Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Military Poll : Send More Troops To …

There has been a lot of media attention and discussion concerning a “surge” (better defined as an escalation) of troop levels. Everyone is weighing in --- the Iraq Study Group, Senators who visited Iraq over the holidays (McCain : send more; Coleman : no more), and military leaders. But a poll of one group that has the most at stake has not received the media attention that it deserves.

Military Times commissioned a mail survey of its readers which generally are on average older, more experienced, more likely to be officers and more career-oriented than the overall military population. This is the fourth year of the survey and over time there have been results indicate an increasingly pessimistic chances for victory.

The results are most interesting to say the least.
First the question was posed as do you believe the war in Iraq to be part of the war on terrorism that began on September 11, 2001 or do you consider it to be an entirely separate military action? The answer was split down the middle – in other words, half the respondents could not make the connection of Iraq and the fight against al-Queda.
Second, questions were asked to about troop levels. The responses were reducing to zero, lower levels than current level, maintaining the current level and increase the troop levels. Separate questions were asked about Iraq and Afghanistan. The answers were similar that 38-39 % believed the troop levels should be increased. The most common level of increase was to increase troop levels in Iraq by 25 % while the increase in Afghanistan was to double the troop levels. 13% of the respondents did not believe that there should be any troops in Iraq while 8% did not believe that there should be any troops in Afghanistan. So, in other words, troops feel there is a greater threat in Afghanistan than Iraq and that America is understaffed for the mission significantly in Afghanistan.

Bush will make announcement in the next few weeks concerning Iraq … but why is Afghanistan being ignored ?

The news of 3,000 American deaths in Iraq was a milestone that was reported widely. But not mentioned is that there have also been more than 500 coalition deaths including 353 Americans (and 1,084 injuries) as of January 1st. Since there are only 18,000 American troops in Afghanistan that is a fairly high percentage.

Why should we care about Afghanistan? First, that is where al-Qaeda called home base prior to 9/11. Second, the Taliban is actively engaged trying to overthrow the President Hamid Karzai’s government. Third, the dependence of opium as a primary economic product will undermine all efforts in the War on Drugs. In fact, the White House’s Office of National Drug Policy states Afghanistan is now the largest illicit opium-producing country in the world acknowledging that it accounts for 87 % of the world’s production.

As Richard Clarke pointed out in the December 31st edition of The Washington Post Op-Ed piece entitled “While You Were At War" : for the Bush Administration “national security issues remain unattended, deteriorating and threatening, all while Washington's grown-up 7-year-olds play herd ball with Iraq. [snip] From relatively low levels of heroin production in 2001, Afghanistan's economy is now dependent upon the widespread cultivation of heroin that is flooding black markets in Europe and Asia. With most of the U.S. Army either in Iraq, heading to Iraq or returning from Iraq, insufficient U.S. forces were available to prevent the once-liberated Afghanistan from morphing into a narco-state. [snip] if there is a solution, it lies on the other side of the Khyber Pass where a sanctuary has emerged, a Taliban-like state within a state in western Pakistan. Dealing with that problem is more than Washington has been willing or able to handle.

When Senator Coleman, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and so quickly after two visits states the troop levels in Iraq should be lower, needs to respond to what are America’s responsibilities in Afghanistan. Coleman so quickly wanted to get his views out for the 2008 election that he called reporters from Iraq to tell them. Politicians need to define the mission and then give the military what they need ... the question of troop levels should not be made by someone whose exposure to the military was as a student protester in his college days and now has taken a whopping two trips to Iraq in five years ! Heck, hasn’t Al Franken been to Iraq and to Afghanistan at least four times? Admittedly, Franken is going on an USO tour, but why is that our elected politicians have not accepted the responsibility to see the situation first hand? It might be because every time, they go they come back questioning the mission (Gutknecht, Shay, Warner, Coleman, Collins, Wilson,…). Iraq is a quagmire and a civil war. Afghanistan is where the War on Terror originated and needs to be completed there.

Military Times Story and Poll

White House Office of National Drug Policy

Clarke Op-Ed

Republicans comment on “surge”

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