Since President Obama announced his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan last week, he and his administration have been careful to distinguish it from President Bush’s surge in Iraq. Today on Fox News Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stressed that the focus of the mission in Afghanistan has been “narrowed”: “I think what we need to focus on…is making headway and reversing the Taliban’s momentum and strengthening the Afghan army and police, and really going after Al Qaeda.”
Today in an interview with CBS’s Bob Schieffer, Obama underscored this point. He pointed out that the reason he has increased troops in Afghanistan is because levels there are “greatly underresourced.” However, he is not going to “simply assume that more troops always result in an improved situation”:
OBAMA: What I will not do is to simply assume that more troops always result in an improved situation. [...]
But just because we needed to ramp up from the greatly underresourced levels that we had doesn’t automatically mean that, if this strategy doesn’t work, that what’s needed is even more troops.
There may be a point of diminishing returns in terms of troop levels. We’ve got to also make sure that our civilian efforts, our diplomatic efforts and our development efforts are just as robustly encouraged.
Obama added that it this strategy doesn’t work, the answer won’t necessarily be more troops. “It’s not going to be an open-ended commitment of infinite resources,” he said. Watch it:
The 17,000 additional U.S. troops will be focused on fighting the Taliban in the south and east, allowing the U.S. to “partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border.” Later this spring, Obama will also be sending another 4,000 U.S. troops to help train Afghan security forces.
While the increase in U.S. forces has received the majority of media attention, Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy is actually a “comprehensive civil-political effort to improve basic services, accountability, and overall governance in order to defeat the hard-core Taliban and al Qaeda fighters at the heart of the insurgency,” as CAP’s Peter Juul has written. The President has also ordered an increase in humanitarian aid and civilian support, recognizing that the effort there cannot be won solely by military means.
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