As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Clock Is Ticking

I think it's wrong that the President is committing troops to Afghanistan before a policy review can be completed, but if you want to know why, I would imagine that from their perspective, the US is running out of time to have an impact before they are forced out of the country by circumstance.

The additional 17,000 troops the Obama administration is preparing to send to Afghanistan will face both an aggressive, well-armed Taliban insurgency and an unarmed but equally daunting foe: public opinion.

In more than a dozen interviews across the capital this week, Afghans said that instead of helping to defeat the insurgents and quell the violence that has engulfed their country, more foreign troops will exacerbate the problem.

The comments echoed a recent survey by the BBC and ABC News that found that although 90 percent of Afghans oppose the Taliban, less than half view the United States favorably, a sharp drop from a year ago, and a quarter say attacks on U.S. troops can be justified.

In the interviews, most people said they did not like the Taliban and were terrified of the suicide attacks that often occur in public places. Yet they also spoke with anger and suspicion about the U.S.-led coalition forces -- questioning their motives and bitterly complaining about civilian casualties, home invasions and other alleged abuses they suffer at the hands of the once-welcomed American and NATO troops.

This is not as bad as polling has been in, say, Iraq, but clearly there is an erosion of support. And while pro-escalation advocates say that the civilian casualties are the result of too few forces and an over-reliance on airstrikes, home invasions - from the ground - are a central complaint as well. In addition, the airstrikes are continuing, and in Iraq they increased dramatically with an increase in forces. So I would expect public opinion in Afghanistan to further erode. And given that Afghan civilians and tribes are central to the counter-insurgency strategy, this becomes very dangerous.

Further worry is in the spate of anti-Administration leaking at the Pentagon, where competing agendas are clearly at play. That's EXTREMELY concerning. Afghanistan is going to be hard enough to manage without a bunch of generals trying to test the young President at the same time.

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