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US troop buildup in Afghanistan could be a defining moment

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"This is the beginning of an almost unending need," says one Pentagon official. Indeed, it is the first prong of a broader effort that will include nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, the source of much of the insurgency.

All of this is a daunting prospect for an Obama administration barely in its first month of office – even if the move was long-expected after he campaigned on the issue last fall. Obama now is shouldering in earnest the role of commander-in-chief – with all that entails.

It is as yet unclear exactly what the new force will do. But it will face a determined insurgency operating in a vast, mountainous country. Despite seven years of US operations in Afghanistan, the bulk of the American fighting force is steeped in Iraq operations and will have to learn or relearn an entirely new culture, language, and battlefield conditions.

At the same time, the Obama administration still has not settled on a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and does not yet know its endgame. That strategy is being debated by senior US military and civilian officials. A decision isn't expected for another two months.

Most members of both political parties, as well as military experts, support sending the troops now, before the review is completed. "Republicans agree that a strategic review of the current situation in Afghanistan is warranted, and we will work to ensure that our commanders on the ground have all the additional troops they have requested," said Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, the Republican House leader who has sparred with Obama over the economic stimulus package.

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