Issue Report: More troops to Afghanistan under Obama

Should the Obama administration escalate the War in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010?

n 2009, the Obama administration has increased troop levels from around 30,000 to over 60,000. In the late summer of 2009, the administration began considering, based on a request made by Afghanistan General Stanley McCrystal, adding additional troops, possibly increasing the total number to over 100,000 in 2010. Eight years after the War in Afghanistan began, many are asking wehther such a renewed escalation of the war effort is justified, with a heavy national debate ensuing. The main questions being considered are the following. Is the war in Afghanistan “necessary” for US national security? Is it key in preventing future terrorist attacks, similar to the September 11th attacks? Is a continued war effort necessary to achieve these goals and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a “safe haven” once again for Al Qaeda terrorists? Or, are targeted strikes on any budding terrorist cells, continued elevated border security, and heavy airport security and screening sufficient (without an increase in troops)? Does the US and NATO have a moral obligation to Afghanistan, and to helping it develop into a stable democracy? Or, is it justified to consider efforts in Afghanistan only in the context of counter-terrorism, and leave if such interests are secured, or deemed “securable” without troops on the ground? Does Afghanistan have a larger value to the US and NATO, or is its general strategic value relatively limited? Can continued large expenditures of blood and treasure be justified in Afghanistan? Or, in a world of finite resources, should the war be brought to an end sooner than later, whether the endeavor is considered a success or not?

Terrorism: Is the War in Afghanistan necessary to deprive Al Qaeda of a safe haven?

W/o more troops, Afgh will become terrorist haven

Bruce Riedel and Michael O'Hanlon. "Why we can't go small in Afghanistan". USA Today. September 4, 2009

Once the Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda will not be far behind. Our top nemesis will be able to salvage a victory in the very place from which it launched the 9/11 attacks eight years ago. Al-Qaeda will have its favorite bases and sanctuaries back, as well as a major propaganda win.”

Defeat in Afghanistan would embolden terrorists globally

"Obama's war. Why the Afghanistan war deserves more resources, commitment and political will." The Economist. October 15, 2009

“defeat for the West in Afghanistan would embolden its opponents not just in Pakistan, but all around the world, leaving it open to more attacks.”

More US troops will increase support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda

Nicholas Kristof. "The Afghanistan Abyss". The New York Times. September 5, 2009

“sending more American troops into ethnic Pashtun areas in the Afghan south may only galvanize local people to back the Taliban in repelling the infidels.”

Afg only one of many possible terrorist safe havens

Peter Navarro. "Orange Grove: Get out of Afghanistan now" OC Register. September 25, 2009

“Consider the first argument: Afghanistan must not be allowed to be a staging area for al-Qaida terrorists. Of course, it was from Afghan soil that Osama bin Laden oversaw the 9/11 attacks so this argument seems at first glance compelling. However, Afghanistan is now just one of many possible staging areas for al-Qaida. In fact, hot zone that Afghanistan is, it is now much easier for al-Qaida’s decentralized networks to conduct operations in numerous other places, with Algeria, Somalia, and Yemen emerging as the newest strongholds. Why aren’t we invading them?”

More troops in Afg will inflame broader Muslim anger, terrorism

Malou Innocent. "No More Troops for Afghanistan. Huffington Post. September 16, 2009:

“Overall, remaining in Afghanistan is more likely to tarnish America’s reputation and undermine U.S. security than would withdrawal.”

Historical lessons: Does history suggest the War in Afghanistan cannot be won?

Many empires succeed in Afghanistan, why not US?

Peter Bergen. "Winning the good war. Why Afghanistan is not Obama's Vietnam". Washington Monthly. July/August 2009:

“Objections to Obama’s ramp-up in Afghanistan begin with the observation that Afghanistan has long been the “graveyard of empires”—as went the disastrous British expedition there in 1842 and the Soviet invasion in 1979, so too the current American occupation is doomed to follow. In fact, any number of empire builders, from Alexander the Great to the Mogul emperor Babur in the sixteenth century to the British in the Second Afghan War three decades after their infamous defeat, have won military victories in Afghanistan. The graveyard of empires metaphor belongs in the graveyard of clichés.”

War in Afghanistan will not become "Obama's Vietnam"

Peter Bergen. "Winning the good war. Why Afghanistan is not Obama's Vietnam". Washington Monthly. July/August 2009

“what of the [] argument—that as far as the United States is concerned, the war there will be a rerun of Vietnam? Hardly. The similarities between the Taliban and the Vietcong end with their mutual hostility toward the U.S. military. The some 20,000 Taliban fighters are too few to hold even small Afghan towns, let alone mount a Tet-style offensive on Kabul. As a military force, they are armed lightly enough to constitute a tactical problem, not a strategic threat. By contrast, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army at the height of the Vietnam War numbered more than half a million men who were equipped with artillery and tanks, and were well supplied by both the Soviet Union and Mao’s China.”

Soviet war in Afghanistan is not analogous to US/NATO war

The main difference is that the US was backing the insurgents against the Soviet Union, whereas today there is no such great-power backing of the Taliban.

Counter-terrorism w/o troops did not work in 1990s

Bruce Riedel and Michael O'Hanlon. "Why we can't go small in Afghanistan". USA Today. September 4, 2009

For those who have forgotten the realities of the 1990s — when we tried to go after Osama bin Laden without access to nearby bases by using ships based in the Indian Ocean — the two- to four-hour flight times of drones and cruise missiles operating off such ships made prompt action to real-time intelligence impractical.”

Nations throughout history have failed to succeed in Afg

Eugene Robinson. "In Afghanistan, Downsize." Real Clear Politics. September 22, 2009

“As if on cue, the leader of the Taliban, Mohammad Omar, issued a taunting statement reminding Obama that for more than a millennium, would-be conquerors have tried and failed to subdue the mountain fastness known as the ‘graveyard of empires’ — Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C., the British in the 1800s, the Soviets from 1979 to 1989. […] ‘The invaders should study the history of Afghanistan,’ Omar said in a message marking the end of Ramadan, reported the Financial Times. ‘The more the enemy resorts to increasing forces, the more they will face an unequivocal defeat.’ […] As galling as it is to accept tutelage from one of Osama bin Laden’s key enablers, this does seem to be what history teaches. Pouring forces into Afghanistan has always proved counterproductive. The presence of large numbers of foreign troops is the one thing that reliably unites Afghans — if only for long enough to drive the foreigners out.”

Fear-mongering used in escalating Afg War, was used in Vietnam

Peter Navarro. "Orange Grove: Get out of Afghanistan now" OC Register. September 25, 2009

“During my senior year in high school, in 1966-67, our local congressman came to speak to us soon-to-be-draftees about the necessity of the Vietnam War. His basic pitch was a frothy combination of Red menace, yellow peril, and domino theory. […] the speech rang as hollow as a beer keg after a frat party. […] Today, I get the same kind of hollowness in my gut every time I hear President Barack Obama and a gaggle of Democratic and Republican hawks offer eerily similar arguments for the Afghanistan war. Terrorism is the new Red menace. Yellow peril has morphed into radical Islam. Dominoes, perhaps surprisingly, are still dominoes. In fact, sober analysis of the two major arguments in support of the war leads me to the same conclusion as my gut – let’s get the hell out.”

Strategic value: Is Afghanistan of strong strategic value to NATO/US?

Stabilizing Afghanistan important to Western interests

"Obama's War." Economist. October 15th, 2009

“the West has a security interest in preventing the region from slipping into a maelstrom of conflict. Pakistan, with 170m people and nuclear weapons, is vulnerable to the Taliban’s potent mixture of ethnic-Pushtun nationalism and extremist Islam (see article). Anarchy in Afghanistan, or a Taliban restoration, would leave it prey to permanent cross-border instability.”

Success in Afghanistan is key to stability in nuclear Pakistan

Joshua Foust. "The Case for Afghanistan: Strategic Considerations". Registan. August 27th, 2009

“lest anyone think it is appropriate to write off the India-Pakistan conflict as somebody else’s problem, it is never somebody else’s problem when nuclear weapons are involved. As Jari Lindholm reminded, India and Pakistan have come a hair’s breadth from nuclear conflict twice over Kashmir. And like it or not, it is a compelling and vital American interest to prevent nuclear conflict in South Asia—which makes “fixing” Afghanistan in some way also a vital American interest.”

US must show resolve in Afg. to beat extremism

David Brooks. "The Afghan Imperative". New York Times. September 24, 2009

“Since 1979, we have been involved in a long, complex conflict against Islamic extremism. We’ve fought this ideology in many ways in many places, and we shouldn’t pretend we understand how this conflict will evolve. But we should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back — and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither.”

Without more troops in Afghanistan, US will lose allies

Bruce Riedel and Michael O'Hanlon. "Why we can't go small in Afghanistan". USA Today. September 4, 2009

“we would likely lose our allies with this approach. A limited mission offers nothing to the Afghans, whose country is essentially abandoned to the Taliban, or to the Pakistanis, who would similarly see this as the first step toward cut and run. The NATO allies would also smell in a “reduced” mission the beginning of withdrawal; some if not most might try to beat us to the exit.”

Afghanistan is of little strategic value to US/NATO

Andrew J. Bacevich. "The War We Can't Win". Commonweal. August 14, 2009:

“What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention? In Washington, this question goes not only unanswered but unasked. Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan’s importance is simply assumed—much the way fifty years ago otherwise intelligent people simply assumed that the United States had a vital interest in ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. As then, so today, the assumption does not stand up to even casual scrutiny. […] For those who, despite all this, still hanker to have a go at nation building, why start with Afghanistan? Why not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbor—a major supplier of oil and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life—outranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude.”

Sending more troops digs deeper hole for US in Afg

Tom Andrews, National Director of Win Without War, argued in February of 2009

“The first principle for someone who finds himself in a hole is to stop digging, The US policy ‘hole’ in Afghanistan is not of the new Administration’s making. But it is important for the President to consider if adding new US combat forces in Afghanistan, without a new and comprehensive plan, for US policy there, might be digging an even bigger hole.”

More troops in Afg will anger Muslims, impair efforts in ME

More troops in Afghanistan will certainly be received with concern and anger in the Islamic world. This will make it more difficult for Western and Middle Eastern countries to work together toward mutual objectives, such as peace between Israel and Palestine.

Moral obligation: Does US have a moral obligation to send more troops to Afg?

US has moral obligation to stabilize Afghanistan

Peter Bergen. "Winning the good war. Why Afghanistan is not Obama's Vietnam". Washington Monthly. July/August 2009

“The United States overthrew the Taliban in the winter of 2001. It has a moral obligation to ensure that when it does leave Afghanistan it does so secure in the knowledge that the country will never again be a launching pad for the world’s deadliest terrorist groups, and that the country is on the way to a measure of stability and prosperity. When that happens, it is not too fanciful to think that Afghanistan’s majestic mountains, verdant valleys, and jasmine-scented gardens may once again draw the tourists that once flocked there.”

"Obama's war. Why the Afghanistan war deserves more resources, commitment and political will." The Economist. October 15, 2009:

“withdrawal would amount to a terrible betrayal of the Afghan people, some of whose troubles are the result of Western intervention. […] Millions of refugees have returned and millions of children have the chance to go to school. But the West has failed to protect civilian lives, to bring the development it promised, to wean the economy off its poppy-addiction and to ensure fair elections—and failed even to agree about what it is trying to do in the country. The Western-dominated United Nations mission has fractured in a public row between its two senior officials. Locally, NATO forces have done fine and heroic work. But too often the best initiatives are dropped when the best commanders end their tours. The Afghan conflict, it is often said, has been not an eight-year war, but eight one-year wars. NATO comes off worse each time. And so to the fourth and most important reason for persisting in Afghanistan: the coalition can do much better.”

US/NATO have no more moral obligation to Afg than other states.

The idea that the US and NATO have a moral obligation falls flat when considering that this would put the US and NATO in a position of having a moral obligation to many other third world countries that are struggling and in conflict. Yet, such a broader obligation obviously does not exist, so why should it exist in Afghanistan?

Limited resources constrain moral obligations of US/NATO to Afg.

Resources are limited, and limit the ability of the US and NATO to fulfill any “obligation” to Afg. After 8 years of conflict, the US/NATO have run out of resources and political capital for the War in Afghanistan. This is not something to be ashamed of, but is instead simply a fact of life based on the reality of a world of limited resources.

US/NATO cannot solve Afg, so cannot fulfill any moral obligations.

The US/NATO cannot solve Afghanistan’s problems, and may actually be doing more harm than good. In so far as a state cannot have a moral obligation to do something impossible, the US and NATO should not have a moral obligation to fulfill the impossible task of stabilizing Afghanistan.

The US has destroyed Afghanistan enough

The US led war has already killed at least 30,000 civilians. That is 10 times more than the amount of people who died in 9-11. And that is not counting starvation as a result of the war, which Aid agencies were predicting in 2001 would take the lives of 7 million people if the US bombed. Nobody knows how many people actually starved to death but Medicine without Frontiers reported a doubling of the child mortality rate between August 2001 and January 2002. As well as this colossal mass murder, the US has empowered the warlords who destroyed Afghanistan in the 1990’s. These warlords now form the Northern Alliance and the US has given them huge support, continuing the saga they began in the 1980’s when they supported these warlords to fight the Soviets. The war against Afghanistan has caused massive harm to Afghan society. It is also the supreme international crime of aggression and the only moral thing the US could do is withdraw immediately. For more information on this see Michael Albert And Stephen Shalom Interview, Malalai Joya – Johann Hari, The ‘Good War’ Is A Bad War – John Pilger, The Great War For Civilization – Robert Fisk, 9-11 – Noam Chomsky and Bleeding Afghanistan – Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls.

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