Stryker gear up for Afghanistan

The US Army will shortly deploy a Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) to Afghanistan for the first time.
General David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and US Forces Afghanistan last week told a Pentagon news conference that he specifically requested the Stryker brigade for its versatility.
“I asked for a Stryker capability, with one of the brigade combat teams, so that it could provide the mobility, the situational awareness, the protection,” McKiernan said. “And, quite frankly, it provides a lot of infantrymen. And that would give us an ability to manoeuvre capabilities in the southern and southwestern parts of Afghanistan.”

The Stryker has much in common with the Patria AMV on order for the SA Army under Project Hoefyster. A crucial difference, however, is that the US sees the Stryker as an armoured personnel carrier and the SA Army is acquiring the AMV as an infantry fighting vehicle.     

Beating an insurgency

The 5th SBCT of the 2nd Infantry Division will bring about 4000 soldiers and nearly 300 Strykers to the fight in Afghanistan. They will be operating in the country’s southern region and along the Pakistan border, areas that don’t have a sufficient security presence, preventing governance and infrastructure progress, McKiernan said.
“We need persistent security presence in order to fight a counterinsurgency and to shape ‘clear, hold and build’ in support of a rapidly developing Afghan capacity,” he said, referring to the strategy of clearing an area of insurgents, preventing them from returning, then taking advantage of the improved security to build governance and infrastructure.

The additional troops also will have a dual responsibility in training and organizing Afghan police forces and army, he said. Military leaders there hope to double the size of the Afghan army to 134 000 troops as soon as 2011. Mentoring and training Afghan forces is necessary for success there, the general said.
“Our goal [is] to attempt to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army,” McKiernan said. “But we need to do that in a smart way. We need to do it in a holistic way, so it’s not just a question of numbers; it’s a question of training, equipping, leader development and their employment.”

The brigade’s deployment was officially announced this month as part an additional 17 000 troops ordered to the southwest Asian nation by President Barack Obama. The formation was slated for a deployment to Iraq this year but it anticipated the switch “some time ago,” a brigade spokesman says.

Major Mike Garcia wouldn’t give specifics as to when the soldiers were notified of their new Afghanistan mission, but said it was enough time to adjust their training before arriving at the National Training Centre (NTC) earlier this month at Fort Irwin, California.

“Their training scenario is focused on an Afghanistan fight,” Garcia said. “We knew this some time ago and had enough time to modify the scenario.”

The brigade started its training at the NTC on February 15, learning the various cultures within Afghanistan. Persian Farsi, Pashto and Urdu are some of the languages and customs they’ll get a crash course in. They’ll also learn what to expect regarding Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, weather and type of insurgency they may face, based on military experiences there. Their training will continue through the end of the month, Garcia said.

Stryker brigade

The Stryker brigade concept has proven successful in urban warfare since it was first introduced to live combat December 2003 in Iraq, but it has never been used in Afghanistan. The Stryker community recognizes the challenges, but is confident in their capabilities. “Yes, it is a different theatre,” Garcia said. “Combat is never easy, but they’re still prepared, mentally and physically, to go to combat. It’s just a different place on the globe to us.”

Afghanistan’s mountainous and rigid terrain, freezing weather and the freedom of movement insurgents have enjoyed there will be new challenges for the Stryker. There are distinct differences compared to Iraq regarding the terrain and culture, but Garcia said, “the basic tenets and concept of fighting a counterinsurgency remain the same.”
“Stryker brigades are very versatile,” he said, echoing McKiernan. Strykers can travel long distances very fast. The 10 different models of Stryker vehicles include infantry, engineer, reconnaissance and medical evacuations variants, and can carry as many as 14 soldiers, Garcia explained.
“With the incredible capabilities they have to conduct reconnaissance and target bad guys with precision operations while mitigating collateral damage, Strykers are probably one of the best formations that the Army has put on the fields in decades,” he added.

US Army Field Manual 3-21.31 notes that a SBCT consists of three infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron (Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition battalion), an artillery battalion, as well as one company each of antitank, engineer, military intelligence and signals specialists in addition to a headquarters company and brigade support battalion.