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22 October 2009 

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Attention Intensifies on Afghan War Strategy


21 October 2009

Now that Afghan election officials have agreed to a presidential runoff vote on November 7, attention will intensify on U.S. President Barack Obama's difficult decision about whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has been waiting for the election dispute to be resolved before announcing his new war strategy.

As the fighting continues to rage, U.S. officials stated repeatedly the election process had to be settled before President Barack Obama could make a reasoned decision about sending additional troops and resources to Afghanistan.

Administration officials say the United States needs to make sure it has a credible partner in the Afghan government before any change in strategy.

US President Barack Obama, 15 Oct 2009
President Barack Obama (file photo)
Analysts say the runoff election will add credibility to the new government and Mr. Obama applauded the move.

"President Karzai, as well as the other candidates, I think, have shown that they have the interests of the Afghan people at heart, that this is a reflection of a commitment to rule of law and an insistence that the Afghan people's will should be done," said the president.

Election officials are scrambling to organize the new ballot as the fierce Afghan winter approaches and the country faces a growing threat from the Taliban.

Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel has advised President Obama on Afghan policy. "We have got to make sure that this second round is not marred by fraud and corruption like the first round," he said.

Riedel says U.S. and NATO troops are facing a syndicate of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan consisting of different groups like the Taliban and al-Qaida.

"The status quo in Afghanistan right now is not sustainable. We are losing this war. It is not yet lost but we are losing this war," he said.

Many members of the U.S. Congress that have expressed concern about sending additional troops to Afghanistan are, like President Obama, Democrats.

Some argue the widespread corruption in Afghanistan is undermining support in the United States for the war and the proposal to send more soldiers.

"At least the question that should be put to Congress is not about troop levels and I do not think Congress right now would be very receptive, the majority of Congress, to a request for more troops," said California Congresswoman Jane Harman. "The question that should be put to Congress is how we can partner with this administration to reduce the rampant levels of corruption in Afghanistan."

A US Marine (R) walks with an Afghan National Army local commander in  Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, 05 Oct 2009
A US Marine (R) walks with an Afghan National Army local commander in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, 05 Oct 2009
The United States has nearly 68,000 troops in Afghanistan and there are about 40,000 from NATO and other allied countries.

The top NATO and American commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, has warned the United States could lose the conflict if additional military forces are not deployed.

Analysts arguing against an increase say a larger troop presence would lead to a drop in support from the Afghan people.

CIA veteran Paul Pillar, who is now a professor of security studies at Georgetown University, says public opinion in Afghanistan is already eroding.

"Why is this happening? I think it is number one, the perception that we have become occupiers, like the Soviets were, rather than liberators or protectors of Afghanistan. And number two because of the inevitable collateral damage that occurs from even the most carefully planned and skillfully executed military operations," he said.

The debate about strategy and troop strength is occurring as 30,000 Pakistani troops are launching a massive military operation in South Waziristan, along the border with Afghanistan.

The remote and rugged tribal region is a global hub for militants, who are staging suicide attacks in Pakistan and frequently cross the border to fight NATO and American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Michael O'Hanlon specializes in U.S. national security policy at the Brookings Institution.

"For the first time ever we have the chance to put al-Qaida and related groups between a hammer and an anvil," he said. "We have a chance to go after them in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. I want to do that."

Administration officials say it has not been determined whether the president will decide on a new strategy before the Afghan runoff election. They say the strategy is to be determined in the coming weeks.  


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