Saturday, September 26, 2009

Victory or Defeat: Top U.S. General Submits Request for More Troops

Top US General Stanley McChrystal, the top-ranking general in charge of the Afghanistan war has delivered a report to U.S. President Barack Obama's administraton, requesting more troops to combat the Taliban Insurgency. Some analysts expect the request, submitted yesterday, will be for almost 40,000 more personel. (1) With 68,000 American soldiers in country, that would constitute an increase of about two-thirds. McChrystal has previously claimed, in a white-house report on the war which was leaked to the international news media, that failure to provide adequate numbers of well-trained personnel will endanger the success of the entire mission.

The submission of the request comes less than 24 hours after the deaths of five American combat personnel (2) and 18 Taliban militants (3) in separate incidents across Afghanistan. Three soldiers were killed when their Stryker Infantry Fighting Vehicle hit a roadside bomb, another was killed in the same village by hostile fire and one more was killed elsewhere in the country when a US Army patrol came under attack from militants. It is losses like this which makes committing to a surge of troops so difficult for the Obama administration. Few indeed in the American public understand the reason their young men and women are being returned in flag-draped coffins. The truth is that in the short term, surges of troops are likely to produce more casualties statistically, due to the dramatically increased numbers of close, quick contacts with the enemy. In the long run, increased presence in the country, along with a shift towards McChrystal's new operational methods have the potential to create victory.

One of the major drawbacks in the war right now is the unwillingness of Afghan civilians to trust Coalition troops. While they recognize ISAF Forces as being capable of providing them with security, they are unwilling to trust them because they know the troops will not be there permanently. When a patrol passes through a town, the local Taliban will lay low for an hour or two not wanting to risk a direct engagement. However, when the patrol passes, life resumes itself exactly as it was before he soldiers arrived. Winning the long-term trust of the Afghan people and convincing them that they will never again be abandoned to the cruelty and brutality of the Taliban is one of the major hurdles that is capable of turning the tide in the conflict.

In an attempt to combat this impression amongst the Afghan public, the Canadian Forces in the region have taken a 'model village' under their protection. (4) The village named Deh-e-Bagh is located in the Dand district and was in a state of relative desolation following decades of seemingly unrelenting war. By training local security forces to construct and man a defensive perimeter around the village and through employing locals in the reconstruction of what was a bombed-out municipal center, the Canadian Forces have demonstrated that civilian loyalty can be reinforced through the provision of security. The settlement has come under attack repeatedly from Insurgent forces, but proper training and support of local security has rendered their attempts at disrupting life in Deh-e-Bagh unsuccessful. This model of troops embedded within the Civilian population, providing security and assistance where needed has been effective in limiting the psychological and physical power of violence and intimidation that are the mainstays of Insurgent tactics.

Coupling this new approach with a significant rise in troop levels within the country, actually has the potential to sow the preconditions for lasting peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The challenge now is to reassure the people of Afghanistan that we are capable of more than just meeting their needs for security in the short term and on a local level. It is of the utmost importance to underscore that Coalition forces will only leave their country once the Insurgency has been uprooted, the Afghan National Army is capable of protecting its own and the fledgeling democracy has proven itself a rock amongst the shifting sands.

1. Voice of America - Afghanistan Troop Request Delivered
2. CBC - 5 U.S. Soldiers killed in Afghanistan
3. Xinhua - 18 Taliban Militants Killed in Afghanistan
4. CNEWS - Taliban Target Canadian 'Model Village'

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