March 29, 2010:
Building on past experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense has decided to send units back to the same area in Afghanistan, when they return for another tour. Long term, the army and marines expect many units to return to Afghanistan every three years (for the army) or 21 months (for the marines). In effect, some units would, for the next decade or more, specialize in Afghanistan operations. It's being called the Campaign Continuity system. It's a variation on what the troops have already been doing, but with people, and not just information.
In Iraq and Afghanistan , it became customary, early on, for troops in units headed down range, to contact those they were replacing, to get the latest information on what was going on. No, not stuff the army collected and passed around on roadside bombs and the enemy in general. These informal exchanges were all about local conditions. Who was naughty and nice and who could be trusted (and who should be avoided at all costs.) What was the local enemy up to and what was the mood of the local civilians.
Two years ago, the army sought to make this process even easier by installing collaboration software (encrypted instant messaging, chat and document transfer) in many of their PCs. This software is actually an army version of IBM Lotus Sametime, and is called Green Force Tracking. It's all in recognition that many troops have, for over a decade, been increasingly using the Internet to get in touch with each other. Some of this contact is just social, or troops talking shop. But an increasing amount of it has been critical to the success of units heading for Iraq or Afghanistan. A typical use is for officers and troops of a unit headed for a combat zone, to get in touch with the troops they are replacing. This brings the new guys up to speed a lot more quickly, and provides them with email addresses of people they can get in touch with if they run into something, or someone, they believe the departed unit may know about. It's this kind of contact that the army wants kept secret, for obvious reasons. Despite warning the troops to only conduct this kind of communication via an encrypted Internet connection, that is not always possible. Green Force Tracking will help solve that problem, as well as making it easier for troops to transmit classified pictures, videos and documents.
Lotus Sametime was built to make it easy for people in the same organization to quickly form groups, collaborate and communicate. This is yet another case of the military adapting off-the-shelf software to a military use. The Green Force Tracking system is also a lot cheaper to set up because of its commercial roots, and a whole lot cheaper than building something from scratch. Green Force Tracking will make it much easier for units to connect, and do business with, other organizations in the army (for technical support, supplies or information on what to expect in dangerous places).
American commanders believe that it could take another decade, or more, to calm things down sufficiently in Afghanistan. So the new deployment policy is simply a recognition of that.