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Opinion: Obama has a hard sell on Afghanistan troop increase

Will a commitment to "finish the job" end up ringing just as hollow as "mission accomplished?"

A fight against the ragtag remnants of Al Qaeda does not require any more troops, it requires instead better, more focused tactics and much better intelligence, particularly from neighboring Pakistan. A fight against the Taliban is never going to have sufficient troops levels even with the the 100,000 U.S. troops that will be in country if and when the 30,000 troop increase takes effect. Just ask the British military historians and the retired generals of the former Soviet Union who still remember their humiliating retreat from Afghanistan like so many empires before them.

This calculation of doom is based not only on the lessons of history, but also on what is known as “battlefield geometry,” the laws of which are very clearly spelled out in the U.S. military’s own field manual for counter insurgency.

That manual was co-authored by one of the world’s greatest military minds on counter insurgency, General David Petraeus, and in the document he calls for troop ratios that would far exceed — by at least a factor of two — what the U.S. and its withering coalition partners would have on the ground with this proposed increase.

Furthermore, a troop increase of tens of thousands more U.S. soldiers could significantly hinder an effective counter-terrorism strategy by alienating the Pashtun villages where the Taliban is strongest, according to many leading counter-insurgency experts from Washington to Helmand.

Troops that are thrown into Afghanistan without a deep understanding of its history and its tribal structure will inevitably make serious mistakes and likely be seen as an occupying force. So a bungled troop increase could, in effect, inflame the Taliban and make it stronger.

This is a critical decision by President Obama with enormous import for our country, for military families who will pay the price and for Afghanistan. No one should fault the president for careful deliberation, which the far right’s commentators prefer to call “dithering.” But it is fair and important to challenge the president on this proposed troop increase and to press him hard with an eye toward history and to ask whether his “finish the job” comment will years down the road ring just as hollow in Afghanistan as the “mission accomplished” sign came to signify the failures of the president before him in Iraq.