Small Wars Journal

Monday's short and sweet...

Tom Ricks on three things we need from Obama on Afghanistan - "corruption and abuses? - security problems in Pakistan? - U.S. domestic support?" And Tom Donnelly at AEI's Center for Defense Studies - strength before brilliance: "the long process during which President Obama has reconsidered America's commitment to what he described as a necessary war in Afghanistan has transformed the purpose of his West Point speech tomorrow night. The first-order question is not the number of troops or the proper strategy; it's more elemental: does this man believe in victory?"

Steve Coll at The New Yorker asks what if we fail in Afghanistan? "Last week, I found myself at yet another think tank-type meeting about Afghan policy choices. Toward the end, one of the participants, who had long experience in government, asked a deceptively simple question: What would happen if we failed?" A follow on post can be found here.

Tom Barnett on the bottom-line on nation building - BLUF: "It costs the United States $1 million a year to keep a soldier inside a theater of operations such as Afghanistan. The math is easy enough: For every thousand troops, the price comes out to $1 billion a year."

Via e-mail from the Council on Foreign Relations - "in advance of President Obama's announcement on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, CFR offers expert analysis and background resources from a broad range of views."

Over at Commentary's Contentions Max Boot says one word from Obama can rejuvenate troop morale and that word would be victory. "That is a word that has been missing so far from Obama's vocabulary. I hope it is not MIA on Tuesday night."

Foreign Policy releases its first top 100 global thinkers list. Yes another list - but you guys seem to love dissecting them - and yes - General P and Dr. K are on that list.

Andrew Exum (not quite back from the dead) has a new reading list - this one on irregular warfare courtesy of the U.S. Army War College. There's also a link to AM's counterinsurgency reading list.


Tequila: Regarding your sentence "This is a contest of willpower, not military or political organizations.", which I am guessing is a sarcastic one.

I think that, yes, that is exactly what this is, a contest of willpower. This conflict isn't going to be decided by who has the most elegant solution to the problem. It is too messy for that, maybe most conflicts are. For us, in this one, it is mainly a matter of will we keep trying. If we keep trying, we will get it right. Our people are too good not to. But-We must keep trying.

Rob Thornton (not verified)

Tue, 12/01/2009 - 12:10pm


Good Work. There is a good article on th WSJ today, "Fight Looms on Cost of Afghanistan War Plan" on line at:…

The bottom couple of paragraphs I thought reinforces your point about fixed vs. variable costs:

"In a speech in mid-October, Gen. Conway said military-grade fuel -- which costs roughly $1 a gallon in the U.S. -- can sometimes cost the Marine Corps about $400 per gallon once all the expenses of ferrying it into Afghanistan are factored in. The Marines operating in southern Afghanistan consume more than 88,000 gallons of the fuel per day, he said.

"Most all of that comes along this fairly tenuous supply line across Pakistan, where we're paying large amounts of money to tribes so that they don't fight each other and so that they don't raid our supply lines," Gen. Conway said at an energy conference in Virginia.

Marine Col. T. C. Moore recently visited Afghanistan at the helm of the Marine Energy Assessment Team, which Gen. Conway created to look for ways to reduce Marine energy expenditures. Col. Moore said most of the fuel costs were incurred once the gas arrived in Afghanistan and was pushed out to small Marine bases throughout the volatile area.

"The last tactical mile costs the most money, because it's simply so dangerous," he said.""

What I wonder is are today's fixed estimates per soldier based on current costs for current OPTEMPO and operational footprint? If so, how do variations in those and other conditions change that estimate.

My hat is off ot the Marines for even figuring out the cost of a gallon of fuel - while they may have made it look easy, I suspect it was a real pain in the rear.

Best, Rob

Curious (not verified)

Mon, 11/30/2009 - 10:58pm

CNAS' Irregular Warfare reading list is an exhaustive 31 pages that covers everything from COIN to Clausewitz to kinetic effects....EXCEPT religion and religious fundamentalism. It's a little disconcerting because if we don't understand the people, we won't win the war --- and pretty much everywhere we have troops, the people have religion. Haven't we learned this already?


Mon, 11/30/2009 - 9:29pm

<em>"It costs the United States $1 million a year to keep a soldier inside a theater of operations such as Afghanistan. The math is easy enough: For every thousand troops, the price comes out to $1 billion a year."</em>

I don't think this is a linear equation. See <a href=>fixed costs vs variable costs</a>.

Fixed costs will almost surely rise due to expansion of facilities built to accommodate more units, but the difference between 30K troops and 40K troops is almost surely not equal to 10K troops x $1M/troop.

I hope there is more driving this decision than an accounting estimate.

tequila (not verified)

Mon, 11/30/2009 - 8:00pm

I love it. VICTORY will solve all our problems. This is a contest of willpower, not military or political organizations. As long as we believe in victory, it will magically appear, much like unicorns. Don't think too much, just believe!

It's this sort of silly emotionalism that got us into this mess.