President Must Decide on More Troops for Afghanistan by Gregory Hilton

President Obama is back from vacation and he will soon have to make a tough decision regarding a new strategy and more troops for Afghanistan. Public opinion has turned against the war, and Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) are working to bring the troops home. Rep. Jim McGovern’s (D-MA) amendment requiring an Afghan exit strategy was supported by a majority of House Democrats, including key members of the leadership, such as Rep. David Obey (Chairman of the Appropriations Committee) and Rep. John Murtha (Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.) Congressional Republicans will support a troop increase. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and House Republican Leader John Boehner (OH) have all said they would support President Obama if he requests additional troops.
In August, 45 Americans were killed, and while no one wants to see an increase in spending, the Taliban is making progress. They also are continuing to destabilize Pakistan (a nuclear weapons state). Unfortunately U.S. public opinion has turned around. Afghanistan is no longer “the good war” of the 2008 campaign.
The new strategy will call for boosting the Afghan army to 240,000 from 135,000 and the Afghan police to 160,000 from 82,000. This will require thousands of additional U.S. trainers. The new strategy involves safeguarding the Afghan population while the U.S. and the Afghan Army hunts down militants.
Some of the questions the President will ponder are: Will the Taliban and al-Qaeda stay in Afghanistan or will they once again export terrorism? Will our allies finally come through with the pledges they have made regarding troops for Afghanistan? The EU and our other allies appear to prefer Obama to Bush, but nothing substantive has come from this change of attitude.
Pakistan is also a problem and the United States has given the government roughly $10 billion in military and civilian aid. There is nothing wrong with a Pakistan first strategy, and some are referring to this as the Afghanistan/Pakistan war. The Joint Chiefs of Staff will endorse General Stanley McChrystal’s report, but his recommendations regarding an increase in U.S. troop levels will not be made public for several weeks.
Ambassador Eikenberry and General McCrystal both have extensive experience with terrorism and they are presenting a solid plan which is ready to go. U.S. policy appears to be stuck at a stage where there is fear of making any decision, meanwhile lives and the fate of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are at stake.

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