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American Forces Press Service

Command Offers Key Piece to Policymaking Puzzle

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2009 – A key element in the debate about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is a reported request by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, for additional troops.

As top national security advisors and NATO officials weigh possible options, the U.S. Joint Forces Command remains in the policymaking background, prepared to implement a request for forces if one should come.

Air Force Maj. Gen. David M. Edgington, the command’s chief of staff, described the command’s protocol for responding in the event that a request for additional troops is enacted in an interview in Norfolk, Va., this week.

“When General McChrystal would make that request, it would come through [U.S. Central Command] and Centcom Commander General Petraeus would validate that, yes, in fact I agree that my warfighting commander needs these forces,” he said of Army Gen. David Petraeus.

“That then will flow to the Pentagon – to the chairman and to the secretary of defense’s staff,” said Edgington, referring to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

At the NATO ministerial today in Bratislava, Slovakia, Gates appeared to signal that McChrystal’s strategy proposals for Afghanistan are gaining traction among the meeting’s participants. Gates said he’s encouraged by unofficial endorsements NATO defense ministers are expressing about the general’s recommendations along with indications they’re considering additional resources to support the mission.

For his part, Petraeus has resisted defining exactly how many U.S. forces he believes are needed to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. About 68,000 U.S. forces are there in addition to 41,000 NATO troops.

Edgington, speaking in hypothetical terms, did not reveal whether McChrystal’s request for additional forces was being processed. But he did say that the command would be informed of such decisions as they occur.

“We will be aware of it all along,” he said. “Then they will give that to us to find a solution.”

If more troops are requested for Afghanistan, the command would respond by collaborating with each of the service branches in a process of finding the right units with the right combination of skills, training and availability to deploy.

“We’ve got to know what their training status is so that we can deploy a combat-capable unit,” he said. Invoking a mantra of the command’s commander, Marine Gen. James Mattis, he added: “We will not deploy anybody who is not trained for the mission.”

The command’s goal is to anticipate such requests and have necessary personnel identified and accounted for 18 months in advance of commanders’ needs. But the unpredictability of war and rapidly shifting demands on the ground often make this goal unrealistic.

Retired Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, a former commander of Joint Forces Command who later served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the command’s mission weighs heavily on forecasting future requirements.

“There’s a lot of anticipation that goes on with these guys,” he said in an interview in Norfolk. “They’re trying to divine what’s out there to be ready so that they understand all their forces. And that goes on on a day-to-day basis.”

Once the command has completed its piece of the policymaking puzzle, it reports its guidance back to the Defense Department.

“We’ll make that recommendation back to the Pentagon … and then when the secretary of defense signs the deployment order book, the orders are cut,” Edgington said.

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