The Fort Lewis Stryker brigade fighting in Afghanistan will be repositioned to secure the roads around the southern city of Kandahar, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Military commanders hope to create a security ring around the strategic city of 800,000 people; soldiers of 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division would clear the roadways of bombs and illegal checkpoints.
The order could come as soon as this weekend, the newspaper reported.
It’s unclear if the new orders would affect the entire brigade, currently fanned out throughout Kandahar and Zabul provinces. A brigade spokesman did not reply to an e-mail from The News Tribune seeking more information.
The shift comes amid a larger strategy shift by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, to transition missions away from rural areas and focus on protecting larger cities and towns and days before President Barack Obama is expected to he will send an additional 20,000 to 40,000 troops to the country.
Many of 5th Brigade’s current missions include patrols throughout the villages, trying to build goodwill and win the support of the populace while battling insurgents. But the security of roadways is often a major concern: Many of the brigade’s soldiers have taken to driving their 20-ton Strykers off-road to avoid the bomb-plagued streets.
The illegal checkpoints, run by policemen and militiamen, are also a problem for military commanders, who say they delegitimize the national and provincial governments.
Twenty-nine soldiers from the 3,900-member brigade have been killed since it deployed in July. Twenty-five of those deaths were in Kandahar province, and all of those were from roadside bombs during vehicle or foot patrols.
The Journal article attributes information about the shift in strategy to the commander of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter. The 5th Brigade will create a cordon around the city, while NATO plans to send economic, police and political assistance into Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban and a city many see as in danger of falling completely under insurgent control.
The brigade will receive additional support from road engineers, intelligence teams and high-tech surveillance equipment to help secure the roadways, the Journal reported. The article didn’t discuss specific numbers, citing security reasons, but it said the number of troops encircling the city will rise by 50 percent. The area they cover will reduce by 90 percent.
The outgoing NATO commander for the region appeared to endorse a strategy of securing the roads around Kandahar in an interview with the Associated Press. The wire service said insurgents control most of the 17 districts of Kandahar province.
“Will Kandahar fall? Every two or three weeks people tell me Kandahar will fall,” Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart C. De Kruif said. “I think the way forward is to secure the approaches to Kandahar city.”