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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/24/09

What Obama's risking in Afghanistan

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President Obama's campaign slogan was "Change we can believe in." Americans, desperate for change, gave Mr. Obama a clear victory. Now in power, he's realizing that he can't deliver that change - at least in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama said during his campaign: "I will meet with military leaders and the secretary of Defense and give them a new mission - bring our troops home safely and responsibly from Iraq within 16 months."

But there is now no plan to fully withdraw our troops from Iraq within that time frame. After meeting with military leaders, Mr. Obama is considering a 23-month withdrawal.

Violence in Iraq has been in decline. But the situation remains dicey. We're very likely to see a spike in violence at some point in the near future. When that happens, the new 23-month withdrawal plan will be extended.

On the Afghan front, Obama has just ordered 17,000 more troops into the effort. The timing is pertinent. The Pakistanis, our supposed allies, have agreed to a truce with the Taliban, providing them sanctuary in Swat, an area roughly the size of Delaware. The Taliban version of Muslim sharia law has been imposed, and the Pakistanis have suspended all military operations against them. The Pakistani government has denied our troops access to this area. Pakistani troops have even shot at our helicopters flying reconnaissance missions.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been in resurgence for years. And this concession by Pakistan will give the Taliban ample time to prepare for our new troops who'll be just walking in the door.

Why just 17,000? Because that's all we can spare due to the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the turnaround time needed for those returning from combat.

The Afghan surge is a terribly bad idea. But Obama can initiate it because of his high approval ratings. Sound familiar? George W. Bush's ratings were quite similar before the invasion of Iraq. Imagine if Bush were still in office and pulled this stunt? The crowd I run with on the left would be screaming in protest.

Now it's just me who's screaming, waiting for the rest of the anti-war gang to voice disagreement with this certain fiasco.

Bush bet the farm on Iraq and let Afghanistan fall by the wayside. We missed our window of opportunity to defeat al Qaeda in the early years of the war and nab Bin Laden. So who are we going to be fighting? Obama needs to define the mission.

The Soviets bogged down in Afghanistan with 100,000 boots on the ground. The United States backed the Mujahedeen for Cold War reasons. After we helped the Mujahedeen defeat the Soviets, they turned on us.

Will we now rely on the Northern Alliance in a similar fashion? After all, they're an offspring of the Mujahedeen. They fought the Taliban, but their ideologies are almost identical.

And despite Obama's commitment of troops, Gen. David McKiernan, overseeing the war in Afghanistan, can't ensure success. He has emphasized the difference between the troop surge in Iraq and the one in Afghanistan, saying the Afghanistan surge won't be short-lived - we'll be there for years.

Most U.S. combat troops arriving in this first wave will be sent to southern Afghanistan, an area McKiernan describes as a stalemate, at best.

If our troops get bogged down in the Kandahar area, what will become of the rest of the country? Al Qaeda and the Taliban will surely be enticed to regain ground in other areas. All while war-weary NATO troops work on their plans to extricate themselves from the situation.

I see a dilemma. We have to do something. But 17,000 troops won't make a difference, except to cost more lives and money.

What does Afghani president Hamid Karzai have to contribute? Not a whole lot.

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John Bruhns is an Iraq war veteran. He writes on politics and Mideast conflict.
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