Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strategic Disharmony

CBS reported yesterday that President Obama has settled on a deployment of nearly all of the 40,000 requested by Gen. McChyrstal (McChrystal’s request for additional troops included 3 options: 10,000; 40,000; or 80,000 troops). The Obama administration has denied the report.

At the same time, the AP reports that NATO expects to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan with a view towards increasing the number of advisors tasked with training Afghan security forces. The limited ability of the Afghan security forces has gained more attention of late as questions of the purpose of NATO’s deployment have increased with talk of sending additional troops. These questions have only been exacerbated by the Afghan election and subsequent runoff debacle.

Finally, McClatchy reports that the price of food has spiked across Afghanistan following the UN’s decision to remove international aid workers in response to last week’s bombing.

The UN’s move is understandable but it could not have come at a worse time. If the Obama administration is planning to increase troop deployments, as CBS reported, then the US is committing itself to a more robust counterinsurgency strategy. At least, that is what the move should auger, assuming that the Obama administration has done the necessary predicate work to arriving at that decision—namely, determining the purpose of US involvement in Afghanistan, a goal (or endgame) and a broader strategic vision for the region and US national security. But, as has been discussed in this space at length, counterinsurgency requires more than additional troops. It requires stability, both through added security (troops) and economically—pulling foreign aid workers from the country, causing food prices to increase dramatically at the outset of winter, is as damaging as providing the Afghan Taliban with weapons and ammunition, perhaps more so.

Of course, the United States cannot dictate the UN’s deployment of aid and aid workers. And, while the deployment of aid under UN aegis arguably ensures a measure of protection for aid workers, the disaggregation of aid from security likely is at cross-purposes with NATO goals. Perhaps, at long last, it is time for the United States to reconsider its anemic reconstruction effort. A more robust, integrated reconstruction and civil society development effort that mirrors the military component in size, resources, and command-and-control may be a better solution.

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