True enough, Barack Obama has pledged to support a “surge” in US forces in Afghanistan, as bad an idea as that might be. (See my article, “Obama’s Afghan Dilemma,” in The Nation.) But the latest from Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a shock, and outrageous. Mullen said, without even a nod to Obama’s role as incoming commander-in-chief, that he’s planning to double US forces there by adding up to 30,000 new troops.
It’s hard to ready this any other way than the worst way, however: that Mullen is speaking with Obama’s (unspoken) approval. During the campaign season, and since, Obama said that he’d send “at least two or three additional combat brigades” to Afghanistan, which ought to mean something like another 10,000 forces or so. But 30,000 is a huge escalation.
Currently, the US has something like 32,000 troops in that hell-hole, including 14,000 under a rickety NATO coalition. Mullen’s plan would send at least four combat brigades and thousands of additional support forces.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bush administration is pounding away at Obama to escalate in Afghanistan, and no doubt Robert Gates is in there hammering:
“The Pentagon and national security officials are transmitting a battery of new information concerning the Afghanistan war to President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team in hopes the new administration will act quickly to prevent U.S. fortunes there from eroding further. …
“Obama was briefed in person last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on details of war plans.
“Among other issues, Mullen described the size of the units the Pentagon plans to send to Afghanistan and when they would be sent, defense officials said.”
So it’s clear Mullen got Obama’s approval first, since it’s unlikely he would have announced the 30,000 figure if Obama had indicated any opposition to the idea. That’s scary.
Even Karzai is skeptical, though he’s under political pressure at home, telling the Tribune: “Sending more troops to the Afghan cities, to the Afghan villages, will not solve anything. Sending more troops to control the border is sensible, makes sense That is where I need help. I don’t need help anywhere else.” But the US seems determined, according to sources I’ve talked to, to use the new forces to control Afghan cities.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that among the additional forces will be lare numbers of slam-bang US Special Forces to help train the wobbly Afghan National Army:
“The deployment of the Green Berets, the independent, multifaceted force skilled at training indigenous forces, could fill critical gaps in Afghanistan almost immediately, defense officials say….
“The deployment would be relatively small, probably only a few hundred individuals at first. Ultimately, other special operations forces, such as marines from Special Operations Command, Air Force special operators, and Navy Seals could be deployed under the plan.”
The Special Ops surge would include a new US commander for Special Forces in Afghanistan and lots of support, like helicopters and intelligence units.