Robert Pape , professor of political science at the University of Chicago testified today before the House Armed Services Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. Arguing against a troop increase in Afghanistan, the professor argued instead for a containment strategy where Western and Afghan forces would protect towns from increasing Taliban takeover but gradually scale-down forces while still financially aiding locals from afar. Pape believes that the presence of American troops has largely caused the insurgency to take place. He says in his New York Times piece, “The more Western troops we have sent to Afghanistan, the more the local residents have viewed themselves as under foreign occupation, leading to a rise in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.”
While it seems to be common sense that the presence of American troops in a combat area increases the chances of American troops being attacked, the assertion that the presence of the Western troops is the cause of the violence seems dubious. Rather, the relative absence of American troops has left a power vacuum in South Afghanistan that the Taliban has exploited to develop an insurgency. As recently in 2006, there were only 20,000 American forces in Afghanistan, while there were 160,000 American forces in Iraq during the 2007 surge– a country smaller than Afghanistan in both geographic size and population. During this time, the Afghan Taliban made advances over the Pashtun region and suicide attacks against Americans and Afghan government security forces skyrocketed to an average of around 120 incidences per year since 2006.
If we try a containment strategy without more troops, there is absolutely no guarantee that the Taliban will not continue to strengthen and secure more Afghan towns, including Kandahar. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda will enjoy a safe haven in the Taliban-occupied areas and have resources available to train foreigners for attacks in Western Countries. The safe havens allowed the network to flourish in the late 1990s when American troops were entirely absent, and that flourishing safe haven is reported to be happening again along the lawless Pakistan border.
Our troops are not the problem, but rather, the problem is the Taliban. Our troops could be part of the solution in defeating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan if the requests for additional troops are approved by the president.