In his speech to Congress on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush made a series of demands on the Taliban government in Kabul, Afghanistan. He insisted that: al Qaeda leaders be turned over to the U.S.; all imprisoned foreign nationals, including Americans, were to be released; diplomats, aid workers, and foreign journalists were to be protected; terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were to be closed and everyone involved turned over to “appropriate authorities”; and the U.S. was to be given access to these sites to verify compliance.
The penalty for non-compliance was dire: “They [the Taliban government] will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.”
The rest is history. The next month we invaded Afghanistan to achieve the purposes the President outlined. And, more than eight years later we are still there.
But, the mission has grown. When our attention was drawn back to Afghanistan—after the continuing detour into Iraq—by the growing insurgency, the Bush administration permitted, even encouraged “mission creep.” Mission creep occurs when what you originally started out to do gradually becomes much grander. In this case we committed ourselves to “winning” or “victory” and that was tacitly assumed to include a stable democratic Afghan government at peace with all its domestic tribal components and its neighbor countries and founded on the rule of law, gender equality, a market economic system, and totally devoid of radical Islamic influence.
Now, the new commander, General McChrystal, says he needs 40,000 more troops to achieve that mission. And President Obama is weighing his alternatives.
The most plausible alternative is to return to the original mission: capture al Qaeda; protect the foreign community; bring remaining terrorists to justice; and eliminate all terrorist training camps. This can be achieved without a significant increase in troop strength. Indeed, it can be achieved by replacing counter-insurgency trained combat forces with counter-terrorism trained special forces. President Obama’s advisors, seemingly having accepted the mission creep, debate what troop strength is required to carry out the much grander mission.
The more plausible alternative, one that should have been made official policy many months ago, is to resume the original limited mission, the one that took us there eight long years ago.