WASHINGTON — Senator McCain will announce plans today for an Iraq-style "surge" of troops in Afghanistan.
An adviser to the campaign told The New York Sun that, in a speech to be delivered in Albuquerque, N.M., the senator will call for an increase in combat troops and the creation of a special Afghanistan tsar to coordinate policy toward the country. "There will be a surge for Afghanistan. It will be moving combat troops in and applying the lessons from Iraq and the strategy that was successful in Iraq and taking that to Afghanistan," this official said.
Mr. McCain has been reluctant to discuss in public what he would do with Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan, where reserve Taliban fighters in the tens of thousands are said to reside unmolested in safe havens created after the Pakistani national army stopped fighting a counterinsurgency in these tribal areas. Mr. McCain has said he will not telegraph what his strategy would be as commander in chief toward this sensitive diplomatic and military problem.
Senator Obama has since August 2007 called for the deployment of at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan and has said he will work to cajole the Pakistani military into fighting again.
Mr. Obama's Afghanistan policy was referenced in an op-ed piece by Mr. Obama in the New York Times that reiterated the Democrat's pledge to begin the withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Mr. Obama appeared to be moving away from that stance earlier this month when he announced he would be visiting Iraq to meet with military commanders there, and would be refining his earlier position based on their input.
Mr. Obama has not called his plan for Afghanistan a "surge," the term the White House used for the deployment of more than 30,000 troops to Iraq in 2007. But the idea of an Afghan surge was first broached by a Republican rival of Mr. McCain during the primaries, Mayor Giuliani, who called in early January at a speech in New Hampshire for doubling the number of troops in Afghanistan. At the time there were 25,000 American troops in the country. Today there are approximately 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, compared to more than 150,000 in Iraq.
Mr. Giuliani's director for foreign policy, Charles Hill, in an interview yesterday said it is difficult for presidential candidates to come up with a specific number of additional troops for Afghanistan. "There are a maelstrom of numbers and estimates you can get from the Pentagon on this. Remember there are American troops, but there are also NATO forces. At the end of the day, the next president will have to rely on the commanders in the field," Mr. Hill said.
Mr. Hill, who was executive assistant to Secretary of State Shultz and is currently a professor of grand strategy at Yale, said the success of American arms in Iraq makes possible more deployments to Afghanistan. "The Iraq war is over. Wars don't come to an end the way they used to. It ended as best it can end about last December. The front has shifted to the Afghan-Pakistan border. We've chased them into that corner. That is a very different situation and difficult to handle because of the border and because the terrorists have a sanctuary there. We can't get into that sanctuary, but Pakistan does not govern it. It is a black hole in the map of world order," he said.
Mr. Hill went on to say that the exact tactics that were successful in Iraq would not necessarily apply to Afghanistan. "The surge in Iraq was really a version of clear, hold, and build. When you take territory, you hold it to keep the population secure, in some sense the people would do the rest. They would be entrepreneurial," he said. "We can't hold territory in the tribal areas of Pakistan, another way to make the surge workable on the ground has to be found, and that has to be in some form with the Pakistani military."
In the last two months the Afghan front has claimed more American soldiers than the one in Iraq. Nine American soldiers were killed over the weekend defending a base in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar from a Taliban assault. Last month, the Taliban pulled off a daring prison break near Kandahar. Last year, a national intelligence estimate on Al Qaeda said its leadership had reconstituted in the tribal provinces in Pakistan that border Afghanistan.