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Levin Urges ‘Surging’ Afghan Troops Instead of U.S. Troops

Remember how I said on Tuesday to keep a watch on what Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says about Afghanistan now that he’s back from his trip there? This morning, the eighth anniversary of 9/11, he’s giving a speech on the Senate floor — in advance of the expected request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal for more U.S. troops, which would be the second escalation of force this year — arguing for bolstering Afghan forces instead of a new round of deployments. It represents something of a compromise between McChrystal and Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

From the text:

To achieve that goal we should increase and accelerate our efforts to support the Afghan security forces in their efforts to become self-sufficient in delivering security to their nation – before we consider whether to increase U.S. combat forces above the levels already planned for the next few months. These steps include increasing the size of the Afghan Army and police much faster than presently planned; providing more trainers for the Afghan Army and police than presently planned; providing them more equipment than presently planned; and working to separate local Taliban fighters from their leaders and attract them to the side of the government as we did in Iraq.

There’s an implicit if/then reconsideration in the speech. Levin has, all year, pressed the Obama administration to accelerate its recruitment, training and fielding of Afghan soldiers and police — a position *sort of *advocated by Gates, who also placed similar emphasis on Afghan forces before Levin’s committee in January — and now he says that the United States should accelerate its schedule 240,000 Afghan troops and 160,000 Afghan police a year, to 2012. If the U.S. can’t do that — four years from now, which will be eleven years after the war started — perhaps Levin would reconsider. He quotes Afghan Defense Minister Wardak: “there is no lack of Afghan manpower; we’ve been assured it is available.” But if the Obama administration says it can’t be done, would Levin reconsider?

Levin’s speech is designed to be responsive to Gen. McChrystal’s concerns, as the general in charge of the Afghanistan war also believes more Afghan forces are necessary, but tries to bridge the divide with Gates’s persistent-if-dialed-down concerns about the perception of occupation:

Rapidly expanding Afghanistan’s military and police forces would address one of the major problems and risks we now face there. General McChrystal told us he worries that waiting until 2013 for a larger Afghan force creates a gap in capabilities that brings significant risk of failure. But by accelerating the training and equipping of Afghan forces by a year, we address his concern. Depending on additional capability from Afghan, rather than U.S., forces, also addresses a major problem of public perception in Afghanistan. The larger our own military footprint there, the more our enemies can seek to drive a wedge between us and the Afghan population, spreading the falsehood that we seek to dominate a Muslim nation.

He also proposes a “Sons of Iraq” style approach to Afghanistan insurgents, which many analysts consider unworkable.

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