Army airborne unit avoids ax, assigned from Alaska to Afghanistan

 Army airborne unit avoids ax, assigned from Alaska to Afghanistan
An airborne brigade combat team stationed at a base near Anchorage, Alaska was scheduled to be deactivated. Instead, some 1,500 soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan as part of a regular troop rotation, the US Army has announced.

Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) will be sent to Afghanistan later this year as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The “Spartan Brigade” is the only US Army Airborne unit in the Pacific, currently stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, outside of Anchorage, Alaska.

The deployment does not signal an increase in troop levels, Army spokeswoman Maria Njoku told Stars and Stripes on Friday. The number of US forces in Afghanistan is currently capped at 8,400.

“These soldiers train rigorously in a wide range of climates and environments," Major General Bryan Owens, commander of US Army Alaska, said in a statement quoted by Army Times. "I am fully confident in their ability to excel and overcome any challenges they will face during this deployment."  

The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would have transformed the 4/25 from a 4,000-strong brigade combat team to a 1,050-man “airborne task force.” The Army intends to keep the unit as a full brigade combat team, however, based on the “emerging mission requirements” and the 2017 NDAA calling for expanding the Army to 476,000 regular troops.

Depending on what Congress decides, however, the unit may still find itself deactivated upon returning from Afghanistan.

“A final decision to retain 4/25 as a full brigade combat team after its deployment is dependent on receiving an appropriation from Congress commensurate with the increased end strength outlined in the NDAA,” the Army said in a statement.

In February, General John Nicholson, the US military commander in Afghanistan, asked Congress for several thousand more troops in order to bolster the Afghan security forces against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Nicholson described the situation in the country as a “stalemate.”