President Barack Obama offered a well-articulated if somewhat hazy vision last night of his plans to stabilize the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. The core idea is to increase foreign support for the Afghan government and security forces in order to allow them to develop the capacity to improve governance and confront the Taliban insurgency more independently. The basic problem with implementing this strategy is that the Afghan government and security forces continue to experience numerous difficulties. In addition, the administration's other sought-after foreign partners are either leaving the field of battle or refusing to enter it.
In order for the president's plan -- which calls for surging 30,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan for 18 months -- to work, an effective Afghan security structure must be able to take their place once they are subsequently withdrawn. Obama indicated last night that he expected Afghans to assume this role, arguing that the temporary troop increase -- of which 5,000 of the troops will be dedicated to providing additional military training to the Afghan army -- "will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces."
But administration representatives have made clear that they consider the central government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai hopelessly corrupt and ineffective. Numerous reports also indicate that, despite extensive foreign training programs and other support, the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police have little capacity to defeat the Taliban insurgents without continued direct U.S. assistance. Expanding their size still further will compound the additional problem that the Afghan government lacks the budget to sustain such a large security apparatus. The Afghan forces' persistent weaknesses are one of the main reasons why the Obama administration has felt compelled to send more than 50,000 American troops to Afghanistan since it assumed office less than a year ago.