Where The Troops Are Going

Last night’s speech actually gave very little information about what the extra troops—or indeed the troops who have already been dispatched—are actually going to do given that even 98,000 of them isn’t enough to secure every patch of Afghanistan. But Spencer Ackerman has the background information:

How that security will be achieved went largely unexplained in Obama’s speech, but has been spelled out extensively by McChrystal. McChrystal has called the attitudes of Afghan civilians “strategically decisive” in the war, and as such he has ended offensive U.S. and NATO airstrikes, which caused extensive civilian casualties; prevented U.S. troops from returning fire into areas with dense civilian populations; and even changed the rules for U.S. convoy movements to make Afghan roads more accessible to Afghan civilians. Administration officials explained that U.S. troops would primarily operate by securing key population-heavy areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan, but would also use select force to disrupt the Taliban outside of those areas and prevent al-Qaeda from moving into them — something strongly advocated by current and former leadership of the Joint Special Operations Command who remain close allies of McChrystal.

I can’t totally tell if “population-heavy areas” means the same thing as Gilles Dorronsoro’s idea that “[w]e concentrate on the cities.” On the one hand, it sounds to me like it does. On the other hand, Obama’s emphasis on agricultural development sounds like you’d have to be concentrating in the countryside. The risk with prioritizing rural development is that by pouring resources into areas where the Taliban is strong, you’re giving the Taliban access to those resources.