July 30, 2009
The buildup of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has yielded mixed results so far, and there have been the usual (unavoidal) tragic accidents in which innocent civilians get caught in the crossfire. In Operation Khanjar is aimed at Taliban forces in in Helmand province, where they are allied with poppy-growing farmers. It's the same problem of narco-terrorism that has plagued Peru and Colombia in the past.) As the U.S.-led offensive in Aghanistan against the Taliban goes forward, commanders there are asking for more troops to be sent there. The fatality rate has climbed so much that there are now more U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan than Iraq. The total number of military fatalities suffered by international forces there has reached 47, the highest monthly tally so far. See CNN.com. Canadian and British forces are suffering a large share of the cost, and Americans need to understand and appreciate their allies' contribution.
The question remains, however, what the Obama administration's ultimate strategy in Aghanistan really is. Hunting down Osama bin Laden? They apparently killed one of his sons the other day, but that was not intentional, apparently. What if no strong government emerges in Afghanistan, as has happened in Iraq? How long will we (and our Western allies) continue to police the countryside?
Another question is how Obama's "surge" in Aghanistan will play out in American domestic politics. During the Iraq war, military strategy became politicized, as (most) Republicans supported the "surge" as a mark of patriotism, while (most) Democrats opposed it. With the change in White House occupancy since January, now the proverbial shoe is on the other foot.
Support the troops! Support the President?
Secretary of Defense Bob Gates recently announced that the Army is expanding its active-duty ranks by 22,000 soldiers. It's long overdue, as the ground forces became dangerously overstretched during the Bush administration, which launched two wars without a major increase in force size. See Washington Post. On a more positive note, he also said that a brigade (about 5,000 troops) may be withdrawn from Iraq ahead of schedule. U.S. forces there pulled out of Iraqi cities last month, and the surge of violence was within a tolerable level. So far, it looks like the Iraqi army is willing and able to pick up the slack. If so, it would mark a huge success for the "surge" policy of former President Bush.