Situation in Afghanistan Needs More Scrutiny Before U.S. Commits More Troops, Expert Says

February 23, 2009 - 7:59 PM
President Obama's recent decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan has come with relatively little scrutiny from Congress – unlike the ultimately successful "surge" in Iraq that Gen. David Petraeus was forced to defend to a skeptical Congress two years ago.

In this photo released by the Department of Defense, U.S. Army Pvt. Jeffery Hansen of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, crouches down after launching a 60mm mortar round on a range at Forward Operating Base Lane in Afghanistan on Sunday Feb. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Department of Defense, Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s recent decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan has come with relatively little scrutiny from Congress – unlike the ultimately successful “surge” in Iraq that Gen. David Petraeus was forced to defend to a skeptical Congress two years ago.
 
Walter Jajko, professor at The Institute of World Politics, an independent non-profit school of national security and international affairs in Washington, D.C., said Obama’s decision lacks oversight from members of Congress.
 
“I think there ought to be congressional scrutiny, but I haven’t seen any, not as far as President Obama’s action goes,” Jajko said.
 
Obama announced on Feb. 17 that approximately 17,000 additional U.S. troops will be deployed to Afghanistan in the next few months. This will mean an approximately 50 percent increase over the estimated 38,000 troops already there – and a reduction in the number of forces in Iraq.
 
During the 2007 surge in Iraq, Petraeus gave a public detailed report, which members of Congress probed, on the situation in Iraq justifying the need for a surge there.
 
No such public detailed report has been delivered by any general on the conditions and rationale of why more U.S. troops are being sent to Afghanistan.
 
Jajko told CNSNews.com that members of Congress have failed to scrutinize Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.
 
“I think congressional scrutiny during any war is correct, is an obligation of the Congress to the people of the United States,” the professor of defense studies told CNSNews.com.
 
“That scrutiny, by the way, does not necessarily mean that it’s negative or in any way critical of the policy or the implementation of the policy by the military, it’s simply the proper role of the Congress.”
 
But Lisa Curtis, a researcher at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, told CNSNews.com that there has been some congressional scrutiny in advance of Obama’s step to swell the number of U.S troops in Afghanistan.
 
“There were several hearings filed last year on Afghanistan,” Curtis said. “And there were in fact many people who were saying that not enough resources had gone into the war effort in Afghanistan despite the fact that’s where the 9/11 attacks had originated.”
 
A senior research fellow of the Asian Studies Center at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Curtis, told CNSNews.com that Congress has been looking at the U.S. effort to stabilize Afghanistan since 2001.
 
“Secretary Gates [Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates] has been testifying about the need for more U.S troops in Afghanistan,” Curtis said.
 
But even the president pointed out in a recent statement, that the situation in Afghanistan “has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires.”
 
“That is why I ordered a review of our policy upon taking office,” the president said, “so we have the necessary resources to meet clear and achievable objectives in Afghanistan and the region.”
 
Obama said the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq will provide him with the “flexibility” he needs to send more troops to Afghanistan.
 
“The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens American from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border,” the president said.
“This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.”
 
Obama, meanwhile, attributed the request for more troops to Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
 
The president revealed that his decision to enlarge the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will not affect the end result of the strategic review.
 
Due to the “traditional spring offensive” by Taliban operatives and the upcoming Afghan elections in August, “there was an urgent need to send fresh U.S. troops even as the strategy is ongoing, and I would expect that we may see even more troops deployed later in the year,” Curtis said.
 
But even Curtis noted that the decision to step-up U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is going to have a different effect than the surge in Iraq. The situation is dramatically different.
 
“I wouldn’t want to compare the two wars. I think they’re very different. The politics are different. The situation is different. The level of U.S. commitment is very different,” said Curtis.
 
Currently, the U.S has 38,000 troops in Afghanistan and 140,000 in Iraq.