Afghanistan and the surge skeptics

January 30, 2009

For months U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have been asking for more troops and Washington has been increasingly receptive. Today, we turned the spotlight on the skeptics in this story.

How much heed should President Barack Obama pay to their concerns? As a presidential candidate, he promised to send more troops to Afghanistan and he has made the war there the top U.S. military priority. But are more U.S. forces the answer to Afghanistan’s worsening violence? If so, how many more?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to make a recommendation to the president on Afghanistan in the coming days.  But Gates has already publicly supported a request by General David McKiernan, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, for up to 30,000 more troops.

Opponents of a big buildup of forces have some alternative proposals:

— pay tribal leaders or warlords to keep al Qaeda out of their areas.

— focus international efforts on improving infrastructure and providing humanitarian aid.

— send a smaller number of troops to accomplish clearly defined missions, rather than large brigades of more than 3,000 which run more risk of alienating local people.

Do the skeptics have a point? Are any of their ideas worth considering? Or should Obama deploy thousands more troops soon, as President George W. Bush did in 2007 with the “surge” in Iraq, to make clear that America will not quit?

Photo credit: Reuters/Bob Strong  A soldier with the U.S. Army’s 6-4 Cavalry makes his way down a mountain path during a patrol near Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan Jan.24, 2009.

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