When President Barack Obama announces his new Afghanistan policy tonight at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, Denise Young of Kokomo, Indiana, who has a 22-year-old son serving in Afghanistan, already knows what she wants to hear: “That he is going to let the generals make the decisions. They have asked for more troops. They should get them. There is safety in numbers.”
Just what number President Obama decides, however, is still unknown. Some news organizations place the number of new troops he will announce tonight at 30,000 while others are reporting 34,000. What is clear is that all of the numbers reported are far below the levels that General Stanley McChrystal told President Obama were necessary to maximize the chance for victory in Afghanistan.
As multiple sources reported this October, General McChrystal presented President Obama with three troop level scenarios each graded by risk: 1) an additional 20,000 troops that would run a “high risk of failure“; 2) an additional 80,000 troops that would be a “low risk option” that has “best chance to contain the Taliban-led insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan“; or 3) an additional 40,000 to 45,000 troop “medium risk option.”
No matter what risk level President Obama chooses, his delay in making the decision has already hurt the mission’s chance for success. President Obama has been in office for over 10 months and was privy to extensive briefings on the Afghan situation before that. In March he announced his intention to dedicate the time, resources, and U.S. leadership necessary to stabilize the region and contain al Qaeda and the Taliban. In August he reaffirmed this commitment, acknowledging the centrality of defeating the Taliban to American security and calling Afghanistan a “war of necessity.” But the actual order to commit the resources to back up these words kept meeting delay; delay that only made victory more difficult. As well-known Pakistan expert Ahmed Rashid commented on October 27th in an article in the National Interest, “Every sign of the United States or NATO dithering over strategy only convinces the Pakistani military about keeping its Taliban option open.”
Make no mistake: We want President Obama, and whatever strategy he announces tonight, to succeed. This is not an “optional” war in which a retreat would be cost free. Pulling troops out now would be exceedingly dangerous to the nation. Not only would it allow a safe space for al Qaeda to operate, but it could also destabilize Pakistan, whom we should never forget has nuclear weapons. We sincerely hope the President follows Mrs. Young’s advice and gives the generals all the resources they need to protect her son and our nation.