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Australia Counter-Insurgency Expert Warns of Critical Years for Afghanistan


An Australian counter-insurgency specialist, who was one of the architects of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, has told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington that Afghanistan is on the brink of complete collapse. As the Obama administration prepares to increase its military presence in Afghanistan, David Kilcullen has said that 2009 will be a critical year for allied forces. Australia has said it would only consider sending additional troops to Afghanistan if NATO countries did the same.

David Kilcullen has been giving advice to the powerful U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the best course of action in Afghanistan.

The security expert, who was instrumental in shaping the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, has compared the worsening situation in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War.

He has warned that unless American commanders can stabilize Afghanistan, the country will fail.

"The level of violence in terms of violent incidents is up about 40 percent on this time last year," said Kilcullen. "Popular support for the government and government legitimacy is collapsing, so I think it's no exaggeration to say that it is a critical year in Afghanistan and if we don't get it right this year, we may not succeed."

Kilcullen, a former Australian infantry officer, has said that redeploying large numbers of soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan might not have the same "big impact" the surge managed to create during the Iraqi conflict.

He has suggested that rather than focusing on taking the fight to insurgents, protecting the Afghan population could transform the campaign there. The thinking is that if people feel safe they are more likely to engage in the political process, which is what he says has happened in Iraq.

The United States is considering doubling its troop presence in Afghanistan this year to roughly 60,000 in a bid to regain the initiative from Taliban militants and prop up the government of embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Australia has about 1,000 military personnel in Afghanistan and defense officials in Canberra have said they would consider a request from U.S. President Barack Obama to increase those levels but only if other NATO members also commit greater numbers to the South Asia nation.

David Kilcullen has said that Australia might better serve its international partners by sending civilian administrators to rebuild the mechanisms of government in Afghanistan as it has done to some of its troubled neighbors in the South Pacific, most notably in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

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