At the Fort Polk military base in the pine forests of central Louisiana, the Army has created a miniature version of Afghanistan — with mock villages and American soldiers working alongside Afghan role-players.
This is the training ground for a new American approach in Afghanistan as the U.S. begins to look ahead to the goal of bringing home the U.S. forces by the end of 2014. The idea is that Afghan forces have to be good enough to defend their country against the Taliban, and to make that happen, the U.S. Army is creating small U.S. training teams at Fort Polk.
U.S. intelligence officials tracking the situation in Syria have their eye on one group in particular: al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq.
The group has longstanding ties to Syria, and its early members weren't just Iraqis; many of them were Syrians. The former leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, not only established a network of fighters in Syria, but he also folded them into his northern Iraqi faction of al-Qaida.
The violence against U.S. forces in Afghanistan has called into question the American exit strategy, which is set to play out steadily over the next three years.
It was only a few weeks ago that the second-ranking American military officer in Afghanistan laid out a new phase of that strategy. Small groups of U.S. advisers would team up with larger Afghan units to train them, said Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti.
The first of these U.S. assistance teams will head into Afghanistan this spring to train Afghan police and soldiers.