By: Elizabeth Frederick, Managing Editor
In trying to reach a decision about whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has had eight formal meetings with top-level defense officials that have spanned over 20 hours. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan is reaching new heights in violence. Although President Obama intends to make a decision on how to progress in Afghanistan in the next few weeks, there are many considerations that he must take into account.
Mr. Obama must address domestic opinion over sending more troops to Afghanistan. Public support in the United States for the war is flagging due to its protracted length and mounting troop casualties. The Obama administration has already sent 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the current total to over 68,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin have both expressed concern over expanding the war effort in Afghanistan.
The international community presents a paradox for Mr. Obama. European leaders are urging Mr. Obama to develop a strategy to withdraw troops and end the war in Afghanistan. However, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan pull Mr. Obama in the other direction, seeking long-term assistance from the United States in the region to fight terrorism.
And of course, there is the situation in Afghanistan itself. Taliban forces have resurged and are gaining ground against coalition forces and bombings have grown with alarming frequency. The Afghan army is roughly 94,000 strong, but only half are combat-ready. Afghanistan’s central government is fragile and raises questions of legitimacy due to the suspect reelection of Mr. Karzai. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in recent days paid Mr. Karzai an unannounced visit and urged him to address the problem of corruption in his government, which has limited control in areas outside of Kabul. Mr. Obama’s strategy, regardless of its form, must be able to address all of these concerns and do so assertively.