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Afghan troop surge is security necessity


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POSTED: Thursday, December 03, 2009

After years of the Bush administration's concentration on its war of choice in Iraq, President Barack Obama is turning to Afghanistan, a war of necessity in a land that served as the launching pad for the 2001 terrorist attack on America. The buildup of troops he has authorized is needed to bring stability to the region and end a continuing threat to the United States.

Sen. Daniel Inouye announced his support of increased troop involvement last month after returning from several days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he visited soldiers and presidents of the two countries. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Inouye's plan to “;provide our soldiers all of the resources necessary to complete their mission”; in the region will be an important contribution to the effort. Obama candidly gave it a price tag of $30 billion next year.

The president has been pressured in recent weeks by liberal Democrats urging a quick exit of soldiers from the region, while Republicans have wanted a troop surge with no end in sight. Both groups should support Obama's more thoughtful strategy: an increase of 30,000 troops in the first part of next year, with plans to begin bringing troops home in July 2011, following a reassessment a year from now.

The surge will bring the U.S. troop level to 100,000 alongside more than 40,000 NATO troops. At the end of the Bush administration, U.S. troops in Afghanistan numbered 32,000, compared with 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of that war.

Republicans jumped on Obama for announcing what they called the “;deadline”; for the “;exit”; of troops, which is nothing of the kind.

“;Just as we have done in Iraq,”; Obama explained in his Wednesday speech at West Point, “;we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”;

Those wanting an exit as immediately as physically possible point out that al-Qaida's presence in Afghanistan has been reduced to 100 or so. However, other al-Qaida terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, are hiding in Pakistan, and a hasty departure by U.S. troops would quickly result in the terrorist group's dangerous comeback under the wings of the Taliban.

“;Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most, of the country and likely a renewed civil war,”; Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “;Taliban-ruled areas could in short order become, once again, a sanctuary for al-Qaida as well as a staging area for resurgent military groups on the offensive in Pakistan.”;

That would take us back to pre-September 2001, with the added threat of the Taliban — and al-Qaida — gaining access to Pakistan's sizable nuclear arsenal. The administration would be irresponsible to return us to a level of vulnerability that would surpass 9/11.