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Debate Continues on Afghan Troop Decision


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Now that Hamid Karzai has been declared the winner of Afghanistan's presidential elections, attention is again focused on U.S. President Barack Obama's decision on whether to send more troops to the country. Analysts and some members of the U.S. Congress are still at odds over the best way forward.

It has been more than two months since the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, submitted his report calling for an urgent and significant change in strategy regarding the war in Afghanistan.

McChrystal is reported to have requested 40,000 more troops to mount a counterinsurgency campaign designed to provide security for the Afghan people.

The general says failure to gain the initiative and reverse the momentum currently held by the insurgents in the next 12 months could lead to the failure of the overall mission.

Max Boot is a senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"We are committed to a war in Afghanistan," he said. "I think the question now is are we going to be committed to winning it? Or are we going to just muddle along as we have currently been doing with enough troops to generate casualties on all sides, but not enough to win."

Analysts agree that a successful counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan requires a credible government that is seen as legitimate by the Afghan people, and widespread irregularities in the recent Afghan election undercut the process.

Many expect the United States will now try to bolster the credibility of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, pushing for anti-corruption measures and an inclusive government.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry says the conclusion of the election process is a new opportunity for the international community to work with Afghan leaders.

"And very serious efforts [need to be] made and very serious progress made in trying to improve the accountability of the government," he said. "Really fight the problem of corruption take it head-on and deal with it. And we, the international community, we have role to play in this."

U.S. Institute of Peace analyst Alex Thier warns if troops are withdrawn prematurely from Afghanistan the country will fall back into civil war, the Taliban will take over part of the country and the entire region will be further destabilized.

"I think that those consequences are so grim and grave for us, not to mention all of the thousands of Afghans that we have worked with to educate, female parliamentarians that we have got elected in the last year, girls schools that we have built, all of this will go up in a puff of smoke and we will stand by and watch that," he said.

But there are powerful opponents in the U.S. Congress of any major troop increase in Afghanistan.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says before sending more U.S. combat troops, large numbers of additional Afghan forces need to be trained.

"These soldiers constitute their country's most trusted public institution," he said. "Opinion polls show that the Afghan army has the strong support of the Afghan people and is vastly more popular than the Taliban, whose support is in single digits."

Senator Levin says he does not want U.S. soldiers to be seen as an occupying force in Afghanistan.

"Expansion of our own combat presence could feed a Taliban propaganda machine that seeks to portray the forces arrayed against them, not as a home grown domestic effort to prevent the return of a detested extremist regime, which is what it is, but as the effort of a foreign occupier," he said.

When President Obama announced his Afghan strategy last March he said the clear American goal is to defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future.

Administration officials say the president's decision on General McChrystal's request for more troops is expected in the coming weeks.

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