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Carl Levin’s Warning

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the Obama administration not to surge U.S. troops before accelerating their Afghan counterparts. That used to be the perspective of Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well.

But, of course, President Obama did the opposite, with Gates’ support. In his opening statement to today’s Afghanistan committee hearing, Levin reiterated his concerns:

In the key province of Helmand, the ratio of U.S. troops to Afghan troops is about five U.S. troops to one Afghan soldier. We are now partnered with about 2,000 Afghans in Helmand. The desired ratio, according to Pentagon doctrine, is close to the opposite: three Afghans for one U.S. soldier or Marine. So, we have enough troops in Helmand right now, about 10,000, to partner with more than 20,000 additional Afghan troops, more than are expected to be available to partner with us there next year, according to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. If so, doubling the number of U.S. troops in the south will only worsen a ratio under which our forces already are matched up with fewer Afghan troops than they can and should partner with.

General James Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said in September: “If I could change only one thing in the south of Afghanistan it would be to have more Afghan troops.” A few days ago, General Conway reiterated the point: “To have American Marines standing on a corner in a key village isn’t nearly as effective as having an Afghan policeman or Afghan soldier.” It seems to me that the large influx of U.S. combat troops will put more U.S. Marines on street corners in Afghan villages, with too few Afghan partners alongside them.

Partnering with, equipping, and in other ways empowering Afghan forces to provide security for their country will demonstrate our resolve and commitment to a stable future for Afghanistan and the region. That should be the stated mission, and troop increases should be judged by whether they advance that mission.

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