A Strategy To Die For?
75 U.S. military personnel died in Afghanistan last month during Operation Enduring Freedom. More than 900 have lost their lives since that war began over 8 years ago. Of the dead, almost 350 occurred in the last 6 months. A potential decision by President Obama to increase troop levels will result in yet more unnecessary American, NATO, and Afghan civilian deaths.
Increasing America’s troop presence in Afghanistan will be the most irresponsible decision Obama has made as president. It is time to re-focus our mission there and re-direct attention to where it belongs, the homeland. Already top military leaders – to include General Petraeus and General McChrystal – have said that al Qaeda cannot stage attacks against the U.S. from Afghanistan. Maintaining this level of security only requires an operational capacity to do counter-terrorism in Afghanistan. Supplying a counter-terrorism mission will require far fewer resources in terms of both troops and dollars spent.
For relatively cheap, the U.S. can conduct drone attacks, special operations, and train Afghanistan’s own security forces. Each of these has been done since the war’s beginning. In 2002 and 2003, these missions were done with less than 20,000 troops in theater – at a cost of less than $20 billion a year. Roughly Operation Enduring Freedom costs American taxpayers $1 billion a year to sustain each 1,000th American military service member in Afghanistan. Obama’s plan to add an additional troops will likely push the costs of Operation Enduring Freedom over $100 billion a year.
How long can the U.S. spend so much? Most estimates are that “victory” is still years ahead. Yet, it has already been 8 years of “nation-building” and, at best, we can say the Karzai-led government is a weak and corrupt ally. To paraphrase the old proverb: with allies like these, who needs enemies? Obama must re-think his definitions of success, unless the U.S. is to get bogged down in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.
Al Qaeda has not re-established Afghanistan as a stronghold since October 2001. That was some sort of victory; maybe it’s the only sort of “victory” needed. Operation Enduring Freedom needs to be concentrated, not expanded.
Instead of trying to build a government in Afghanistan, Obama should focus on what’s a priority to every American. Namely, America.
The Department of Homeland Security’s 2010 budget tops in at just around $50 billion. That’s half of what we’re likely to spend in Afghanistan. Tax revenues for Afghanistan’s own government barely surpass $700 million a year; still Washington chooses to devote American debt to a cause that has no clear end-point. With a record budget deficit of nearly $1.6 trillion, Afghanistan does not deserve the resources.
The argument that a troop increase in Afghanistan will help us meet some sort of strategic victory is tenuous when placed against what we are defending ourselves from. A large troop presence in Afghanistan destabilizes Pakistan by pushing militants into the tribal areas and providing ample propaganda for Muslim separatists. Aside from the Taliban and al Qaeda, a destabilized Pakistan is the last thing anyone in the world wants.
Meanwhile, trying to garrison Afghanistan when we cannot do the same to Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, or Yemen will be fruitless against a terrorist enemy not bound by territory. An honest assessment would show that protecting the homeland should start at home, and not 8,000 miles away. Knowing this, it is time to re-direct many of our finite resources back to the U.S.
The Obama administration should strengthen efforts to protect against cyber-warfare and espionage. Resources should be devoted to border enforcement and towards forming a better immigration process that increases the U.S. government’s ability to keep track of who exactly is inside the country. The Coast Guard should be enlarged. And lastly, all efforts to increase security at airports, seaports, and other points of entry must be taken. If we cannot afford any of these measures, then partial blame must go to an obtuse Afghan war strategy with no end in sight.