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Afghanistan: Too little, too late; too much, too late; too late

I wasn’t going to comment on the Obama/Bush/Pentagon/GOP/Dahmer plan to add some 30,000 US troops to the 60,000-some already in Afghanistan because it’s a stupid plan, but I went ahead and read the speech and there’s a relevant point I want to make in response.

According to the guy who wrote the recently (2006) updated Army counterinsurgency manual, who is also the guy in charge of the military command with responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan—a guy who presumably had some voice in the decision to send more troops, although unlike many he seems to have kept his counsel out of the press—effective counterinsurgency requires 20 troops for every 1,000 local people. (Along with niceties such as legitimate, effective local governance, but one fairy tale at a time.)

Afghanistan has a population of 28 million. Obama says his goal in Afghanistan is to deny al Qaeda the use of Afghanistan as a base of operations by finally defeating the Taliban insurgency. Whether or not that makes diplomatic or strategic or common sense, successful implementation of the counterinsurgency theory made official by General David Petraeus demands 580,000 troops.

Unfortunately, the US is about a million troops shy of the capacity to put 580,000 troops in the field. Fortunately, they don’t all have to be US troops; the 17 troops from NATO countries can combine with Afghanistan’s army to kick in the other 480,000, just as soon as the latter are trained to a suitable standard and vetted for allegiance to the state. Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s army is about 479,983 troops shy of meeting those requirements.

So militarily speaking, Obama is screwed. Candidate Obama said in his obligatory Foreign Affairs Magazine essay (that’s the house organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, never met a war they didn’t like) that he would grow the military by about 100,000 Marines and Army troops; even if he could do that overnight and they were all combat troops and he could send them all to Afghanistan right away, he would still be about two thirds short.

Fortunately, there are circumstances in which it’s theoretically possible to get around the troop shortage. Unfortunately, not a single one of those circumstances exists in Afghanistan or is likely to. The government is illegitimate, corruption is endemic, foreign aid is hopelessly misdirected and ineffective, the US/NATO presence is (shockingly!) viewed as an occupying force and the sympathies of much of the population are (shockingly!) not with it.

The annual cost of keeping a soldier in the field in a combat zone is about a million bucks, so we’ll be pissing away some $100 billion in the country annually when Obama’s plan is fully implemented, not counting all the new hardware we’ll be breaking over there and all the indirect continuing costs such as long-term medical care, disability payments and so on.

All for an effort that military theory suggests is guaranteed to fail. But, you know: whatever.

One further note. General Petraeus is adored by the press, and his counterinsurgency manual was hailed as a work of military and philosophical genius when it was released. So why aren’t journalists comparing what he said then to what he’s implementing now?

Oh. Never mind.

4 comments to Afghanistan: Too little, too late; too much, too late; too late

  • JackD

    Weldon,
    Don’t you think it’s possible that Obama is looking for a way to get out of there? If he said, “OK, let’s boogie”, that wasn’t going to work was it?

    • Hey, Jack. I don’t know, wouldn’t it sort of have to work? I mean, if he orders troops to go there then they have to go, so I would think that if he orders them to leave then they have to leave. I know you mean politically, but jeez, that’s awfully cold; I would prefer to think that he’s clueless rather than that he’s ordering people to their pointless deaths just because he’s afraid to take the hit for not ordering them to their pointless deaths. Maybe we need to bring Henry Kissinger on board to resolve this thing.

  • [...] escalate a war in Afghanistan that at least some of the president’s advisers must have known to be doomed, and that had never for a moment resembled the description of it he offered to the  tuxedoed and [...]

  • [...] escalate a war in Afghanistan that at least some of the president’s advisers must have known to be doomed, and that had never for a moment resembled the description of it he offered to the  tuxedoed and [...]