Use American troops with caution

American troops are being used in a dangerous political balancing act by President Barack Obama. Some already may have died needlessly because of it. More unnecessary deaths – perhaps on a large scale – may lie ahead.

Obama has been eager to keep U.S. boots off the ground in the Middle East. But that has not meant absence of the American military in the region – only an effort to keep numbers as low as possible.

That is a recipe for disaster. So precipitous has been the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan that it has encouraged the Taliban to mount an offensive to retake control of the country. They are enjoying a substantial amount of success.

Earlier this year, Obama bowed to pleas from his generals to put the brakes on the Afghanistan pullout. More U.S. troops will remain there longer than the White House had pledged.

But the Taliban already are taking advantage. Not long ago, a suicide bomber killed six American soldiers near Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

Elsewhere, Obama has felt political pressure to do more to battle Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. A small contingent of special operations troops, possibly no more than 100, has been sent there.

No doubt they will inflict severe damage on IS forces. But their number is so low it is an open invitation for terrorist leaders to attack them in overwhelming numbers, simply to score a propaganda victory.

In adequate numbers for whatever task they are assigned, no one can defeat the American armed forces.

But sending them into a war piecemeal, for political reasons, is risking disaster.

Obama should consult the military and heed any warnings they may have about how many troops are needed – to avoid a bloody catastrophe.