February 18th, 2009
06:54 PM ET

U.S. build up in Afghanistan – Can we succeed?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/18/obama.afghanistan.canada/art.obamatroops.gi.jpg caption="President Obama says al Qaeda threatens American from the Afghan-Pakistani border."]

Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer

When trying to explain what President Obama hopes to achieve by sending an 17,000 additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan (with more to come), senior State Department officials describe a scenario not unlike the "surge" in Iraq, explaining that part of the reason for this first initial boosting of troops (beyond the obvious reason of going after the Taliban al Qaeda and training additional Afghan forces) is to provide "political space" to the government. Officials say they hope that an improvement in the security of on the ground will provide the time and conditions needed for the Afghan government to settle its political differences and get its fledgling political system together. Fostering political reconciliation among Iraq's political and ethnic factions was one of the rationales used by President Bush in 2007 to send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq.

The development of institutions (aka "nation building") in Afghanistan has been extremely slow, in part due to the fact that the insurgency has spread. But the slow pace is also due to the fact that this country never really had a functioning government. Officials say a large part of the increased civilian resources expected as part of a new strategy for Afghanistan will be aimed at teaching Afghans to create institutions capable of providing services and social support functions which until now have been provided by traditional society (family, tribe, etc). It is proving much more difficult in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, where a government (albeit a dysfunctional one after decades of Saddam Hussein's rule) had already existed.

The current strategic review led by Bruce Riedel and Richard Holbrooke, the new US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will seek to define US objectives in Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq, the idea of a flourishing democracy anytime soon seems unlikely. A definition of success, officials say, is likely going to be taking Afghanistan to a place where the government has less corruption, is able to crack down on the rampant drug trade and can provide services to the Afghan people in an improved security atmosphere. In addition to additional resources for more development and reconstruction projects, officials say to expect several more US advisers in the various Afghan ministries and better coordination between the military and US civilian workers .

After meeting with Ambassador Holbrooke during his visit to Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said he was pleased Afghans themselves would have input in the US review, as to what the goals for their country should be. Officials say the Afghans will know when they are "ready," just as the Iraqis have gradually gained both the confidence and the military strength to truly lead.

But as we have heard from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, President Obama himself, and what officials are echoing privately, is that the Obama administration is going to have a much lower threshold for success for Afghanistan than the Bush administration had in Iraq.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Larry L.


    Obama and the Democratic Congress just signed the largest SPENDING BILL in our countries history(2/17/09).Today (2/18/09) they are asking our solders to go to Afghanistan and put themselves in harms way and fight the terrorist to protect the U.S. and the world.

    What did our President and Congress do to show the countries GREAT appreciation for our brave sons and daughters dieing and being wounded in the largest spending bill in history?

    Nearly all items for Veterans Affairs were reduced and the $2 billion the Senate wanted for VA construction was wiped out altogether. The VA did get one thing: $1 billion for medical facilities renovation and retooling.

    # Military construction: Cut and put into a general pot, a change from targeted money for each branch of the services. Army construction alone went from $600 million in the Senate and $900 million in the House to $180 million in the final bill. But negotiators compromised over a general military construction fund — the House wanted $3.75 billion while the Senate allocated $118 million and settled on $1.45 billion for all services.

    February 19, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  2. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    You can send a million troops--democracy has to occur within.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:58 am |
  3. Amon

    We need to make a decisive move, fight with full force or make a strong peace proposal (if that is on the agenda at all). Half hearted approach isnt going to help. We might have to do a Iraq/ Afghanistan in Pakistan looking at the way taliban is taking control in newer areas under whatever garb. Pak govt is either hand in glove with the militants or is incapable of fighting them, very harmful to the american goals in both cases!

    February 19, 2009 at 8:51 am |
  4. Don - Terre Haute

    Two priorities in Afghanistan: Use all the technology and force necessary to isolate the Taliban and Al Qaeda in remote areas while improving qulaity of life in populated areas. Give the people time for leadership to emerge and public and political will to develop that can withstand the extremists among them. Also, quit making up excuses about why the poppy farmers have to be coddled. It passes under no critical scrutiny as any part of a solution. The drug trade is financing our enemies, helping to kill our soldiers and putting peace on hold. Destroy the poppy fields! Remember why we are there – get Osama bin Laden and his followers. If we can leave it better than we found it, then all the better.

    February 19, 2009 at 12:38 am |
  5. David

    Since it's not our country, it doesn't really matter what we do. It's what we can convince the people of Afghanistan to do that matters. These have to be some of the toughest people in the world and they will do what they want no matter who is in charge and how many troops we send in there. Success in Afghanistan is entirely in the hands of the people of Afghanistan and if President Obama realises this we might do ok.

    February 19, 2009 at 12:17 am |
  6. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    Thank you President Obama! You can read a map! Yes, we can win since the hotbed of terrorism is now addressed by our blessed miliatry!

    February 18, 2009 at 11:31 pm |

    RE: That's a HECK NO!

    February 18, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  8. Diane Dagenais Turbide

    A mission to help the Afghan people and to help the Afghan government requires more troops for now! Hopefully, all parties feel the urgency for real change according to Afghan's needs!

    February 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm |
  9. Mike

    It is good the president realizes what needs to be done to end this without leaving the country to become a terrorist safe haven. It worked in iraq and will work in afghanistan. God bless the troops that are fighting to make this world a better place.

    February 18, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
  10. Mike

    At least the president realizes what needs to be done to end this without creating a terorist safe haven. It worked in Iraq and will work in afghanistan. God bless the troops fighting to make this world a safer place.

    February 18, 2009 at 9:23 pm |
  11. Annie Kate

    I don't much see the point of going back to Afghanistan. The goals stated could be accomplished without an American presence and once we leave the Taliban will just come back again. The Afghanis have to not want the Taliban enough to fight them off themselves and we haven't seen that yet.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:51 pm |
  12. Mari, Salt Lake City

    NO....... we will not win this war with guns and bombs. We must take a lesson from Gandhi and Rev. M.L. King, Jr., and win over the hearts and minds of the countries that harbor terrorists.

    Each child we kill, each village that is bombed, each child left orphaned, homeless, maimed....... IS another recruit for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

    War is not the answer!

    February 18, 2009 at 8:19 pm |
  13. D-Dog

    What the heck? All this talk about this stimulus package, they (whoever this may concern) slipped this troop escalation into Afghanistan. I didn't agree to this, where was the talk about this whether this is what Americans want?

    February 18, 2009 at 8:17 pm |

    It won't succeed especially under our socialist president Barack Hussein Obama. Unless they remove rules of engagement on the military, the war will be going on for a long time. Obama has to understand that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are our enemy not common criminals. I am sure Obama will have the military read them the Miranda Rights. Forget about winning hearts and minds. It does not work with muslims. The military knows where they are hiding out. To prove my point you can ask the question Why aren't the so-called moderate muslims taking any action against their terorist muslim brothers and allowing them to operate in their countries with impunity. They should be able to use all means necessary to eliminate them. The way the war is being conducted is stretching the military too thin. You should let them fight the war to WIN.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:10 pm |
  15. Gary Chandler in Canada


    February 18, 2009 at 7:03 pm |