Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Obama to send 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan

Reported by the NYT. I can only hope that more details about mission and strategy will be soon forthcoming, because as of right now this smacks of desperation - a kind of throwing troops at the problem, not all that different than the financial bailout at the end of Bush's presidency, when the administration was throwing money at a problem for which there really wasn't a well-defined strategy (although now, of course, lives are involved, which - I trust we all agree - makes the stakes a lot higher).

I'm sorry to keep sounding the alarm, but the current situation - even with a bright shiny new president - truly has me very concerned. News bulletins this evening report that both Chrysler and GM are cutting thousands of jobs. The end of the current recession is nowhere in sight. The president is sending thousands more US troops into harm's way in Afghanistan, and given what's been happening in both Pakistan and Afghanistan over the last year, I fear that, 20 years from now, historians will be writing about the period 2001-2008 as the preliminary phase of the "Afpak War," the embers of which may still be hot in 2025. And I also tend to concur in Thomas Ricks' assessment (as laid out in his new book, The Gamble, excerpted recently in the Washington Post) of the Iraq war - that we may be, at this point, only halfway through it. The AP and other outlets report that the Kurdish Regional Government leadership are imploring the US to keep troops in Iraq longer than stipulated in the SOFA, because otherwise, they warn, the possibility of war between KRG forces and those of the Baghdad government is almost certain, with the status of Kirkuk being one of several possible flashpoints.

The metaphor of Pandora's Box keeps jumping into my head. Perhaps 9-11 untied the bow (not that the ancient Greek version mentions a bow, of course), but Bush's misguided, ham-handed response to 9-11 tore off the wrappings and pried off the lid. In the Greek version, of course, "hope" didn't escape the box. In this early 3rd millennium CE version . . . well, "Hope" seems to be making herself pretty scarce.

February 18, 2009
Putting Stamp on Afghan War, Obama Will Send 17,000 Troops

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday that he would send an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer, putting his stamp firmly on a war that he has long complained is going in the wrong direction.

The order will add nearly 50 percent to the 36,000 American troops already there. A further decision on sending more troops will come after the administration completes a broader review of Afghanistan policy, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama said in a written statement that the increase was “necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires.”

At least for now, Mr. Obama’s decision gives American commanders in Afghanistan most but not all of the troops they had asked for. But the decision also carries political risk for a president who will be sending more troops to Afghanistan before he has begun to fulfill a promised rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Many experts worry that Afghanistan presents an even more formidable challenge for the United States than Iraq does, particularly with neighboring Pakistan providing sanctuary for insurgents of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Under Mr. Obama’s plan, a unit of 8,000 marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will be deployed in the next few weeks, aiming to be in Afghanistan by late spring, administration officials said, while an Army brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., composed of 4,000 soldiers, will be sent in the summer. An additional 5,000 Army support troops will also be deployed in the summer.

Antiwar groups criticized Mr. Obama’s decision even before the White House announced it.

“The president is committing these troops before he’s determined what the mission is,” said Tom Andrews, director of the coalition organization Win Without War. “We need to avoid the slippery slope of military escalation.”

Mr. Obama said in his statement that “the fact that we are going to responsibly draw down our forces in Iraq allows us the flexibility to increase our presence in Afghanistan.”

American generals in Afghanistan had been pressing for additional forces to be in place by late spring or early summer to help counter growing violence and chaos in the country. Of the 30,000 additional troops that the commanders had initially sought, some 6,000 arrived in January after being sent by President Bush.

The administration’s review of Afghanistan policy is supposed to be completed before early April, when Mr. Obama heads to Europe for a NATO summit meeting at which he is expected to press American allies for more troops and help in Afghanistan.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he was “absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means.”

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