Does Afghanistan Need More Troops?

Ann Marlowe’s op-ed in the WSJ is worth your time.

So how do we bring security to Nuristan? Is bringing in thousands of American troops the answer?

“No!” the official said. “It’s using Special Forces to get the bad guys who are infiltrating from Pakistan. Our enemy only attacks when they expect to win. If we have to go after them, we need the capacity to hunt them with stealth over trackless mountainsides for which our infantry, cavalry and airborne soldiers are not trained or equipped to operate.” Defeating the enemy is best accomplished by highly trained fighters who travel light.

Counterinsurgency is not one-size-fits-all. While there are best practices, they must be applied in a nuanced way. In poorly governed countries where insurgencies are likely to arise, the solution may vary from valley to valley.

This is interesting — as Eric Shinseki correctly argued, Iraq, as an urbanized society, needs a big footprint of trained military personnel to maintain public order in the face of a determined insurgency. Of course, as Iraqi forces gain the skills and the cohesion they need to effectively hold territory, the balance of Americans vs. Iraqis will likely change. In Afghanistan, which is defined by very different cleavages and a far lower rate of urbanization, would of course demand a different strategy. I wonder, though, if we have the balance of U.S. and non-U.S. NATO forces right. My sense is that U.S. forces have proved far more effective. Which is to say, Obama might be right in some sense. I doubt that he’s right that we need to draw down according to a set timetable, but the notion that we need to commit more resources to Afghanistan does seem sound. The question is, what kind of resources and how many? I think Marlowe would agree, actually: it’s implicit in the piece, beneath the arresting thesis.

Also, it seems increasingly clear that Pakistan’s negotiating strategy — in which they continue to cede large swathes of territory to the Taliban — is working counter to our goals. What kind of leverage do we have with the Pakistanis? Not much, I’m afraid. They have us over a barrel, and it’s hardly shocking that they’re casualty-sensitive and that the Pakistani public has soured on the U.S. since the brief moment when earthquake relief softened sentiments.