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Troops, Timetables, and Afghanistan

When President Barack Obama previewed his new Afghan strategy last week--details of which he will unveil at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point this evening--his message of urgency had a familiar ring. Obama lamented eight years of U.S. military engagement that he said lacked the proper "resources or the strategy to get the job done." He added: "it is my intention to finish the job."

To do this, Obama is expected to authorize an increase of more than thirty thousand U.S. troops (WashPost) to Afghanistan, bringing the total U.S. forces in the fight to nearly one hundred thousand. Coupled with a fresh commitment from Britain (Guardian) and possible NATO reinforcements, the total allotment of new fighters could be close to the forty thousand (CSMonitor) requested by the top commander in the country, General Stanley A. McChrystal.

For some analysts, Obama's long-awaited strategy is likely to fall short. Obama's speech will reportedly include a time frame for winding down U.S. military involvement, a move already raising criticism from leading Republican lawmakers in Washington. Writes Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard: "Emphasizing an exit strategy would be counterproductive. He needs to concentrate on what's required and what he's ordering to prevail in Afghanistan."

On the other hand, Obama's aides have stressed the need to avoid an open-ended military commitment. Senator Carl Levin, a leading Democrat on military affairs, told CBS' Face the Nation that what the war effort really needs is not more American troops, but extra Afghan fighters (PDF), an approach favored by commanders on the ground. CFR President Emeritus Leslie H. Gelb writes he is encouraged by signals that Obama is changing the mission...

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