Obama’s choice: 17,000 extra troops for Afghanistan

February 18, 2009

President Barack Obama, in his first major military decision, has authorised the Pentagon to send an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, saying the increase is needed to stabilise a deteriorating situation there.

Obama’s Afghan strategy has been discussed at length, including on this blog (most recently about balancing the need for regional support with the demands of countries like Russia for concessions in return, the military challenges of devising an effective counterinsurgency strategythe views of the Afghan people and Pakistan’s own struggles to contain a Taliban insurgency there.)

But here are a couple of recent articles that are worth reading.

In an article in the Washington Post, headlined “Not Even the Afghans Know How to Fix It”, writer Edward Joseph says that the Afghans cannot agree among themselves what is the best solution for their country. “And there’s the crux of the matter. Because if Afghans don’t know, then neither do we,” he says.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore asks in TomDispatch why there is so little public concern at home about the fate of U.S. troops – many drawn from poorer and immigrant communities in America — sent on repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Instead of collective patriotic sacrifice,” he writes, “it’s clear that the military will now be running the equivalent of a poverty and recession ‘draft’ to fill the ‘all-volunteer’ military. Those without jobs or down on their luck in terrible times will have the singular honor of fighting our future wars.”

U.S. military reporter and blogger Michael Yon says he believes the U.S. army is more capable of fighting in Afghanistan than any other in history. But one paragraph in his article stands out with its deep sense of misgiving:

“The sum of many factors leaves me with a bad feeling about all this.  The Iraq war, even during the worst times, never seemed like such a bog.  Yet there is something about our commitment in Afghanistan that feels wrong, as if a bear trap is hidden under the sand,” he says.

With Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan still under review, it’s probably too early to draw any firm conclusions about his decision to send an extra 17,000 troops. But did he have a choice? Or is he walking into a trap?

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