For the Fort Lewis soldiers fighting in the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan, President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan could be welcome news.
Some soldiers of 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division have openly called for more troops to bolster the war effort in Kandahar province, where many of them are trying to crush a raging insurgency.
And while the president didn’t specify to what regions the additional troops will be sent, various news leaks say many will be sent to Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The majority of 5th Brigade’s troops are in Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban.
The news shouldn’t affect any other major Fort Lewis units. The post’s other major units – including I Corps and two Stryker brigades – are already deployed to Iraq and are unlikely to be redirected months into their tours.
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For the 3,900 soldiers of 5th Brigade, a deployment to southern Afghanistan has been taxing. Twenty-nine soldiers have been killed since it deployed in July, almost all from roadside bomb attacks. The attacks come in different forms but with a lethal ferocity. Roadside bombs detonate underneath Strykers. Soldiers step on pressure-plated land mines. Ambushes follow bomb blasts.
The units have so far been fanned across Kandahar and Zabul provinces, where they meet tribal and village leaders and conduct presence patrols. But the Wall Street Journal reported last week of a new strategy to reposition the brigade as a ring around Kandahar city with the responsibility of clearing roads of bombs and illegal checkpoints.
But many military experts agree Kandahar needs more troops.
It’s relatively rare for soldiers – especially mid-career officers in the middle of a deployment – to publicly advocate for a change in strategy. But two captains of 5th Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment practically begged for more troops to be sent to Kandahar province in a story in the Washington Times.
“What people at home don’t understand is that more guys would help out immensely,” Capt. Jeffery Givens told the newspaper. “More troops would assist with getting the security to where it needs to be out here. There are only so many of us. Send me your poor, your hungry and your bored, I say. We’ll take anyone we can take.”
Another officer of 2-1 Infantry told the newspaper there was a crucial gap between national-level strategy and grassroots operations.
“We have no one to fight corruption or get leaders in the provincial level to assist us,” Capt. Casey Thoreen said. “We can definitely use more resources and soldiers as we try to develop the needs of the people through a more responsible local government.”
The influx of troops won’t mean immediate relief for the soldiers of 5th Brigade. The buildup of troops is expected to be completed by summertime.
The 5th Brigade should be home at Fort Lewis by then.
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758