Now what...

The President finally made a “decision” on Afghanistan.  Surprisingly, it is very much like the initial recommendation from Gen. Stanley McChrystal.  We will augment our forces in Afghanistan by nearly 40,000 troops, almost two full divisions, and seek almost 10,000 troops from contributing allies.  Recall, this conflict – which started in 2001 – is a NATO operation under Article 5, mutual self defense.


The war was originally executed in a proxy fashion, with indigenous militias, CIA operatives and SOCOM forces.  In fact, Afghanistan was won with only 1300 US troops deployed and no allied help.  We only increased our troop levels to more than 30,000 in 2008.


In essence, we held Afghanistan and maintained control with a fractional force through critical elections and numerous fighting seasons with less than a full division.  This troop level was actually lower than some provinces in the Iraq conflict. 


Now we will see troop levels in the AOR at or near 100,000 in 2010.  This is meant to be a surge through at least July of 2011, many – including myself – will criticize the President for announcing an end date to this effort.  Whether this will result in a successful timeline is unclear.  Our enemy remains elusive, able to melt across various borders and gaining support from numerous proxy players, such as Iran.  There are a host of those with criticism of our strategy, however, Afghanistan is not Iraq, there is no centralized ruling party – nor has there ever been a central government in this tribal nation.


Afghanistan is also not Vietnam.  There is no superpower supporting the opposing side nor are there large standing armies in place.  What we found in the country was a failed state – a victim of having limited natural resources (and thus no national economy).  Afghanistan has also suffered almost continual warfare since the 1970s and a narcotics based agriculture – in which farmers benefit little.


So the question remains, now what?  There are three critical needs.  Establishment of a viable national, central Afghan security force is vital.  Think cavalry in the old west of the United States.  Secondly, the role of the central government must be clarified with some version of power sharing with local tribal leaders.  The central government’s role must be the allocation of resources and fostering of trade and industry.  Finally, some policy which permits recognition of differences of faith without allowing the Taliban to regain control to the extent they had prior to 2001.


This is a huge task.  One which will require more than eighteen months.