Obama's biggest challenges in Afghanistan

Obama's biggest challenges in Afghanistan

Email Picture (external - login to view)
Spencer Platt, Getty Images
OFFERING AID: U.S. soldiers hand out humanitarian relief to villagers in Tupak, Afghanistan. The U.S. is ending 17,000 additional U.S. troops to the country.

[COLOR=#333333 ! important]Just sending more troops can't solve such tough problems as getting militants to lay down arms and allies to send more soldiers, and eliminating extremist havens.[/COLOR]
[COLOR=#999999 ! important]By Julian E. Barnes
February 22, 2009 [/COLOR]
Reporting from Krakow, Poland -- President Obama's war strategy began to take shape with his announcement last week that 17,000 additional U.S. troops are headed to Afghanistan. But the thorniest problems still await him: persuading militants to lay down their arms, coaxing help from allies and eliminating extremist havens on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Many officials believe Obama has one primary shot at remaking Washington's war strategy and overhauling its policy in the region. The administration said last week that it would open that review, which is due in April, to Afghans, Pakistanis and European allies.

  • Babylon & Beyond: Observations on the... (external - login to view)

  • More troops may be needed in Afghanistan, U.S. commander says (external - login to view)
  • Civilian deaths roil Afghans (external - login to view)
  • Obama orders more troops to Afghanistan (external - login to view)

Administration officials hope that a deliberative, and inclusive, look can turn up new ideas, even for seemingly intractable problems.

"We have learned that Obama is not going to make policy on the fly," said Karin von Hippel, a former United Nations and European Union conflict expert now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But the administration already has confronted a pair of unsettling realizations: America's allies are unwilling to supply many additional troops, and a deal between Afghan authorities and militants, even the Taliban, is necessary for stability and peace.

The obstacles in Afghanistan are compounded by other well-known problems: a weak government, widespread public corruption and an economy that is bound to heroin. Meanwhile, U.S.-Afghan tensions have risen over civilian casualties.

Still, military commanders and strategy experts said the extra U.S. troops, used carefully, could help shift impressions in the country by making residents feel safer and militants more fearful.

"You can't look like the likely loser of the war," said Stephen Biddle, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who has advised the military's Middle East headquarters on Afghanistan. "No warlord is going to change sides to join the loser."

In the wake of Obama's troop deployment announcement, military officials began to sketch out how extra units would be used.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the additional troops would apply variations of counterinsurgency strategies that proved useful in areas in Iraq -- first studying an area, then clearing it of militants.

And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, at NATO meetings in Poland last week, said troops then will establish a fixed presence in population centers. Previous military "clearing" operations have faltered after U.S. forces moved on to other areas.

As the U.S. learned in Iraq, such counterinsurgency campaigns are not painless. Violence in Iraq increased for months after the troop buildup began, as new units entered previously uncontested areas controlled by insurgents.

Laying down arms

But, as every review of Afghanistan has showed, there are major differences between that war and the one in Iraq. Crucial to the U.S. success in Iraq was the decision of the Sunni Arab minority to largely end its armed resistance, switch sides and aid the American war effort.

The U.S. hopes that it can also persuade some of Afghanistan's militants to lay down their arms. Gates said again last week that eventual peace will require accommodation with militant groups.

"Ultimately, some sort of political reconciliation has to be part of the long-term solution for Afghanistan," he said.

There is no civil war in Afghanistan. Opponents to the American presence include Pashtun dissidents, Taliban fighters and other extremists. The country does not face the sectarian rivalries that propelled Iraqi Sunnis toward accommodation.

That means the U.S. military will have to provide incentives for militant groups to stop fighting, Biddle said. That will require carrots -- such as promises of regional political power -- as well as sticks, including a threat of military action, he said.

More U.S. fighting

It also became clear last week that almost all of the new fighting will be done by American units.

  • Single Page (external - login to view)
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2 (external - login to view)
  • |
  • Next (external - login to view)
In a fight to death there are only 2 ways out - 1 side dies or 1 side gives up - Partition the country - starve the bad side - feed the good - Let the insurgents join the good - submit to a workable arrangement or starve to death. Simple but politically uncorrect - Sad thing is that bombing a stone age country back to the stone age is an acceptable political solution?
Think Cuba as how things could work in Afghanistan - Economic blockade - side deals from the USA that serves both sides purpose - failed US military coup that strengthened the power of the leader - 4 or 5 decades of poverty and people dying to leave to join the USA . Once Fidel passes away I am sure relations will improve - money will flow in to Cuba from the USA - Country has little crime vut not much freedom. Figure it will take about another decade till the tourists are being killed and the police covering it up because it is bad for business!
Nothing like adding more gas a fire to make the flames die down. Did they weigh that option against removing that many troops, it isn't like the country is any better off under US occupation. The best time in their history was just before the CIA started messing in their politics. Can't have them becoming more 'civilized' than what the US determines, after all in the past that just meant the US was no longer welcomed, Iran and Cuba being examples.
Afghanistan was a nice place before the CIA funded and created Al Qaeda. The Russians dumped billions into building the cities and infrastructure and there was no way in hell they were going to leave it intact for the CIA to run another puppet dictatorship.
no new posts