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President's Afghanistan Strategy - More Questions Than Answers

President Obama's strategy announcement for the war in Afghanistan raises more questions than it answers. But some answers are starting to come, and they're not good news.


The first and most important question, of course, is the feasibility of the strategy. On this question, many in the media and Congress have dropped the ball. They are asking if deploying an extra 30,000 troops is doable, when the question we should be asking is whether or not it is advisable.


Of course deploying 30,000 more troops in six months is doable. But when you delve into the numbers, whether we should do it is much more murky, and what the costs will be remains largely unanswered.


According to the Washington Independent, the US Army reports that it only has 24,000 National Guardsmen available for deployment at this time. Further, the report found that even if the President decided to repurpose heavy brigades that are of no use in Afghanistan as light brigades, there are only 31,600 active duty soldiers ready to deploy right now.


If all forces currently in theater were just beginning to fight, that would be one thing. But when you consider that many troops there are reaching the end of their deployment and should be rotated out, we run into serious problems.


One such problem is the Pentagon's promise to soldiers that the Army would be moving to 2-for-1 Dwell Time -- that is, each soldier would get twice the time at home as deployed. That move, announced in the first week of the Obama administration by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, was aimed at combating record-high rates of suicide, divorce, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


Indeed, an Army report found that the length and frequency of deployments was linked to a 20.2-per-100,000 suicide rate - the highest rate since the Army started tracking it 28 years ago.


According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a shocking 45% of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought care at the VA have been diagnosed with PTSD. Divorce rates for active duty soldiers has risen every year we've been at war, to 3.5% now, while Marines have also seen divorce rates rise to 3.7%. Those rates don't take into account divorces that occur just after a soldier or Marine separates from the service.


Now, the Army's plan to increase Dwell Time has been tossed out the window, a promise broken. In front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Admiral Mike Mullen admitted that the plan to increase Dwell Time would have to be shelved for the foreseeable future, because of the deployment schedule for Afghanistan.


That admission raises even more questions. What will happen to the President's promise to end Stop Loss? What does the deployment schedule mean for the President's promise to keep deployments to 12 months or less for our National Guard and Reserve? Though Admiral Mullen said that the plan for Afghanistan "shouldn't" affect Dwell Time at least equal to the length of deployment, can that really be guaranteed?


In short, does the President's plan equal a continued breaking of our force for the next 18 months? And will it really only be 18 months?


Much of that rests on a counter-insurgency strategy working on that 18-month timeline. But a successful counter-insurgency doesn't rely just on military force - it relies also on the engine of American foreign policy firing on all cylinders. In that regard, the President's plan seemed to be empty.


So, the question arises: What increases in efforts can we expect from the State Department, CIA, other intelligence, diplomatic, and humanitarian arms of the US government?


Is there increased sacrifice from other agencies equal to what the administration is putting on the troops? Without increasing the commitment of other branches of American foreign policy, will we continue to see troops having to serve as negotiators, diplomats, and nation builders? They weren't trained for that, and it isn't right to place that responsibility on their shoulders.


Another consideration is whether there is an indigenous government that has the trust and confidence of the people, and is willing to work with us. Do we have a partner in President Karzai, and are there guarantees that his government can be legitimized so we c


It has become clear that the Karzai government does not have the confidence of the people because of corruption. A trusted government is essential to any counter-insurgency strategy. Otherwise it becomes impossible for U.S. forces to transition out.
How does this plan address corruption issues, especially as it pertains to the central government gaining the confidence of the people in a way that doesn't make it seem that it is a puppet regime of the Western nations.

If we cannot guarantee that, what does a counter-insurgency strategy really achieve that could not be done with a counter-terror strategy that relies on fewer troops?


All of these diplomatic and political issues call into question whether the President's 18-month timeline to begin a transition out is even realistic. If it is not, what then? What other sacrifices will our military be called on to make because of a failed strategy?


It doesn't seem that any of these questions were fully thought out before the strategy was announced. The President would do well by the men and women in uniform if he would examine all of these issues, and lay out his answers before it is too late.


Jon Soltz is Chairman and Co-Founder of VoteVets.org, the nation's largest progressive group of veterans in America. He served in the Iraq War with the Army.

 
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