Obama to Shift Away From Iraq, Toward Afghanistan, Pakistan

The election of Barack Obama will trigger a significant realignment of U.S. national-security priorities, with Afghanistan and Pakistan gaining in prominence as resources are redirected from Iraq.

U.S. policy in the two regions has been shaped by the Bush administration’s decision to commit the bulk of the nation’s military and financial resources to Iraq, where the ouster of Saddam Hussein set off a prolonged civil war, rather than to Afghanistan. The focus on Iraq left the Afghanistan mission chronically short of troops and money.

By Yochi Dreazen
The Wall Street Journal  

The incoming Obama administration sees the challenges differently. Aides said Mr. Obama is likely to deploy tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, where security conditions have worsened markedly in recent months and attacks by the Taliban and others have risen. They said Mr. Obama also would devote more attention to neighboring Pakistan, whose support is seen as crucial to defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan.

With security conditions in Iraq continuing to improve, the Pentagon announced Wednesday that a combat brigade of about 4,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division would leave Iraq six weeks sooner than planned. Several more brigades are expected to leave by next summer.

Those moves free up more troops for use in Afghanistan. The brigade that had been slated to replace the troops from the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq has already been redirected to Afghanistan, where commanders have been clamoring for extra forces.

The new approach would have clear risks. There is no guarantee that additional troops will reverse Afghanistan’s deterioration, and intensifying the military campaign there will likely result in more U.S. and Afghan casualties. This week, Afghan officials said a pair of U.S. airstrikes killed close to 50 civilians, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for a halt to U.S. attacks.

Pakistan has disappointed U.S. policy makers for years. Many American diplomats and military officials doubt the new civilian government in Islamabad is willing or able to take strong steps against the country’s militants, no matter what the U.S. does.

Still, senior Pentagon officials widely share Mr. Obama’s view of U.S. priorities. “There’s a growing consensus that Afghanistan and Pakistan are the biggest security challenges we face, and there’s a growing consensus that we’re not making much progress in addressing them,” one senior Pentagon official said this week after Mr. Obama’s victory. “We’re at best running in place.”

The Pentagon is conducting several high-level reviews of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. David McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has asked for at least 15,000 more U.S. troops, in addition to the roughly 8,000 troops that are slated to deploy there early next year. There are approximately 34,000 American troops in Afghanistan and 151,000 in Iraq.

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3 Responses to “Obama to Shift Away From Iraq, Toward Afghanistan, Pakistan”

  1. goneshiny Says:

    I believe that, given the proper allocation of troops and resources, as well as a reinvigorated carrot/stick approach to Pakistan, Gen. McKiernan can successfully prosecute a war in Afghanistan (ie, sharply reducing the power and influenece of both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda).

    It heartens me that the Obama administration appears inclined to pursue such a path. We just need to make sure not to repeat either our own mistakes in Iraq or those of the Soviets in Afghanistan.


  2. afghanjohn Says:

    I lived in Afghanistsan and visited there a number of times over the years. There is a collection of photographs and video footage from Afghanistan which is available through Kabul Media. A lot of the photographs are suitable for use to NGOs as well as military and government agencies who need digital content from Afghansitan. The website for Kabul Media is http://www.kabulmedia.com.

  3. Judith Rose Says:

    I worked in eastern Afghanistan in 2003/4 and was appalled at the attitude of the US troops in that region towards the population. They were arrogant, remote and “killed many women and children” with the unreported helicopter bombing of villages. This is what this westerner noticed and I felt enraged. Except in the south, everything was relatively untroubled then with a lot of goodwill from the patient, long-suffering populace. I wish the Afghanis well and I am sure they must just want their country back to sink or swim. The Taliban regime was based on the dominant Pashtun culture from eastern Afghanistan and I think that some of those currently being called Taliban just want the foreign troops gone.

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