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Long Island

Families with ties to U.S. effort in Afghanistan speak

Tajua Wiwczar, of Flanders, who's volunteered to return

Tajua Wiwczar, of Flanders, who's volunteered to return to Afghanistan in February. (November 25, 2009) Credit: Newsday/Photo by James Carbone

President Barack Obama has spent weeks listening to his top advisers about what course America should take in the 8-year-old war in Afghanistan. Some of his critics say he has taken too long. Others say he appropriately spent time discussing a number of potential options, none of which are perfect.

In a real sense, some have argued, there are two options - stay in the country, fight and try to stabilize a long unstable Afghanistan; or withdraw troops on the belief that the war against the Taliban is too costly and the objectives unclear.

By the end of last week, reports had leaked that Obama would probably recommend a plan to send as many as 35,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Obama is expected to address the nation Tuesday night on the matter. Among the listeners will be many Americans with deep, personal stakes in his decision - families of soldiers who have died in combat; families of soldiers still in harm's way; and families of soldiers scheduled to be deployed.

Here are the views of some of them:

Tajua Wiwczar, 20, of Flanders has volunteered to return to Afghanistan next year after having served a tour of duty there in 2008 with the Army National Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment. His father, Tim, also served in Afghanistan then. The younger Wiwczar wants the president to send more troops.

"We needed more troops to do what we we're trying to do. We were a team of about 20 to 24 people and we had about 300 miles of border to cover, and we just couldn't do it. I patrolled the Afghanistan-Pakistan border near Jalalabad. It's very, very rugged, very mountainous. So having more troops in Afghanistan, it would make a big difference.

"I think the mission should be to stabilize the country, and to support a not-so-corrupt government that can operate on their own two feet and defend themselves. Being over there is definitely expensive for America. I don't know what we will gain at the end of it, but I think we should be there as long as it takes. If we leave, they are just going to fall on their face and corruption will take over again.

"But whether we are in Afghanistan or not, we're still threatened by terrorism."

Robert Argentine of Farmingdale is the father of Marine Lance Cpl. James Argentine, 22, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Aug. 6. He says the president should fully comply with the recommendation of the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has reportedly called for adding as many as 45,000 additional troops to the 68,000 Americans already fighting there.

"I know of the guys who went over in my son's battalion; 10 of them didn't come home. So I think they need more troops. What the president is proposing is a start. But whether that would be adequate depends on whether he would reassess in a few months and send more if more were needed. It will be a quagmire no matter what he does, but I think adding troops is the best thing at this point. There are too few troops out there to give a real presence and to cover the area. You're fighting in someone else's backyard, with rough terrain that the Afghans know better than anyone.

"Anytime I talked with my son, he said the equipment was old and beat-up hand-me-downs. I don't have an exact figure for what the war is costing, but I know it costs in the billions. But if we pull out now, what's going to stop them from coming here? It's a tough fight no matter how you look at it."

Caroline Odle-Arrington of Hempstead has a husband, McKinley, and twin sister, Claudette Odle, who are preparing to deploy again with the Army to Afghanistan early next year, after having served there last year.

"They should end the war and bring our people home. But I know the president can't do it all at once. If he did, it would take him more than one term in office to bring them home slowly and surely. He's basically picking up other people's problems. It's going to take a while for everything to be rectified.

"But it's taking a toll on my husband and twin sister. He came home from Afghanistan in January, and by March, he was gone again for training. My sister came back Dec. 31 and now she's in California training to go back. Just looking at her, she looks so old now. My husband looks like he's aged 10 years.

"I think he's [Obama] doing the best he can. And what are we fighting for, that's my question. There is no way to define victory. There have been so many lives lost and I don't see a way to victory. There will always be someone in Afghanistan who will want to take power. There will always be that threat."

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