Two years ago, the full-court press was on. President Obama faced a large contingent of military brass pushing for more troops in Afghanistan, especially Army Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. Central Command.
It goes without saying that the general got nearly everything he wanted. Obama approved an increase of 30,000 troops, including more than 8,000 Marines, and they began deploying in December 2009. The assault on Marjah began just two months later, and the Marine Corps established a full forward-deployed Marine expeditionary force in June 2010.
At the time, it was hard to find strong military advocates who weren’t in favor of the buildup. After all, combat operations in Afghanistan were the “right” war, a mission that everyone from Obama to grizzled right-wing members of Congress agreed on.
It’s through that prism that an opinion piece by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., must be read this morning. A reserve Marine officer who infantry experience, he pushed the U.S. adopting a counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan. It would allow the U.S. to withdraw thousands of troops, but raise questions about whether the country was leaving behind a vacuum easily filled with extremism.
From Hunter’s piece, published in the Washington Times:
After almost 10 years, progress continues, but it remains painstakingly slow. What might have seemed like good strategy years or even months ago is not showing the level of success that justifies continuing the mission with such a large troop presence. The time has come for a change in strategy that begins with a departure from nation-building and counterinsurgency operations – the centerpiece of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan since Mr. Obama took office.
Since 2002, more than $18 billion in civilian aid for nation-building projects has been sent to Afghanistan by U.S. taxpayers. This is more than $300 million a month for the development of a country and government replete with corruption, complete absence of Western rule of law and seemingly committed to upholding the status quo, no matter what the ramifications.
Counterterrorism, of course, is the alternate option that Vice President Biden and others pushed as Obama, Petraeus and others settled on an expanded COIN strategy for Afghanistan. Many Republicans and other strong proponents of the military mocked it then, making it noteworthy that Hunter would back it now.
Is it a good idea, though? Would it negate some of the work Marines already have done? Is it necessary anyway, in light of how slow and tenuous progress has been as thousands of military families make monumental, painful sacrifices each year?
Friends and readers, we’d love to hear your thoughts.