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More Efficient Counterterrorism that Saves Money

Using Smaller, Specially Trained Forces Instead of Thousands of Troops

SOURCE: AP/Allauddin Khan

U.S. soldiers walk in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday, February 7, 2011. President Barack Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops this July and have them completely out of Afghanistan by 2014, when the Afghans say they will be ready to take control.

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The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces should make it clear that the United States does not have to send hundreds of thousands of troops into Arab countries to overturn their leaders or win the hearts and minds of the local populations. Rather, the United States should adopt a counterterrorism policy that relies on a comparatively small number of specially trained forces from the Joint Special Operations Command, with intelligence gained by unmanned planes, satellites, or agents on the ground.

This approach will be more effective and it can help us deal with our exploding federal deficit, which Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says is the greatest threat to our national security.

Substantial sums of money can be saved in the near future by reducing our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The remaining 40,000 American troops must leave Iraq by the end of this year according to the Status of Forces Agreement signed by President George W. Bush in late 2008. But some U.S. military officials are pressuring Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to change his mind.

Al-Maliki, however, believes his security forces are more than capable of handling the remaining Al Qaeda insurgents by themselves. But if that does not prove to be the case, we can pursue them with our Special Forces and drones and save about $30 billion in the defense budget.

Similarly, President Barack Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops this July and have them completely out of Afghanistan by 2014, when the Afghans say they will be ready to take control. The president should withdraw at least one-third of the 100,000 American troops this year. We can save about $33 billion this year and $100 billion over the next three years by pursuing this plan, since it costs about $1 million to support each member of the armed forces in Afghanistan.

The job can be turned over to the Special Forces if Al Qaeda rears its ugly head in Afghanistan again and Afghan forces prove unable to handle it themselves.

This is the strategy we are using against Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and it should be our primary strategy going forward.

Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at American Progress.

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