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Should Obama order Afghan war troop surge? Troops say maybe not.

October was the deadliest month for US troops in the Afghan war. Troops say a surge could stall handing off operations to Afghans, but concerns about security remain.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 4, 2009

A-OK: US Army Lt. Gabe Lamois works his radio during an operation in the Kunar River Valley. More troops would speed results, he says. 'But it can be done with what we have.'

Tom A. Peter

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As President Obama and his top advisers make their final decisions on whether to send 40,000 or more troops to Afghanistan, it comes on the heels of the bloodiest month for US forces in the history of the eight-year conflict. In October, 55 troops were killed in action in Afghanistan.

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If there is a surge, US Army Capt. Micah Chapman says there will likely be more months like this ahead. "The more troops you have on the ground, the more chances there are for casualties," says the Fort Drum, N.Y., resident. "But I think you'll see a marked decrease in violence across the board once you get past the initial flood stage."

But for many of the soldiers at Combat Outpost Penich, top commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal's stark warning – to send more troops or risk failure – sounds too dire. At least in the eastern Kunar River Valley, where their company-sized force (about 100 soldiers) is posted, they say the challenges aren't quite so insurmountable. Yes, they say, major results may take time, and soldiers here face difficult living and working conditions, but they say they can get the job done.

Combat Outpost Penich (manned by Attack Company, of the US Army's 1-32 Infantry Battalion, 10th Mountain Division) is experiencing something of a minisurge itself. Through a shuffling of forces, nine months ago, Attack Company became the first permanent US troop presence east of the Kunar River, helping to control an area of Kunar Province long out of reach for United States forces.

"If you bring more troops it will speed up results, but it can be done with what we have," says US Army Lt. Gabe Lamois of Alexandria, Va., echoing the common sentiment here in the river valley.

A surge in US troops could even hinder another goal here, of putting an Afghan face on security efforts, some soldiers point out.

Surge would allow push into countryside

In this vast country with much of the population spread across remote villages, US forces must be strategic about where they project strength, trying to block central arteries of enemy movement and disrupt strongholds. McCrystal recently ordered the closure of many remote outposts in an effort to focus on protecting key population centers – such as the cities of Kabul and Kandahar – and winning over residents.