Afghanistan: Still on the Back Burner?

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So far three daily press briefings at the White House for the new Obama administration, and only one question on the war in Afghanistan. That came on Monday when veteran Helen Thomas asked new press secretary Robert Gibbs, “Why does president want to send more troops to Afghanistan to kill people?”

It was not the most subtle way of raising the issue. But at least Thomas gave it a stab.

Afghanistan remains the forgotten war. But on the campaign trail, Barack Obama, noting he would end the war in Iraq and focus more on Afghanistan, promised to change that, The question is, will the change be for the better or not? Gibbs reminded Thomas that Obama has called Afghanistan a “rapidly deteriorating situation” and reported that Defense Secretary Bob Gates and military commanders have started a process “to evaluate our posture.” He noted that Obama has said that more troops should be sent to Afghanistan.

To do what, is the issue. Gibbs did not indicate. But on Tuesday morning, Gates, testifying on Capitol Hill, said that he expects to deploy two more brigades to Afghanistan in the spring and another brigade by summer. (A brigade has about 3500 soldiers in it; the United States now has about 34,000 troops in Afghanistan.) Gates noted that they would be involved mostly in training Afghan forces. But will that be sufficient to turn the tide in Afghanistan? He called Afghanistan the Obama administration’s “greatest military challenge.” And Gates expressed skepticism about adding many more than the 30,000 troops that US Army General David McKiernan, the commander of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, has already expressed an interest in. (Gates also said that the Obama administration will continue Predator missile attacks on Taliban and al Qaeda targets.)

As he moves to withdraw troops from Iraq, Obama needs to lay out a detailed plan for Afghanistan soon. In the meantime, Afghanistan deserves to be a hot topic for the press.

Spc. Jason Curtis, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment, pulls security while leaders of a medical civil action project searched for a suitable site in Parun, Afghanistan June 28, 2007. Photo from army.mil via flickr.

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