Afghanistan developments

President Barack Obama’s first major military decision, announced Feb. 17, was to approve the deployment of another 17,000 troops in Afghanistan. The new soldiers will join the 34,000 U.S. troops already stationed there.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. forcibly removed Afghanistan’s Taliban government from power. In 2002, the Afghan people voted for President Hamid Karzai in a free election.

Since then, the Taliban has made a violent comeback. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan saw a 39 percent increase in civilian deaths in 2008. The Karzai government has little control outside the capital of Kabul.

"I don’t think a military solution is possible to the insurgency," said Kathleen Braden, professor of geography. Braden hopes to see the troop increase coupled with a new diplomatic and social initiate working with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other countries.

People in the Middle East like Obama right now, Braden said. She hopes this Afghanistan decision doesn’t change that, Braden said.

Many people voted for Obama based on his economic viewpoints and because they liked him as a person, Braden said. Military issues receded into the background, she said.

Obama has staked his credibility in foreign policy on this decision. History has shown that Afghanistan is a losing endeavor for anyone, Braden said.

Both the former Soviet Union and Great Britain are examples of this, said Don Holsinger, professor of history.

Deep ethnic divisions characterize the country’s population, he said.

"The situation in Afghanistan is strung together with a fishing wire," junior Kristin McCarthy said.

The Karzai government has faced accusations of corruption. Even if the U.S. and NATO get control of the country, Braden wonders what will happen when they hand the power back over to the Afghan people, she said.

"Afghanistan is one of the most difficult areas of the world to come up with a nice, succinct answer for U.S. foreign policy," Holsinger said.

Both the U.S. military and budget are currently stretched thin, he said.

"I have no magic solution to Afghanistan, but I feel we could use some imaginative brainstorming right now," Holsinger said.

Holsinger wonders what would happen if the U.S. and other nations flooded Afghanistan with Peace Corps workers alongside the incoming soldiers. These teachers, engineers and doctors could build schools, roads and community buildings, he said.

Though this mission would be dangerous, it would send a positive message to the Afghan people, Holsinger said.

The U.S. sees over and over again that overwhelming military strength doesn’t always work, Holsinger said. However, he struggles with whether the idea of aid workers is too naive.

It is crucial that the U.S. have a long-term strategy for Afghanistan, said Doug Durasoff, professor of political science.

"Throwing troops at a problem never helps," he said.

However, if the U. S. wants to ultimately exit Afghanistan, strategically adding troops could speed the leaving process, Durasoff said.

He has not yet heard a strategy from the military or the Obama administration, Durasoff said. It seems clear they are working hard on a strategy but haven’t nailed it down yet, he said.

"The focus on Iraq lost us effectiveness in Afghanistan. This is all about repairing very big mistakes," Durasoff said.

Afghanistan was put on the backburner when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Durasoff said.

"When he [Obama] talked about decreasing troop levels in Iraq, many people thought the troops would be coming home," junior Gian Grosso said. If you look at the campaign, Obama always said he would shift the focus to Afghanistan, Grosso said.

People who dislike the Iraq war may have similar sentiments about Afghanistan, he said.

Sophomore Kelsey Hampton didn’t realize Obama was planning to go back into Afghanistan.

"I voted for him and I didn’t expect this," she said.

Hampton thinks the U.S. could exhaust other options before war. However, she is confident the U.S. will be able to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan.

"Realistically, we can probably bring more security," she said.

The U.S.’s objective in Afghanistan is not military but, rather, to try to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people over from the Taliban, McCarthy said.

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Title: Afghanistan developments | Author: Beth Douglass | Section: News | Published Date: 2009-02-25 | Internal ID: 5956