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There are now about 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan. Military commanders have asked for reinforcements of up to 5,000 more.

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The Groundhog Day War in Afghanistan

American soldiers in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan in April. Credit Noorullah Shirzada/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It’s hard not to feel a disquieting, even disheartening, sense of déjà vu as the Pentagon presses its request to increase the American forces in Afghanistan. That is where the United States has spent 16 years fighting the longest war in its history at a cost of more than $800 billion and 2,000 American lives. Where there is still no peace, and where everything seems to be going backward. Where the Taliban has regained the initiative, attacking as it pleases and expanding its territorial reach, and where other extremists — Al Qaeda and the Islamic State — also have a foothold.

There are now about 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan. Military commanders have asked for reinforcements of up to 5,000 more. Just a modest increase, they argue, a “mini” surge of troops. But 5,000 troops would boost the American commitment by roughly 60 percent, a sizable reinvestment in a conflict that President Barack Obama had promised was drawing to a close.

It is not unusual for American military commanders to ask for more troops and weapons in pursuit of victory. But can they make a decisive difference? How can 3,000 or even 5,000 more American troops ensure victory when the United States at one point had a force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan and was unable to defeat the Taliban and stabilize the country? And what would victory look like anyway?

The commanders have put their proposition to President Trump, and so far he has said nothing. Despite the cost of the American presence, $3.1 billion per month, the matter is not among his priorities and indeed hardly seems to be on his radar. The war received scant attention during the presidential campaign and his only recent acknowledgment of its existence was a meeting last week with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, in which he commended Mr. Ghani’s leadership and praised the bravery of Afghan troops.

The White House is reportedly divided over the issue. Some experts argue that a surge would allow American advisers to train and assist a greater number of Afghan forces and place American troops closer to the front lines. The Afghans still need help with such basics as managing their motor pool, supplying bullets and gasoline to troops in the field, and administering payrolls. They also need help with intelligence.


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