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The Cost of Commitment in Afghanistan

As U.S. President Barack Obama ponders whether to commit additional forces to the Afghan war or--as some congressional Democrats are urging (Politico)--remain open to other options, the debate appears to be dividing U.S. military and civilian leaders (WashPost). While commanders in Afghanistan have requested more troops to partner with and to protect the Afghan public--key tenets of a counterinsurgency fight--members of President Obama's national security team are advocating a narrowly focused counterterrorism campaign to root out insurgents from afar.

President Obama has sought to reassure lawmakers that, no matter how the United States moves forward, Washington remains in Afghanistan for the long haul. During a ninety-minute bipartisan briefing at the White House on October 6, the eve of the war's eight-year anniversary, the president sought to "dispense with the straw man argument" (NYT) that the debate is about "either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan." Reports following the meeting suggest the president is pondering adding up to 10,000 additional troops (Times of London) to the 68,000 already authorized, far short of the top-tier request of 40,000 reportedly requested by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal, meanwhile, has been public in his belief that the clock is ticking on a war effort adrift in violence (PDF) and soon to become America's longest. "This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely (PDF), and nor will public support," the general told a gathering of military strategists in London on October 1.

Opinion surveys show Americans are increasingly pessimistic on the odds of success; nearly one-third believe U.S. troops should be gone within a year (NYT). But beyond American resolve are deeper concerns over...

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