Digging Deeper in Afghan Morass

The long-awaited decision by US President Barack Obama on boosting military forces in Afghanistan has finally been made. The decision, to be announced at the military academy at West Point, will see the dispatching of an additional contingent of 30,000-35,000 forces. With the new forces the total strength of US forces will go up to 100,000.

Obama’s lengthy deliberations preceding this decision had been strongly criticised across the board in political and military circles. In particular, the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was particularly concerned at the delay that was deemed pivotal to the ongoing war.

While the military demand for at least 40,000 additional forces may have not been met, the additional forces also exceed expectations among those who strongly opposed any increase in numbers. Even those in Obama’s camp such as Vice President Joe Biden favoured smaller, specialised counter-insurgency units. Comparisons to Vietnam have led to a larger debate about the necessity of waging the war, now in its ninth year.

Despite having a distinct edge with their sophisticated, state-of-the-art weapons and financial resources, the coalition is struggling to maintain control even in territories previously rid of insurgents. With an ambitious plan to start aggressive political engagement with insurgents, backed by financial incentives, the Obama administration is hoping to make some headway next year. Coupled with a troop surge, the plan is to work on wresting control from insurgents.

Efforts at pressuring its NATO partners have yielded Washington at least another 5,000 troops including 500 from Britain. Despite the pledge to commit more forces, some coalition partners intend to stand by their planned withdrawal schedules.

The effort has been to portray the engagement in Afghanistan as not solely by the US, since the aim is to destroy an Al Qaeda that epitomises a universal threat. Despite some coalition partners reaffirming their commitment, others seem unsure and face immense pressure at home. Every new casualty on the battlefront or in a terror attack has added to the opposition.

Obama has already hinted that the US engagement will not be open-ended, clearly an attempt to quieten the growing disgruntlement at home and among the coalition. Washington has also stepped up the pressure on the Afghan government to improve governance and increase the capacity of its national security forces that are to eventually take on responsibility for security.

It is hoped that the US led coalition does not lose perspective in its pursuit of winning the war. It must not forget that it is dealing with a nationalist insurgency that has entered a forced alliance with Al Qaeda for expediency and must be dealt with accordingly.

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