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Sen. Robert Byrd

Sen. Robert Byrd

Posted: October 14, 2009 04:14 PM

Has the Military Mission in Afghanistan Become Lost?

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Few subjects weigh more heavily upon a president than the decision to send our sons and daughters to war. Such a commitment demands the clearest of clear thinking, including a thoroughly dispassionate assessment of goals, risks, and strategies. This is difficult terrain for any American president, especially when faced with conflicting views from advisors, Congress, and the American public.

I have become deeply concerned that in the eight years since the September 11 attacks, the reason for the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan has become lost, consumed in some broader scheme of nation-building which has clouded our purpose and obscured our reasoning.

General McChrystal, our current military commander in Afghanistan, has requested 30,000-40,000 additional American troops to bolster the more than 65,000 American troops already there. I am not clear as to his reasons and I have many, many questions. What does General McChrystal actually aim to achieve?

So I am compelled to ask: does it really, really take 100,000 U.S. troops to find Osama bin Laden? If al Qaeda has moved to Pakistan what will these troops in Afghanistan add to the effort to defeat al Qaeda? What is really meant by the term defeat in the parlance of conventional military aims when facing a shadowy global terrorist network? And, what of this number 100,000? Does the number of 100,000 troops include support personnel? Does it include government civilians? Does it include defense and security contractors? How many contractors are already there in Afghanistan? How much more will all this cost? How much in dollars; how much in terms of American blood? Will the international community step up to the plate and bear a greater share of the burden?

Some in Congress talk about limiting the number of additional troops until we surge to train more Afghan defense forces. That sounds a lot like fence straddling to me. I suggest that we might better refocus our efforts on al Qaeda and reduce U.S. participation in nation building in Afghanistan. Given the lack of popularity and integrity of the current Afghan government, what guarantee is there that additional Afghan troops and equipment will not produce an even larger and better-armed hostile force? There ain't no guarantee. The lengthy presence of foreign troops in a sovereign country almost always creates resentment and resistance among the native population.

I am relieved to hear President Obama acknowledge "mission creep" and I am pleased to hear the president express skepticism about sending more troops into Afghanistan unless needed to achieve our primary goal of disrupting al Qaeda. I remain concerned that Congress may yet succumb to military and international agendas. General Petraeus and General McChrystal both seem to have bought into the nation-building mission. By supporting a nationwide counterinsurgency and nation-building strategy, I believe they have certainly lost sight of America's primary strategic objective -- namely to disrupt and de-fang al Qaeda and protect the American people from future attack.

President Obama and the Congress must reassess and refocus on our original and most important objective -- namely emasculating a terrorist network that has proved its ability to inflict harm on the United States. If more troops are required to support an international mission in Afghanistan, then the international community should step up and provide the additional forces and funding. The United States is already supplying a disproportionate number of combat assets for that purpose.