Small Wars Journal

Can the US Lead Afghans

Can the US Lead Afghans? - Mark Moyar, New York Times opinion.

The Afghanistan debate is increasingly focused on two words: troop numbers. Those numbers certainly deserve serious attention as President Obama decides whether to raise them even further this year. But in Afghanistan, as in past counterinsurgencies, it is important to remember that all troop numbers are not created equal. When it comes to indigenous forces, quality often matters more than quantity, and quality often declines when quantity increases.

Current recommendations of American and Afghan troop strengths are, for the most part, based on the size of the Afghan population. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, has produced figures using a ratio of 25 troops for every 1,000 Afghans. His methodology assumes that increasing American troop strength by, say, 20 percent will increase counterinsurgency capacity by roughly the same amount. That assumption is correct, because the quality of the additional American units will be broadly similar to that of the others. Where the methodology fails is in its assumption that doubling Afghan troop strength, as many now advocate, will double counterinsurgency capacity by roughly the same amount.

Where the methodology fails is in its assumption that doubling Afghan troop strength, as many now advocate, will double counterinsurgency capacity. In reality, such an increase is likely to cause quality to fall. With Afghan security forces already two-and-a-half times as large as the American forces, and America lacking the political will to reduce that ratio, the counterinsurgency cannot afford such a drop...

More at The New York Times.


Brett Patron

Sun, 09/06/2009 - 4:22pm

Seems to me that if this idea is sound, it would make sense to cull the ANA of some "up and comers" and put them into OUR units. We do unit exchanges all the time. Build platoon leaders and, more importantly, NCOs.

Once the idea has had a chance to germinate, the reciprocal exchange can begin.

Professor Moyar is saying that quality is more important than quantity something most of us can believe in. Here is where the traditional American Way of War and the new American Way of COIN line up and that is the emphasis on Mass. If a little is good a lot must be better. We also love to apply the "science" of war - if we can just get the ratios right as far as troops to population and security forces to insurgents we will be successful because the numbers analysis proves we will.

It is also good to see the point that he makes that it takes about 10 years to create competent COIN forces. We should remember that often when we "create" forces we often do so in our image and we should realize that to "create" a US equivalent Infantry Battalion it takes about 20 years to do so if we are look at the totality of experience of the leadership with Commanders and Command Sergeants Majors have 20 years of education, training, and experience, First Sergeants and Platoon Sergeants with 10-15 years, Squad Leaders with perhaps 6-8 years and Company Commanders with 5-8 years and Platoon Leaders with 1-3 years. But we often train indigenous forces in our mold and provide them with complex weapons (e.g M16 versus AK47) and tactics vice assisting them in developing their own capabilities in line with their customs, traditions, education, experience and the reality of the situation on the ground.

I am however, one of those who question the wisdom of the overtly US selecting Afghan military leaders and leading Afghan troops. Again, that smacks of our "Type A" "mission accomplishment" attitude which gets played out such that if the indigenous forces cannot accomplish the mission then "follow me" and lets get it done for them. And if we are true to the concept of legitimacy of the host nation in the eyes of its population then we are likely to undercut that legitimacy. And what little I know about Afghanistan I am not sure that the Afghan Soldier will accept and embrace foreign leadership.

I also question the perceived success of the Combined Action Platoons of the Vietnam War and its potential for application today. It is I think another romantic notion that goes along with the "romanticization" of COIN that we have today. I think objective analysis will show that it was a sideshow and afterthought and while there were seemingly some good tactical results the real problem was not the tactic or technique itself but whether it was integrated into an overall campaign and supporting a strategy. It was little more than an experiment and its results remain questionable. A better example to study perhaps would be the Civilian Irregular Defense Force. But in our quest to emulate T.E. Lawrence (which leads to the "romanticization" of COIN today) we fall back on these examples and think we can solve their problems our way vice helping them to solve their problems and be successful in their ways.

But in the end it all comes down to what are we trying to accomplish? And I do not think we as a nation are clear yet on what it is we want to do in Afghanistan and then judging that desired end state on what we can in reality we can actually do.


Fri, 09/04/2009 - 5:39pm

Great idea, but not likely to fly. Can you imagine something this radical getting past the bureau of CYA affairs?