Afghan War Anniversary Marked by Debate Over More Troops

Retired military leaders debate neccessity of more troops in war-torn country.

October 6, 2009, 8:26 PM

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan Oct. 7, 2009— -- On the eighth anniversary of the Afghan war, the once-defeated Taliban are surging across the battered country while the Obama administration is hunkered down in Washington debating what strategy to deploy.

The Washington debate centers around Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for as many as 40,000 more troops, as Americans grow weary of a war that seemingly has no end. A new Associated Press poll put public support for the war at 40 percent.

That debate was mirrored on "Good Morning America" today as retired generals Wesley Clark and Jack Keane disagreed on whether Obama should urgently approve the troop request or risk losing the war, or whether Afghanistan if another Vietnam.

It's been eight years since U.S. forces stormed into Afghanistan just weeks after Osama bin Laden orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks from his Afghan hideout. The Taliban were quickly chased out of the country, and Afghans rejoiced at the lifting of the Taliban's joyless regime.

But the Bush administration shifted its focus to war in Iraq and an inept and corrupt Afghan government has allowed the Taliban to regain first a foothold in the country and then grow to threaten the current regime. Presidential elections this fall were tainted by widespread charges of fraud, leaving the U.S. with an unpopular ally in the capital of Kabul.

In 2007 the Taliban presence was limited to about half the country. Today, the insurgents occupy about 80 percent of Afghanistan. U.S. casualties have also spiked in recent weeks -- eight killed over the last weekend alone -- adding to a death toll that nears 800.

Anniversary Debate on Afghan War

A surge of 21,000 U.S. troops earlier this year, bringing the U.S. deployment to 65,000, has failed to blunt the Taliban offensive. Insurgents are carrying out more coordinated attacks with better weapons and making greater use of roadside bombs.

McChrystal's assessment says that more American combat soldiers are needed within the year, or the war will be become unwinnable.

"It's true that after eight years -- after a lot of tremendous efforts, a lot of expenditures, loss of good people -- many indicators, many things are worse," McChrystal said recently in London.

At the other extreme is the recommendation by Vice President Bident to reject any troop increase to fight the Taliban and focus instead on going after Al Qaeda, using drones and special forces.

A concern among U.S. troops in Afghanistan is that Washington will come up with a compromise, and that a compromise will be dangerous for Americans deployed in the country in which they are exposed, but lack enough punch to win the war.

Keane and Clark disagreed today on "GMA" on whether Obama should urgently approve the troop request or take more time to determine what the mission in Afghanistan should be.

"We need to stabilize Afghanistan," retired general and ABC News consultant Jack Keane told "GMA" today. "We have a deteriorating situation right now because we have never applied a sufficient amount of resources since the priority became Iraq."

Keane, a driving force behind the military surge in Iraq, is backing McChrystal's recommendation for an immediate troop increase, saying the U.S. military risks failure otherwise.

More troops in Afghanistan would mean more training for Afghan troops, which he said should be doubled in size before U.S. troops would be able to begin pulling out.

"We cannot get those [Afghan] soldiers to sufficient numbers until 2012, 2015 at the latest," Keane said. "That's why McChrystal has come forward and says I have to stop the bleeding now. I have to use U.S. forces to help do that."

Is Afghanistan Vietnam?

The fight in Afghanistan is complicated by the fact that insurgents have a safe haven across the Pakistan border. Pakistan is carrying out its own battle with the Taliban, but is unwilling to allow the U.S. to enter Pakistan to chase al Qaeda or Taliban fighters.

Keane said the two battlefields are "inextricably linked together" and "you can not lose in Afghanistan and hope to win in Pakistan."

But Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied commander and the general who oversaw the U.S. war effort in Kosovo, told "GMA" today that there is no reason for Obama to rush.

"I don't think he has to make this decision tomorrow," he said. "Get the American people behind it, get our allies behind it."

"I'm saying we better be sure we're doing whatever it takes. And it's really about al Qaeda, not Afghanistan," Clark said.

Clark said the U.S. government would be wise to remember the lessons learned in Vietnam. More U.S. troops mean more casualties, "and that reduces public support even faster."

And like Vietnam, the enemy has a sanctuary across the border safe from U.S. troops, and Americans cannot expect to the Afghan government to look like American democracy. "Those are three clear lessons from Vietnam," said Clark.

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