Watching the headlines, you’d think that everyone agrees on the need for more troops in Afghanistan. But if you watch carefully, cracks appear in the facade. Several writers get it:
And yet, over the last few weeks, the progressive community that once pleaded for greater resources and attention to Afghanistan has begun to raise concerns about the idea that additional forces could change that country’s increasingly dire situation.
The angst is driven by a variety of concerns: what a longer-term military commitment to Afghanistan could mean for Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agendas, whether the Afghanistan has the capacity to improve itself, and whether U.S. military forces are best suited for the task.
In Afghanistan today, the United States and its allies are using the wrong means to pursue the wrong mission. Sending more troops to the region, as incoming president Barack Obama and others have suggested we should, will only turn Operation Enduring Freedom into Operation Enduring Obligation. Afghanistan will be a sinkhole, consuming resources neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government can afford to waste.
The presence of British forces in Afghanistan is providing ‘oxygen’ for al-Qaeda, the United Nations’ senior expert on the terrorist group has warned.
Richard Barrett, head of the UN’s al-Qaeda monitoring unit, said latest intelligence indicated that the operations of British and foreign troops in southern Afghanistan were galvanising the organisation. Barrett, who reports directly to the UN Security Council, added that the deployment of foreign troops in the country was acting as the ‘glue’ with which Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network was bonding support in the region.
Some now realize we cannot do what needs doing in Afghanistan with violence. Escalation advocates argue we need to move to a classic counterinsurgency. Here’s the problem: Military counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine requires 20 troops per 1,000 locals. For the whole of Afghanistan, that requires more than 650,000 troops. For only Pashtun areas, COIN requires more than 280,000 troops—far more than we maintain in Iraq. Due to the cost and manpower requirements, though, few propose a full counterinsurgency strategy. A “surge” of 25,000-40,000 troops—as proposed in a paper for Small Wars Journal by Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Downey, Lieutenant Colonel Lee K. Grubbs, Commander Brian J. Malloy and Lieutenant Colonel Craig R. Wonson—would only provide about half the troops required for COIN only in certain volatile areas of the country. But even this undermanned, overexposed effort would be enormously expensive.
This proposed move in Afghanistan would in no way be a temporary surge. The top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan:
“I don’t like to use the word ‘surge’ here because if we put these additional forces in here, it’s going to be for the next few years,” he said. “It’s not a temporary increase of combat strength.”
Don’t be fooled: what’s on the table is a sustained escalation, and a down-payment on future escalations.
Violence on the U.S.’s part will not end violence in Afghanistan.