Adm. Mullen Says More Troops Needed in Afghanistan

Yesterday, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that more American troops will likely be needed in Afghanistan.

Adm. Mullen said “I do believe that a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces, and, without question, more time and more commitment to protecting the Afghan people and to the development of good governance.”

His statement echoes those of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, who has told the Obama administration that the US does not have enough troops in the country to achieve its mission.

Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, concurred, saying “I’ve been encouraged over the past year by the statements and actions of the president.  The president’s approval of increases in troop strength was needed then, and I believe even more necessary now.”

But some administration officials are reportedly wary of sending more soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan, including Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary, who worry that the US could get bogged down there, and that a larger American footprint will alienate Afghan civilians.

Congressional Democrats are also opposed to an additional increase in troop levels.

Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that accelerated training of Afghan security forces “should be urgently implemented before we consider an increase in US ground troops.”  He said that intensified training “would demonstrate our commitment to the success of the mission that is in our national security interest, while avoiding the risks associated with a larger US footprint.”

Most policymakers agree that building up the Afghan army and police units is crucial for the long-term stability of war-torn Afghanistan.  An increase in troop strength would probably not be needed if the US shifted away from a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy and focused on training Afghan security personnel and going on combat patrols with them.  But if the current strategy is maintained, more troops will almost certainly be needed to successfully pursue civilian protection and large-scale training simultaneously.  In such a scenario, a larger military presence will have to be maintained for many years because quality training of foreign troops takes a lot of time to complete.

President Obama has suggested that the current strategy will remain in place.

On Monday, he said that nobody “should expect a sudden announcement of some huge strategy change.”

If the administration sticks to that position, then people should expect an announcement that more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan soon.

Gen. McChrystal appears not to be concerned that a larger American footprint will alienate Afghans.  He said that the behavior of the force, rather than its size, will determine how Afghans view the US military presence in their country.

Gen. McChrystal and Adm. Mullen, as well as other officials, have talked about the importance of promoting good governance in Afghanistan, a place where the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is viewed as severely corrupt.  Allegations and evidence of massive vote fraud in the recent presidential election, which Karzai won, have contributed to this view.  Although American officials are correct in recognizing the necessity of good governance, it is unclear what the US can do to foster it, because it is almost impossible for a foreign power to reduce the level of corruption in a foreign country.

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