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Afghanistan: Good War or Quagmire? The Dilemma of Redeployment

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The Democratic train for launching a Vietnam-style campaign of gradual escalation of the war in Afghanistan is leaving Mr. Obama's station at warp speed. The knee jerk, lemming-like calls of beltway politicos for redeployment of troops from Iraq to the so-called "good war" in Afghanistan may merely lead our country into another counter-productive quagmire.

In the near term redeployment means more boots on the ground by transferring troops from Iraq. But that increase would have to come out of a military that is now so overburdened and so hollowed out that it is promoting NCOs automatically, rather than on a basis of leadership skills and technical competence. Obama says he would start the escalation by transferring only two more combat brigades to a war zone about the size of the state of Texas, or 48% larger than Iraq, with a population of 32 million people, or 16% more people than in Iraq, to what is perhaps the roughest inhabited terrain in the world, and to a war zone that embodies what is surely one of the most ethnically complex, tribally-organized, vendetta cultures of the world.

Such a minuscule increase in manpower to such a large, culturally-complex battle space would have to be supported with a corresponding increase in America's preferred weapon of choice: air power. This is precisely what happened in South Vietnam as we escalated by adding more troops to that meat grinder. But more air power means more "precision" bombing. And if our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the more distant ones in Vietnam, have taught us anything, it is that more "precision" bombing will result in even more collateral damage, in this case to a population already traumatized by three decades of wanton destruction.

Collateral damage is the Pentagon's term of art for the application of not-so-smart weapons technologies to unintentionally kill innocent Afghan civilians and destroy what little private property they have left. The increased casualties and material damage accompanying the ramp-up of the techno war will no doubt be a financial boon to those defense contractors in the United States who now fear the economic effects of a ramp-down of their Iraq boondoggle, but it will breed even more resentment by the Afghan people and more sympathy for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Bear in mind, escalation of the "collateral" death and destruction to civilians and property in Afghanistan is nothing new -- the Soviets tried it and failed in the 1980s, it occurred when we abandoned Afghanistan to the warlords in the early 1990s after the Soviets left, and we have read about it repeatedly as bombing operations in Afghanistan escalated dramatically in the last few years -- only to see the Taliban grow stronger and become more aggressive. Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, certainly one of the most able mainstream press reporters now reporting on the inept Mr. Bush's "war of terror," just posted this report about the ongoing escalation of bombing operations in his blog. Landay describes the results of a recent analysis of collateral damage published by the US Institute for Peace.

This report ought to make for sober reading by the coercive diplomatists and "humanitarian" interventionists in the think tanks and academia now advocating gradual escalation, not to mention the 300+ pol-mil apparatchiks now advising Mr. Obama -- but it probably won't. This is perhaps in part because even authors of this report seem to think, strangely, that a few more boots on the ground will somehow reduce the escalating carnage caused by air power.

Individuals interested in thinking more deeply about the vexing question of whether or not Mr. Obama ought to escalate what has become an ugly guerrilla war in Afghanistan can entertain themselves here with a thought experiment I dreamed up using Colonel John R. Boyd's legendary briefing of the philosophy and conduct of war, Patterns of Conflict. It is designed to let you frame the issues at the heart of a successful counter-guerrilla operation and determine for yourself if adding a small number of boots on the ground in Afghanistan will bring light to the end of a tunnel created by an inept President and incompetent neocon henchmen. The danger of allowing sound-bite politics to define military strategy looms large for Obama and our nation. This bullet train for redeployment would do well to assess whether it's on the right track.