April 03, 2009

No Troops For You

It doesn't matter how much Robert Gates complains or how much Barack Obama pleads. It is highly unlikely the U.S. political leadership will win new backing for the war in Afghanistan from our NATO allies. We will be lucky, in fact, to keep European troop levels where they are now. (Update: We'll see if this new commitment changes things for the others.) Still -- and despite what some people have argued about other havens -- Robert Gates probably has a point when he says that most European leaders have done little to explain the strategic importance of the war in Afghanistan:

“I have not seen the kind of effort that I would have hoped for in terms of European governments trying to persuade their people that attacks such as those that took place in Madrid and London . . . emanated from the Afghan-Pakistani border area,” Mr Gates said in an interview with the Financial Times. ...

“The British do a good job of making that case to their people, but on the Continent I have not seen that kind of effort,” he said. “This problem out there is as big a threat to the Europeans as it is to us.”

Gates said something else in an interview with the FT that was also really interesting. As many of you know, my boss John Nagl, together with his BFF Sen. Joe Lieberman, has been calling for a dramatic expansion of the Afghan security forces. There is an objection, though, that I have aired on the blog, which worries the Afghan economy cannot sustain such a massive security apparatus. Gates, apparently, agrees with the dissenters:

As the Obama administration debated its Afghanistan strategy, some officials argued for a doubling of the Afghan army and police to about 400,000. Asked whether the Afghan army would need to ultimately number 400,000-500,000 soldiers – as the US counter-insurgency doctrine crafted by General David Petraeus would suggest – Mr Gates said “I don’t know the answer to that”.

“I don’t think Afghanistan can sustain an army that size, and I don’t think the international community is prepared to pay to sustain an army that size.”