by Jiang Guopeng
WASHINGTON, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Hailing President Barack Obama's policy
towards Afghanistan as "the right strategy for the first time," Michael
O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, urged the Obama
administration to send more troops to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban in the
In an interview with Xinhua, O'Hanlon, who is specialized in defense and
foreign policy, said Afghanistan's importance to the United States is greater
than it used to be, especially since al-Qaida and the Taliban have been reviving
their influence in the country and its neighboring Pakistan, a nuclear-armed
country with 170 million people.
"Al-Qaida likes to have a sanctuary either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan,
or along their border ... And if Pakistan is successful at controlling its own
territory better in the future, al-Qaida could move right back to Afghanistan,"
Meanwhile, "the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have begun to emerge
and work together, and so if you were to allow Afghanistan to collapse, then it
becomes a very convenient sanctuary for fighters who want to attack Pakistan."
Another reason for the United Stated to beef up security in Afghanistan is,
according to O'Hanlon, related to its "moral obligation."
"There's a perception among many Muslims that the United States doesn't
care about Muslims ... We need to convince Muslims around the world that we
value their people and we value their religion," he said.
FIRST RIGHT STRATEGY
"For a long time, we have considered Afghanistan by itself to be relatively
unimportant," said O'Hanlon.
The administration of George W. Bush paid inadequate attention to it,
because as soon as they overthrew the Taliban, they withdrew most of their
attention, and refused to add U.S. forces to the area, he said.
"For six years, seven years, without a strategy that really made much
sense, we just somehow hoped the Taliban was not capable of establishing greater
strength, and we were wrong." said O'Hanlon.
According to O'Hanlon, one of the biggest failures of the Bush
administration's Afghanistan policy is "we have not been protecting people."
"You have to stay long enough so that you can protect the population" and
help train the police and the army so they can do the job by themselves, said
Amendments are being made by Obama, he said. "It's the right strategy for
the first time," he said, referring to the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and
Pakistan presented by Obama on March 27.
Obama has specified that the new strategy's core goal "must be to disrupt,
dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent
their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan."
The strategy will have no chance of success without "significant increase"
of military and civilian deployment, said the president.
SHIFT? NOT EXACTLY
As to the so-called "shift" of U.S. strategic focus from Iraq to
Afghanistan, O'Hanlon said the word "shift" obviously overstates the real
situation in the two countries. "Don't forget we still have 130,000 U.S. troops
in Iraq, and we only have 58,000 in Afghanistan," said O'Hanlon.
"Here we are in July 2009, six months of the Obama presidency, and we still
have twice as many troops in Iraq than in Afghanistan," he said.
"There isn't this shift, because the shift implies you don't really care
about Iraq, just you decide to support Afghanistan; just you flow the forces as
fast as you can. But it's now not happening," said O'Hanlon.
"We are shifting our focus within Iraq from one type of mission to another
type of mission ... It is not a shift from Iraq to Afghanistan; it is a shift
from a very large presence in Iraq to a more modest presence in Iraq," he added.
O'Hanlon said 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq. However, he said
the change will not be so dramatic as what Obama has put as "going from a combat
role to a training role."
"In fact, even today we're doing a lot of training, and even after the
shift is completed, we will still do some combat, we have capability to do some
combat," he said.
"So this is not an end to the Iraqi operation by any means," said O'Hanlon,
adding that its conclusion could hardly be expected before the end of