Thursday, September 09, 2010

Surge Is Fully Deployed to Afghanistan

By JULIAN E. BARNES Wall Street Journal SHARANA, Afghanistan—The final U.S. brigade sent to Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama's surge strategy assumed authority for a swath of the country's eastern territory Wednesday. The 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division has only a short time to make an impact before the harsh winter of eastern Afghanistan, due to set in by November, makes travel and combat difficult. Commanders are also under pressure to show progress ahead of a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in November and the Obama administration's next strategy review, in December. Col. Sean Jenkins, with arms raised, takes part in a ceremony Wednesday transferring authority to his 4th Brigade in Paktika province. "The task is great and time is of the essence, as we face parliamentary elections and the future decisions of nations around the world and our own this fall," said Col. Sean Jenkins, at a ceremony in which his task force took charge of Paktika province. The Taliban has threatened to attack polling stations during the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections. On Wednesday, Afghan election officials said scores of additional polling stations will be closed during the vote because of security conditions, the Associated Press reported. The ceremony Wednesday officially put in place the last of the 30,000 infantry troops ordered into the country by Mr. Obama in December. The 4th Brigade, known as Task Force Currahee, was the only large unit assigned to eastern Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration's troop build-up. The majority of the surge forces were sent to southern Afghanistan to participate in operations around Kandahar and Helmand provinces. The first members of Task Force Currahee began arriving in Paktika in July. The majority of the forces arrived in the country in August and began a process of taking over from the 101st Division's 3rd Brigade. The Taliban operate in much of the province, and the Haqqani network—an ally of al Qaeda—operates in the northern part, near its historic stronghold of Khost province. Military officials in Washington and Kabul have said they hope building up conventional troops in eastern Afghanistan will help secure progress made by Special Operations troops. Since the spring, Special Operations Forces have captured and killed dozens of militant leaders in eastern Afghanistan. But senior military officials say that without a larger troop presence to help improve security in population centers, they fear the militant networks will simply regenerate through new recruits. The Taliban and the Haqqani network in recent years have taken refuge in Pakistan in winter months, but military officials believe the pattern could change this year because of the floods that have devastated much of Pakistan. Col. Jenkins said some groups of fighters may remain in Afghanistan, and could continue to fight or lay roadside bombs. Capt. Melvin Cabebe of the 101st Airborne Division stands in July near an armored vehicle that hit an IED in the Arghandab Valley. Even as military leaders push new units into position, they are also under pressure to develop plans to draw them down. Mr. Obama has said the U.S. will begin to withdraw forces beginning in July. Col. Jenkins said as security improves in areas he has placed troops, he will look to thin out those forces, moving his soldiers to other trouble spots. Separately, Taliban leader Mullah Omar posted an end-of-Ramadan online message Wednesday to rally followers and discourage enemies, the AP reported. In the message, posted on jihadist websites and relayed by the Site Intelligence Group, the Taliban leader said the U.S. military had failed to achieve its objectives after nearly nine years, and would soon be leaving the country. U.S. officials say they believe Mullah Omar is hiding in Pakistan, though he hasn't appeared in public since the Taliban were driven from power in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

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