The current beltway dialogue is focused on the request by General Stanley McCrystal to send another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan. President Obama is meeting with Congressional representatives, Administration appointees and experts to determine if he should up the battle anti or stand pat yet there still is not a formal strategy. Is it stability, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, stability or development?
President Obama inherited a chaotic mess in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration went from destroying Al Qaeda to removing the Taliban to nation building. Billions of dollars flowed into the country followed by a plethora of civilian development organizations and 42 nations that are currently contributing approximately 70,000 troops for the war. However, the exact mission in Afghanistan remains to be seen.
There are major issues with the chain of command, coordination, transparency and clarity of duties. Civilians needs the military and the military needs civilians, but the foundation for their cooperation is unclear.
It is completely understandable why the new commanding General is asking for more troops. He is a strong leader who has been sent to Afghanistan for his reputation in getting things done and he needs more brigade teams to succeed.
Obama though needs to realize that just sending troops without a clear mission and chain of command is only going to make the pandemonium worse. He should take time, think, and ask his Secretary of State to outline how she wants the civilian actors organized. The loss of UN deputy Peter Galbraith and the state of confusion over the elections will make this difficult, but it must be done.
Winter is coming and in Afghanistan the treacherous weather can buy a tiny slice of time. That time should be used for preparation and planning both on the civilian and military side. If the “surge” moves forward, we will at least know that the US is focusing on a counterinsurgency effort. This effort must include all NATO troops so including them in the preparation is also essential. The counterinsurgency effort also needs a civilian counterpart that must work with the government of Afghanistan.
All international and American efforts must be clarified. If they are not, sending 40,000 or 100,000 troops will not make much of a difference. Lack of mission, chain of command and civilian relations are all key for at least a minimal stability. The Administration must do their homework. They owe it to our troops so that they can eventually come home.