More Troops to Afghanistan?

As a person who detests war in all its forms, my short answer would be, “I hope not!” Yet it looks like President Barack Obama is toying with the idea. There’s a new report from the top US commander in Afghanistan, one the New York Times describes as detailing the deteriorating situation there.

The Times says the classified report, by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, didn’t ask for additional US troops, but that request could be coming soon.

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If and when it does, it will come at a time when Americans are increasingly asking the same questions that were being asked about Iraq just a few years ago. What exactly is the mission? What constitutes victory? How much longer will US troops fight and die for a regime that many here see as hopelessly corrupt?

President Barack Obama has a dilemma on his hands. For many of his supporters, sending more troops to Afghanistan, regardless of rationale, isn’t “Change we can believe in”.  The recent Afghan elections are alleged to have been rife with fraud, fraud on behalf of the guy the US is backing, Hamid Karzai. Reports say his government only controls one third of the country, about the same as it did four years ago.

The Taliban, America’s clear enemy in the region, seems to materialize and vanish at will, making President Obama’s possible call for more troops look like an exercise in futility. There are rising references to Afghanistan being “Obama’s Vietnam”, a quagmire that will only deepen no matter how many more troops are sent.

And now conservative columnist George Will, of all people, has an op-ed in Tuesday’s Washington Post calling for the US to get out, and soon. His rationale is telling. From his WAPO piece:

“U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters”.

To which we can only say, whoa! Certainly a substantial reduction in US troops poses some potential political problems for the president. Yet the facts are clear. More US military personnel died in August in Afghanistan than at any time since the beginning of the war. The war is now eight years old, twice as long as World War II.

So the question is this. Should President Obama commit more US troops to Afghanistan, or should he start a gradual reduction with an eye toward withdrawal? You tell me.

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