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Losing Kilcullen

Forget the Vietnam analogies. Influential Australian counterinsurgency adviser, David Kilcullen, says the Obama administration risks a Suez style disaster if it fails to deploy the troop numbers requested by Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The deep divisions within the administration that have burst into the open in recent weeks along with the long delay in answering McChrystal’s plea for more troops has created deep concerns among NATO allies and has presented an exploitable opportunity for the Taliban, Kilcullen tells Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Kilcullen, who is an adviser to the State Department, says it would be irresponsible for the administration to opt for any kind of middle ground option that sends less than the 40,000 troops requested by McChrystal. "Time is running out for us to make a decision. We can either put in enough troops to control the environment or we can credibly communicate our intention to leave. Either could work. Splitting the difference is not the way to go,” he is quoted as saying.

“As an analogy, you have a building on fire, and it's got a bunch of firemen inside. There are not enough firemen to put it out. You have to send in more or you have to leave. It is not appropriate to stand outside pontificating about not taking lightly the responsibility of sending firemen into harm's way. Either put in enough firemen to put the fire out or get out of the house. That is my analogy of where we are. Either of those approaches could potentially work. If you have 40,000 troops it would be do-able. Anything less than 25,000 is throwing good money after bad."

When the administration risks losing the support of people such as Kilcullen, who have long supported the U.S. led war in Afghanistan, it is not an overstatement to say that it puts the future of the entire war effort in question. His reference to the 1956 Suez crisis (which resonates more with Europeans), is an important point; it was widely seen as the last gasp of a crumbling British empire and heralded the end of Britain as a global power.

Speaking at a U.S. Institute of Peace event in August, Kilcullen laid out four reasons for continuing the war in Afghanistan: first, because the West has a moral obligation to see it through after making commitments to the Afghan people; second, because NATO would be severely weakened by failure; third, because the effect of a collapse in Afghanistan on neighbor Pakistan would be severe; and fourth, because Afghanistan could once again become a haven for terrorists.

The U.S. and NATO faced a minimum of one to two years of heavy fighting then a two to three year process of handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan forces, then further years in a support, or “over-watch” role. “We’ll fight for two years and successfully transition or we’ll fight for two years and fail and go home,” he said at USIP.

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