Send More Troops to Afghanistan?

US military commanders have told Obama administration officials that they do not have enough troops in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban insurgency plaguing that country, although they have not yet formally requested additional forces.  There are currently 57,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, including the 17,000 additional troops that the Obama administration sent there earlier this year.

During an interview yesterday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and said that the Taliban have become more sophisticated and effective on a tactical level.   

The new counterinsurgency plan promoted by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, focuses on protecting Afghan civilians from the insurgents, a strategy that requires a lot of manpower because many towns and villages need to be constantly defended from militants who can strike at anytime and then withdraw to sanctuaries in Pakistan. 

It is uncertain if the Obama administration will continue to increase troop levels.  President Obama is in a difficult position politically because the war effort is becoming increasingly unpopular at home and abroad (the majority of American now oppose it, and even larger majorities in other NATO countries are against it), and there will be increasing pressure on NATO leaders to withdraw their forces.  But failing to send more more troops, or withdrawing those that are already over there, is also problematic because Obama has repeatedly said that preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda, which would likely happen if the Taliban regain power, is critical for national security.

As American forces withdraw from Iraq, a process that is supposed to be completed by the end of 2011, the Obama administration will have more troops available for deployment to Afghanistan (there are now approximately 130,000 US soldiers in Iraq).  It is unclear how many would be needed to pacify the country.  The US and other members of NATO may not have enough to do the job, which is why the alliance is making greater efforts to train and increase the number of Afghan security personnel.  How quickly and effectively NATO can accomplish that task will almost certainly determine the outcome of the conflict.

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