NY Times Blog-How Many Troops to Secure Afghanistan?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by jumpinjarhead, Sep 21, 2009.

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  1. How Many Troops to Secure Afghanistan?
    By Robert Mackey
    [​IMG]
    Raheb Homavandi/Reuters An exhibit on the failed Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at a war museum in Herat, a city in the west of the country that also contains the remains of a citadel built by Alexander the Great.

    Now that word has leaked out that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that he will need more than 68,000 American troops to defeat the Taliban, the natural question is: how many foreign troops does it take to secure Afghanistan?

    The fast answer is that no one really knows, since, as even late-night comics have noticed recently, armies have been failing to do it for centuries.

    On Saturday the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, weighed in with an op-ed of sorts posted on a Taliban Web site — helpfully made available in English, as well as Pashto, Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, Finnish, German, Spanish, Russian, French, Somali and Malay/Indonesian — noting that history has not been kind to foreign forces seeking to control Afghanistan, “from the time of the aggression of Alexander.”

    Mullah Omar invoked a somewhat more recent example as well, pointing out that the Afghans “fought against the British invaders for eighty years from 1839 to 1919 and ultimately got independence by defeating Britain.”

    While the world has obviously changed a good bit since Alexander arrived in Afghanistan with an army reinforced by elephants, or the British seized temporary control of the country in 1878 with 33,500 troops, it has only been 20 years since the Soviet military tried and failed to fend off an insurgency by Islamic militants against an Afghan government they had supported.

    In February 1989, when the Soviets finally withdrew from the country a report in The Times by Bill Keller noted:

    Today’s final departure is the end of a steady process of withdrawal since last spring, when Moscow says, there were 100,300 Soviet troops in Afghanistan. At the height of the Soviet commitment, according to Western intelligence estimates, there were 115,000 troops deployed.

    On Monday, my colleagues Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker reported that the largest troop increase currently under consideration would bring the total number of American troops there to 113,000 — almost exactly the same size as the Soviet force:

    Pentagon and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy say General McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 more troops to as many as 45,000.

    As this blog noted in March, when Mullah Omar issued a call for help from Pakistani militants, there are an estimated 15,000 Taliban fighters on each side of the exceedingly porous border. On the day the Soviets departed in 1989, the BBC reported that “Kabul is surrounded by a mujahedeen force of around 30,000.”

    It seems reasonable to ask if a force roughly the same size as the Soviet one, aided by about 30,000 NATO troops, is big enough to defeat this Afghan insurgency. The Americans do have some advantages the Soviets lacked. In this struggle, Pakistan’s military and intelligence services are, to some extent, helping to undermine the insurgents, who are not being armed by a rival superpower. Despite signs of rising discontent with the current Afghan government, the Taliban may also have less popular support than the mujahedeen enjoyed in the 1980s. Although it is hard to conduct accurate surveys in Afghanistan, in one opinion poll carried out earlier this year for British and American broadcasters, just 7 per cent of Afghans surveyed said that they would like to see the Taliban return to power.

    On the other hand, Afghanistan’s population is estimated to have doubled since 1979, so this foreign force now has to find away to police and provide basic security to about twice as many people as the Soviet one.

    Instead of looking just at failed occupations of Afghanistan, it might be worth looking at what how many troops were deployed during the successful occupation of postwar Germany in the 1940s. According to a Rand corporation study called “America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq,” the U.S. peacekeeping force in the one-quarter of postwar Germany it controlled in 1945 (an area that then had a population of about 17 million people and no active insurgency) included more than 290,000 soldiers and “a constabulary or police-type occupation force” of 38,000.

    Looking closer to home, consider that there are nearly 38,000 police officers in New York City, patrolling an area of just 300 square miles, with a population of 8.3 million. Given that, it is no wonder that Gen. McChrystal thinks it might be tough to provide security to 30 million Afghans and police 250,000 square miles of mostly mountainous terrain with even 100,000 troops.

    Then again, it is also possible that too large a force, rather than subduing Afghanistan, could serve to provoke the Afghan people.

    One man who has suggested that more American troops are not the answer is Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, who was a K.G.B. agent in Kabul during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Last October Mr. Kabulov told my colleague John Burns that the U.S. had “already repeated all of our mistakes,” and moved on to “making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright.” One of the biggest mistakes the Soviets made, Mr. Kabulov said, was letting the force grow too large. “The more foreign troops you have roaming the country,” he said, “the more the irritative allergy toward them is going to be provoked.”http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/21/how-many-troops-to-secure-afghanistan/?hp
     
  2. Does an "experienced Afghan hand" equate to an even handed assessment? It seems interesting where her articles (The Nation for example) are usually posted suggest a bit more of an agenda that merely trying to state her "extensive experience." I do not question some of her ideas, they have been and are being made by many others but I do question her reasons.
     
  3. I've never got used to the American notion that ALL arguments have to be "ad hominem". What I read, Iask myself "is this true?" "Does this person know whereof they speak?" Whether the piece is published in a lef or right wing newspaper is of no consequence to me whatsoever. Americans seem to pick their newspapers and TV News coverage depending on whether it caters to their prejudices. Finding outlets that cater in such a way is a lot harder in the UK. Open bias doesn;t gain you following here - it turns you into a figure of derision. (Having said that...I regard the Daily Mail and Daily Express with complete derision. The Times, Telegraph, Grauniad* and Idependant tend to "tell it like it is"


    (*The Guardian is famed for the profiusion of its typographical errors. Since once printing its own name as "Grauniad", that's how some of tend to refer to it.)
     
  4. I share your disdain for the ad hominem attack, as I have made abundantly clear in many posts. While I cannot speak for all Americans, I can assure you that I do not consciously (I acknowledge we are all victims to some extent of our subconscious preferences) select my news sources in a way merely to suit my personal views. Indeed, I make a practice of reviewing "news" from a wide range of sources from the Times to Al Jazeera before forming opinions. Perhaps our difference (if we actually have one) is in our definition of ad hominem. To me it means accusations without proof that about the character or intelligence of the person communicating the message used in a way to distract or otherwise avoid discussing the message itself.

    I do think it is always relevant and appropriate to consider the person's apparent (not merely assumed but derived from their direct statements or the tenor and placement of their writings) world view and particular philosophical, moral or other frames of reference that underlie and shape the communication itself. This context is necessary if one is to fully assess the communication since one can communicate various messages in a given communication that are in effect synergistically greater than the sum of their constituent parts (the specific facts or other statements that comprise communication or as importantly at times, those that are omitted or downplayed).

    My main point in my original response to Ms. Jones article' you posted was only that to say she has experience in Afghanistan is of limited value and can actually be misleading (not that you intended this). There are myriad examples of people who have had occasion to visit, tour, inspect (pick your verb) Afghanistan (or any other place for that matter) and while relevant, this is not conclusive as to how we should evaluate thier communications about Afghanistan.

    Any meaningful evaluation of the views later expressed by such persons based on their "experience," necessarily must include the specific nature (duration, type, reason etc.) of the in-country experience as well as the larger backdrop of the person's previous experience, education, associations, professed or apparent political and social views and the like since these factors inevitably will shape and color the communication itself.

    For example, if one were trying to evaluate the particular effects of a given war on the indigenous population, you should expect differences in reports prepared by say the ICRC and the military conducting the operation, even though both reports are based on "first hand knowledge and experience" in the war zone. This does not necessarily mean either is "wrong" or that either is lying since each can cite facts that are true but can characterize and frame the resulting communications in far different ways. Some of this can be unconscious and other aspects quite deliberate in the sense that the communication may be intended to prompt emotion, action or other response in a given direction.

    Thus, merely to say this author has experience and is thus an "expert" and then cite a communication as the end all and be all "answer" to a given issue, especially where the subject is so complex, nuanced and necessarily politicized, is to me unpersuasive.
     
  5. No, it certainly doesn't. But whether "two plus two equals four" (or not) doesn't depend on where one finds it written, which seems to be your implication. Ann Jones lived and worked in Afghanistan as an aid worker. It provided "credentials" that have allowed her to return there as an independent eye-witness, who's capable of putting what she witnesses into a context. An example might be the competing claims that Afghan recruits "proudly" wear ALL the gear they're kitted out with at the same time, in multiple layers of clothing. Is that "wardrobe choice" truly caused by pride in their role, or by a fear that anything left unwarn and out of sight is likely to get stolen and sold? My guess would be the latter. It's in the interests of contractors to paint a rosy picture of their Potemkin villages. Ann Jones seems to me to be someone who is able to sneak behind the gaudily painted facades and report on the reality.

    I've lived abroad, off and on, since I was ten. When I speak German, for example, Germans ask what part of Lower Saxony I'm from. As a result of much travel, I've come to appreciate that what "we Brits" regard as "the obvious - and correct - way of doing things" is not neccessarily shared by others. Each nation has its own views. Notoriously, Americans often seem unable to appreciate this: The American view is - of course - the correct one, and other nations just need a little encouragement to accept this; besides, everyone else secretly wants to BE an American. In simplistic terms, there's a widespread confusion between approval of Coca Cola and Levi 501's, and approval of US foreign policy. In the REAL world, few Iraqis or Afgans want to either be LIKE Americans, or to BE Americans. They'd like to be richer than they are... but that's not the same thing. Not, that is, outside of the fevered imagination of the last US Government, who seemed capable of persuading themselves of just about anything.