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Posted by on Sep 8, 2009 in International, Media, Places, Politics, Society, War | 3 comments

Afghanistan: So Few Options, So Many Risks


As the fighting in Afghanistan intensifies; as that war claims more and more casualties; and as critical decisions loom on national objectives, strategy and corresponding troop levels and deployments there, the debate also intensifies.

I have stated my views on the Afghanistan war here and here, and so have other TMV contributors.

I am probably oversimplifying things, but I see the major debate settling around four or five options: Withdraw immediately from Afghanistan; withdraw gradually from Afghanistan; maintain the status quo; continue the fight with additional troops “from onshore,” or with fewer troops and revised tactics from offshore.” Of course there may be several variations.

My opinions are not really that important, albeit it is nice to be able to participate in the debate.

There are, however, pundits, journalists, and sometimes even experts, whose views—whether right or wrong—do influence large numbers of people and do get national attention.

Often, such opinions clearly favor a certain viewpoint or strategy and rarely discuss the merits of contrasting viewpoints and strategies.

Not so, in my opinion, a news analysis in the New York Times this morning by Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane, neither a slouch when it comes to national security issues.

In their “Crux of Afghan Debate: Will More Troops Curb Terror?” these two gentlemen provide one of the more objective analyses I have seen on our involvement in Afghanistan.

While they probably will not answer their own question, “Does the United States need a large and growing ground force in Afghanistan to prevent another major terrorist attack on American soil?” to everyone’s satisfaction, they do present many viewpoints and factors.

Views and factors such as:

The decreasing political and popular support for “A war that started as a swift counterattack against those responsible for the murder of 3,000 Americans,” a war that “a growing number of critics say, is in danger of becoming a quagmire with a muddled mission.”

The belief by critics “on the right and left” that “there may be alternatives to a large ground force in Afghanistan,” such as the “offshore war” using “intensive intelligence, Predator drones, cruise missiles, raids by Special Operations commandos and even payments to warlords to deny haven to Al Qaeda.”

The belief by some experts that a large-scale counterinsurgency effort, which would last 5 to 10 years, would require hundreds of billions of dollars, sacrifice hundreds of American lives would have a “slim likelihood of success.”

The belief by “most specialists on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, inside and outside the government,” that terrorism cannot be confronted from a comfortable distance, from “offshore”; that, although it may take a large American-led NATO ground force years to clear Taliban-held territory and make Afghanistan a more stable, peaceful country, this—the “clear, hold, build” strategy—may be the only way to keep the United States safe in the long term.

The views that “disengagement from Afghanistan could destabilize Pakistan and ‘guarantee’ a future attack on the United States from the region,” and that “a withdrawal would reinforce Pakistan’s fears that the United States is not committed to security in the region, encouraging an old Pakistani strategy of maintaining ties to Islamic militants.”

But also the view that, “The more we escalate in Afghanistan, the more we depend on Pakistan for logistics…and the more Pakistan may feel it can resist our pressure to go after the militants.”

OK, perhaps at the very end of their news analysis, the authors do tip their hand a little bit, as they conclude:

As opposition to the war in Afghanistan builds, some of Mr. Obama’s strongest supporters say he must do a better job of explaining how deploying a large American ground force there safeguards Americans at home.

“He needs to reinforce that message more frequently and to the point,” said Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who just returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan. “He hasn’t made it enough.”

Nevertheless, I still found this to be very objective reporting on a vital and complex issue.

I hope you read the entire piece here.