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Obamas war plan sparks both concern, praise
Many support Afghanistan troop surge
1203AFGHAN.Douglas Young
Douglas Young

1203AFGHANaud

Vietnam War veteran Bill Harris, a Hall County resident, gives his views on President Barack Obama’s plans concerning the war in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama’s plans to beef up troops in Afghanistan but begin military withdrawals in 18 months locally received both strong praise and sharp criticism Wednesday.

"I applaud how he has added a lot more troops, but, on the downside, I’m really troubled by his announcement that we’re going to start pulling out troops," said Douglas Young, a political science and history professor at Gainesville State College.

"... I can’t help but think that al-Qaida and the Taliban are cheering."

Obama unveiled his plans in a nationally televised address Tuesday while speaking before cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

He said the new forces would begin withdrawing from the embattled nation in July 2011 because Americans "have no interest in fighting an endless war."

The pace of the withdrawal, however, remains uncertain and depends, administration officials said, on "conditions on the ground."

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of the country and "have severe consequences for the United States and the world."

Timothy May, History & Philosophy Department head at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, said he believes the buildup is necessary and overdue.

"These troops should have been there from the very beginning," he said. "The whole invasion of Afghanistan has been a disaster from the beginning. It’s about time some serious decisions are made."

But he also believed Obama shouldn’t have given a timetable for withdrawal.

"I don’t know how you can set a timeline when you don’t know what the end result is going to be at this time," May said.

"I think perhaps it’s a goal and perhaps they’re hoping ... in 18 months to have brought in sufficient trainers and troops to stabilize things, and the trainers will have produced more soldiers for the Afghan army."

Young said he worries how effective the U.S. can be in training Afghans now that Afghans also know the U.S. might be leaving next year.

"If you’re a poor Afghan and you already risking your life by helping American troops, and you know now the American troops are going to be leaving, are you now going to continue to cooperate with the Americans?" he said.

"This announcement makes it so much more difficult for us to be able to recruit good Afghans who want to help us, who hate the Taliban."

Bill Harris, a Vietnam War veteran and Hall County resident, also was strong in condemning the withdrawal announcement.

"You can’t give the enemy that kind of information," said Harris, who served in the Navy aboard the USS Halsey, a guided missile frigate, from 1965 to 1968. "You have to keep them guessing."

Republicans in Congress, including Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, also expressed concerns about withdrawal.

Many Democrats said they weren’t convinced that sending more troops will hasten an end to the war. They also question whether the money used for troop deployments will drain resources from other domestic priorities, like health care and job creation.

A nationwide group with a Georgia chapter, Military Families Speak Out, issued a statement Wednesday opposing the troop upgrade, saying it is afraid Obama "is willing to gamble in a no-win situation with the lives of our loved ones and the loved ones of others."

The group goes on to say that "sending more troops will not end this war; bringing them home now will."

Jill Sullens, a Dahlonega resident whose husband, Andrew "Andy" Sullens, was injured in Afghanistan, said she agrees more troops are needed to end the conflict.

"If they are going to be able to start pulling troops out by 2011, I think it’s a good thing they’re sending men in," she said. "They need the extra help to get the job done the right way so they can get home as fast as possible.

"I’m kind of torn," Sullens added. "I definitely don’t want anyone to have to go through what Andrew went through, but if they do want to pull out and bring everybody home, then I guess it is good they’re going to send more in that they can get this done in a more efficient manner."

Army Spc. Andrew Sullens had been in Afghanistan about a month as a member of Charlie Troop, a reconnaissance and surveillance outfit attached to the 108th Cavalry Regiment and based out of Dalton, when a Humvee he was in ran over an explosive device.

The May 17 blast threw Sullens about 25 feet from the vehicle, knocking him unconscious. He suffered a broken hip and leg, along with severe burns.

Sullens still is recovering from the injuries, as he is being treated as an outpatient at Fort Gordon in Augusta, his wife said.

Asked whether she thought her husband might return to Afghanistan, she said, "I don’t think so."

The Gainesville-based 802nd Ordnance Company is scheduled to leave this month for Afghanistan. The U.S. Army Reserve unit is training in Fort Hood, Texas, and is expected to be deployed 400 days.

Another Gainesville-based military outfit, Charlie Company, which is part of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade, is scheduled to return in March from Afghanistan after a one-year deployment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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