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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 72/No. 30      July 28, 2008

U.S. escalates war in Afghanistan, Pakistan
Obama, McCain call for more troops
(lead article)
Getty Images
U.S. troops fire artillery near the Pakistan border in Bermel, Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON—After meeting with Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai in Kabul July 20, Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for U.S. president, reiterated his call to send at least two more U.S. combat brigades, about 7,000 troops, to fight the Taliban and its supporters in Afghanistan.

Five days earlier in a campaign stop in Albuquerque, John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, said he would send three combat brigades to Afghanistan.

The convergence of McCain’s and Obama’s views on one of the central fronts in Washington’s “global war on terror” is in line with the course the U.S. military has carried out for several months now, including stepped up combat operations by U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and increasing use of air strikes from fighter jets and Predator drones in Pakistan.

Afghanistan was the second stop of a Middle East tour by Obama, after visiting U.S. troops in Kuwait. The tour also includes Iraq, Jordan, and Israel.

Before his departure Obama gave a speech July 15 at the Ronald Reagan Building here outlining his views. The Illinois senator said that Iraq is not the central front in the “war on terror” and that he would be “taking the fight to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He would also seek larger troop contributions from NATO and fewer restrictions on the use of their troops.

Calling the tribal regions in Pakistan the “greatest threat to security,” Obama said, “We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like [Osama] bin Laden if we have them in our sights.”

Speaking the same day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, McCain called that remark “bluster” that makes it harder to get cooperation from the Afghani and Pakistani governments. But he made clear that he would also take military action in Pakistan. “When I am commander in chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run, and nowhere they can hide,” the Republican candidate said.  
Afghanistan surge
McCain has stressed his support for the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq when the Bush administration sent tens of thousands of additional troops there last year.

In his Albuquerque speech McCain said, “Senator Obama will tell you we can’t win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, he has it exactly backwards. It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan.”

Pointing to the increased size of the Iraqi army as part of the surge in Iraq, McCain said the size of the Afghan army needed to be at least doubled to around 160,000 troops.

McCain also said he would work to get agreement from NATO allies to have a single “supreme commander” of all coalition troops in Afghanistan.  
No ‘precipitous withdrawal’
In Iraq Obama met with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. An Iraqi government spokesman said afterward that “the Iraqi government believes the end of 2010 is the appropriate time for the withdrawal” of U.S. troops.

Obama has been criticized in the media for appearing to backtrack on his promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. During a campaign stop in North Dakota on July 3 Obama said he was ready to “refine” his plans.

In an interview published in the July 8 online edition of the Military Times, Obama said he welcomed the opportunity to “correct the record.”

“This whole notion that I would initiate a precipitous withdrawal just isn’t borne out by anything I’ve said. What I have repeatedly said … is that we should be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in,” Obama said.

The Illinois senator further said that if the violence continued to subside and the Iraqi army and police continued to improve that he hoped troops could be drawn down in a deliberate fashion. “If, on the other hand, you’ve got a deteriorating situation for some reason, then that’s going to have to be taken into account,” he added.

Asked if he would keep any Bush appointees, Obama said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates “has brought a level of realism and professionalism and planning to the job that is worthy of praise.”

Obama was met at the Baghdad airport by Gen. David Petraeus and later flew with him by helicopter to the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses the U.S. embassy and Iraqi government offices.

Both Obama and McCain have congratulated Petraeus, the former head of U.S.-led troops in Iraq, and his former deputy, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, on the confirmation of their promotions by the U.S. Senate July 10. Petraeus will now head the Central Command. Odierno will replace him as head of U.S.-led forces in Iraq. The almost unanimous Senate vote keeps together the two men most responsible for operations of the “surge” and integrates the two major fronts of Washington’s “global war on terror”—Iraq and Afghanistan.

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