Afghan, Pakistan carnage raises heat on Obama

Carnage in Pakistan and America’s bloodiest month in Afghanistan are sharpening President Barack Obama’s dilemma on troop deployments while stoking political demands for swifter action.

“We watch this situation continue to deteriorate while this long protracted process of decision-making goes on,” Republican Senator John McCain told CBS on Wednesday.

“We are not operating in a vacuum. The president of the United States needs to make this decision and soon. Our allies are nervous and our military leadership is becoming frustrated.”

The White House counters that Obama’s soul searching is justified by the gravity of his choice on whether to plunge tens of thousands of people into the worsening war.

“I don’t think the American people agree with Senator McCain on that,” Obama spokesperson Robert Gibbs said.

“I think it’s important to hear and to get this right.”

Already fragile US public opinion on the war is being tested by a rush of recent casualties in Afghanistan, with October the bloodiest month for American troops of the eight-year conflict so far.

Vicious bombings in Pakistan—the latest killing about 100 people in a Peshawar market on Wednesday—are meanwhile stirring new fears of instability and concern for the US-allied government in Islamabad.

The Peshawar bombing erupted hours after the start of a visit to Pakistan by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who vowed the US would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Pakistan’s people in the anti-terror struggle.

But the fraud-tainted Afghan election, political manoeuvring over the run-off, and a brazen Taliban attack on a UN compound in Kabul that killed eight people will hardly stem scepticism of the US Afghan mission.

Republicans see the turmoil of recent days as a sign Obama must honour war commander General Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40 000 more troops.

But Democratic Senator Russ Feingold spoke for many war opponents when he said he wanted success in Afghanistan but not at any price.

“The national security and the individual security to the American people is the most important issue to me,” Feingold told MSNBC.

Outwardly, Obama, who prides himself on thriving under pressure, appears unphased by the quickening crisis, scheduling the next meeting of his exhaustive policy review with US military chiefs on Friday.

On Tuesday, he told servicemen and women in Florida he would not “rush” a decision on which lives depend.

Aides say no one takes the duty of ordering troops to war more seriously than Obama, as he must sign condolence letters to families of the fallen.

But time is running short to quell domestic political demands and meet the practical requirement of issuing deployment orders in time for any new troops to be in place by the next Afghan spring.

Expectations are mounting that Obama could reveal his response to war commander McChrystal’s request for 40 000 more combat troops for Afghanistan before he leaves for an eight-day trip to Asia on November 11.

The resignation of a State Department Afghan expert Matthew Hoh, who warned the US presence is making the insurgency worse, is meanwhile giving ammunition to those who question the rationale of the mission.

Obama is manoeuvring on fragile political ground as he makes a decision shaped largely by national security and military considerations.—AFP


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