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The Low End Theory

The New York Times reports that President Obama is considering sending a far smaller number of additional troops to Afghanistan than previously mentioned:

Pentagon officials said the low-end option of 10,000 to 15,000 more troops would mean little or no significant increase in American combat forces in Afghanistan. The bulk of the additional forces would go to train the Afghan Army, with a smaller number focused on hunting and killing terrorists, the officials said.

The low-end option would essentially reject the more ambitious counterinsurgency strategy envisioned by General McChrystal, which calls for a large number of forces to protect the Afghan population, work on development projects and build up the country’s civil institutions.

It had been my understanding that a troop infusion of this size was not greeted with much enthusiasm at the White House. But if President Obama is really telling all factions to get much more specific about how the war ends, then perhaps it really is on the table.

If it is, the question becomes whether McChrystal stays in his command. While we may not actually know what McChrystal himself desires, his friends in the Joint Special Operations Command, I’ve been told, favor a troop increase far above 10,000. If he does, he’ll be blessing whatever Obama decides. But very, very few commanders ever actually resign. If McChrystal proves to be the exception, it will be a political debacle for the Obama administration, and so it’s a safe bet that the White House will do whatever it can not to force the general’s hand.

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