When President Barack Obama announced a change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan last spring a change that included an increase of 17,000 soldiers and Marines he offered a clear-cut rationale for the allied effort to stabilize and secure that country:
"Al-Qaida and its allies the terrorists who planned and supported the 9-11 attacks are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al-Qaida is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe- haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."
What was true in March when Obama spoke those words is true today. The security of Pakistan and its nuclear stockpile is inextricably linked with the security of Afghanistan. An Afghan relapse into the chaotic lawlessness that preceded the 9-11 attacks and the restoration of a terrorist safe- haven pose a threat to the international community. Countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, as well as the United States, have been the victims of terrorist attacks planned or directed from what the White House calls the AfPak theater.
Along with a troop increase, Obama selected a new commander for Afghanistan, one respected for his counterinsurgency expertise.
Now that commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has issued a dire report. Failure to achieve the initiative in the next 12 months risks defeat in Afghanistan more Taliban rule, more sanctuaries for al-Qaida, more misery for the long-suffering Afghan people.
A copy of the report, obtained by the Washington Post, states, "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable." Toward that end, McChrystal has requested the commitment of more resources and more troops to implement an effective counterinsurgency strategy that protects the population while Afghan security forces gain their footing.
Obama has good reason to deliberate the request. Rising evidence of fraud and corruption in the Afghan government raise valid questions about the legitimacy of America?s partners in Kabul. But that government is far preferable to the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The American people also have their doubts. After eight years, the casualty count is rising in Afghanistan a count that would go far higher if more combat troops are deployed. The increased deployments would also add to the intolerable strain placed on a U.S. military that simply does not have enough personnel to adequately meet its contingency obligations.
But failure shouldn?t be an option in Afghanistan, as Obama explained last spring. America and the world can?t afford to lose in Afghanistan and let al-Qaida have its breeding ground again. The president should give McChrystal the troops and resources that he needs.
The American commitment of blood and treasure cannot be open-ended, but the general?s counterinsurgency strategy merits a legitimate chance.
The San Antonio Express-News