It’s finally official: the US will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The number may have topped the headlines, but it is only the latest chapter in what is shaping up to be A Tale of Two Timelines. The public was expecting President Obama to give some idea of an exit strategy and he didn’t disappoint. July 2011 is the date he set to start pulling US forces out of Afghanistan. By announcing a timeline, Obama may have pacified elements at home that have soured on the war, but he’s done so at the expense of confirming to all -- including the Taliban -- that there is an expiration date on the coalition’s commitment.
The Taliban have no timetable. They are in it for the long haul. Fighting for control of their homeland, the consequences of defeat are far greater for them than for any occupying force. They could choose to go underground and come out when the coalition’s numbers have sufficiently dwindled (a natural course for many insurgencies), but that would mean giving up hard won momentum; something most fighting forces are loath to do.
I see the Taliban responding to this latest surge one of two ways; they can either hit the coalition full frontal while the new troops are finding their way on the ground or they can spread out to other areas of Afghanistan and concentrate on hitting softer targets. Hitting green soldiers before they find their feet would inevitably take the fight into key population centres, where Obama plans to focus the bulk of the surge.
I have long been against sending more troops to Afghanistan and have repeatedly argued for the immediate withdrawal of US and NATO forces. Topping my list of reasons is my firm belief that deploying more troops will only result in more coalition deaths. Concentrating additional forces in population centres could very well entice the Taliban to step up their insurgency in these areas. If this happens, a sharp increase in civilian casualties is almost certain as well.
More civilian deaths will no doubt turn more Afghans against the coalition. Some would argue it could have the opposite effect and turn more civilians against the Taliban. Perhaps this is where timelines matter most. You have to wonder, how many Afghans will factor in who will be around in five or ten year’s time and who won’t when deciding who to back.