Afghanistan, Now and Then

Afghanistan, Now and Then - Eric T. Olson, Los Angeles Times opinion.

As the new year begins, the Afghanistan surge is underway. Army brigades and Marine regiments have been alerted to deploy, and their lead elements are on the move. Even in these early stages, it is not too soon to begin to think about how this year will end in Afghanistan. Key military and civilian national security officials have said that this December, they will give President Obama an assessment of the surge and make recommendations about how it should proceed. Those of us who were in Iraq for the surge of 2007 and who have fought in Afghanistan can pretty much predict how the war in the latter nation will unfold. First, given the challenge of deploying and sustaining our troops in an incredibly difficult and underdeveloped region, the troop buildup probably will take most of the year to complete.

Initially, as new units fan out into areas where no coalition forces have operated before -- especially in the largely Pashtun provinces in the south and east -- the stark prediction of senior U.S. military commanders will no doubt be fulfilled: U.S. casualties will spike until soldiers and their leaders become accustomed to the new terrain and the enemy that has operated at will there. But as our forces adapt, they will fight with increasing effectiveness, and more and more the insurgents probably will choose not to accept battle, deciding instead to move to new havens as they are able to identify them, or simply to go to ground - that is, melt into the masses of their Pashtun countrymen. Contacts with the enemy are likely to decline, which means U.S. and coalition casualties will decrease...

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