As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, September 11, 2009

More Afghan Security Forces, Fine, But Question The Overall Mission Too

We heard more doubts from Democrats today about any escalation in Afghanistan, but I find myself unimpressed with Carl Levin's rationale.

The leading Senate Democrat on military matters said Thursday that he was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces.

The comments by the senator, Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, illustrate the growing skepticism President Obama is facing in his own party as the White House decides whether to commit more deeply to a war that has begun losing public support, even as American commanders acknowledge that the situation on the ground has deteriorated [...]

In the telephone interview on Thursday, Mr. Levin said he was not ruling out sending more troops eventually, but rather insisted that the United States try again on a years-old project: finding a way to expand and accelerate the training of the Afghan security forces.

“I just think we should hold off on a commitment to send more combat troops until these additional steps to strengthen the Afghan security forces are put in motion,” he said.

Levin reiterated this in a speech. And maybe Afghanistan needs more security forces. But is it at all in the US national security interest to have 68,000 troops and all kinds of trainers and contractors on the ground in Afghanistan so they can strengthen their own security forces? This assumes that what is required in Afghanistan is an American presence and a general military buildup. That's really not our decision to make. The war started to drive out Al Qaeda. Eight years later, Al Qaeda has been driven out. There is no Al Qaeda presence in that country, and in general Al Qaeda is weakened and destabilized, particularly in Pakistan. So what is the rationale for staying? There is no question that we can accomplish the limited goal of denying Al Qaeda safe havens with a much smaller military footprint. Yet the mission has crept into a counter-insurgency for no justifiable reason.

Yet this is what administration officials have proposed: a counter-insurgency program, creation of a national government, a national army, a democratic process, an economy not based on narcotics. If our goal is foster a strong central government, then we are knowingly pursuing something essentially at odds with Afghan history. A strong Afghan national army would mean doubling the number of trained Afghan military personnel that the US is now struggling to field. According to metrics developed by Gen. David Petraeus, a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan would require 1.3 million troops for a decade. That is five times the size of US, NATO, and Afghan government forces today. No one thinks this is feasible and we are not attempting to do so. A classic counter-insurgency strategy therefore is not in the cards.

We not only cannot undertake a counter-insurgency of this magnitude as a matter of resources, we have no need to do so. So you can surge with Afghan forces or surge with US military forces but it doesn't change the calculation - only a negotiated settlement with the insurgency and a counter-terrorism strategy to stop the remote potential of safe havens in the region makes any sense.

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