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Afghanistan: Why Obama is rethinking 'war of necessity'

Waning American support for the war and allegations of fraud in the Afghan elections have turned a policy review into a fervent debate about the Afghanistan conflict within the Obama administration.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 2009


The Obama administration is locked in a fierce debate that challenges a central premise of President Obama’s foreign policy: The fight in Afghanistan is a “war of necessity” aimed at rooting out Al Qaeda and other extremists and ensuring they never find safe haven on Afghan soil again.

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Mr. Obama reiterated this position in March when he backed a counterinsurgency strategy – aimed at winning over the Afghans by protecting the local population and providing services – and approved the deployment of 21,000 additional troops.

The remaining question then really about resourcing that strategy in terms of both money and troops. In his assessment submitted last month, the top US commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal concluded that success is “still achievable” but “failure” was likely without sufficient additional troops. He is thought to have asked the president for 40,000 more troops.

But the White House review has since turned into a debate because it comes at a difficult moment for US involvement in Afghanistan. American public support for the war is waning, and a flawed Afghan presidential election in August has revealed the degree to which corruption permeates the country's political leadership.

Growing American doubts are beginning to register in foreign capitals. Alluding to the White House debate, British foreign secretary David Miliband said Thursday that NATO needed to stick to its strategy to prevent Afghanistan from becoming “a place for Al Qaeda to seduce, groom, train, and plan for … the next 9/11.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is likely to emerge the winner in a review of the alleged frauds in the Aug. 20 election. But doubts about him and his government as a reliable partner in a counterinsurgency strategy are feeding proposals for alternative approaches. One idea would be to use few or no additional US troops, and focus instead on accelerating training of Afghan soldiers and police.

However, achieving Obama's goals in Afghanistan is not possible without additional resources, security analysts say.