Small Wars Journal

More Troops in Afghanistan?

Why We Need More Troops in Afghanistan - Frederick W. Kagan, Washington Post opinion.

... I recently returned from second trip to Afghanistan. Having studied the demographics and potential effects of a surge in Iraq as well as here, I think those who resist sending more troops must answer a question: Why would counterinsurgency in Afghanistan be easier? It seems pretty hard. Afghanistan is significantly larger and more populous than Iraq, for example. Its compartmentalized terrain hinders the movement of forces and resources. The fragmented nature of Afghan society keeps "ink spots" of security success from spreading. The enemy's attacks are not as spectacular as they were in Iraq, but its operations are sophisticated and effective.

US Army doctrine calls for one counterinsurgent for every 50 people. The Afghan insurgency is confined to the Pashtun and some mixed areas of the country - perhaps 16 million people requiring about 320,000 counterinsurgent troops. US, international and Afghan forces will total around 275,000 by the end of this year, or roughly 45,000 below the doctrinal norm. In reality, most of the Afghan police are ineffective at best, and several thousand coalition forces are legally prevented from fighting. The actual gap between the forces we have in Afghanistan and what doctrine recommends is significantly higher...

More at The Washington Post.

How Many Troops for Afghanistan? - Washington Post opinions. Ed Rogers, Scott Keeter, Dennis Kucinich, Meghan O'Sullivan and Andrew Natsios debate the politics of sending more troops to Afghanistan.


Jeremy Kotkin (not verified)

Tue, 10/27/2009 - 10:44am

I find this op-ed interesting for several reasons. First, as Mr. Mihara points out above, Kagan is relying on the naïveté of the reader to fail to see the difference between the Iraq surge and its supposed causal effects and what could happen in AFG with a similar increase. With regards to his rhetoric question ("Why would CT in AFG be easier?"), who says it will be easier? Is this the best strawman he can substantively create to debate the issue? We all realize AFG is different than Iraq in vitually every way when it comes to CT ops; who is trying to replicate one for another? Does he think that's what the CT+ plan is all about?

After the surge issue, he speaks to the convenient confine of the insurgency to the Pashtun areas. The bigger issue and the more pressing risk is transformation of a Pashtun (Taliban)-centric ideological fight to a nationalist/mujahid fight spanning ethnicities. His reliance on doctrine cannot account for that.

He then goes on to call for a CT focus "on areas critical to the host government." This sounds like classic CT theory to me (Tom Ricks in his latest interview w/ Fareed Zakaria: "let's pull back from those areas and focus on an ink spot, classic counterinsurgency approach -- Kabul, the Khost bowl, the area southeast of Kabul, and Kandahar. Put your troops, put your resources there, and do classic counterinsurgency there..."). But Kagan already quashed the idea of the classic 'ink spot' strategy earlier in his argument ("the fragmented nature of the AFG society keeps 'ink spots' of security from spreading"). So which is it?

He further seems to cling to an idea of a Napoleonic 'decisive operation' which will win us a spectacular defeat. Maybe then we can raise a Mission Accomplished banner from the top of Noshaq peak in the Hindu Kush. He then goes on to assert that only a quick and massive influx can save our strategy against an uncompromising enemy (though who he infers that enemy to be is left undefined).

I think Mr. Kagan and AEI's track record from the last war speak from themselves. Now, with his wife actively pushing the same agenda from her think tank (the misleadingly named 'Institute for the Staudy of War'), they have one solution and one solution only for AFG; one which they think their 'success' from the surge in Iraq provides.

The op-ed comes across as a narrow apologetic for staying engaged in Afghanistan. Dr. Kagan appears to believe that the gravest threat to continued operations in Afghanistan is the size of the proposed troop surge. He characterizes the skeptics of an increased commitment as naive by reducing their argument down to a question feasibility.

Dr. Kagan does not deal with the relevance of our national goals in Afghanistan given our interests nor does he defend the correlation of more forces (a matter of feasiblity) to the accomplishment of strategy. The mission imperative is assumed, and the net benefit of more troops is taken for granted. He speaks to political leaders concerned with casualty aversion and expense, but his defense does not advance the policy discussion beyond the narrow concerns of gross cost in terms of lives and treasure.

I'd be interested to hear his response to more comprehensive critiques of the war in Afghanistan, such as Dr. Bacevich's November 2009 article in Harper's "The War We Can't Win."

gian p gentile (not verified)

Tue, 10/27/2009 - 7:08am

What was Fred's point in this oped?

I didnt get it.


Obama has had well over a month to decide on what to do in regards to sending troops to Afghanistan. Now he is using the excuse of the disputed elections in Afghanistan as a reason to continue delaying his decision. The troops on the ground there don't care who is elected in what election. They are fighting for their lives and their commander has requested help. This whole indecisiveness by Obama must be doing wonders for their moral.

L Blanchard (not verified)

Sun, 08/16/2009 - 6:07pm

More troops in Afghanistan is absolutely required if we expect to have the same success that we have seen in Iraq. Afghanistan is not only much larger than Iraq, but it doesn't have the same structure with regards to the population centers. The people of Afghanistan are spread out, are tribal in nature, and lack many of the services that we were able to use in Iraq to our benefit (TV, radio, a farily literate population, etc).

Speaking only for myself, I believe that an increase is essential, and needs to happen as quickly as possible. We must get the Soldiers on the ground and work to adopt a local approach. This approach requires a significant increase in overall numbers, but ultimately has great benefits of essentially partnering American military units at the company and battalion level with villages and areas.

An increase in troop levels now will reduce the amount of time needed in Afghanistan and ultimately has a much greater impact and in a reduced period of time.

L. Blanchard

My comments are not intended to reflect official policies. These are my personal views, and I do not represent the military position in making these comments.

Kory Schaubhut (not verified)

Sun, 08/16/2009 - 3:21pm

In regards to Afghanistan, I think that people should ask the question of what we hope to achieve there. In other words, what are America's real interests in the country? Then we should decide how many troops to send based on the answer to that question.

In my opinion that would not amount to much of a troop increase, if any. But I'm not saying this based on the results of such an honest analysis... as long as the need and goal are clearly articulated based on careful analysis, I could see it going either way.

The troop strength there definitely should not be decided based on political factors or people on either side of the issue basically being in a state of panic.

- Kory