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War Games: Pentagon Tests Two Afghanistan Scenarios

The Washington Post reports that the Defense Department has been testing two potential troop scenarios for Afghanistan. Both of them increase troops to a significant degree.

The exercise, led by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, examined the likely outcome of inserting 44,000 more troops into the country to conduct a full-scale counterinsurgency effort aimed at building a stable Afghan government that can control most of the country. It also examined adding 10,000 to 15,000 more soldiers and Marines as part of an approach that the military has dubbed “counterterrorism plus.”

Both options were drawn from a detailed analysis prepared by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan, and were forwarded to President Obama in recent weeks by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

I’m all for testing hypotheses and actually getting analysis of the situation before committing more forces. But to be clear, the low-end option would increase troops by 15-20% over the current number in the country.

There’s also a confirmation of an option for an 80,000-troop increase, which “isn’t under serious consideration.” It almost certainly exists to make the 40,000-troop increase look like the middle course.

The NATO Secretary-General, former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, presented a public appeal for more troops on his blog this weekend. NATO formally endorsed the preferred option of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for 40,000 more troops.

As for the runoff election and the governmental partner for all this military might, the challenger in the runoff, Abdullah Abdullah, may boycott the election because of the pro-Hamid Karzai members of the Election Commission.

Despite his public promises that he will participate in the Nov. 7 runoff, Abdullah Abdullah has been discussing the possibility of pulling out, an outcome that could create a new political crisis and throw the legitimacy of any new government into question. His aides argue that it would be dangerous to enter an election that might reproduce the massive fraud that discredited the vote in August.

Abdullah’s main running mate, Homayoun Shah Assefy, said that it was clear that the United States and the international community would resist such a boycott but that it might be necessary if the Independent Election Commission is not purged of its prominent Karzai supporters.

“Lots of our international friends won’t be happy. We will have them on our backs,” Assefy said in an interview. “But for the interest of our country, is a rigged and controversial election better than boycotting the election? I think the second.”

Abdullah went further today, saying that he would not participate in the runoff without the firing of the election committee chairman, in a move some see as “cover for an honorable withdrawal” from the election. The chairman was quoted by the New York Times saying “We will have another election, and we’ll have the same result. Karzai is going to win,” so Abdullah does have a point.

Both Karzai and Abdullah dismissed suggestions of a power-sharing arrangement, probably the best-case scenario from the Administration’s perspective. Meanwhile protesters in Kabul burned Barack Obama in effigy after rumors of American troops desecrating the Koran. So we’re back to that. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that 14 US troops died today in two helicopter crashed in the country.

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David Dayen

David Dayen