On Dec. 1, the three-month long debate on whether or not to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan culminated with President Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops early in 2010 and to begin removing forces in 2011.
This decision came in the months following General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the situation in which he reported that the fate of the war in Afghanistan hinges upon receiving more troops and adjusting the strategy. Before issuing his final decision, Obama consulted a number of experts and received advice from many of his advisers.
Neither Obama nor McChrystal rely solely on numbers to change the course of the war in Afghanistan. As a result, the proposed strategy seeks to ensure protection of the Afghan people, as well as to pressure the Afghan government to strengthen its military and be prepared for a transition of power in the absence of U.S. forces.
A great deal of focus will also be placed in the southern regions of the country to counteract the Taliban’s expansion. In particular, the Helmand Province, which is a Taliban stronghold and major producer of opium, will experience a strengthened U.S./NATO presence.
The cost of this plan is estimated at $30 billion for its first year. With no set plan for funding, Obama looks for transparency and truthfulness in these discussions. Many Democrats in Congress, who feel that U.S. resources are better used at home rather than fighting overseas, met this commitment to Afghanistan with aversion. Some even recommended applying a war surtax to generate additional funding.
While Republicans largely support the president’s decision to increase troop levels, an area of contention rose around the inclusion of a timetable to begin removing U.S. forces by mid-2011. Some fear it sends the wrong message to Taliban militants.
According to Mona DeBaz, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “This deadline puts pressure on the Afghanistan government that they cannot depend on the U.S. forever. However at the same time, by telling the Taliban when American forces are going to leave, it gives them the opportunity to wait it out and hide in the mountains.”
Those in the White House have responded by pointing out that the timetable is not set in stone and will depend upon the situation in the districts of Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has further addressed concerns, explaining that the transition will occur gradually and operate on a conditions-based agenda.
In response to the increased U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, NATO has responded by pledging an additional 7,000 troops from at least 25 member nations. “A lot of the European countries want to stand up with the U.S.’s large commitment especially as the U.S. image has improved internationally with President Obama’s election,” said DeBaz.
The proposed figure, combined with the 30,000 troops promised by the U.S., brings additional troop levels closer to the 40,000 that General McChrystal requested in his September report. Although details surrounding this announcement are still vague, Germany and France are expected to play a large role by providing over 3,000 troops each.
However, neither nation will commit to anything prior to the conference on Afghanistan, scheduled for late January. Should this proposal come to fruition, NATO forces on the ground would operate with 47,000 troops excluding U.S. forces, which will be over 100,000 troops.
Gates and others believe that by July 2011 it will be evident if the change in strategy has paid off. The new goal seeks to ensure the government of Afghanistan is protected and stable enough to thwart Taliban threats as well as to counteract their momentum. This new goal replaces the drive to eliminate the Taliban completely which some, like Gates, would consider an everlasting commitment.
In addition to the troop increase, Obama also announced that he will increase pressure on Pakistan to fight militants in its North West Frontier Province, which has become a sanctuary for the Taliban to plan attacks on American forces in Afghanistan.