When President Barack Obama laid out his highly anticipated Afghanistan war strategy Tuesday night during a nationally televised address from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., at least two retired generals in Columbus were taking notes.
On the eve of the president’s speech, retired Lt. Gen. Robert L. “Sam” Wetzel said he anticipated the president would first pardon West Point’s corps of cadets of all disciplinary infractions before tackling the task at hand. Instead, Obama took to the podium at 8 p.m. and delved directly into the history of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Obama then made clear his intentions to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 71,000 Americans already there. It was a decision three months in the making and was based on an assessment delivered Aug. 31 by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to Pentagon officials. In his report, McChrystal spelled out his proposed strategy for reversing Taliban momentum and stabilizing the government.
Obama has already ordered a unit of Marines to deploy in the coming weeks, according to The Associated Press. Wetzel called this first order by the commander in chief “a good move,” but stressed the importance of quickly informing the appropriate commanders nationwide of his intentions to shift massive forces overseas.
As of Tuesday night the world became aware of Obama’s plan to surge into Afghanistan in the first part of 2010. Obama called the time frame, “the fastest pace possible” to achieve the desired objective: Deny al-Qaida a safe haven in Afghanistan and strengthen Afghan Security Forces and the government.
“I hope also that he sends a strong message to the enemy, al-Qaida and the Taliban that we’re here to stay, we’re not going home and we’re here to give the Afghan people the security and freedom that the deserve as members of the free world,” Wetzel said.
In the hours leading up to Obama’s address, retired Maj. Gen. Ken Leuer spoke to the Ledger-Enquirer about what he hoped the president would include in his speech.
“I’m anxious to hear the president because I really want to listen to the details of how he is going to present this,” Leuer said. “My concern is that we get a truly well defined and measurable outcome, not something like, ‘We’re going to go on and do great things and make people feel good until the world is happy and then we’ll bring our troops home.’ I don’t want to hear that.”
Though success in Afghanistan will require, according to the president, an additional $30 billion — a sum that is sure to further bloat an already inflated federal deficit and cause members of Congress to grumble — both Wetzel and Leuer said it’s a necessary expenditure. Obama concurred, adding that he would work with Congress on such issues.
“They shouldn’t even be talking about cost,” Wetzel said about members of Congress. “If you’re going to fight a war, you go in to fight the war. You make the commitment to fight the war. You go do it and you pay for the resources required to do it.”
Leuer added, “What we’re expecting to accomplish, if we’re going to go in and do it, we should do it right and bear the cost, and if we don’t want to do it right and bear the cost, then we should not start.
“If we’re going to do it, then we have to be prepared to put the resources behind it, manpower and dollars,” he continued. “That’s the way any sensible commander takes a look at the mission.”
Obama’s announcement that there will be a renewed focus on training Afghan forces no doubt came as a relief to Leuer who said he believes success is contingent on a competent and capable Afghan Security Force.
“I think before any government can succeed it needs a very strong internal security force — which are your police — and it needs an element that can protect it from outside influence, and that of course is your military,” Leuer said. “And until those forces are in place, the government fundamentally cannot function for fear of annihilation.
“The approach to building solid security forces, internal and external, is going to take time,” Leuer continued. “It’s going to take years. You don’t make generals overnight.”
American military forces have 18 months to get the job done in Afghanistan from the time they arrive in country in the early part of 2010 to the time they begin to pull back in July 2011, according to Obama’s plan. A timetable for withdrawal, however, was not something Wetzel wanted the president to discuss.
“There should be no exit strategy announced to the enemy,” Wetzel said.
The president said he will make tougher demands on both the Afghan and Pakistani governments and ask for an additional contribution of NATO forces to the war effort. He also asked the American people to rally around this effort as they did in the months following 9/11.
The AP reported Monday that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced 500 more U.K. troops would arrive in Afghanistan next month and that French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose nation has more than 3,000 in Afghanistan, said French troops would stay “as long as necessary” to stabilize the country.
“We’re all in this together” Wetzel said of America and its allies. “Let’s go in and clean it up.”