Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Turning Point in Afghanistan?

There is presently a total lack of policy direction in Afghanistan. Congress is focused almost entirely on healthcare and President Obama has so much on his plate right now that he seems to be sidetracked when it comes to putting together the administration’s policy for Afghanistan. We are at a critical point in the War in Afghanistan and no one seems to know what the official policy is. On the one had General McChrystal has called for more troops in order to run a counterinsurgency campaign that would better secure the population. This is a strategy advocated in “The Accidental Guerrilla” by David Kilcullen and other counterinsurgency experts. The Karzai government has also made the case for additional troops. On the other hand Vice President Biden has been vocally opposed to a troop increase, even calling for troop reductions. He wants to focus on small Special Forces and aerial attacks in order to kill the bad guys. For many, this seems to be an easier alternative to troop increases- but it would not be effective. The ongoing drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan have surely killed terrorists; however, they create a lot more collateral damage than soldiers on the ground. This raiding mentality contributes to the accidental guerrilla problem that Kilcullen writes about. The only way to really win in Afghanistan is by securing the population from the Taliban and Al Qaeda by having troops on the ground in the local communities.

The U.S. has had eight years to figure out the best counterinsurgency strategy, but it could be too late to implement it. Troop levels were kept low in order to wage war in Iraq and now that additional troops are needed for a surge in Afghanistan it is questionable whether that will happen. According to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, our NATO allies have much lower public opinion for troop increases than the U.S. does. Only a third of Americans want to reduce or withdraw troops; that number is over fifty percent in the other major NATO countries. Our NATO allies are in a holding pattern waiting for a coherent U.S. policy on Afghanistan. They would jump at the chance to reduce their presence in Afghanistan if the U.S. did so as well. If a troop increase is going to happen, it needs to happen now under U.S. leadership. If we do not give McChrystal what he needs then we are risking leaving Afghanistan even worse than we found it.

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