Doane: Advancing in Afghanistan

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(HOST) The commander of American forces in Afghanistan recently delivered his assessment of the current situation to the Obama administration.  As the President considers this report and a shift in strategy, commentator Larry Doane is thinking about what the best way forward might be.  

(DOANE) What to do about Afghanistan?  This question confronts President Obama and his top advisors as they receive a situation update from our top commander in the field.  With a deadline for decision fast approaching and the potential for political fallout all around him, the President must choose a way to further advance our efforts in Afghanistan.  He’s been presented several courses of action, ranging from a significant increase in ground forces to a whole-scale pullout and move to offshore operations.  It’s the first option that’s caught my attention.  My frame of reference is that of a small unit leader.  And I have to say I can’t think of a single firefight or village engagement where I’ve thought to myself "Gee, I wish I had fewer Soldiers with me right now."
Now I know that the situation in Afghanistan is more complicated than that.  There are many geopolitical issues that have a bearing on whether or not to put more troops on the ground.  Any increase in ground troops will further strain supply lines that already stretch over the Khyber Pass and through Pakistan.   While more troops may improve our combat units’ effectiveness, it also runs the risk of making our presence in Afghanistan look less like a partnership and more like an occupation.  And in a counterinsurgency operation, perception often trumps reality.

Inevitably, any call for an increase in troops on the ground will be labeled as an escalation of the conflict.  Such a term brings baggage with it from past conflicts and raises the specter of increased American casualties.  But I would advise caution in its use, particularly in this situation.  More Soldiers on the ground does not automatically equal an escalation in violence or casualties.  Indeed, increasing the number of troops available for security missions often leads to a decrease in both violence and loss of life.  And such a decrease in violence, even if temporary, can give a fledgling government the breathing room it needs to attempt real change.
America’s attention span is notoriously short, particularly when we can’t see the end of the tunnel – much less the proverbial light there.  And there is a part of me that would rejoice at the thought of bringing my friends home and putting an end to the cycle of separation and loss.  But I also believe that to pull out now would abandon Afghanistan to the rule of might makes right.
We have become pragmatic of late in defining our national interests.  But once we expressed them in loftier terms.  We cared more about a nation’s struggle for liberty than its economic status.  We cared more about a desire for equality and freedom than the potential for pipelines or a country’s gross domestic product.  And when we thought the cause was just we were unafraid to commit ourselves to the fight.  Not because it was in our best interests, but because our integrity demanded it.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Larry Doane on line at VPR-dot-net.

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