Void in U.S. strategy for Afghanistan
As officials consider sending more troops to Afghanistan, some worry about the lack of a larger plan.
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Experts outside the Pentagon say that though oil-rich Iraq is considered strategically more important, given its proximity to Iran, the US cannot afford to lose in Afghanistan, which is in a region critical to US geo-political interests. Even if it becomes 100 percent secure, the terrorist threat from border regions in Pakistan remains strong.
Regardless of the debate over strategy, political pressure makes more troops in Afghanistan inevitable.
Both presidential hopefuls, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, have expressed a desire to provide more resources and troops to Afghanistan, with Sen. Joe Biden, Mr. Obama’s running mate, calling Afghanistan “the real central front on terror” in Denver Tuesday.
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The Pentagon has said it wants to send as many as three brigades, or about 12,000 more American troops, there. Some could be sent before the end of the year. Earlier this year, then NATO commander US Gen. Dan McNeill told the White House by video teleconference that three more brigades would do the job.
There is concern that the request for three brigades has come to dominate the debate about Afghanistan, but without being scrutinized with any real vigor. “That kind of rationalization has not been done for Afghanistan as far as I can tell,” says one aide to a senior member of Congress.
The request for more forces is tied to the assessment General Petraeus will provide this fall on how many troops can be drawn down in Iraq.
The debate over a proper strategy shouldn’t delay sending more forces there soon, says John Nagl, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. Mr. Nagl believes a “decades long” campaign plan is necessary but there is a short term need, too.
“There are always risks of action and inaction, but the risks of not taking action fairly urgently to get boots on the ground, and they have to be American boots, is far graver in my eyes,” he says.
Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, recently visited Iraq and Afghanistan and pressed again Wednesday for more Marines to be pulled out of Iraq and sent to Afghanistan. “More Marines, more coalition forces, will allow us to go to those places and force the bad guys into the mountains,” General Conway said. “And you know what? Sooner or later, they get hungry. They start to starve to death. And they’re much more willing to listen to terms.”