Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

XVIII Airborne Corps HQ set for permanent Afghan duty

This may sound obscure, but it really is newsy: Word at the Pentagon is that the Army is going to designate the XVIII Airborne Corps as the permanent headquarters for Afghanistan. This is part of Gen. McChrystal’s long-term plan to create a team of “Afghan Hands” who can build for several years, during multiple tours, ...

579778_091007_ricks2b2.jpg
579778_091007_ricks2b2.jpg

This may sound obscure, but it really is newsy: Word at the Pentagon is that the Army is going to designate the XVIII Airborne Corps as the permanent headquarters for Afghanistan. This is part of Gen. McChrystal's long-term plan to create a team of "Afghan Hands" who can build for several years, during multiple tours, on their experience and relationships in the country.

In order to do this, the corps headquarters will nearly double in size. At any given time, about half will be in Afghanistan and the other half back home in Fort Bragg, N.C.

This may sound obscure, but it really is newsy: Word at the Pentagon is that the Army is going to designate the XVIII Airborne Corps as the permanent headquarters for Afghanistan. This is part of Gen. McChrystal’s long-term plan to create a team of “Afghan Hands” who can build for several years, during multiple tours, on their experience and relationships in the country.

In order to do this, the corps headquarters will nearly double in size. At any given time, about half will be in Afghanistan and the other half back home in Fort Bragg, N.C.

The old saying is that amateurs talk tactics, and professionals talk logistics. But I think people who really are in the know talk about personnel policy. That is how real change is effected, at least in the U.S. military today.

And this headquarters plan looks to me like a major change for the Army. I think it makes a lot of sense, and also gets the Army out of the troubling dilemma of either rotating units (and so starting over almost at zero every 12 months) or of keeping units in place and rotating individuals (which was the policy in Vietnam that was thought to undermine unit cohesion). This also provides more evidence that McChrystal really is serious about changing the way the Army has operated in Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to fit its square, industrial era personnel policies into the round holes of small, difficult, far-flung wars. Essentially, XVIII Airborne Corps will have an approach akin to the Navy’s system of manning ballistic missile submarines with a “Gold Team” and a “Blue Team.” In fact, I’m told that in coming up with this plan, the Army looked at how the Navy does that. Those involved are to be congratulated.   

U.S. Military/flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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