Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama Already Backing Away From Afghan Troop Level Commitments

Last week, I noted that President Obama looked like he was set to announce that the US would send another 34,000 troops to Afghanistan to stabilize the situation. It was a compromise result between the level requested by Gen. McChrystal (40,000) and a middle option that provided security in several key population centers with a troop level of 30,000.

Now, we learn that the President has apparently downgraded his troop commitment to 30,000 troops.
Mr. Gibbs did not provide a precise figure for the new level of forces, although senior advisers to the president have said Mr. Obama intends to commit roughly 30,000 more troops. After weeks of intense deliberation, Mr. Obama plans to share his strategy with the American people Tuesday evening in a speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Mr. Gibbs said the president would discuss in the speech how he intends to pay for the plan, and will make clear that he has an exit strategy. “This is not an open-ended commitment,” the press secretary said.
That particular point went unremarked upon by the NY Times, which reported the 34,000 figure without any problem. Curious how that works out.

So, what kind of difference does 4,000 troops make? Well, it's the ability to: secure a region of the country, engage in different kinds of military operations that require larger forces to sustain a prolonged fight including logistical capabilities, provide counter insurgency forces to prevent the Taliban from retaking territory, and any number of other missions.

Why did the troop level decline over the extended weekend? Facts on the ground didn't change, but this once again signals a dithering from the Administration on a key issue.

Moreover, there may be an inordinate focus on exit strategies from Afghanistan, rather than fulfilling the mission and denying the Taliban and al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

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