Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Afghan Surge

President Obama has decided to send 17,000 more military forces to Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, this represents a 50% increase in U.S. troop numbers. What exactly is the plan for this increased strength, other than just stabilizing what appears to be a deteriorating situation? It's not clear. The Post reports that Obama

has said he wants to limit U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, and administration officials have spoken of a more "regional" counterinsurgency strategy, including expanded assistance to Pakistan and diplomatic outreach to India, Iran, Russia and other neighboring countries.
I'm highly skeptical of this action by the administration. Reducing our troop strength in Iraq, and transferring more troops to Afghanistan seems to be a case of risking success, while reinforcing failure. The success of the surge in Iraq rested not only on increased forces, but on a major change of strategy and the dynamic leadership of General Petraeus and his command team. Do we have a similar plan for Afghanistan? If so, it isn't public knowledge. Do we really want to tie up even more of our combat forces in the remoteness of Afghanistan? We will never have enough there to achieve a complete victory, especially since the Taliban has a safe haven next door in Pakistan.

We are already going to have to maintain a significant force in Iraq for the foreseeable future. It would seem that we should be looking for ways to reduce our commitment in Afghanistan, not increase it. There is no stomach amongst our allies for greater contributions, and putting in more U.S. forces will lead to calls for even more in the future. I seriously doubt that we will be able to quickly stabilize the Afghan situation. The central government there is way behind the progress of the Iraq government in terms of its control of the country, and its security force development. I hope I'm wrong and that a surge in U.S. troop strength produces a dramatic turnaround in Afghanistan, similar to Iraq. But I'll be very surprised if it does. 

Senator Fritz Hollings asks, Why are we in Afghanistan? You won't see me link the Huffington Post very often, but the senator asks some good questions. We know why we went there in the first place, but what exactly we hope to accomplish now is pretty unclear.


  1. "We know why we went [to Afghanistan] in the first place, but what exactly we hope to accomplish now is pretty unclear."

    Do we know why we went to Iraq in the first place? And Is what we hope to accomplish there somehow more clear?

  2. Yes and yes. I'd probably have to write a huge amount if you can't see how different the two countries are. There's a reason we are able to reasonably contemplate withdrawing significant numbers of troops from Iraq, but the administration and many others think we need to send more to Afghanistan. And it isn't just because there are more currently in Iraq.

  3. " Is what we hope to accomplish there somehow more clear?"

    Let me expand on that just a bit. I have a clear idea about what we should try to accomplish in Iraq at this point. And I believe my thinking is at least close to the attitude of the U.S. government. I could be wrong of course.

    On Afghanistan I'm not even sure what I think is the best way to proceed there. And I'm not at all confident that the government has any clearer idea than I do.