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Obama debates options on troop level

October 15th, 2009
U.S. Army soldiers from 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, are seen here patrolling the Jalrez Valley in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province on Sept. 28. President Barack Obama has vowed not to decrease the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan, but remains uncertain as to whether or not he will increase the number, as many military officials are suggesting.

U.S. Army soldiers from 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, are seen here patrolling the Jalrez Valley in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province on Sept. 28. President Barack Obama has vowed not to decrease the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan, but remains uncertain as to whether or not he will increase the number, as many military officials are suggesting.

Entering into the eighth year of the Afghanistan War, the Obama administration is facing difficult decisions on how to proceed. President Barack Obama has maintained that the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will not falter in terms of current troop levels and the focus of fighting the insurgents. However, it is undecided whether sending additional troops is the right course of action.

This past May, Obama selected General Stanley McChrystal to replace Gen. David McKiernan to take command of the 100,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan. Upon request of the president, McChrystal produced an assessment of the situation which reported a need for a more effective strategy as well as requesting 40,000 additional troops.

In recent months, the Taliban –  under the decentralized leadership of Mullah Omar, who may be aided by Pakistani intelligence – has been gaining ground in the northern and western portions of Afghanistan.  This has allowed them to expand their range of maneuvers, thereby forcing a narrowing of NATO troops throughout the country.

Attacks have also escalated as shown by an attack on Oct. 3 that claimed the lives of eight Americans.  This large-scale attack is responsible for the largest loss of American life in over a year in the war in Afghanistan.

McChrystal advocates a strategy which will enhance the protection and support of the people from this spreading insurgency.  He hopes to lessen the separation from the NATO forces and the citizenry of Afghanistan.  If successful, the hope would be to gain support from the people while also turning them away from the Taliban’s propaganda.

In accordance with this view, George Vourlojianis, an instructor of military history at John Carroll University, said, “We went in 2001 and dismantled the Taliban.  We now have an obligation to help build the infrastructure, help the economy, and boost the hearts and minds of the people.

“We also need to prepare the Afghanistan police and army because, ultimately, this war must be won by Afghanistan,” he said.

McChrystal has publicly and privately verbalized his sentiments on how necessary it is to take away from the Taliban’s momentum and shift it back towards the U.S. and NATO forces.  He views the success of the war in the long run as dependent upon making a turnaround in strategy in the next 12 months.

In terms of McChrystal’s heavy focus on the short-run, Vourlojianis said, “I do not think you can reduce it to that simplistic of a formula.  However logically, if you cannot win in the short-run, you will not win in the long-run, and Afghanistan is a war for the long-run.”

Although McChrystal places a huge emphasis on the short-term goal of taking momentum away from the Taliban by utilizing additional troops, the White House is still deliberating on the proper course of action. While critics blame this delay on politics, Obama maintains that the only reason for delay is to ensure that a strategy is decided prior to actually sending additional troops.

The Obama administration, throughout the decision-making process, has made clear that while they will take McChrystal’s suggestions into consideration, his proposal is not the only factor with which they will decide.

For instance, a concern is that by sending additional troops, the Taliban will be able to launch a propaganda campaign that may cause more opposition from Afghani people towards American forces.

Obama, while facing growing opposition to the war from a number of leading Democrats, is also trying to make certain that all sides of the political spectrum are included in discussions.  Therefore, he has invited both Republicans and Democrats to discuss possible strategy options.

This strategy Obama plans to focus on will be reflective of his focus of keeping America safe from terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida.  As a result of this concept, many, like Vice President Joe Biden, have proposed keeping troop levels relatively the same and emphasize the use of surgical strikes. This approach would direct more resources towards counterterrorism than what is currently in place.

However, on the Republican side of things, congressmen such as Sen. John McCain are calling for a quick response by the White House in favor of McChrystal’s proposal of increasing troops. The fear of delaying this decision translates into the fear of soldiers dying.

Whether more troops will outweigh the Taliban propaganda and truly support the U.S. NATO effort is a decision left up to the White House.  It is expected that Obama will decide on this matter in the coming days.