08 November 2008

Afghanistan a Top Challenge Facing Obama as President

From Fox News.

The war in Afghanistan will be one of the greatest challenges facing President-elect Barack Obama. Confronting a resurgent Taliban, the radical Islamic group that ruled the country before being ousted in November 2001, the next president will have to decide on a new strategy for victory.

On his July 2008 trip to the Central Asian nation, where over 30,000 U.S. troops are serving, Obama called the country the "central front" in the war on terror, suggesting a significant redeployment of military units from Iraq to Afghanistan.

The senior NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, has requested up to 20,000 additional U.S. troops for the campaign, leading some military analysts to compare this request to the "surge" in Iraq. The crucial element of the "surge" was an increase in U.S. troop presence working closely with regional and tribal groups to provide security.

The request for more troops has been emphasized as needed to speed up the training of Afghan security forces.

"What I would like to see, and, I think, what everybody would like to see, is the most rapid possible further expansion of the Afghan military forces because this needs to be an Afghan war, not an American war and not a NATO war," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Oct. 31.

For the U.S. troops already on the ground, the challenges are apparent.

"We're still very much at the beginning phases here," said Capt. Matt O'Donnell, Company Commander with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, who mentors and trains the Afghan National Police in southern Helmand Province.

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, host of "War Stories" on FOX News Channel spoke with Capt. O'Donnell while embedded with Marine units in Afghanistan. "The police are where the Afghan National Army was about a year and a half ago, and with time and continued mentorship they'll get to where the Afghan National Army is right now which is an effective fighting unit," O'Donnell said.

The enlistment of local Afghans is also a primary concern.

"I think we're right there on the turning point, where there's a lot of them but there's not enough," Lt. Clint Harris, serving in Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines says of the Afghan forces. "Once we get over that tipping point, more and more are going to join. And then we can turn the security over to them."

Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the troop increase in Iraq Surge and now commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has said that lessons learned in Iraq may not apply directly to Afghanistan.

For U.S. troops stationed there -- many having served multiple tours in Iraq -- Afghanistan presents unique challenges.

"It's such a complex tribal structure, such a complex history," Capt. O'Donnell said.

Col. Peter Petronzio, who commands the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Afghanistan, says, "The cultural aspect is very important. And we try to train to that as we prepare to come here and interact with the local populace."

When Obama is sworn into office on January 20, he will be the first president to inherit wars on two fronts. If Iraq continues to stabilize, Afghanistan appears to be the more volatile and challenging of the two. A key element will be if the Afghan people continue to support the American-led international effort there.

"And at this point now we have to convince them to come to our side," Lt. Harris said.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

I follow Michael Yon's coverage.
There is a sinking feeling in my soul about it.