Some doubts about Afghan surge

Rowan Scarborough:

While U.S. commanders and both presidential candidates are pressing the Pentagon to send more troops to Afghanistan, several military and Afghanistan analysts say a surge there will not solve and could even worsen the problems of a country famous for resisting foreign interference.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters recently that commanders in Afghanistan want an additional three combat brigades, or about 10,000 troops.

But given U.S. commitments in Iraq, he said, a decision on an increase of that size - nearly a 30 percent boost - would be left to the next administration in early 2009.

More forces are being pushed as politicians ask what went wrong in a campaign that ousted the Taliban in two months in late 2001 using a few hundred commandos, CIA operatives and waves of air strikes. More than six years later, violence is up and a resurgent Taliban seems to have a limitless supply of suicidal fighters.

A confident Gen. James Jones came to the Pentagon pressroom in March 2006 to express optimism about the war in Afghanistan.

"My take on the situation in Afghanistan is that the Taliban and al Qaeda are not in a position where they can restart an insurgency of any size and major scope," said Gen. Jones, who was the NATO commander.

The United States had 23,000 troops in Afghanistan on that day.

The Pentagon had talked about reducing troops in the war's first few years. But today, more than 30,000 U.S. service members are fighting in the one-time Taliban stronghold, fighting alongside another 22,000 troops from NATO allies. A major project at the Defense Department is to scour Army and Marine units to determine whether any can be freed up and sent to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan specialists say more U.S. combat forces are not the answer for the medium and long term.


"Unless you can address Pakistan and governance in Afghanistan, more troops won't help," Mr. Rubin said.


Why did the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorate?

The No. 1 reason cited by Pentagon officials and military specialists is the vast tribal region of Pakistan - a generally ungoverned expanse of 3 million people where the ousted Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are relatively free to recruit, train and infiltrate neighboring Afghanistan.

"We're seeing a greater number of insurgents and foreign fighters flowing across the border with Pakistan, unmolested and unhindered," an exasperated Adm. Mullen told reporters recently. "This movement needs to stop."

He added, "I talked with all our leaders there, and they all indicated that, you know, they need more troops."

However, two veterans of the Afghanistan war said more conventional forces are part of the problem.

An Army Green Beret who spent time in Afghanistan training Afghans said too many conventional forces already are being sent there.


A former senior commander in Afghanistan said U.S. policy went wrong when it veered away from the original plan of using special operations forces, CIA operatives and economic aid to empower anti-Taliban Afghans to fight the enemy themselves.

"They are the ones who know where they are coming over from Pakistan," said the former commander, who asked not to be named because he now works for a U.S. defense firm that does business in the Middle East.

He said that before the October 2001 invasion, U.S. Central Command conducted a study of why foreign invaders failed in Afghanistan. The answer: They poured in too many troops, creating ample targets for hit-and-run insurgents.


It is an interesting argument, but it is in conflict with the recent upsurge in violence since that is coming from Pakistan and not for Afghans. It is also in conflict with the reality on the ground where Taliban forces engaged in ambushes and hit and run attacks have been wiped out and destroyed. In fact, if we could get them to ambush our forces more often we could destroy the Taliban completely.

The Taliban realize that the hit and run attacks and ambushes are backfiring on them and that is why they have switched to IEDs and human bomb attacks.

What has really changed is that al Qaeda was defeated in Iraq and it has switched its resources to the Afghan theater. They are fighting the kind of war they would have fought years ago if they had not been distracted by the war in Iraq. They have had to redirect their resources because they knew that with the loss in Iraq the US would be beefing up its forces in the Afghan Pakistan area.

It is important not to overstate the problems in Afghanistan. The Taliban are recruiting Pakistan madrassa students as mercenaries. The indigenous Taliban have been defeated for all practical purposes.

The Afghan government needs to add additional forces to its army and train more Afghan police. So training should be a high priority of the additional forces. The other high priority is real estate mangement on the Pakistan border. We need to put addional forces along the Taliban avenues of attack to interdict and destroy their forces. We also need to move our UAV assets to increase patrols in Pakistan and along the border.


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