President Barack Obama's plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan has proven divisive. Supporters hail it as a clear-eyed approach to a limited engagement. Some detractors want fewer troops; others want more. The issue of declaring a planned drawdown to begin in 18 months also is controversial.
The News Tribune newspaper in Tacoma contacted several retired generals with South Sound ties to ask their opinions. Here are excerpts of their comments. For more, go online to the F.O.B. Tacoma blog at blog.thenewstribune.com/military.
MORE CONTEXT NEEDED
Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik commanded Fort Lewis from 2004 to 2007 before leaving for Baghdad to oversee training of Iraqi security forces. Now retired, Dubik is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.
“The president was very strong in several areas. He reminded us why we went to Afghanistan to begin with, he laid out his strategic objectives, he defined operational objectives when he talked about denying a safe haven for al-Qaida and the Taliban. And he linked all this to our vital security interests, as well as those of our allies. …
“I thought it was not as strong in explaining the regional and global context of what we’re doing. Also, even though I thought the timetable (for a drawdown) was reasonable, I didn’t think announcing it was the best thing. It’s better to keep that vague than announce it. …
“The last thing that I thought wasn’t as clear or strong was how big the Afghan security forces have to be. A lot hinges on the size, confidence and competence of the Afghan military and police. And (the speech) was kind of thin on ways to move forward to accelerate their size and at the same time, increase their confidence.”
Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton of Fox Island helped build the Stryker brigades at Fort Lewis and later headed the U.S. Army Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Ga. He is now a senior adviser at the National Security Network, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.
“If you’re going to fight a war, fight it competently – and we have not seen that with the last administration. What this president has done is a very pragmatic, systemic approach to analyze what the problem is, what he needs to do to get after it and how he can apply the full spectrum of U.S. power. You need to balance diplomatic, political and economic power with military power. We have not been doing that the past eight years.
“The real intent here is to bump up the force structure to reverse the Taliban momentum, incubate the Afghan governance structure at every level, to incubate the development of their security forces.”
TOO MUCH DELAY
Lt. Gen. Bill Harrison served as Fort Lewis commander from 1987 to 1989. He later served as mayor of Lakewood from incorporation in 1996 to 2003.
“I support the president’s decision to send 30,000 troops. I do not like to see more troops sent into harm’s way. But we started something over there, and we have to stay to finish it. …
“Having said that, I think the president went about it the wrong way. What I think he should have done is, the day he received (Gen. Stanley) McChrystal’s request, he should have sat himself in his war room with his war staff and not come out until he had a decision. The way he waited months to make a decision looks like he’s telling the country and the troops over there that this wasn’t a priority.
“He did not say how he will pay for all this, and I’m very, very concerned about how he will pay for all of this, along with health care and (other policies).
“Lastly, I do not approve of him setting a timetable of July 2011. … To the Taliban and al-Qaida, 18 months is like a couple weeks to us. They’ll sit back now and wait and go into a training mode. And once we’re gone, they’ll plan to take over again. ”
LOCAL ALLIES KEY
Gen. John Shalikashvili was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993-97. He now lives in Steilacoom. Through his office he released this statement:
“I am in agreement with the overarching strategy that President Obama set forth. …
“A critical element of this strategy is the partnership with the Afghan government as well as their neighbors in Pakistan. Ownership of their role in this mission is critical to its accomplishment.
“In addition to the security mission, it is vital that we use all of the foreign policy resources available, in conjunction with our allies, to ensure stability of the government of Afghanistan and to help build a sustainable society for the Afghan people.
“Finally, it is imperative that we recognize the importance of the stance that Secretary Gates took in Senate testimony stating that we must evaluate our troop levels and timeline periodically and be willing to revise them as needed to ensure success of the mission.”
OBAMA ‘PLAYING POLITICS’
Maj. Gen. John Hemphill was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery in the Korean War and later commanded a battalion and brigade in Vietnam. He retired in 1985 and now lives in Steilacoom
“He’s playing politics. He’s not out to do anything. That’s what’s so tough on the soldiers. If you’re not going to go in there and do the job right, why go in there at all?
“(The timetable for withdrawal) is politics. We’re saying we’ll pull out in such-and-such a date when he should go over there now and ask the troops, ‘What do you think?’
“Afghanistan is like a child with many disabilities that has been in many foster homes. The US/NATO foster home will leave, but the disabilities remain. …
“We’re not doing the people any good with a surge and then walking away. They’re not going to be ready to take over. They’re nowhere near where Iraq is in terms of being able to take over. …
“I know it sounds like the right thing, to send (NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan commander Lt. Gen.) Bill Caldwell over there to set up an armed force and a police force that should be able to handle the country. But it takes time to train those people.”
Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758