Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Obama Decides On Conditional Surge In Afghanistan

President Obama has made his decision on Afghanistan according to this McClatchy report. It headlines that the President will increase the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan by 34,000. On it's face, that is the appropriate decision, but digging deeper into the article and the timeline of the decision making process, one sees serious problems - namely that 34,000 additional troops might never actually be deployed and the surge of troops may end in as few as six months time.

It took the President months to arrive at that decision during which time additional attacks occurred and the dithering was seen as a sign of weakness.

Sorry, but "thoughtful decision" can be seen as dithering and weakness when viewed from afar - and the Taliban were sure going to use the opportunity to press their attacks and see what the Obama Administration would do.

I'm glad that the Administration is finally making that decision, and bolstering the forces in Afghanistan will help stabilize matters. The Pakistani government is pressing the fight into the frontier provinces which means that the Taliban will come streaming back into Afghanistan.

It's a hammer/anvil strategy, and without the forces to act as the anvil, the hammer will not do nearly enough. It will merely drive the Taliban into the mountains to regroup. A surge is necessary to disrupt that flow and to stabilize the major population centers.

Moreover, the additional US troops are necessary because our NATO allies are incapable of sending more troops of their own; their military forces are incapable of sending reinforcements and don't have the logistics to make it happen either. They've allowed their military capabilities to decline precipitously, and that's leaving the US holding the bag. Add to that the fact that the European governments aren't nearly as willing to send their forces on offensive operations means that going after terrorists is increasingly a US-only operation in Afghanistan.

The delay adds time and space for the Taliban and al Qaeda to operate. The whole object of the Afghan campaign is to deny them that opportunity, and the delays work against that strategy.

The strategy being devised is the same basic options provided at the outset of the decision making process. It's to add troops, nearly the full amount requested by Gen. McCrystal. That's a decision that could have been made three months ago when first presented. The delay, which you note was to reflect the election outcome, was unwarranted.

Here's why the delay was unwarranted. We were going to send more troops to stabilize regardless of who won the election. We needed to send the troops to improve security and stabilize the border situation with Pakistan. And now the President is not even truly committed to a full troop increase of 34,000:
The administration's plan contains "off-ramps," points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or "begin looking very quickly at exiting" the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.

"We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that's it," the U.S. defense official said.
So, what we really have is a maximum troop commitment of 34,000 troop increase, but the Administration could decide to send a bare minimum and declare the whole thing a failure and bring all the troops home.

It's actually a way for the Administration to show that it's tough on terrorism without actually being tough.

Mind you, that's a worst case scenario, but given the way that the Democrats have been talking in the House and Senate, it is not unreasonable to conclude that they simply lack the will to fight the Taliban and deny al Qaeda the safe haven in Afghanistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda are surely reading our intentions - based on statements made by politicians up to and including the President, and will respond accordingly.

Now, we've got Democrats complaining about the cost of the Afghan campaign and the impending cost of the surge. I find it comical that they're worried about the cost of the Afghan campaign, which is the "good war" in their eyes that needs to be fought, when they're busy tripling the national deficit in a single year with spending on programs of dubious value except as pork (see also Sen. Levin's call for yet another tax to fund the Afghan war).

The Democrats just aren't serious about the national security implications of the Afghan campaign, and are just as likely to cut and run at the first sign of real trouble. Even Obama's call to increase troops includes several outs - allowing the troop increase to be curtailed if certain events don't occur.

It also puts US forces at greater risk of attacks because the Taliban and al Qaeda will use this opportunity to press home their attacks not only on US forces but on Afghan civilians so as to further discourage their participation in any kind of political process and to separate them from any possible US efforts to get them to assist in the defense of their own country from the Taliban.

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