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Afghan troop surge: Good, but not enough

February 20, 2009

Commentary: Wilson John

The US administration's decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan is primarily aimed at ensuring a semblance of stability and security for the presidential elections scheduled later this year.

There are 32,500 American soldiers in the country as of December 1, 2008. As per the plan, 8,000 Marines will go to southern Afghanistan in late spring, another 4,000 soldiers in summer and 5,000 support troops throughout the year.

The surge is unlikely to change the security scenario in Afghanistan, and the region, unless President Barack Obama decides to disentangle his administration from his predecessor's unilateral policy of military interventions in sovereign nations.

He should take the lead in bringing on board a United Nations-led peacekeeping mission to the region which, with sizeable presence of Muslim troops, can effectively undermine the Taliban's call for jihad against 'Christian occupation' of Afghanistan.

It is quite apparent that dimensions of the military objectives in Afghanistan have changed since September 2001, from an offensive against Al Qaeda and its offshoots to a fully blown, multi-layered counter-insurgency operation across two countries. The Obama administration, if it wants to craft a new approach to the region, will have to factor in issues like ethnicity, religion, culture and language as part of the military strategy.

The additional troop deployment in Afghanistan therefore have to be preceded by careful assessment of the lessons learnt from the Iraq operations and the capability of the US department of defence to achieve a smoother transition from Iraq to Afghanistan-Pakistan in operational terms.

This could mean retraining the troops, relocating the transport and intelligence assets and other critical logistics, a commitment that presumes a longer US involvement in the region.

Image: US servicemen, on their way to Afghanistan, wait at the Manas air base near Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek. Photograph: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Also see: Why Obama ordered troop surge in Afghanistan
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