Upon taking office, President Obama initiated a strategic review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the results of which were announced in March. To stem the war-torn country’s deteriorating security situation, the president decided to expand U.S. involvement from a relatively narrow counterterrorist strategy to a more expansive counterinsurgency strategy aimed at securing Afghanistan’s civilian population while denying al-Qaeda and the Taliban territory to operate.
To achieve these goals, President Obama ordered 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, raising the total number in the country to approximately 68,000 – an effort to redouble the training and equipping of Afghan security forces. The president’s counterinsurgency strategy emphasized non-military steps such as expanding economic development, improving Afghan governance, and rebuilding Afghanistan’s infrastructure, which has been badly damaged by decades of war. To carry out this new counterinsurgency campaign, President Obama replaced Gen. David McKiernan with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Today, U.S. efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan have been complicated by a tainted Afghan national election and the perseverance of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In light of these complications, Lt. Gen. McChrystal recently completed a new strategic review that, according to his determination, found current efforts in the country will fail if the U.S. does not broaden the counterinsurgency campaign which includes increasing our troop commitment by up to 60,000 troops.
President Obama is currently considering Gen. McChrystal’s recommendations. Though critics claim the president’s review is taking too long, I believe patience is warranted given the recent political turmoil surrounding disputed Afghan national elections and the complexity of the situation. President Obama’s judicious and careful consideration is a welcomed approach after the previous administration’s all too often rush to judgment on matters related to war.
Once the president releases the details of his review and recommendations, it will be up to Congress to ask the tough questions probing this very difficult policy decision. One of my key concerns is the legitimacy of the Afghan government as a viable partner. In addition to fraud-ridden Afghan national elections in August, the Afghan government is consistently ranked one of the most corrupt in the world. As the Vietnam War demonstrated, the United States cannot prosecute a successful counterinsurgency campaign if the local government lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its own population. That’s a lesson from history we must keep close at hand as we consider any future involvement in Afghanistan.