The first wave in a massive surge of American troops to southern Afghanistan has arrived, bringing old-fashioned pageantry, modern-day hardware, and big promises to a region struggling to beat back a stubborn insurgency.
The North Carolina-based 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade was introduced at this large airbase Friday, in front of a crowd of coalition soldiers and a smattering of civilian dignitaries.
On display behind some of the brigade’s 3,200 soldiers were American attack, reconnaissance, transport and medi-vac helicopters.
“We’re bringing plenty of firepower to help (in southern Afghanistan),” the brigade’s commander, Col. Paul Bricker, told a group of Canadian and Afghan reporters later.
“We’re bringing four times (more helicopter) capacity” to the area.
“And right behind us is a Marines aviation force.”
Also on the way is a U.S. Stryker division of light armoured land vehicles and a combat infantry team. All told, some 17,000 additional U.S. troops have been assigned to southern Afghanistan and many will be based in Kandahar.
This is good news for over-extended Canadian troops — whose numbers in Kandahar approach 3,000 — which has been proven inadequate for securing and helping re-develop the war-ravaged province.
Bricker said the arrival of his troops — the first brigade-size aviation element to enter southern Afghanistan, at least since the Russian occupation — indicates the U.S. means business.
“We are the first of the added forces coming to southern Afghanistan,” he said.
“We are proof that what (U.S. President Barack Obama) said, we are doing. We are the first. There are many more (coming).”
His combat aviation brigade brings a crucial ingredient for coalition success in Afghanistan: speed.
Bricker says his helicopters will be used to rapidly secure areas in southern Afghanistan under Taliban control, and to quickly bring relief, supplies, and medical care to ISAF and Afghan troops already on the ground and fighting from forward operating bases and smaller outposts.
These troops will include Canadians, to whom Bricker paid tribute