Since the inception of VoteVets.org in 2006, we've consistently said that the Iraq war was a distraction that took our eyes off Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, and we've always been supportive of shifting the focus back. So, in that sense, we're pleased that President Obama is doing just that, with his speech this evening on his vision for the future of Afghanistan.
However, based on details that are coming out, there are some really important questions that arise about his strategy, and must be answered tonight if the president is going to get our support. Those questions are as follows:
1. By deploying an additional 34k troops, without speeding up the departure from Iraq, our force will remain overstretched. How does the administration reconcile this issue?
The administration has promised that each servicemember will receive appropriate "Dwell Time" (as much time home as deployed) and an end to stop loss. With the operational tempo set out by this strategy, it is hard to see how the administration can keep to that promise.
The New York Times, today, reports that the troop increase will happen in just six months. At this rate, that doesn't match the troops coming home from Iraq. Where do these troops come from, and what does it leave to take care of any emergencies in Korea, Iran, or at home?
Additionally, will this strategy mean a return to deployments longer than 12 months? It is hard to see how deployment times don't go up again. We've seen a record rate of suicide in the Army, linked to longer and more frequent deployments, making this a top consideration.
2. What increases in efforts can we expect from the State Department, CIA, other intelligence, diplomatic, and humanitarian arms of the US government?
Is there increased sacrifice from other agencies equal to what the administration is putting on the troops? A counter-insurgency strategy, which the president has laid out, depends on the engine of American foreign policy firing on all cylinders. Without increasing the commitment of other branches of American foreign policy, will we continue to see troops having to serve as negotiators, diplomats, and nation builders? They weren't trained for that, and it isn't right to place that responsibility on their shoulders.
3. Do we have a partner in Karzai, and are there guarantees that his government can be legitimized so we can leave?
It has become clear that the Karzai government does not have the confidence of the people because of corruption. A trusted government is essential to any counter-insurgency strategy working, otherwise it becomes impossible to transition out. How does this plan address corruption issues, especially as it pertains to the central government gaining the confidence of the people in a way that doesn't make it seem that it is a puppet-regime just doing what the western nations want? If we cannot guarantee that, what does a counter-insurgency strategy really achieve that could not be done with a counter-terror strategy that relies on fewer troops?
Will the president have answers to these questions? For the sake of our troops and our military, I sure hope so.
Note: Richard Smith, an Afghanistan veteran, will be live-blogging the speech tonight at VetVoice.com and offering commentary. Please be sure to check in there during the speech (along with the Huffington Post, of course!).