The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with a roomful of military logistics experts – or "loggies" – Tuesday, sitting around a long wooden table as the meeting was simulcasted around the building and the country.
(AP Photo/US Air Force)
The logisticians have been asked to pull off a near-miracle, to hear them describe it. In their words, they have to "force-flow" 30,000 new U.S. troops into Afghanistan, per President Barack Obama's orders. That's not counting 7,000 new NATO troops as well.
Admiral Mike Mullen already said in congressional testimony that it's more likely they'll only get to the 20,000 or 25,000 mark by the end of next summer. But he was meeting with the military's top movement experts to make sure it doesn't slip any further.
"I hope you have a Plan B," he said, as the armored vehicle expert described his headaches trying to get enough mine-resistant armored personnel carriers (MRAPs) into the country.
"You're going to have to make some tough choices," he added, as he listened to the complex issues – not enough air lift, not enough storage space, too many troops from too many nations coming in at once. Those tough choices include options like making a group of incoming troops cool their heels in Kyrgyzstan or the Gulf to make way for an MRAP delivery bound for Helmand.
The main problem is that almost everything has to come in by air, so Bagram Airport becomes a choke point.
Army engineers explained to the admiral that they're trying to figure out how to de-mine enough of the airport hinterlands to build "ramp space," where everything from new MRAPs to pallets of water need can be unloaded and stored en route to reaching the troops wherever they're going.
They also plan to expand "bed spaces" from 2,000 to 6,000 at Manas Airbase in Kyrgyzstan – a major staging point for troops before flying in to Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul.
"What we are pressing to do is getting here as fast as we can," Mullen said later, as he did a battlefield circulation of forward operating bases around Kabul.
"We are very comfortable on the front end, on the first 16,000 troops, but we are working the details of the other 14,000," he said. "We are going to try to get the vast majority of the force here in the July-August time frame. So we'll see."
The planning team also has to figure out how to get a basic infrastructure in place in the field before many of those troops arrive – most headed to the south. In many areas, new bases must be built from scratch to meet Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy of embedding his troops with, or closer to the Afghan population, to give them a sense of security, and protect them from the Taliban in order to win their trust.
"Build it lean," Mullen told the assembled officers. That means plywood floors, not concrete – nothing built to last. "This is no-kidding expeditionary," he added. "We're not staying here forever."