July 3, 2008 | Posted by Kip - 11:51am | 37 Comments
Yesterday Chairman of the Joint Chief of staff Admiral Mike Mullen indicated that we have too few troops in Afghanistan
"Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there."
Kip believes that continued policy failures in Afghanistan and Pakistan are the most likely Al-Qaeda-mushroom-cloud scenario as we continue to focus on the wrong war.
That said, Admiral Mullen doesn't make policy. But to say that we cannot commit more troops to Afghanistan misses the point. At much lower cost and with much better results, we can arrest the growing insurgency by vastly expanding Afghan forces.
Today's Afghan National Security Forces stand at a paltry 133,000 (if we accept the Long War Journal's numbers
on the Afghan National Police, which Kip finds slightly suspect). The desired total size of both forces will be an 82,000-man police force and an 80,000-man military. The total force size of 162,000 combined Afghan security forces will be smaller than the current size of the Iraqi Army, a force of some 200,000 personnel in a country smaller and less populous than Afghanistan.
The main determinant of force size has not been the numbers required to defeat the Taliban but rather the numbers that Afghanistan can sustain for the long-term. The question of what Afghanistan can sustain, however, becomes irrelevant if the Taliban wear out the will of the international community and then defeat the government's security force speed bump.
Among an Afghan population that is 80% rural in which the insurgency is centered among rural communities, force size becomes even more critical. Afghan forces today are still concentrated around cities and provincial and district centers. Few security forces are being used to secure the populace outside of these areas. Out in the districts, the front lines of the fight, the requirements on police to secure the district centers and district officials leaves few, if any, forces for deterrent patrolling and community policing.
Efforts to train and advise the Afghan forces have been middling. An article in this month's Military Review
by US Army Captain Dan Helmer describes needed fixes to an advisor command unable to support its advisors with logistics, intelligence, or direction. The problems in that command ought be a focal point for the Joint Chiefs and GEN Petreaus at CENTCOM, particularly in light of Admiral Mullen's recent comments on junior leaders
"We owe them our attention and our time. We owe them the opportunity to think and to speak." (The recent case of LT G does not bode well as an indicator of the willingness of senior officers to actually adopt such a listening approach, despite the efforts of Admiral Mullen and Lieutenant General Caldwell--it certainly has had a chilling effect on Kip's willingness to share his views with his command.)
Beyond the vital need to hold senior leaders accountable for properly resourcing, training, and equipping our advisors, it is vital that we vastly increase the size of the Afghan forces. Senator Lieberman's March editorial to have an Afghanistan National Army of 200,000 is a start point for the discussion. Kip believes, however, that the army is too bureaucratic and too focused on Pakistan to be up to the task--even as it has shown great strides forward in recent months in terms of its ability to conduct independent maneuver operations. The Afghan National Police are six years behind the Army, and whether they will be investigative police or a constabulary force has really not been decided.
What is really need in Afghanistan is not an expansion of the professional Army and Police but the development of part-time local forces committed to the government and willing to fight the Taliban.
The jirga (council) system of Pashtun and some other areas of Afghanistan provides a means to developing local forces. In areas that we seek to bring under government control, the Afghan government and coalition could call for jirgas to negotiate a no Taliban policy for the area--the leaders willing to participate would obviously be the ones we are empowering. Mimicking the Combined Action Platoons of Vietnam, Coalition and US forces operating in squad- or platoon-size elements would work side-by-side with locally constituted arbakai (a Pashtun word for police constituted to enforce the ruling of a jirga) to conduct nightly patrols and prevent the Taliban from operating in their villages. Arbakai would be paid a small salary for their part time work. The Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police and some Coalition elements would play the role of quick reaction force should these forces encounter an element too large for their capabilities as well as clearing areas dominated by insurgents. Call the forces the Afghanistan Islamic Forces, and build 500,000 mujahideen over the next three years.
Some who know about Afghanistan might object that the Afghan National Auxiliary Police were an attempt to do exactly that. Yet there was never a sufficient plan to build the auxiliary police, sufficient support, sufficient numbers, or sufficient attention paid to their plight. These new auxiliaries, on the other hand, would be built only in partnership with a Coalition or Afghan unit (such as the commandos) providing support in order to make them sustainable over the long term.
Admiral Mullen is right that there are not enough US forces to stabilize Afghanistan. A plan to vastly expand the size of Afghan forces while empowering locals to defeat the Taliban would go a long way toward alleviating that need. It should become an urgent priority.