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US troop buildup in Afghanistan could be a defining moment

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Some Obama voters had hoped he would effectively end US engagement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while Obama is mulling over the rate at which he will draw down forces in Iraq, he is significantly increasing the force in Afghanistan. Even left-leaning experts say it is the right thing to do if the US wants to be effective there.

"There is a group of people who supported Obama who are saying 'we don't need a surge,'" says Larry Korb, a former Pentagon official and now a senior fellow with the left-leaning Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington. But that could embolden insurgents who are trying to convince poor Afghan villagers to side with them, he says.

Despite the broad, bipartisan support for the additional troops, there appears to be little agreement on what the strategic objectives should be. At the same time, there is an emerging realism that the US and its allies cannot aim for a high level of democracy in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, senior military officials have begun playing down expectations, saying the country will likely never be a model democracy and that the focus must be on bringing enough security so the Afghans can eventually govern and secure themselves.

One consideration is that the US must work in Afghanistan in coordination with troops from other NATO countries, something most experts agree has hindered success. The complex NATO command structure, and caveats from allies about what their militaries will and will not do, have blunted the overall effort there, they say.

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