Enough U.S. help for Afghanistan?
Deployment of 3,200 marines will help, analysts say, but will not provide the kind of counterinsurgency now needed there.
When 3,200 US marines deploy to Afghanistan this spring, the message it sends is that the US remains committed to the security of the country and its future. But the deteriorating situation there won't turn around until the United States makes changes that recognize the mission's strategic and symbolic importance and raise Afghanistan from "forgotten war" status, analysts and a senior retired officer say.Skip to next paragraph
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Defense Secretary Robert Gates had opposed sending more US forces to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, but he reluctantly conceded after failing to get a greater contribution from allies, many of whom say they have little more to give.
But the marines destined for Afghanistan are on a one-time, seven-month deployment that fills a gap only for trainers and combat forces, say analysts. They won't supply the kind of counterinsurgency that country needs, they say.
That would require more resources, a more effective organizational structure for NATO, and smarter thinking about how to strengthen Afghanistan's political and economic systems, says one retired senior officer. It also would probably mean a greater commitment of US troops, perhaps thousands more.
"If we're going to be ahead of the insurgency, then you have to have a substantial-sized force," says a retired senior officer who didn't want to be named due to the political sensitivities of the matter.
A new focus in Afghanistan for the US should also include an "empowered US ambassador" overseeing the nonmilitary efforts – akin to the role of Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Iraq – even as American military forces, still under NATO command, conduct a counterinsurgency where it's needed, says the retired officer.
Perspectives on counterinsurgency
Some 50,000 total forces are currently in Afghanistan, about half of them American. Half of those American forces fall under a subordinate US command that oversees the country's eastern region, where an effective counterinsurgency is being waged, say many analysts in the US. It is in the southern region, including Helmand and Kandahar Provinces, where Dutch, Canadian, and British troops predominate, where a broader new strategy is most needed, they say.
Pentagon strategists are reportedly refining a review of Afghanistan, which will be discussed during a meeting of NATO ministers in Europe this winter. Deteriorating security in Afghanistan, which has seen more suicide bombings and rising violence over the past year, has also piqued the interest of Congress: The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday will entertain ideas for changing strategy.