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2010 has become the deadliest year for U.S. and foreign troops in Afghanistan. So far at least 530 service personnel, more than 300 of them Americans, have been killed. Those deaths have come despite the injection of some 30,000 American troops as part of a new strategy to help stabilize the country. The persistent violence, combined with a lack of progress on other fronts, has added to the debate over the policy for Afghanistan. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: When President Obama unveiled the new strategy for Afghanistan late last year, it was meant to represent a bold new push - a full commitment -to a conflict that for years had been neglected but continued to grow.�The strategy called for a surge of American troops and civilians to help build up Afghanistan's security forces, its government, and its infrastructure.�
But there have been major setbacks - violence has soared, anti-corruption efforts stalled, and elections have been mired in fraud.�All this is helping fuel debate whether the effort is worth it.
Mr. PAUL PILLAR (Georgetown University): The way in which we ought to look at the current commitment to Afghanistan is in rigorous cost/benefit terms.
NORTHAM: Paul Pillar, a former CIA counter-terrorism official now with Georgetown University, says the U.S. has vastly expanded its original goal of rousting al-Qaida from Afghanistan and is now undertaking an expensive and protracted counterinsurgency operation to stabilize the country.
Mr. PILLAR: We are spending 100 billion or close to that a year as well as an expenditure of blood that is now over 1,200 killed and countless others wounded, and we have lost sight of what this is or is not doing to keep Americans safe from terrorism.
NORTHAM: Pillar says Afghanistan is no longer a war of necessity.�He says the U.S. does not need to defeat the Afghan Taliban because the group isn't a national security threat.
Max Boot, a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, disagrees.�He says the Afghan Taliban still has strong links to al-Qaida and other international terrorist groups and that the U.S. needs to tackle them.�Boot says there is still a solid base of supporters for the counterinsurgency strategy - but he says many people are expecting too much, too fast.
Mr. MAX BOOT (Council on Foreign Relations): The reality is, while we have been there for nine years, we're only now starting to make a serious effort to win the war. The surge is only now just taking effect and operations of the surge forces are only now beginning and we know that counterinsurgency is doable, but it takes time.
NORTHAM: Matthew Hoh is a former Marine who served in Afghanistan. He's now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and is the director of the Afghanistan Study Group.�Hoh says, in fact, the U.S. has been doing counterinsurgency since 2004, and that the current strategy is just more of what's failed over the past few years.
Mr. MATTHEW HOH (Center for International Policy): I have a list of quotes from every commanding general since 2004 in Afghanistan, assuring success, assuring that victory is one year away, just some more troops and some more time.
NORTHAM: Hoh says sinking more resources into Afghanistan is counter-productive.
Mr. HOH: Every year, as we add more troops or as we�spend more money, the Taliban grow in size, the support for the Karzai government decreases, and the conflict gets worse, along any measure you want to measure, whether it's IEDs, civilian casualties, coalition casualties, etcetera.
NORTHAM: According to an upcoming book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, the notion of continually adding more troops and time to the conflict was a factor for President Obama when he considered the current strategy for Afghanistan.�
Woodward says the president crafted his own exit strategy and issued a six-page document outlining the terms of U.S. involvement there.�Interviews in the book confirm long-held speculation that there are deep divisions within the administration over Afghanistan.�
Andrew Exum, a fellow with the Center for a New American Security, says that's not surprising, given the gravity of the situation.
Mr. ANDREW EXUM (Center for a New American Security): It doesn't shock me and doesn't scare me that there is a dynamic debate within the administration about whether or not the strategy could succeed. I'd be disappointed if there weren't that�type of dynamic debate.�But at some point you just have to say this is the strategy, we're going to stick to it, here's what we're going to do.
NORTHAM: Exum says the new revelations outlined in the book, along with the growing chorus of dissent among many analysts in Washington, will undoubtedly throw a much stronger spotlight on a progress report on Afghanistan that's due out in December.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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