The scene after a roadside bomb is detonated east of Kabul
Throughout the US presidential campaign, Barack Obama lambasted the Bush administration for fighting "the wrong war" in Iraq while ignoring the right one in Afghanistan. Iraq had been a war of choice, Obama claimed, while Afghanistan was a war of necessity. He repeatedly claimed that if elected, he would unveil a new "stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy".
In March, in one of those solemn occasions at which he excels, President Obama claimed that the new strategy, on which he did not elaborate, was already in place. The troop "surge" ordered by the outgoing administration was speeded up and, a few weeks later, a new commander was named for Afghanistan. General Stanley A. McChrystal lost no time in revealing that the Obama administration had no specific strategy and that his first task was to work one out.
By the end of August, the general had drafted a "new strategy" and submitted a 66-page report to the Pentagon. In it, General McChrystal devoted 16 pages to concrete moves needed to put the new strategy in motion. Then nothing happened until someone leaked the report a month later. Forced by media pressure to say something, President Obama declared that he would not be rushed into sending more troops, as requested by McChrystal, pending the development of a "new strategy".
This means that Obama did not have a "smarter, stronger strategy" for Afghanistan despite claiming he had one. But what about the strategy proposed by McChrystal? The President neither adopted nor rejected it. He would continue to "study the whole thing" through a "situation room", bringing together his national security team, but pointedly excluding McChrystal. Meanwhile, the White House has briefed against the general, seeking to discredit his demand for an extra 40,000-60,000 troops.
According to administration officials quoted by the New York Times, Obama may be having "buyer's remorse" after "ordering an extra 21,000 troops there within weeks of taking office before even settling on a strategy". Some have suggested that Obama drummed up the "necessary war" mantra for Afghanistan so he would not appear soft on national security when he portrayed the Iraq war as "a strategic error".
If US media reports are correct, his administration is deeply divided over strategy. While Vice-President Joseph Biden is reportedly pressing for a reduction of troop numbers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants more boots on the ground. Biden believes that al-Qaeda is no longer a threat in Afghanistan and that the US should transfer the war to Pakistan. Clinton insists, however, that, if the US scales down its military footprint, al-Qaeda will return to Afghanistan "like mushrooms after the rain".
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