Too few troops, too much spin

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

Asense of un­re­al­ity over­shad­ows our de­bate on Afghan war pol­icy across the spec­trum of opin­ions. The un­re­al­ity de­rives from the sim­ple fact that we do not have enough troops to ra­tio­nally im­ple­ment an ad­e­quate de­fense of our na­tional in­ter­ests. So ev­ery ar­gu­ment for Afghanistan pol­icy tends to seem un­se­ri­ous, per­haps point­less.

For ex­am­ple, Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal’s pro­posal calls for a coun­terin­sur­gency war (COIN) mod­eled on the Army and Marine Corps Coun­terin­sur­gency Man­ual, de­vel­oped by Gen. David H. Pe­traeus with strong in­put from Gen. McChrys­tal.

Pur­suant to that stan­dard, to fully man a COIN strat­egy we would need 20 to 25 troops per 1,000 res­i­dents in Afghanistan. That would re­quire 600,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops and po­lice.

Ac­cord­ing to CNN, at the height of the Iraq surge, there were 29 troops for each 1,000 res­i­dents. Cur­rently, there are about 260,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops on the ground, about 11 troops per 1,000 res­i­dents. With ad­di­tional 30,000 U.S. and 5,000 NATO troops, that would bring the force den­sity rate up to 12.5 troops for ev­ery 1,000 res­i­dents — barely half that needed to rea­son­ably hope for suc­cess. More­over, the his­tory of COINs — from Philip­pines, Al­ge­ria and Malaya to Viet­nam — is that they will take many years to suc­ceed — if then.

Notwith­stand­ing that guid­ance, Gen. McChrys­tal asked for only 40,000 more troops be- cause, ob­vi­ously, we do not have an­other 340,000 troops avail­able. And, given that the word from some of our troops in Afghanistan that the Afghanistan Na­tional Army more or less re­fuses to fight, we are not go­ing to find an­other 300,000 ad­e­quate fight­ing sol­diers from the lo­cals in the next year or two.

Notwith­stand­ing the in­suf­fi­cient num­ber of troops re­quested by the gen­eral, Pres­i­dent Obama has ba­si­cally en­dorsed the McChrys­tal rec­om­men­da­tions — with a time sen­si­tive exit strat­egy added on. In the pres­i­dent’s words:

“I do not make this de­ci­sion lightly. I make this de­ci­sion be­cause I am con­vinced that our se­cu­rity is at stake in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. This is the epi­cen­ter of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism prac­ticed by al Qaeda. [. . .] This is no idle dan­ger; no hy­po­thet­i­cal threat. In the last few months alone, we have ap­pre­hended ex­trem­ists within our bor­ders who were sent here from the bor­der re­gion of Afghanistan and Pak­istan to com­mit new acts of ter­ror. And this dan­ger will only grow if the re­gion slides back­wards, and al Qaeda can op­er­ate with im­punity. [. . .]”

The pres­i­dent went on in his West Point speech to ex­plain why he was not en­dors­ing the calls of oth­ers for “a more dra­matic and open-ended es­cala- tion of our war ef­fort”: “I re­ject this course be­cause it sets goals that are be­yond what can be achieved at a rea­son­able cost, and what we need to achieve to se­cure our in­ter­ests.”

So, even though “our se­cu­rity is at stake in Afghanistan and Pak­istan,” we must make do without goals that are “be­yond what can be achieved at a rea­son­able cost.”

Note that the rea­son the pres­i­dent said he is in­creas­ing our troop strength is to “deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must re­verse the Tal­iban’s mo­men­tum and deny it the abil­ity to over­throw the gov­ern­ment.” Yet, be­cause we don’t have suf­fi­cient troops, our strat­egy is merely to hold larger cities and towns, do what we can to build up the Afghan army and gov­ern­ment, and start leav­ing in 18 months — in­evitably al Qaeda will con­tinue to have “safe haven” in much of the coun­try- side bor­der­ing Pak­istan — even if we suc­ceed wher­ever we try to re­gain con­trol.

Along with that crit­i­cal strate­gic short­com­ing of our new Afghan/Pak­istan pol­icy, crit­ics of the pres­i­dent’s es­ca­la­tion point out that al Qaeda can eas­ily find safe haven in Ye­men, So­ma­lia and other parts of the Horn of Africa. (The jun­gles of South and Cen­tral Amer­ica could be added to that list, as could parts of the dense cities of Ham­burg, Ger­many; Lon­don; Paris; Rot­ter­dam, Nether­lands and Falls Church, Va.). But be­cause we clearly don’t have enough troops to gain con­trol of those other ar­eas, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and its Repub­li­can de­fend­ers largely ig­nore that gibe.

The fail­ure of the war ad­vo­cates to match up their cor­rect de­scrip­tion of the dan­ger from rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror vi­o­lence with the U.S. troop strength needed to hold it back is what gives an un­re­al­is­tic, al­most in­sin­cere air to the en­tire de­bate.

On Dec. 8, 1941, when the United States de­clared war on Ja­pan, the U.S. Army’s strength was about 1.6 mil­lion. The Navy level was about 330,000.

But Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt did not limit his strat­egy to what his gen­er­als could do with those sol­dier and sailor lev­els. Roo­sevelt de­signed a strat­egy for victory — and back-en­gi­neered the nec­es­sary troop lev­els. By De­cem­ber 1942, the Army was up to about 5.4 mil­lion. By the spring of 1945 it was over 8 mil­lion, while the Navy was over 4 mil­lion men. (out of a to­tal U.S. pop­u­la­tion of 139 mil­lion). Victory can come at that high a price.

But nei­ther for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, nor Mr. Obama (nor, I’m sure, the Amer­i­can pub­lic) would con­sider, for ex­am­ple a draft (as I ad­vo­cated in my re­cent book, “Amer­i­can Grit”) to in­crease our fight­ing ca­pac­ity. That level of sac­ri­fice nec­es­sary to gain safety from the still-gath­er­ing threat of rad­i­cal Is­lam is be­yond cur­rent Amer­i­can sen­si­bil­i­ties.

So United States gov­ern­ments (both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic) pro­pose half mea­sures — and re­ceive only half sup­port. Peo­ple rea­son­ably ask them­selves why we should sac­ri­fice life and trea­sure for a plan that won’t even work.

Tony Blank­ley is the au­thor of “Amer­i­can Grit: What It Will Take to Sur­vive and Win in the 21st Cen­tury” (Reg­n­ery, 2009) and vice pres­i­dent of the Edel­man pub­lic-re­la­tions firm in Wash­ing­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.