US Troops. Obama Rethinking Afghanistan Strategy?

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote an item about the question of whether more troops would be sent to Afghanistan. At the time, it looked like the answer would be yes. At least, that’s the signal the Obama Administration was sending at the time. That was then. Now, it’s starting to look like the President is taking, how best to say it, a more nuanced approach.

The request from the top US and NATO commander in the country, Gen. Stanley McChrystal is clear, according to the Washington Post. The paper reports on a 66 page secret document they’ve seen, and in it McChrystal says, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” That’s pretty clear, and pretty emphatic.

The White House now seems to be singing a slightly different tune. Senior administration officials tell the Post that McChrystal’s assessment is one of a number they’re taking into account. Could one be George Will’s recent “Get out now” column in the same Washington Post? No matter. During his Sunday talk show blitz, President Obama indicated McChrystal may not get what he wants.

“Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy, I’m not going to be sending some young man or woman over there — beyond what we already have,” Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” If an expanded counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan contributes to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda, then we’ll move forward,” he said. “But, if it doesn’t, then I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . sending a message that America is here for the duration.”

If I were Stanley McChrystal, I might not be holding my breath waiting for those fresh troops. He probably isn’t seeing the opinion polls that say most Americans are tired of Afghanistan. The recent elections remain a subject of bitter dispute, the Karzai government doesn’t control much of the country, and a real breakthrough in the fight against the Taliban and a return of Al-Qaeda seems far off.

Will the American people support a US led nation building effort in Afghanistan? Can McChrystal’s plans for a counterinsurgency campaign be put in place fast enough to beat back a resurgent Taliban? What seemed so sure back in March when the President endorsed “executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy,” no longer seems so sure.

One thing is sure. President Obama doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes the Bush Administration made in Iraq. So what should he do? You tell me.
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