Afghanistan Update

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 4:18 PM EST

AFGHANISTAN UPDATE....This is really bad news:

Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.

....The plan for the incoming brigade [] means that for the time being fewer reinforcements — or none at all — will be immediately available for the parts of Afghanistan where the insurgency is most intense.

It also means that most of the newly arriving troops will not be deployed with the main goal of curbing the cross-border flow of insurgents from their rear bases in Pakistan, something American commanders would like and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has recommended.

This isn't a huge surprise at this point, but it's the most concrete evidence yet of how badly the fight in Afghanistan is going. Two years ago, the main complaint was that, sure, Kabul was safe, but it was just a small island of security in a vast sea of lawlessness. Today, we're apparently close to losing even that small island.

So does that mean that we need a surge in Afghanistan? Well, the theory behind the surge in Iraq was that a relatively small number of additional troops could make a big difference if they were concentrated primarily in Baghdad, where three or four brigades would represent a near doubling of forces. Baghdad was considered so central to Iraqi security that if it could be pacified, it would make an enormous difference in the rest of the country too.

That's not true of Afghanistan. Obviously Kabul has to be safe, but it doesn't play the same outsize role that Baghdad does in Iraq. Nor are any of the other factors that helped the surge succeed present in Afghanistan. It's just a mess. Denying al-Qaeda a safe sanctuary is an important goal, but if even Kabul isn't safe anymore, it means we've got a very, very long road ahead of us before we can make that happen. I don't envy Barack Obama the choices he has ahead of him.

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