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Rethinking Afghanistan

From the start of his presidency, Barack Obama has promised more troops for Afghanistan and called for a new direction in the way the conflict is being waged. This week, his top commander laid the groundwork for a new military strategy (VOA), which could see thousands of additional forces (WSJ) deployed to the theater on top of the 68,000 already assigned. Yet analysts remain deeply divided on the Afghan war over basic points: Is it winnable? And if so, is it worth fighting?

A growing chorus of military and non-military experts say success in Afghanistan is far from certain -- regardless of what resources are pumped in. Some analysts say if not handled carefully, the Afghan war risks becoming Obama's Vietnam (NYT). Even with the right strategy and resources, the Afghan campaign won't be close to victory in the next twelve to eighteen months, cautions Bruce Riedel, who chaired Obama's Afghan-Pakistan policy review in the spring. He told a Brookings Institution panel on August 25 that the president inherited a war that was an under-resourced "disaster" (PDF).

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, in presenting his strategy review on August 31, said in a statement "success is achievable," although the "situation in Afghanistan is serious." The general's report, which is not expected to be made public, reportedly recommends placing more troops in populated areas (NPR), as opposed to pursuing insurgents into remote valleys and mountains. The general's revised strategy is also believed to call for expanded efforts to train the Afghan military and police; better measures to counter opium poppy cultivation; and beefed-up civilian commitments (Reuters).

Yet pessimism in some quarters is growing. Allegations of fraud and vote-rigging have tainted...

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