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Another Afghan surge?

Published Jan 13, 2011 8:01 PM

In late fall of 2009, the Barack Obama administration, under heavy pressure from the Pentagon, agreed to increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan by another 30,000 troops. According to the deal between Obama and the generals, the troops were to start withdrawing in July 2011. It was supposed to be a “surge” leading to a quick victory.

A year later, the administration started saying that troops will remain in Afghanistan until at least 2014. And on Jan. 6 the administration raised the stakes once more when Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved sending an additional 1,400 Marines to the Afghan front. Now there are more than 98,000 U.S. troops in the country, not to mention NATO troops and thousands more mercenaries and contractors performing both logistical and combat tasks.

There are few voices promising a quick victory from the surge any more. But it did bring with it a big surge in casualties, with more than 5,500 U.S. troops hit by enemy fire in 2010, more than twice the number in 2009. Of these, more than 430 killed. It brought a similar increase in Afghan civilian casualties, with thousands of the wounded dying.

A Jan. 8 article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that the Pentagon is trying to keep its combat strength high in Afghanistan by hiring more mercenaries to carry out noncombat roles. “Some military officials believe many jobs could be replaced with civilian contractors or civilian government employees. Military intelligence analysts, especially those assigned to higher-level headquarters, can be replaced with officials from civilian agencies or even contractors.”

This strategy means that the U.S. is not really getting out of Afghanistan — not to speak of Iraq. It is instead keeping up the combat forces while pretending to wind down the war. For the Afghans it is continuing disaster. For U.S. rank-and-file troops, it continues their deaths and injuries.