It has been almost three months since General McChrystal reported to Obama that U.S. efforts in Afghanistan would fail if 40,000 additional troops were not deployed there. McChrystal’s experience as the commander of the military’s clandestine service has given him expert insight into how insurgencies operate—this background adds additional legitimacy to his request, which the President must take very seriously.
President Obama is reported to be near a decision on troop reinforcements. Yet reports indicate that the plan could be considered “McChrystal light,” wordplay on the popular drink, because the amount of troops that may ultimately reach Afghanistan will most likely fall short of the general’s request. Troops will most likely begin arriving in Afghanistan in January, leaving the troops on the ground with several months of unassisted operations. Any operation will result in failure if not provided with adequate manpower, and nowhere is this more apparent than in military operations.
Prior to the troops arriving, significant clandestine operations should be launched in an effort to locate and target key areas in which the Taliban have footholds. Additional outposts can be made in the contested regions to solidify the rule of law within the country.
Specifically, a significant amount of troop reinforcements must be sent to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Northern Pakistan region has become a safe haven for insurgents, allowing for a crisscrossing of men and supplies. The porous border exacerbates the problems caused by insurgents in Afghanistan and adds to the peacekeeping woes of nearby Pakistan.
Many of the outposts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have few troops. In an October attack on one outpost defended by 48 Americans and half as many Afghan soldiers, insurgent forces outnumbered those troops three to one. The American and Afghan forces were only able to defend themselves thanks to the technological superiority of their weaponry and support, as air strikes and helicopters were rushed to defend the outpost. The attack highlighted the strategic issue of spreading forces dangerously thin. The incoming troops Obama must make available should give more priority to these border outposts, ensuring that such skin-of-the-teeth defenses can be avoided.
A recent victory by Afghanistan and international troops in northern Afghanistan provides further reason to take heart. A large force of Afghan troops and 50 international soldiers engaged Taliban forces in Chahar Dara district of Kunduz province and killed over 100 Taliban fighters, including eight commanders. With Afghanistan forces making progress in successfully confronting insurgents, the addition of American troops will help train and support other Afghan-led operations. With the combination of more Afghan and American troops, the ability for troops to secure vital areas will increase. In addition, the Afghan troop progress in engaging insurgents is heartening for the long term security of Afghanistan.
The American people may worry that more American troops will slow the ability of Afghan troops to take up their own national security. However, with the recent engagement between insurgents and Afghan troops, it is clear that those native forces are increasingly effective. American forces will help coordinate those efforts, not limit them.
Those opposing the troop increase often cite the recent questionable election in Afghanistan as a reason why more troops should not be sent. They feel that the additional troops will alienate the Afghan people when Afghans are concerned by possible fraud in the election. The success of democracy in Afghanistan is without a doubt part of the American mission in the country; however, the goal of isolating and destroying insurgents should be separated from election objectives. It is logical to send in troops to fight insurgents even as the Afghan people resolve their election crisis.
Both American missions in Afghanistan—aiding it in becoming a flourishing democracy while isolating and destroying insurgents—are achievable. The troop reinforcements will aid both aims by helping to provide security for the Afghan people and taking the fight to the insurgents. The American people can rest assured that the additional troops Obama must send in will undoubtedly be beneficial to U.S. missions in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is one that can and will be won, if the Obama administration makes the right call on troop levels.
Anthony J. Bonilla ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Winthrop House.