Small Wars Journal

An Afghanistan "Surge"

From Losing to Winning in Afghanistan - Michael O'Hanlon and Andrew Shearer, Washington Times opinion

... As Gen. Petraeus sets his sights now on the broader Central Command region, and US presidential candidates together with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates assert the need for more international forces in Afghanistan, it is becoming safe to assume that the international presence in Afghanistan will further strengthen over the coming months, perhaps from its current total of some 62,000 troops to 75,000 or more. There is talk, not surprisingly, of a "surge" for Afghanistan, and hope that we can soon accomplish there what has begun to take root in Iraq.

But we must avoid viewing the situation entirely in this light. Combined Iraqi and international forces numbered 600,000 or more personnel in the crucial months of the surge. In Afghanistan, the current figure is less than 200,000 and will grow only modestly in coming months - for a country even larger and more populous than Iraq. Afghanistan does not have the economic resources, or the historical track record of operating as a strong and cohesive polity, that Iraq enjoys. And for all the trouble Syria and Iran have caused in Iraq, by shipping in weaponry and tolerating the flow of al Qaeda fighters into the country, they have never represented the kind of sanctuary for main insurgent groups that Pakistan's tribal regions provide in regard to Afghanistan.

As such, it is difficult to spell out a convincing strategy for turning things around in Afghanistan. Almost surely, we will not find a silver bullet strategy as we did in Iraq; the first goal will be to arrest the deterioration of the situation, and only thereafter to turn the momentum in favor of the Afghan people and government as well as the international community. We need to do what is possible across four main fronts, and then hope that over time small positive developments within each strengthen and reinforce each...

More at The Washington Times.


Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 9:31am

<em>I'm not surprised that progress in Afghanistan has been so slow and painful. Afghanistan has been an economy of force operation -- we intentionally ran it on the cheap so we could focus on Iraq.</em>

The point about economy of force is a good one.

The only problem is that "running it expensive" in Afghanistan requires a heavy logistics foot print through Pakistan, doesn't it? (Sorry, I've been poring through the logistics threads here at SWJ, so that's why I went immediately to that angle.)

Robert Haddick stated previously that the logistics situation in Pakistan means an effective veto by Pakistan over our Afghanistan mission.

An economy of force has drawbacks, but so to does a heavier logistical footprint. A quandry.

I suppose that is why we are planning a staged drawdown. There is no other way to do it but slowly and in stages.

Ian Tarasevitsch (not verified)

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 9:17am

Keep in mind that just because something worked in Iraq is no guarantee that it will work elsewhere. I'm a career Army officer with 27 months in Baghdad as part of 3ID, and I can tell you that the second trip ('07-'08) was a remarkably different experience. It has taken the Army a while to learn, but we're starting to capture to complexity of counterinsurgency (CI) operations. What we see in Afghanistan is one of the "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency," captured in FM 3-24, "If a tactic works this week, it might not work next week; if it works in this province, it might not work in the next."
Force-on-force combat is easy. We've analyzed it to death (no pun intended), and we've got close combat down to a science. At this point, if the Army can find it, we can kill it. The running joke when I was deployed was, "the insurgents aren't really getting smarter; we've just killed or captured all the dumb ones." Saddam was the last one foolish enough to challenge us to a rematch of WWII; it didnt go so well for him.
The fight we face in both Iraq and Afghanistan is inherently different; insurgencies are difficult and require a different mode of thought.
During my second tour, I began to see a change in emphasis, bringing Iraqis in to assist in their own security. The "Sons of Iraq" program allowed us to shift much of the responsibility for local security to the locals who lived there. This too, is a lesson of CI, recognized by T. E. Lawrence, captured in FM 3-24, "the host nation doing something tolerably is normally better than us doing it well." It's a tough pill for many officers. We're taught to control the environment and execute with as much precision as we can bring. While it makes our forces effective in combat, it can isolate our allies and build resentment. We've turned the corner on this in Iraq, and it bodes well for our chances in Afghanistan.
I'm not surprised that progress in Afghanistan has been so slow and painful. Afghanistan has been an economy of force operation -- we intentionally ran it on the cheap so we could focus on Iraq. Now that we've got momentum on our side in Iraq, we're starting to gear up in Afghanistan. Don't think it will be smooth or simple, though. The two countries, and the two cultures, are very different. While we have learned to think about CI differently, we still have a lot of learning to do. Perhaps even more importantly, we've got some unlearning to do. If we fall into the trap of thinking the Iraq peg will fit seamlessly fit into an Afghan hole, we're setting ourselves up for disappointment. It will take time to get it right; be patient.
This post is my own personal opinion and does not represent the official views of the Department of Defense, the US Army, or the Command and General Staff College.