Lewis-McChord Army chief to take a lead role in Afghanistan
Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the Army commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is headed to Afghanistan this summer, along with 700 soldiers, to take over day-to-day operations of the war.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Army commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is headed to Afghanistan this summer, along with some 700 staff members, to take over day-to-day operations of the war.
Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti and his I Corps unit will arrive in July, a key date that will mark the starting point for a drawdown of U.S. troops. He will help Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, assess the scale and pace of the withdrawals in a war that has stretched on for nearly a decade.
"We expect to begin a reduction in surge forces that came in over a year a year ago," Scaparrotti said Tuesday in an interview. "Now that's conditions-based. ... We have to maintain our mission focus and the momentum that we have gained in the surge."
Scaparrotti, like Petraeus, is not venturing any public estimates on the number of troops that might be withdrawn. In his interview Tuesday, Scaparrotti sounded like a man girding for battle.
"They [the Taliban] will obviously make a concerted effort to regain the initiative as we enter the fighting season," he said. "And we are prepared to counter that."
Scaparrotti and his unit assume management duties for a wide range of war efforts involving 23 countries at the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. Their responsibilities will include oversight for deploying and supplying troops, intelligence-gathering efforts and support for Afghan provincial governments.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord's I Corps, under the command of Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, performed a similar role in Iraq from March 2009 to March 2010. I Corps was not initially scheduled for another overseas deployment until 2012. But the Afghanistan deployment was moved up a year as the Army sought to bring in a trained unit to take over management at the Kabul airport base.
Scaparrotti has plenty of earlier experience in Afghanistan. Before arriving at Lewis-McChord, he commanded the 82nd Airborne Division, a position from which he also oversaw NATO operations in eastern Afghanistan.
Scaparrotti says that about 50 I Corps staff members will remain at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to help oversee Army operations there. Currently, much of the focus is on strengthening garrison life for soldiers and rebuilding brigades that returned from deployments in 2010.
Army leadership has been concerned by rising numbers of suicide, drug use and other high-risk behavior among soldiers, and Scaparrotti said that the base shares many of the same problems. Since the summer, he said the base has made progress in addressing some of these issues.
"It's about slowing down and putting a focus on each of us, of the units that we are responsible for, and how we manage the welfare of our soldiers and families," Scaparrotti said. "There are systems that help us do that, but they had atrophied over time, and we as commanders didn't give them enough attention and focus to make sure they are working."
Lewis-McChord has undergone rapid growth in recent years, and will undergo another expansion as the Army stations an additional 1,400 soldiers and 44 helicopters at the base as part of a new combat aviation brigade, according to a Tuesday announcement by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
The base, with some 44,000 military personnel, is Pierce County's largest employer, and the expansion will be a boost to the area's economy, Smith said.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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