AFTER FAILING to persuade NATO to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, the Bush administration has reluctantly approved a temporary increase of 3,200 American troops. While adding these troops is a step in the right direction, it is not enough.
Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated over the past two years, with suicide and roadside bombings now at unprecedented levels. Last year was the deadliest on record for US and foreign troops; the Taliban have taken control of most of southern Afghanistan; and Al Qaeda has reestablished its command and control, its funding sources, and its training camps in the borderlands of Pakistan and AfghanistanAfghanistan needs much more than a token, temporary increase in US forces.
The stakes are too high to be tinkering on the margins of US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan needs at least 20,000 more troops. The United States also must coordinate its military operations more effectively by placing all of its troops under a unified NATO command.
The Bush administration needs to recognize that military force, while necessary, is not sufficient to defeat militants in Afghanistan. The United States needs to put more effort and leadership into a major state-building effort by bolstering the Afghan government, both at national level and provincial levels. It must escalate efforts to strengthen rule of law, combat the drug trade, support locally led development projects, such as the National Solidarity Program, and create a reliable police force - while allowing the Afghan government to take the lead.
The United States also needs to fundamentally alter its strategy toward Pakistan, where much of the leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda are located. The Bush administration has overpersonalized its policy toward a discredited dictator and allowed Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, to squander the $11 billion we have given his country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on items that will not help deal with the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Increasing the US commitment in Afghanistan is not just a feel-good mission; it is about national security interests, which are deeply threatened by a strengthening extremist movement.
The administration's repeated criticisms of NATO are not going to get its allies to increase their involvement. Many NATO countries believe they are being asked to pick up the pieces of a policy that failed in part because the United States refused to make the initial invasion a NATO operation. Many also believe that the United States misled them when it finally asked NATO to join, by presenting it to their citizens as a reconstruction mission, not a combat one.
Since the Iraq invasion almost five years ago, the Bush administration has put Afghanistan on the back burner. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, summarized the administration's position perfectly in his congressional testimony in December. When asked why the United States was not doing more to deal with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the admiral said that in Iraq we do what we must but in Afghanistan, we only do what we can.
Calling the mission in Afghanistan, an "economy of force operation," he went on to say, "Our main focus militarily in the region and in the world right now is rightly and firmly in Iraq." Mullen and the administration have it backward. It makes no strategic sense to have six times as many American troops in Iraq as in Afghanistan, and to be spending only a small amount on Afghanistan's reconstruction.
The Bush administration is in this position because it has forgotten the answers to several key questions. Where did the Sept. 11 attacks originate? Where is Al Qaeda's key leadership currently located? Which US military mission is authorized by the United Nations and NATO? In which theater are more than half of the troops supplied by other nations? In which theater are US casualties lower than its partners? Which country's people want the United States to stay and help? Finally, in which theater does the United States have a greater chance of succeeding?
The answers to all of these questions, is, of course, Afghanistan. And that is why we have to do what we must in that country with or without more contributions from our NATO partners.
Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior advisor to the Center for Defense Information, served as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration. Caroline Wadhams is a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.