- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

While U.S. commanders and both presidential candidates are pressing the Pentagon to send more troops to Afghanistan, several military and Afghanistan analysts say a surge there will not solve and could even worsen the problems of a country famous for resisting foreign interference.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters recently that commanders in Afghanistan want an additional three combat brigades, or about 10,000 troops.

But given U.S. commitments in Iraq, he said, a decision on an increase of that size - nearly a 30 percent boost - would be left to the next administration in early 2009.

More forces are being pushed as politicians ask what went wrong in a campaign that ousted the Taliban in two months in late 2001 using a few hundred commandos, CIA operatives and waves of air strikes. More than six years later, violence is up and a resurgent Taliban seems to have a limitless supply of suicidal fighters.

A confident Gen. James Jones came to the Pentagon pressroom in March 2006 to express optimism about the war in Afghanistan.

“My take on the situation in Afghanistan is that the Taliban and al Qaeda are not in a position where they can restart an insurgency of any size and major scope,” said Gen. Jones, who was the NATO commander.

The United States had 23,000 troops in Afghanistan on that day.

The Pentagon had talked about reducing troops in the war’s first few years. But today, more than 30,000 U.S. service members are fighting in the one-time Taliban stronghold, fighting alongside another 22,000 troops from NATO allies. A major project at the Defense Department is to scour Army and Marine units to determine whether any can be freed up and sent to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan specialists say more U.S. combat forces are not the answer for the medium and long term.

Barnett Rubin, a director of studies at the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, called a troop surge in Afghanistan “a stopgap measure” that is unlikely to work without addressing the issue of Taliban recruitment in Pakistan and the failure of the Afghan government to provide security and development.

“Unless you can address Pakistan and governance in Afghanistan, more troops won’t help,” Mr. Rubin said.

The Taliban and its allies have come close to assassinating President Hamid Karzai. They recently bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul and have retaken villages and towns in the south.

To underscore their newfound prowess, the Taliban staged a sophisticated attack on a U.S. temporary base in Wanat in the south, killing nine U.S. service members. Afterward, U.S. commanders ordered the post abandoned.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, says there are too few U.S. and European troops to hold ground that is captured. But his moves are limited until President Bush lowers force levels in Iraq from the current 146,000 troops.

Why did the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorate?

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