Mentoring and training Afghan forces is necessary for success there, the general said.
“Our goal [is] to attempt to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army,” McKiernan said. “But we need to do that in a smart way. We need to do it in a holistic way, so it’s not just a question of numbers; it’s a question of training, equipping, leader development and their employment.”
The Army brigade’s deployment was officially announced this week as part an additional 17,000 soldiers and Marines President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signed the deployment orders at around 7:25 a.m. on Feb 17, and Obama’s announcement was pending notification of the soldiers’ and Marines’ families, Pentagon officials said.
The Strykers originally were slated for an Iraq deployment this summer, but anticipated the switch “some time ago,” a brigade spokesman said yesterday.
Army Maj. Mike Garcia wouldn’t give specifics as to when the soldiers were notified of their new Afghanistan mission, but said it was enough time to adjust their training before arriving at the National Training Center earlier this month at Fort Irwin, Calif.
“Their training scenario is focused on an Afghanistan fight,” Garcia said. “We knew this some time ago and had enough time to modify the scenario.”
The brigade started its training at the National Training Center on Feb. 15, learning the various cultures within Afghanistan. Persian Farsi, Pashto and Urdu are some of the languages and customs they’ll get a crash course in. They’ll also learn what to expect regarding Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, weather and type of insurgency they may face, based on military experiences there.
Their training will continue through the end of the month, Garcia said.
The Stryker brigade concept has proven successful in urban warfare since it was first introduced to live combat December 2003 in Iraq, but it has never been used in Afghanistan. The Stryker community recognizes the challenges, but is confident in their capabilities.
“Yes, it is a different theater,” Garcia said. “Combat is never easy, but they’re still prepared, mentally and physically, to go to combat. It’s just a different place on the globe to us.”
Afghanistan’s mountainous and rigid terrain, freezing weather and the freedom of movement insurgents have enjoyed there will be new challenges for the Stryker. There are distinct differences compared to Iraq regarding the terrain and culture, but Garcia said, “the basic tenets and concept of fighting a counterinsurgency remain the same.”
“Stryker brigades are very versatile,” he said, echoing McKiernan. Strykers can travel long distances very fast. The 10 different models of Stryker vehicles include infantry, engineer, reconnaissance and medical evacuations variants, and can carry as many as 14 soldiers, Garcia explained.
“With the incredible capabilities they have to conduct reconnaissance and target bad guys with precision operations while mitigating collateral damage, Strykers are probably one of the best formations that the Army has put on the fields in decades,” he added.
The 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team will be making the unit’s first combat deployment. It was activated at Fort Lewis on May 4, 2007, as the Army’s seventh Stryker brigade.