News coverage of President Obama's speech at West Point Wednesday focused on one seemingly hard and fast statement: The United States will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year, ensuring that the nation's longest war continues a little longer. The 9,800 troop figure has been repeated so often, and in so many places, that it actually obscures a key point: An invisible army of American diplomats, intelligence personnel, civilian government officials, and contractors will remain in Afghanistan well in the future, likely outnumbering the 9,800 troops that will be there next year and the smaller numbers of troops that will be there in the years to come.
The size, scope, composition, and duration of that civilian mission to Afghanistan will hinge on the way the Obama administration answers four questions: (1) what does Washington plan to do in Afghanistan; (2) how will the White House divide those missions among military, civilian, and contractor personnel; (3) what level of risk should the United States be willing to accept for our missions and our personnel; and (4) how much will Washington rely on allies, both Afghan and international, to shoulder the burden going forward. Depending on how the administration answers those questions, and what mixture of civilians and contractors it chooses to field, the U.S. civilian presence in Afghanistan could grow to be two or three times as large as the military mission there -- or more.
More from CNAS
ReportsPeriodic Occupational and Environmental Monitoring Summary
Introduction and Executive Summary Congress and the media have paid substantial attention to the potential health risks of service members’ exposure to open air burn pits whi...
By Kayla M. Williams & James Fahy
CommentaryThe Many Questions Trump’s Pardons Raise About Civil-Military Relations
When President Donald Trump granted pardons to two Army officers—one convicted of war crimes, the other accused of them—and reversed the demotion of a Navy SEAL who was convic...
By Loren DeJonge Schulman
CommentaryThe military needs immigrants. The Trump administration wants to keep them out.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is now the latest in a line of immigrants challenged about whether it’s truly possible for them to serve the United States as patriots. Vindman, a r...
By Loren DeJonge Schulman
CommentaryAttrition and the Will to Fight a Great Power War
A nation’s capability and will to fight are interdependent critical factors in determining military operational success in conflict. The possibility of a kinetic war, however ...
By Emma Moore