Small Wars Journal

Real Leverage Starts with More Troops

In Afghanistan, Real Leverage Starts with More Troops - Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, Washington Post opinion.

The president will soon announce the deployment of additional US forces to Afghanistan, in a speech likely to emphasize the importance of political progress there. Legitimacy is the most important outcome of a counterinsurgency strategy, not, as some have suggested, an input. It is unfortunate that much of the debate has ignored the role that additional military forces can play in building legitimacy and effective government in a counterinsurgency. Adding forces gives us leverage; military forces are vital to the success of any political strategy because they contribute directly to improving governance as well as to improving security.

The recent American experience in Iraq illustrates how US forces and diplomacy helped correct the behaviors of a sometimes malign government in ways that helped neutralize insurgent groups. In early 2007, many Iraqi leaders were using instruments of state to support sectarian death squads. The dysfunctional government could not secure the population, pass laws or provide services to its people. The implementation of a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy - enabled by the deployment of nearly six additional US combat brigades - transformed Iraq's government within 18 months. Opponents of the surge argued that Iraqis would "step up" politically and militarily only if they knew that US forces would leave. Instead, before committing to the fight, political leaders and populations throughout Iraq assessed whether US forces would stay long enough to secure them. Iraqis stepped up precisely because of the absence of conditionality and time limits on US force levels...

More at The Washington Post.


Bill Moore (not verified)

Tue, 12/01/2009 - 11:43pm

My intention is to imply that the "charcter" of the conflict was not unconventional for the most part, even though it fits our doctrinal definition of UW. There wasn't time to work the auxiliary and underground aspects, nor employ subversion and sabotage and other UW arts in any substantial way. It was largely a war of movement, and while Special Forces was the only force uniquely qualified to conduct this effort, it rapidly morphed from the unconventional to conventional in character (then back to unconventional when the insurgency started).

Regarding corruption, the community may find this article of interest.…

To understand the importance of the anticorruption effort in Afghanistan one need go no further than actually to read the recent report sent to the President by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. Although the headline from the McChrystal report was his request for more troops, its deeper importance was his criticism of past U.S./NATO policy and his definition of the "problem."

Read his words on how central corruption is to his redefinition of the core issues which U.S. Afghan policy must address.

Hamchuck (not verified)

Tue, 12/01/2009 - 3:06pm


Unconventional Warfare: Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an occupying power or government by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area.

In 2001, the NA was a resistance movement against the Taliban Government of Afghanistan. The goal of the NA was the overthrow of the Taliban Government. The activities conducted to enable the NA consisted of many tactics that are highly conventional in manner, to include TGO and frontal attacks. Unconventional operations are categorized by what they aim to achieve ( the coercion, disruption, or overthrow of an occupying power or government by a resistance movement or insurgency) rather than their methodology or which type of force conducts them.

SOF/ culturally attuned GPFs- either one would work. Decentralized advisory elements, working at the village level to increase village security, would have enabled security to take hold while national level functions came online. Bing West's "The Village" shows how a Marine infantry squad achieved local security. Donovan's "Once a Warrior King" and especially Bob Andrew's "The Village Wars" are also guides we ignored in 2002-2003.

Bill Moore (not verified)

Tue, 12/01/2009 - 1:40pm


I know there is a school of thought at NPS that claims that corruption is simply a way of life in these countries, so we need to accept it. While that sounds good in theory, the reality is that this corruption we're supposed to embrace actually feeds the insurgency, and in some cases (the Philippines) you can argue that the corruption is the root cause of the conflict. Professors have their opinions, but the wise don't blindly embrace them.

The initial operations in Afghanistan were executed with extreme courage and daring, so my comments below are not intended to distract from that, but many of us don't concur with your assessment that the fight to eliminate AQ was truly unconventional, bur rather a high bred of unconventional and conventional fighting led by unconventional warriors. It was largely a fight between peer competitors (Taliban and the Northern Alliance), and U.S. support (SOF and fires) provided the NA with the tactical advantage needed to break the stalemate and push the Taliban and AQ into a tactical retreat into Pakistan.

Since the NA only had a loyal following in pockets of Afghanistan, it is unlikely they would have united Afghanistan under one government, so as you implied the fight would have been at the local level. So in effect you would have had different regions attempting to defend themselves from a State sponsored insurgency (Pakistan is the sponsor), and since corruption was rampant at the local (and now federal level) the people wouldn't be overly motivated to fight the Taliban. So I'm curious what you think Afghanistan would like now if we only left a handful of SOF in Afghanistan after the initial fight?

Hamchuck (not verified)

Tue, 12/01/2009 - 2:52am


Concur on the focus on the grass roots level. However, using McCormick's Diamond as a heuristic, if an international actor, ISAF, bypasses the State, in this case GIRoA, and goes directly to the village level, we're undermining our own stated strategy. Every mission statement I've ever seen in Afghanistan has "IOT support the legitimacy of the GIRoA" somewhere in it - I haven't been there since McCrystal assumed command, so maybe they've changed. Should our national strategy change tomorrow night to "support the people of Afghanistan," you would be on point with bypassing Kabul and the district centers and going right to the village governance level.

Corruption is just part of business in that part of the world - we need to stop projecting Western standards on an Eastern culture. Back off building Afghanistan into a semi-modern state - let it be what it will be, on it's own merits. Will the US taxpayer keep funding the ANA twenty years from now - because even a glossy picture of the future will have a robust Afghani security mechanism far beyond what the Afghani GDP can support. Will my children, as grown adults, be paying for an Afghan education system to supply Afghanis who can interact economically with the Western world?

Our neo-COINs and their preoccupation with all things "clear, hold, and build" have forgotten that an unconventional approach toppled a relatively well equipped and manned, militant Islamist state from 7 Oct to 7 Dec 2001. The people of Afghanistan were ready for anything but a hardcore Islamist state after 2001, but we increased our footprint, aided in the centralization of power, ignored developing local population control measures, and have been in a spiral ever since. In the process, we've mistakenly embraced COIN as a "strategy".

Additionally, our intent as a foreign power advising the host nation on counterinsurgency shouldn't be to deal directly with the Afghan people. It is to advise the Afghan security apparatus how to secure and control their populace. We should be the whisper in the ear, and we need to be small enough to not become the problem ourselves. Modeling the ANSF in our own image is a mistake - insurgency is local, requiring local population control measures. There are instances when a national army can be a useful tool for building a sense of nationalism - I don't see a Washington or Ataturk in Karzai or Wardak. There is no external threat to Afghanistan to collectively drive their people together - unless you see increased Westernization resulting from eight years of close interaction with ISAF as a threat to your traditional way of life.

Paul from Canberra (not verified)

Sun, 11/29/2009 - 1:13am

In addition to my point before.

Redirect that money that is being miss spent by corrupt officials towards the commanders on the ground. They can use that to help their operations by rewarding officials at the grass roots like village elders and town mayors who support the military and who are not corrupt and want to improve their local community.

I feel that the problem is corrupt officials at the state and government level.

By pass them completely and focus on the grass roots level.

I think you will obtain better results that way and much cheaper.

Paul from Canberra (not verified)

Sun, 11/29/2009 - 1:06am

As in life there is no point in worrying about things we cant control. You are better of focusing on what you can control.

We cant force the Afghan government to do what we want, so we are better of not focusing on that.

What we can control is our own military and non military advisors. We can control the money through better control of aid money. Also we can control the quality of training of the Afghanistan military and police.

By focusing on what we can control rather than what we can not, helps you focus on the task at hand and will achieve better results.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 11/28/2009 - 7:22pm


Excellent points, I think we tend to apply our ideas/theories too generically without adequately looking at the specific causes of the each conflict we're dealing with.

I think Mr Kagan did a fair job of outlining how he sees more troops impacting Afghanistan Government legitimacy, but I'm not sure I agree with his findings. His recommendations imply we will have more authority and political will than currently demonstrated to serve as overseers and enforcers of governance, thus forcing a cultural change. Assuming those will be in place, then maybe he is right.

Your statement,

"Ironically, the more dedicated the US is to quelling an insurgency, the LESS leverage the US will hold over that government."

appears to me to be spot on and very relevant to a number of different counterinsurgencies we're dealing with. If we state it is in our national interest (or worse yet, that we cannot fail), then we have limited leverage over that government to get them to change their behavior. On the other hand if their survival is dependent upon continued U.S. aid and we make that aid conditional, then they have to change their behavior, or reach out to another nation for help, or collapse (in theory).

Bill M.

Sam Wilkins (not verified)

Sat, 11/28/2009 - 3:34pm

How will the commitment of additional forces to Afghanistan increase the leverage of the US on the Afghan government?
History has proven the most difficult obstacle in the face of US counterinsurgency has been getting local governments to do what the US wants. The American experience with counterinsurgency has been marred by local governments ignoring US advice in order to pursue what these governments felt was their own self-interest. The corrupt Afghan government, like the US backed El Salvadorian government of the 1980s, recognizes the importance of its struggle to the US and consequently the irrelevence of US threats to withdrawl support. The US in El Salvador, like in Afghanistan, lacked the leverage to force the right wing government to create lasting reforms which would protect human rights and create a legitimate democratic process.The right wing rulers knew that, regardless of their actions, that US support for their struggle against left wing rebels would continue. Ironically, the more dedicated the US is to quelling an insurgency, the LESS leverage the US will hold over that government.

I think as a country we need to take cold showers before beleiving that 1 1/2 Army divisions can actually transform a government as Mr. Kagan argued. Exactly how will new forces give the US leverage to reform the corrupt and inefficient Afghani national government?