Sending 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as recommended by U.S. commander Stanley McChrystal would mean the deployment of nearly every available U.S. Army brigade and leave the military underprepared to react to an emergency elsewhere.
According to information from the Army obtained by The Washington Independent, there will be about 50,000 active-duty soldiers in 14 combat brigades and up to 24,000 National Guard soldiers available for deployment as of December.
All other Army and National Guard troops will already be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, or ineligible to deploy while resting from an earlier tour to those countries.
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The shortage of available combat brigades means that an escalation of between 30,000 and 40,000 troops is "not realistic," said Lawrence Korb, a former senior Pentagon official in the Reagan administration who is now with the Center for American Progress.
Sending nearly all available troops would leave the U.S. with "no reserve in case you had a problem in Korea," Korb added.
In the early months of next year, an additional five brigades will complete their 12 months of recovery time at home, providing an additional 22,600 troops, The Washington Independent reported.
But about 10,200 soldiers are scheduled to leave Afghanistan early next year, leaving a net gain of only 12,400.
Another problem: Five of the 14 brigades available in December are so-called "heavy" brigades, built around tanks and other heavy equipment. These account for 19,000 of the available 50,000 active-duty troops.
No heavy brigades have been sent to Afghanistan thus far, "a condition likely owing to Afghanistan's lack of paved roads, high elevations and uneven rural terrain, all of which are inhospitable to tanks and other heavy vehicles," according to The Independent. That leaves the pool of active-duty soldiers immediately available for Afghanistan at 31,000 troops.
And of the 14 available brigades, five have already served three tours abroad since 2002, and four have served two, raising concerns that additional deployments will put severe stress on troops in those units.
Korb said a more realistic troop increase for Afghanistan would be 10,000 soldiers, with more deployed after the drawdown of the 120,000 troops now in Iraq "begins in earnest."
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