On December 1, 2009, President Obama is expected to announce his strategy for the war in Afghanistan during a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as well as a decision on a pending troop request from General Stanley McChrystal. News reports suggest that the President will announce the deployment of about 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. This would bring the total U.S. force in Afghanistan to around 100,000 U.S. personnel. The President also reportedly plans to ask NATO and other international partners to contribute about 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Combined, these U.S. and NATO deployments would approach the 40,000 troops requested last summer by General McChrystal as a "medium-risk" option.
As fighting has intensified over the past several months in Afghanistan, some on both sides of the political spectrum have called for U.S. disengagement from the war. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) called for a timetable to remove troops from Afghanistan. Speaker Pelosi has said that she does not believe there is support in the Congress for sending in more U.S. troops.
There is no viable alternative to intensive counterinsurgency operations which have proven to be successful in Iraq and elsewhere, requiring a substantial U.S. troop commitment to protect the population and to enable Afghanistan's democratic government to secure its territory. Such a commitment will be difficult, but it is necessary for victory.
To this end, the House Republican Conference has compiled information including quotes from senior Democrats on the importance of success in Afghanistan, commonly asked questions and answers about the war, as well as recent facts about the campaign.
August 2008: Candidate Barack Obama states that the war in Afghanistan is "not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity...If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting; this is fundamental to the defense of our people." (8/17/2009)
September 2008: President Bush sends an additional 4,500 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, in a move he described as a "quiet surge".
March 2009: President Obama unveils a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan and announces the deployment of an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to the theater.
May 2009: The Obama Administration replaces the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, with General Stanley McChrystal, saying the battle against the Taliban needs "new thinking".
August 2009: General McChrystal delivers an assessment of the war in Afghanistan to the Administration and concludes that, "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months)-while Afghan security capacity matures-risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
October 2009: Hamid Karzai is declared winner of the August presidential election in Afghanistan, after second-placed opponent Abdullah Abdullah pulls out before the second round. An additional 13,000 U.S. personnel (primarily support troops) are authorized by the Obama Administration for Afghanistan.
December 2009: Three months after General McChrystal's troop request was received, President Obama announces his strategy for Afghanistan and additional 30,000 U.S. troops during a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
DEMOCRAT QUOTES ON AFGHANISTAN
President Barack Obama: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting; this is fundamental to the defense of our people." (8/17/2009)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): "Today, the House begins to close this sad chapter in our history, to end the war in Iraq, and to refocus on the real fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. President Obama's new strategy will require additional sacrifices from our troops, but it recognizes that a successful effort in Afghanistan also demands that we improve training for the Afghan military and police, encourage governance reforms, and fund essential economic development efforts." (5/14/2009)
Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD): "President Obama's announcement that he will send troop reinforcements to Afghanistan is the first step toward refocusing on the security and stabilization of that nation. Democrats have long said that the center of the war on terror is Afghanistan, and this renewed commitment to our fight there demonstrates the President's appreciation for this challenge...I look forward to working with the Administration, as they continue to review and develop a comprehensive strategy for the region." (2/17/2009)
Armed Services Committee Chairman Skelton (D-MO): "The war in Afghanistan is a critical mission that is finally gaining the attention it demands. The President's new Afghanistan strategy, which calls for an increase in military and civilian resources and also recognizes the vital importance of Pakistan efforts in the region, is a welcome development." (6/17/2009)
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Question: Can the war in Afghanistan be won?
Answer: Yes, we just learned the lessons of counterinsurgency in Iraq. Our military doesn't have to "reinvent the wheel" in Afghanistan, although our strategy will certainly have to be adapted to the specifics of that country. Counterinsurgency requires appropriate levels of forces, as determined by commanders on the ground, in order to protect the local population. This may well include more U.S. troops, Special Forces, air resources, and a larger, more reliable and higher-quality Afghan security force.
Question: How can "success" be defined in Afghanistan?
Answer: Success in Afghanistan may be defined as the existence of a stable Afghanistan which denies al-Qaeda and the Taliban sanctuary within its borders, thus depriving terrorists of a safe haven from which to attack the United States, Afghanistan's neighbors, or its people.
Question: Is the U.S. presence in Afghanistan the same as that of the Soviet Union?
Answer: No. The U.S. and Soviet Union had starkly different goals and objectives in Afghanistan. The U.S., after being attacked on 9/11, toppled the Taliban government in an act of self-defense, and we have never had the goal of subjugating the Afghan people. The Soviet Union, however, was propping up a communist regime on the verge of collapse. The Soviet Union also wanted to use Afghanistan as a satellite state, like those it maintained in Eastern Europe, to project its power south. Finally, the Soviets used brutal tactics against the Afghan people-carpet bombing cities such as Kandahar and planting millions of landmines across the country.
Question: Do the Afghan people hate the U.S. and its presence in the country?
Answer: No, a majority of Afghans have a favorable opinion of the United States. According to an International Republican Institute poll this year, 62 percent have a positive impression of the U.S. Moreover, 82 percent view the Afghan National Army favorably. This is in comparison to only 19 percent which have a positive impression of the Taliban.
Question: What is wrong with an "offshore" strategy?
Answer: The U.S. already tried such an "offshore" strategy in Afghanistan-during the 1990s as the region became an al Qaeda stronghold in the run-up to the September 11th terrorist attacks. General Petraeus has noted that "offshore" tactics such as drone and missile attacks alone are largely ineffective in areas, such as Afghanistan, where the Taliban has established sanctuaries. The U.S. has learned that there is no alternative to intensive counterinsurgency operations, which have proven to be successful in Iraq and elsewhere. This effort will require a substantial U.S. troop commitment to protect the population and to enable Afghanistan's democratic government to secure its territory.
Question: Would a loss in Afghanistan inspire the enemies of the U.S.?
Answer: Yes. The effects of an American military loss or premature withdrawal would be grave. Although the U.S. is present in Afghanistan for quite different reasons than the Soviet Union was and the Afghan people are supportive of our efforts, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan did lay the groundwork for the September 11th attacks by inspiring jihadists with the idea that they could humble a superpower. As the Wall Steet Journal's Bret Stephens wrote recently, "Put simply, it was the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan that laid much of the imaginative groundwork for 9/11. So imagine the sorts of notions that would take root in the minds of jihadists-and the possibilities that would open up to them-if the U.S. was to withdraw from Afghanistan in its own turn." A U.S. defeat would be another huge political and ideological victory which could be used to recruit a new wave of jihadists. A loss could also lead to a full-blown return of the Taliban, destruction of a fledgling democracy, and an unstable neighbor to Pakistan and other countries in the region. In other words, Afghanistan continues to be key to the war on terrorism and cannot be abandoned.
Question: What would be the impact of succeeding in Afghanistan?
Answer: The U.S. experience in Iraq proved that the right course is to wage a fully-resourced counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, and thus demonstrate our commitment to Afghanistan, and provide strong global leadership against terrorism. The Iraq troop surge clearly challenged the opinion held by U.S. adversaries that American civilian leadership would not have the stomach to finish tough fights, and a similar decision by a President of a different political party would be a clarion call that the U.S. will defend its interest abroad and honor its commitments, regardless of changes in elected leadership.
Question: What message would a U.S. retreat send to our allies in the region and tribal leaders?
Answer: A U.S. retreat from Afghanistan would have a negative and destabilizing effect on allies in the region such as Pakistan and India, as well as tribal leaders in Afghanistan. A withdrawal would tempt local tribal leaders to ally themselves with the Taliban as they see the tide turning against the government of Afghanistan, further jeopardizing the nascent democracy. A stable Pakistan and India are also in the national security interest of the U.S. Pakistan is a country of 180 million Muslims, armed with nuclear weapons and besieged by several terrorist groups internally. Recently, Pakistan has made significant strides against insurgent groups in its border regions, specifically in the Swat River Valley. Removing U.S. forces from the Afghan side of the border would endanger these gains.
Question: What is wrong with a "war tax" suggested by Congressional Democrats?
Answer: With unemployment at a 26-year high, the last thing our nation needs is a tax hike that would cost jobs. It is inconsistent for Democrats to force a tax on American families during a recession in order to support our troops in the field when they simultaneously advocate spending trillions of dollars for their social priorities.