Is it possible we’ve actually reached the high-water mark for American forces in Afghanistan? Or is President Barack Obama simply holding the military command’s feet to the fire on approving recent troop requests to send a message? A few months ago, common wisdom seemed to have 30K additional troops penciled in for Afghanistan, with a couple brigades already inked in for January deployment. But Obama has yet to give the green light on even the two brigades, let alone the Afghan “surge” people were talking about. Part of that has to do with waiting for the outcome of the strategy review. But I get the feeling that there’s a lot less enthusiasm for the Afghan mission than there was even four months ago.
Thought experiment: If there weren’t already 30K American troops in Afghanistan, would our strategic interests justify sending in 60K on a nation-building operation?
Another thought experiment: Our current nation-building operation in Afghanistan is essentially independent of our counterterrorism operation, which now consists of drone missile attacks in the Pakistani FATA. In fact, the two operations are discrete mainly because we have liberty of action on the Afghan side of the border, but not on the Pakistani side. So wouldn’t it make more sense from a counterterrorism point of view to encourage al-Qaida to return to Afghanistan, where we have a freer hand in attacking it?