Troop surge won’t bring end to war

Freedom New Mexico

President Barack Obama officially took personal possession of the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night, announcing that 30,000 additional U.S. troops will be hustled into Afghanistan over the next six months. He’s hoping for another 10,000 or so from other NATO countries.

The president said his first objective is not setting up the kind of counterinsurgency strategy outlined by Gen. Stanley McChrystal in his late-August memo, but active military engagement with Taliban forces with the goal of defeating or neutralizing them within 18 months, so that the U.S. can begin withdrawing U.S. troops about July 2011.

Simultaneously, he anticipates a “civilian surge” that will strengthen the Afghan government’s ability to deliver services and train its security forces so the Afghans can take over responsibility as quickly as possible. And he spoke of a new, closer partnership with Pakistan, where what remains of al-Qaida central is actually located.

The president acknowledged the task will be difficult, but he didn’t come close to acknowledging just how difficult it is likely to be.

Afghanistan is larger and much more mountainous than Iraq, where 160,000 U.S. troops had trouble achieving control and would probably not have been able to do so, surge or no surge, if not for the Sunni Awakening, where tribal leaders abandoned al-Qaida and joined U.S. and Iraqi government forces.

No such turnaround seems likely in Afghanistan, in which tribal loyalties are looser, and the population is more rural.

Perhaps most importantly, President Obama failed to make a compelling case that an escalation in Afghanistan is vital to core U.S. national interests, though he said it was several times.

All authorities acknowledge that al-Qaida, whose true strength is unknown but which has ambitions to launch new attacks on the U.S. and other western countries, is now in the largely ungoverned tribal regions in Pakistan near the Afghan border.

Nobody believes al-Qaida has a significant presence in Afghanistan.

The case that it is necessary to fight in Afghanistan to neutralize al-Qaida in Pakistan is tenuous at best, and the president didn’t even make the effort to strengthen it with argument and example.

The theory that an intense military effort will defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan in a year to 18 months seems more like hope than reality.

The Taliban, which is an indigenous Afghan force, is conducting a guerrilla-style war in which its fighters avoid outright battles but prefer to strike vulnerable targets and disappear into terrain that they know much better than Americans ever will.

Typically, defeating such forces, on the rare occasions when it has been done, is a matter of years and decades rather than months and requires a government capable of winning the loyalty of the populace.

Whether it is the proper job of the United States to create a strong central government with well-trained security forces in a country that has never had, and doesn’t seem to desire, such a government is another factor.

The U.S. has been training Afghan government forces for eight years now. Can we finish the job in 18 months? It seems unlikely.

Domestically, the majority of Americans believe the Afghan war is not worth fighting, and a strong majority of his own party has serious doubts about escalation. Conservatives and Republicans are already criticizing him for not being gung ho enough, in that he stressed that this commitment is not a blank check.

The majority of Americans are correct. This war is not worth escalating.