US War Games Test Afghan Battle Plans

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon's top military officer has conducted secret war games to evaluate the two primary military options that have been put forward by the Pentagon and are being weighed by the Obama Administration as part of a broad-based review of the faltering Afghanistan war, senior military officials said.

The exercise this month, led by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, examined the likely outcome of inserting 44,000 more soldiers to conduct a full-scale counter-insurgency effort aimed at building a stable government that can control most of Afghanistan. It also examined adding 10,000 to 15,000 more soldiers and marines as part of an approach dubbed ''counter-terrorism plus''.

Both options were drawn from a detailed analysis prepared by General Stanley McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan, and were forwarded to the President, Barack Obama, by the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates.

The Pentagon war games did not formally endorse either course; rather, they tried to gauge how Taliban fighters, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and NATO allies might react to either scenario. Admiral Mullen has discussed its conclusions with senior White House officials involved in discussions over the new strategy.

One of the exercise's assumptions is that an increase of 10,000 to 15,000 troops would not give US commanders the forces they need to take back havens from the Taliban commanders in southern and western Afghanistan, where shadow insurgent governors collect taxes and run court systems based on Islamic law.

The Obama Administration initiated a review of its war strategy late last month after questions emerged about the legitimacy of the Afghan elections on August 20, and a troubling update on the war by General McChrystal.

What was intended to be two or three weeks of intensive White House meetings has stretched on for almost a month.

General McChrystal's analysis has drawn wide support inside the Pentagon. It suggests that 44,000 troops would be needed to drive Taliban forces from populated areas and to hold them until Afghan troops and government officials can take the place of US and NATO forces. The extra troops would allow US commanders to essentially triple the size of the US forces in the south of the country, where the Taliban originated and have their strongest support.

The increase of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers would give General McChrystal one US advisory brigade of about 5000 to speed the development of Afghan forces and a large number of support forces.

US officials say Mr Obama might settle on a plan but delay announcing it until after a run-off in the Afghan elections, scheduled for November 7.

Source: GREG JAFFE AND KAREN DEYOUNG (October 27, 2009)

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