Top military commanders would have steep challenges in new jobs
October 10th, 2012
07:04 PM ET

Top military commanders would have steep challenges in new jobs

By Chris Lawrence

Top U.S. military commanders could soon be heading to new jobs with steep challenges.
President Barack Obama has nominated Gen. John Allen to become the next Supreme Allied Commander Europe, in which he would oversee NATO military operations.

Taking Allen's place in Afghanistan would be Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who would see the war through some of its final fighting seasons.

"If confirmed by the Senate, he will lead our forces through key milestones in our effort that will allow us to bring the war to a close responsibly, as Afghanistan takes full responsibility for its security," Obama said in a statement.

The Afghanistan posting is unique in that U.S. military commanders are cast in the dual role of soldier-diplomat, and have to have extensive interactions with Afghanistan's political administration.

Stephen Flanagan, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Allen's nomination "signals the U.S. reaffirmation to the transition plan in Afghanistan. You'll have a NATO commander who is very familiar with the situation on the ground. It's a symbolic appointment and very reassuring to Afghans and NATO partners. It shows NATO is serious about the transition plan."

Allen, whose nomination also needs Senate confirmation, will face key challenges, including some European allies worried about U.S. plans to remove one combat brigade from Europe within the next five years.

Also, many NATO members have been slashing defense spending because of the ongoing European economic crisis.

"You can't completely compensate for the budget cuts that the austerity measures have imposed," says Flanagan. "One of the problems they have now is, a lot of allies have been making cuts to defense without considering how it affects the entire allied defense structure."

Allen's challenge will be to work within the confines of lower budgets and reduced capabilities, while implementing the "smart defense" doctrine, in which NATO allies pool and share resources like special operations forces and certain weaponry.

Moreover, the civil war in Syria shows no sign of ending, so Allen could be forced to confront the question of possible military intervention there.

After Syrian forces shot down a Turkish plane and the two nations exchanged fire in subsequent small skirmishes, NATO officials had to reassure Turkey that they were prepared to defend Turkey, if necessary.

Turkey is a NATO member and an attack on one member necessitates a unified response from all members under certain circumstances.

As for Afghanistan, the post Allen is leaving, there is much work to be done.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey cited "significant security, governance and development challenges" and the emergence of new threats.

Dempsey praised Allen for expanding the ranks of the Afghan National Security Forces and for the signing of a U.S.-Afghan strategic framework agreement.

But during the past year, insider attacks have skyrocketed. More and more Afghan soldiers are turning their weapons on U.S., British and other allied troops.

Allen had to institute huge changes in how troops do business in Afghanistan, including suspending some joint patrols and assigning some troops as "guardian angels."

Dunford is an infantry officer, who commanded the 5th Marine Regiment during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Flanagan says the appointment of a Marine in Afghanistan "is a show of appreciation" for the efforts of Marines in the southwest part of the country. Marines went into Helmand Province in 2009, an area controlled by the Taliban that had never seen allied troops.

But Flanagan says Dunford will have challenges of his own, including the continued development of the Afghan Army and police.

"How capable are they going to be when the ratios start to shift?" asks Flanagan. "They may be used to having a lot of support from U.S. troops, but those numbers will be going down. Can they hold up without backup?"

These are questions with no easy answers, but ones the new commanders will have to answer.

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  43. lance

    stop foriegn aid, spend american tax dollars at home only.

    October 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  44. Taliban Dick

    Stink like sheep.

    October 11, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
  45. Steve

    Bring our boys home! Stop supporting Israel!

    October 11, 2012 at 3:34 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      That's what I say, Steve. We need to get out of the business of running the rest of the world. This only heightens resent against us and that is bad all the way around!

      October 11, 2012 at 8:32 am | Reply
    • gabrielG

      Here here!!

      October 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  46. NNN

    At least the Taliban were able to nearly eradicate opium production in the country. At present, under US control, they are producing poppy bumper crops, supplying life-destroying drugs to the entire world as well as accelerating an HIV/AIDS epidemic among intravenous drug users all along the drug routes as well as the destination countries. This war has had many far reaching consequences, none of them good.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:24 am | Reply
    • Nick

      Where do you get your info? The taliban take half the profit of the opi productions in afgn. The US is dealing with the eratication of it.

      October 11, 2012 at 5:06 am | Reply
      • gabrielG

        Not really. Afghanistan is still the major exporter of legal opiates, to the US.

        Check again.

        October 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • StanCalif

      Isn't Karsai (and his opium dealing reatives) just a wonderful ally? The Afghan goverment is completely corrupt and living well off of US dollars! Karsai critizes our military operations in HIS country, but does nothing to stop his people from turning on our soldiers and killing them. GET OUT, and get out now! Let Karsai figure out how to run his own country! He can purchase his military hardware from Russia with his heroin profits (profits made primarilary in Russia!).

      October 11, 2012 at 8:12 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Thank you, NNN. I couldn't have said it better!!!

      October 11, 2012 at 8:35 am | Reply
  47. Sophie

    I love and appreciate all the troops, and I could never do this line of work. I never believed in war, until I learned
    about terroism. How you can just walk up to a child or a soldier and put a bullet in their heads, is so appalling to me.
    I hope the commanders can instill the conscious in the Afghan Army to "fight" and "fight" hard for their country.
    As we have lost over 2,000 of the finest and smartest men America had to offer. Godspeed the Drawdown!!!

    October 10, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply
    • nobody's fool

      Terrorism is control tool.

      Learn this, and become wise.

      October 10, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  48. nobody's fool

    Yep, protecting Israel with American blood and money IS a hard job....

    October 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
    • gabrielG

      Especially when Israel is being considered a growing liability to US national security.

      I couldn't have said it better

      October 10, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • TJ

      Well, Israel has the best congressional support billions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid can buy.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Reply
    • brown

      Americans still do not realize the conseqences of our unquestioned support of Israel.

      We need to open our eyes. What Congress does in our name to support Israel tyranny

      betrays our values.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Reply
      • StanCalif

        Agree! Our congressional representatives, from both parties, are more loyal to Israel than to the US citizens they are supposed to represent! I applaud Obama for resisting Israel, too bad our congressional representatives are so completely spineless!

        October 11, 2012 at 8:04 am |

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