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Void in U.S. strategy for Afghanistan

As officials consider sending more troops to Afghanistan, some worry about the lack of a larger plan.

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Senior defense officials are debating how many troops they can send to Afghanistan and how soon they can do it to improve the deteriorating security situation there.

But even as political pressure mounts to do more to stop the violence in that region, there is increasing fear in the Pentagon that sending in more forces is just a stopgap measure that masks the absence of a broader, viable strategy.

"To a certain extent, we have boxed ourselves into the idea that additional troops is a panacea for revising strategy," says a senior Pentagon official. "That in and of itself becomes the strategy."

More troops does mean more security, says the military official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the matter. But he and others don’t think the conversation inside the Defense Department or at the national level has “matured” past that.

Other officials fear that plans to withdraw more troops from Iraq offers a convenient way to send more to Afghanistan, without a plan for how they would be used or to what objective.

That thinking suggests that Iraq and Afghanistan are one and the same, says the official, when in fact they are different, not only in terms of US interests but in what can be done on the ground.

When the war in Iraq was failing at the end of 2006, President Bush appointed counterinsurgency expert Gen. David Petraeus, who laid out a new approach. The announcement of a surge of roughly 30,000 new troops in Iraq at the start of 2007 was not so much a change in strategy as tactics – and more forces to help implement it.
Many defence officials believe Afghanistan needs that same kind of reassessment. But as with Iraq, sending in more troops alone won’t do the trick, they say.

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