Worst-choice Scenario

Our View: The War In Afghanistan Is Turning Into A Quagmire Whose Cost In Blood And Treasure The U.s. Can Ill Afford

Sending In More Troops Would Be A Mistake

December 01, 2009

After months of deliberation, President Barack Obama is scheduled to reveal his strategy for the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday. According to numerous news reports over the weekend, he will announce plans to send about 30,000 more troops to the region. That decision - which comes close to fulfilling Gen. Stanley McChrystal's 40,000-troop request - may be the safe move politically by a Democrat worried about looking soft in the war on terror. But we fear that it will prove to be a mistake.

The war in Afghanistan became the central front in the struggle against Islamic extremism eight years ago, when U.S. special forces and their Afghan allies toppled the Taliban government that had harbored Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorists who plotted the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Washington area. The goal then was to oust al-Qaeda from its safe havens and prevent it from reconstituting itself as a threat to U.S. national security.

That mission was only partly accomplished, however, in large part because the Bush administration failed to commit sufficient forces to prevent al-Qaeda's leaders from escaping across the border into Pakistan during the battle of Tora Bora in December of that year. Instead, it relied on the Pakistani military and local warlords of questionable loyalties to prevent Mr. bin Laden and his followers from slipping away, and the U.S. has been paying in blood and treasure for that blunder ever since.

Last week Mr. Obama pledged to "finish the job" in Afghanistan. That was in keeping with his earlier statements that the war there was one of "necessity" rather than choice. But it's precisely the redefinition of that necessity that gives us pause. Our main goal in Afghanistan is to keep the United States safe from terrorism, not to build a stable democracy or a flourishing civil society in a country that has never known either. That kind of Afghanistan is looking more and more unattainable in the short term, and maybe ever.

Our mission in Afghanistan does not and should not require an indefinite occupation of the country or the pouring of billions of dollars into the coffers of its notoriously corrupt and inept government. Opting to fight that kind of war is a choice we simply can't afford.

Perhaps, if we had invested the billions that went to the war in Iraq into infrastructure, schools and economic development in Afghanistan, we'd be in a stronger position now to build on the efforts of the last eight years. But no signs have emerged from Afghanistan in recent years - and particularly in the last few months - to suggest that any kind of functional state is likely to emerge there, no matter how many troops we send.

Political leaders of both political parties in Washington are loath to accept this hard reality because it's easier to fall back on the argument that we should send more troops because that's what General McChrystal requested. But when has a general in the field ever asked for fewer troops or to scale back his mission? And it's unclear whether the full complement of troops the general has requested - or even double or triple what he wants - would be enough to do the job he envisions. We would hate to see the troops get bogged down in the kind of quagmire the war in Vietnam became, where the extremely difficult terrain and the massive corruption of the central government made it all but impossible for our forces to win over the populace.

Wiser counsel was that offered by Vice President Joe Biden, who has reportedly been advocating for a switch from a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan to a more targeted anti-terrorism strategy. There's no doubt that shrinking our presence and ambitions in Afghanistan would come at a cost - to the safety of the Afghan people, to the rights of women there - but we simply cannot support an indefinite commitment with no realistic hope for a lasting success.

Readers respond

Wiser counsel was that offered by Vice President Joe Biden?

Are you serious? Joe Biden's "wiser counsel" for Iraq was partitioning the country. And you want us to believe Mr. Biden is qualified to pronounce his war plans as superior to the commanders in theater?

Voters' ignorance

How about a different plan from all these professional military people. How about we just bomb all their poppy fields and just wait and let them come to us for the fight? Poppies (and the drugs they're made into) are the only thing there that's worth anything!

Charles Smith

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