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US media reflects bitter Afghan debate

US General Stanley McChrystal (R) arriving at the Baraki Barak Joint combat Outpost (JCOP) in Logar Province
Mr Obama faces a difficult decision amid a slew of divergent opinions

Debate in Washington is raging over what the US should do in Afghanistan. This selection of recent opinion pieces illustrates the deep divisions in thought.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, writing in Newsweek magazine, sets out why the decision facing President Obama is so tough.

"The request for additional forces by the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, poses cruel dilemmas for President Obama. If he refuses the recommendation and General McChrystal's argument that his forces are inadequate for the mission, Obama will be blamed for the dramatic consequences. If he accepts the recommendation, his opponents may come to describe it, at least in part, as Obama's war. If he compromises, he may fall between all stools - too little to make progress, too much to still controversy. And he must make the choice on the basis of assessments he cannot prove when he makes them."

Lisa Curtis and James Phillips, of the Heritage Foundation think tank, argue for an increase in troop numbers.

"If the Obama administration chooses to deny its field commander's request for more troops and instead seeks to engage Taliban leaders in negotiations with the vain hope that these militants will break from their al-Qaeda allies, the results would likely be disastrous."

But EJ Dionne, writing in the Washington Post, urges caution.

"Obama is right to have grave qualms about an extended commitment of many more American troops to Afghanistan. Obama was elected not to escalate a war but to end one. The change and hope he promised did not involve a vast new campaign to transform Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, Leslie H Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, advocates "a real and strong middle option" - a small surge, and a focus on arming and training Afghan troops.

"The US has never won a classic civil war or a fight against an insurgency in which it bore the brunt of battle and became the local villain. Vietnam is the obvious example. For the sake of friendly Afghans and for our own security, our goal now should be to make this their war, not our war."

Jon Soltz, who was a captain in Operation Iraqi Freedom, argues on The Huffington Post that the greatest need is for a fast and firm decision.

"The administration continues to say, and I continue to believe, that Afghanistan/Pakistan is not a war of choice. But, how we continue to wage it is a series of choices. And, on these choices, the president must make some relatively quick decisions, and make his case to the American people."

Meanwhile for Caitlin Talmadge, a visiting fellow at Georgetown University writing in the Christian Science Monitor, the issue of troop numbers and tactics is just a distraction.

"A prompt exit from the country - and attainment of many of America's more ambitious strategic goals there - ultimately depends on the viability of Afghan security forces, not on the US military's tactics or force levels. Unfortunately, building Afghan forces is likely to be much more difficult than often recognised."



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