Foreign Policy Blogs

US-Afghanistan: Troop Surge and Strategy Fallback

**Welcome!!!  My Foreign Policy Association ‘Afghanistan and Central Asia’ blog has been split in two and I will be the main blog writer for this Afghanistan blog.  I will write up a quick summary of what I plan to cover and emphasize on this site in the next couple days.  Glad you’re here.**

President Obama fulfilled one of his main campaign promises on Tuesday, a major increase of US soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.  The US plans to send 8,000 this spring, followed by groups of 4,000 and 5,000 during the summer, for a total of about 17,000 troops, or about 50% of the 36,000 Americans already stationed in the volatile country.

The attention, or more accurate, the lack there of, this has gotten in the media is appalling.  On the day of the announcement, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric had it as the fourth storyline of the day, behind the Stimulus passage (ok) and the Aroid scandal (not ok).  And today, the second news morning after the announcement, not one story from any major newspaper (realclearpolitics).  Heck, I write a blog called ‘Afghanistan’ and I didn’t even write about it until today!  The Iraq ’surge’ was just a little over 20,000 troops and I recall it being a ‘big deal’.  Not only should the media do its job of examining the how’s, why’s, and the ‘what’s’ of this Afghan troop surge, but it also owes it to the men and women who are about to do tremendously difficult work in a dangerous and unstable region.  

Anyway, what really concerns me is that there does not seem to be a comprehensive strategy to go along with these troops.  In a written statement, (no time for a press conference or speech), Obama really only justifies the troop surge as ‘necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation.’  Obama and his JCS have already leaked that they are likely to have a more ‘realistic’ approach to the conflict, trying to bring stability and security first, democracy and Afghan good governance second, but I want to hear some explanation how these troops will lead to that.  The Iraqi surge did come with a General Petraeus counterinsurgency plan attached to it and had his rock solid leadership.  


I have long advocated for a more sophisticated and comprehensive view of the challenges US/NATO/Afghan/Pakistani government face in this conflict, and despite the recent lackluster of coverage, I believe it has started to happen.  After all, I support sending more troops to Afghanistan, and have for awhile, I just know that it will take much more than just fresh soldiers on the ground to bring peace and stability to the region.  

Here’s a rundown on the problems these new soldiers and the US military faces in Afghanistan:

a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.


We need a strategy.  We cannot just double-down on the Petraeus Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy, though some of its ’secure and hold’ methods will be useful, many others won’t in the Afghan conflict.  The Bush team held a top secret comprehensive review of the Afghan situation and I know that Obama has it on his table right now, but we in the public have still been kept in the dark.  

What will be the overriding use of these troops? Will they protect Kabul and its surrounding area, like the first group of soldiers sent in January, or will they be sent to volatile south?  Will the US back Karzai in the upcoming election or try someone with less baggage (remember all those calls for Maliki’s head in Iraq?)?  Will raids into Pakistan continue, increase?  Are we okay with Pakistan government’s recent deal with in the Swat region, allowing Sharia and Taliban law? (Holbrooke says‘no’)  What will be the counter narcotics strategy?  How will aid more effectively reach the Afghan citizens and improve their economy?What will be expected from the other NATO members?  And HOW LONG will US troops be stationed in Afghan?  Are we there until Afghan is stable?  Al Qaeda is defeated?  The Taliban are defeated?  Afghanistan is a democracy?  We run out of money and men?  The San Francisco Giants win the World Series?  (Don’t worry, that’s next year!)

Too many questions left unanswered.  The Afghanistan conflict will indeed be a stiff test for Obama, America, NATO, and of course those in the region seeking peace and freedom.