The war debate, and the most "peaceful" place in Afghanistan

 In Action Alert, Afghanistan

In 2009, when the president granted the Pentagon’s request for a surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, he pledged to the American people to begin a withdrawal from this unpopular war in July of 2011. Now, that the deadline is approaching, if the Pentagon could have its way, that withdrawal would be insignificant.

That’s clearer than ever, according to yesterday’s Washington Post story covering the heated debate between the war’s civilian and military leadership. [emphasis mine]

Although Obama approved a 30,000-troop increase sought by the military in 2009, he made clear that the surge forces would begin returning home by July 2011. But the pace of that reduction has been in dispute since the president’s surge announcement, with Defense Department officials describing the initial reductions as minor and some of Obama’s other advisers, including Vice President Biden, saying the pullout would be as rapid as the deployment of the surge troops.

Petraeus has said that he will give the president a range of withdrawal options, one of which he will recommend.

Two senior military officials said one set of options being developed by staff officers in Kabul involves three choices: the removal of almost no forces; the withdrawal of a few thousand support personnel, including headquarters staff, engineers and logisticians; and the pullout of a brigade’s worth of troops — about 5,000 personnel— by culling a battalion of Marines in Helmand province that was added after the surge, a contingent of soldiers training Afghan security forces and an Army infantry battalion in either the country’s east or far west.

The officers said Petraeus had not approved the list. They said they expected that a version of the support-personnel withdrawal, perhaps with some combat forces added to the mix, would be the most likely recommendation.

“Our hope is that we’ll be able to get away with no combat troops getting pulled out this summer,” one of the officers said. “But we recognize that may not be possible.”

Today’s news about the massive crowd that attacked UN offices in Northern Afghanistan, in which 7 or 8 of the UN’s staff and 4 protesters were brutally killed, says plenty about how well the surge has worked in stabilizing the country. The despicable Koran burning in Florida, which took place on Sunday, was the matchstick that ignited an uprising of an estimated 20,000 to swarm the UN offices in Mazar-i-Sharif — a town characterized in the New York Times’ coverage as “one of the most peaceful places in Afghanistan.”

And this war has been costing us dearly here at home. In the 5 minutes or so it takes you to read this blog post, we will have spent another $1 million on the war in Afghanistan. $2 million if you take your time. If you’re doing the math, that comes to $300 million we spend on the war EACH DAY – enough to hire 4400 teachers for one year. Meanwhile, Congress is trying to balance the budget by waging war on domestic spending, slashing programs no matter how insignificant the savings.

And these arguments are being felt in the White House, as they eye poll numbers and grapple with the crippling costs of the war. From the same Washington Post article:

An opening shot in that debate could play out over the next few weeks as the White House considers a request from Petraeus to expand the size of the Afghan army and police force from a total of 305,000 to 378,000.

Military officials contend that the Afghan government needs a larger security service to help stave off the Taliban and assume responsibility from coalition forces. But National Security Council officials have suggested that Afghanistan might not really require such a large army and police force, and that perhaps new village-defense squads could make up some of the difference. The officials also question whether there would be enough U.S. and NATO forces to mentor such a large Afghan force.

The most significant issue is the price tag. Increasing the Afghan security forces to 378,000 could cost as much as $8 billion a year. Much of that would have to be paid for by the United States.

“That’s a huge bill,” the senior official said. “In this fiscal environment, think of what we could do at home with $8 billion.”

It’s clear that there is a window of opportunity — that starts now and ends in July — to counter the Pentagon’s influence and ensure that the July withdrawal is a genuine start to the end of the war. We’re doing everything we can to take advantage of this opportunity, and we need your help. Our work is 98 percent funded by regular folks like you. Click here to pitch in what you can. Thank you!

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