Thursday, November 12, 2009

When will (or should) Obama make up his mind on sending troops?

Recent news reports seem to suggest that Obama will soon make a decision on the number of troops he will deploy to Afghanistan. Currently there are 68,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. At the end of August, General McChrystal issued an assessment of Afhganistan in which he suggested the President increase that number by an additional 40,000. This number, McChrystal argues, is needed to secure population centers and train additional Afghan forces. (McChrystal stated he wanted Afghan troop levels to increase from 220,000 to 400,000.)

Despite his general's suggestions, Obama seems to be focused on a number less than the General's suggestions. The proposals talked about in the press include increasing troop sizes by some number in the range of 10,000 to 40,000 troops.

Last week, Ambassador Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general, expressed reservations about sending additional troops until the Karzai government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise.

Another reason for Obama's delay in making a decision could be a desire to wait and assess the public sentiment over the Karzai's victory in the election. Obama is likely to want to be less engaged in war which supports an unpopular government. Defense Secretary Gates said a central focus in Mr. Obama's deliberation was figuring out an attempt to signal resolve while at the same time signaling to the Afghans that US commitment to Afghanistan is not open-ended.

While it is almost universally agreed that more troops are needed, the effects of recently deployed troops have probably not yet been felt. Currently there are approximately 68,000 US troops on the ground, while back in April 2009, there were less than 40,000. A full 40,000 troops may not be necessary after the evaluation of the abilities of forces there now since the latest surge.

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