Small Wars Journal

Defense Officials Blast New Afghan War Plan: ‘Not the Number of Troops to Win’

Defense Officials Blast New Afghan War Plan: ‘Not the Number of Troops to Win’ by Nancy A. Youssef, The Daily Beast

President Obama announced Wednesday yet another delay in his plan to wind down the war in Afghanistan, saying 8,400 troops would remain there for a list of enemies that has grown from al Qaeda to the Taliban and now to the so-called Islamic State.

But many in the Pentagon are concerned that the president’s new plan isn’t much of a strategy at all. It’s just a holding action, to hopefully keep a lid on Afghanistan until after the election.

“There is no desire to end the war in Afghanistan. There is a desire to keep it off the front pages and make it a problem for the next administration,” as one Pentagon official explained to The Daily Beast.

The U.S. had planned to keep 5,500 troops through the end of the year. At first glance, the change in number may not have seemed particularly significant; the president added only 2,400 troops to the number of forces that will be in Afghanistan by the end of his presidency. But the fact the U.S. had to slow down its withdrawal from its longest war ever was a major acknowledgement by the administration that the U.S. has yet to train local forces that can successfully stop a burgeoning Taliban and the jihadists protected by them. In other words, the cornerstone of the American effort in Afghanistan was still shaky, a decade and a half into the war…

Read on.


First, to discuss what "winning" means for the U.S./the West today. Then, to address the number and types of troops (if any) needed to achieve this objective -- potentially in Afghanistan and elsewhere.


In Afghanistan, elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, and, indeed, elsewhere in the non-western/less-western world, it is important to understand what the word "winning" means for the U.S./West today.

For comparison's sake, let us first consider what the word "winning" meant to the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War of yesterday. It meant, as we know, the successful advancement of their (the communists') unique way of life, their unique way of governance and their unique values, attitudes and beliefs; this, throughout the non-communist world. In this regard, the conservative elements of other states and societies were, quite understandably, the Soviets/the communists' "natural enemies"/the thorn in their side.

In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, what the word "winning" means -- for the U.S./the West -- is the successful advancement, throughout the non-western world, of OUR unique way of life, OUR unique way of governance and OUR unique values, attitudes and beliefs. In our such effort today, and much as was the case the Soviets/the communists above, the conservative elements of other states and societies are who stand directly in our way.


It is against the "resistance-to-transformation" efforts of these such conservative elements/"natural enemies" that the question of "troops" (how many; what kind; how deployed) potentially becomes relevant.

Given that the conservative elements of these lesser states and societies are much weaker than the great nations which seek to transform them, then it is understood that:

a. These conservative elements, for their part, will adopt a "political attrition" strategy as their primary means of defense/resistance. (In great nation "wars of choice" such as these, a "political attrition" strategy seeks to undermine public and representative support for these operations.) Herein, and re: this "political attrition" strategy, the primary goal of these conservative elements is to cause/goad (via, for example, terrorism) the great nation into increasing the number of its military forces on the ground.

b. The great nations, understanding this such "political attrition" approach/strategy of their enemies, seeks to avoid falling into the "increase the number of their military forces on the ground" trap that has been set for them. The primary goal of these great nations being, thus, to employ and deploy its forces (if any) in such a way as to be able to (a) stay on-station for the long-term and (b) stay in the fight indefinitely and to, thus, (c) defeat their much weaker opponents' "political attrition" strategy.


It is in this light (see "b" immediately above) that one might come to understand why the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War of yesterday, and indeed the U.S./the West in the New/Reverse Cold War of today -- and re: their respective "expansionist" goals and their similar "natural (conservative elements) enemies" -- might adopt such measures as the "light footprint approach," and the primary employment of "trainers," special operations and air forces, etc., therein.

Bottom Line:

Re: my offering above, to suggest that author Nancy Youssef here, and others of her ilk also, might wish to think again such suggestions/accusations as "not the number of troops needed to win"/"the wrong type"/"no strategy," etc.?