Just because the war in Afghanistan is winding down doesn’t necessarily mean that the armed forces can expect a break.
A recent memorandum to President Obama from Michael O’Hanlon, a member of the Brookings Institute, urges Obama to send thousands of troops to both the war torn east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Libya.
O’Hanlon insists that a small force is all that the US needs to commit to the region to ensure major security gains.
O’Hanlon urges, in his memorandum to Obama, that:
[A] total of roughly 5,000 U.S. troops, to the DRC to beef up the existing U.N. peacekeeping force of just under 20,000 and give it the capacity to help the DRC get on its feet … You should also deploy up to several hundred Americans as part of a coalition team to train and mentor Libyan security forces so that Libya, which seemed a successful part of the Arab Spring when Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011 but has since descended into chaos, can return to a more successful path.
This small force is completely within reason, O’Hanlon believes, due to the freeing up of soldiers after the ending of the war in Iraq and the winding down of operations in Afghanistan.
Although the US has been involved in low level training of DRC troops in the past, sending 5,000 troops to the country’s turbulent east would be an unprecedented – and likely immensely unpopular – move, as the DRC poses no risk to US national security.
The call for deployment of troops in Libya could be equally unpopular with Americans. Obama and other military officials long insisted that Libya would require absolutely “no boots on the ground.”
This position could be reversed as Libya has been progressively sliding into a worse and worse state of anarchy. Rebels and extremists have been able to pillage Libyan weapons stores, leading to an increasing state of lawlessness stretching from Mali to Tunisia. Many of the weapons have flowed into the hands of al-Qaeda linked fighters in the region.
French troops are already engaged in fighting militants in Mali, and more recently the growing sectarian conflict in the Central African Republic, but O’Hanlon believes that a wider sense of security will not reach the region until Libya is fully stabilised.
Still, Obama insisted during his State of the Union address Tuesday that US involvement in any future conflicts would be a last resort.
“I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary. Nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts,” the president said.
O’Hanlon holds onto hope that the US will become involved. He believes that this is a key time period to help stabilise Africa, and that:
[I]n a broader historic sense, helping make Africa a “zone of hope” could prove a durable and notable accomplishment. And after the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has created advisory capacity of a type it never had before that could make a major contribution elsewhere.
Whether Obama, and the average American, agrees with O’Hanlon is to be seen. But, with an increasingly war weary population, it is unlikely that anyone will look to his recommendations with much excitement.
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