Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama Announces 30,000 Troops to Afghanistan, Exit Strategy

Barack Obama announced today that 30,000 more American combat personnel were destined for the theatre of war in Afghanistan. The earliest deployments of this surge are expected to occur by Christmas. This influx of American soldiers will bring troop levels up from 71,000 to its highest level since the war began in 2001, at about 100,000 soldiers deployed. In his speech Tuesday, Barack Obama also stated that America will begin withdrawing its forces in 2011, a process which is expected to take up to three years. Defining a reasonable ‘end’ to hostilities and the American led presence in the nation has brought intense criticism from republicans and democrats alike in the United States, but also from analysts around the world. It is said that establishing a concrete date has given the Taliban the impression that victory can be achieved, provided they can endure the temporary conditions of the surge.

The influx of troops to the wartorn nation is undoubtedly a mirror of America’s previous policy on Iraq, where a timely ‘surge’ of forces is credited with containing and mitigating the previously widespread insurgency. The basic principle behind the surge is that elevation of troop numbers will create not only immediate security, but increased patrols will generate a number of close, quick contacts in the coming year, impeding the Taliban’s ability to operate. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced just this week intentions to move 500 more troops to the country, elevating his country’s presence to 10,000 troops. Other regional powers, India and Pakistan have expressed mixed reactions to the announcement that troop levels will be sharply increased by roughly 50%.

"As far as India is concerned we welcome the continued commitment of the US and by extension of the NATO effort in Afghanistan because our prime minister has repeatedly made clear India believes that entire international community has stake in the continued stability of Afghanistan and in the success of the democratically elected government of President Karzai in establishing his authority throughout the country. It is very clear that as long as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements are free to wreak havoc in Afghanistan, that the aspirations of the Afghan people for decent life, peace and security, will not be fulfilled, and for that reason the continued military pressure on them is an important security component of the challenge facing Afghanistan,"

-Shashi Tharoor, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs

Pakistan, despite support for the US led NATO/ISAF war against the Taliban militants, with whom they are also militarily engaged on their own side of the border, communicated fear over potential ‘fallout’ for their nation. The predominant fear in Pakistani political and security communities is that a ramping-up of troop levels in Afghanistan will potentially intensify the conflict in South Waziristan as militants increase the scope of their own operations to counter the changing situation. In tandem with local criticism, the United Nations has called for a ‘transition strategy’, which espouses moving responsibility for development and security increasingly into the hands of Afghanistan’s various governmental agencies.

"I think we should talk about transition strategy, which is something completely different,"

-Kai Eide, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan

Perhaps in the most disheartening comments made to date, a Russian General, Victor Yermakov who commanded his nation’s 40th army at war in Afghanistan between 1982-83, stated that America now faces the same fate his nation’s military encountered. His commentary also espoused a ‘transition’ away from traditional military engagement towards further peace support, peace enforcement and operations other than war (OOTW). "Restoring Afghanistan's economy, its industrial enterprises, its education system, schools and mosques will increase your authority. War can only evoke resistance. Afghans regard war only as an attempt to enslave them."

What is coming in the weeks and months ahead as thousands of American soldiers from Regular force and National Guard units across the United States prepare for their deployment, remains to be seen. Whether the surge will be successful and this decision by President Obama can be credited as a keystone victory in the almost decade-long struggle against fundamental tribal militancy is unclear. What is clear is that the international community’s consensus about how to deal with the Afghan problem and popular support for the NATO coalition undertakings in Afghanistan is dwindling.

With firm exit dates now given by the Americans and the Canadians, it will fall to the rest of the nations in the alliance structure to determine a timeline for their own tactical and logistical withdrawal. Still, a decision to send more troops in the short-term, meeting General Stanley McChrystal’s September request by a little over three quarters and the simultaneous announcement of a definitive timeline for ‘success’ represents a wise political move. The president is simultaneously providing the necessary personnel to achieve his military officer’s objectives while reassuring the public and critics that the war in Afghanistan is not a war without end, but rather one in which he intends to be victorious.


Washington Post – Pakistan officials wary of Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan

ANI – India hails Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan

CNN – Soviet commander: U.S. faces similar Afghan fate

Express IndiaUN calls for ‘transition strategy’ in Afghanistan