Afghanistan needs more troops; will Obama listen?

Posted on September 21, 2009

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The Washington Post reports today on a confidential assessment of the Afghanistan conflict by top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. The general says the situation is growing more serious, though success is still achievable, but he says that without more American troops over the next year, the Afghanistan war will “likely result in failure.” He notes the Taliban insurgency has become stronger and more able to propagandize, and proposes speeding the growth of the Afghan security forces. He has this to say about resources:

[I]nadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced.

… Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.

I’m not a fan of America being in the “nation-building” business, and I don’t want American soldiers being used as pawns towards some abstract foreign policy goal of “promoting freedom.” But here’s the deal: whatever misadventures or distractions came as a result of Iraq, there’s been consent from Democrats and Republicans that Afghanistan is a central part of the War on Terror (or overseas contingency operation, if you wish). It’s generally acknowledged that the Taliban regime fostered al-Qaeda and provided suitable conditions for the planning of 9/11 to take place. A return to Taliban rule, which is a very real possibility should security fail in Afghanistan, would be an unbelievable setback and would make the last eight years of fighting essentially worthless. A surge strategy had some success in Iraq, so it may as well in Afghanistan.

The report sets up an interesting conundrum for the Obama administration. The Democrats have spent the last few years arguing that Afghanistan should be the central front in the fight against terror, and that Iraq was distraction towards those efforts (and those arguments have some merits). Obama said as much during the campaign to build more centrist credibility on defense matter, but now as President, he’s faced with growing unpopularity for the war and a liberal base that will be incensed should he choose to send more troops overseas, leading Charles Krauthammer to question whether he’s paying enough attention to the conflict.

On the other hand, the commander on the ground says he needs more troops to have a chance for success. Politics needs to take a back seat to the overall success of the Afghanistan campaign, but it’s a difficult call to make. I don’t know that President Obama will heed the warnings of Gen. McChrystal (Ed Morrissey doesn’t think so), but I do know that if Afghanistan falls back into Taliban hands, the world becomes more dangerous, and terrorism will have regained a safe haven in the Middle East. I loathe sending more troops into the Af-Pak theater, but if it is necessary to beat back the Taliban so that other efforts can succeed in securing the country, then the commanders in the field should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Update: However it affects your reasoning, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is echoing calls for more troops in the country.

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Posted in: News, Politics