But now we must consider another set of questions: How urgently do we need to send more troops to Afghanistan, and is there really nothing else we can do? At the end of 2006, Iraq was so close to complete catastrophe that nothing short of a military surge supporting a changed military strategy had any chance of success. We were within a hair's breadth of defeat. That is not the case in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency has grown in strength, particularly in the south, government control remains weak, security forces are small and inadequately trained and equipped, corruption is rampant, and so on. But the situation is not deteriorating that rapidly, and relatively small additions of force--with improved approaches--have made a significant difference in important areas. NATO certainly needs to send significant additional forces to Afghanistan, and the United States will probably have to contribute most of them. But the urgency is nothing like what it was in Iraq in December 2006, and is driven more by the need to secure Afghan elections in 2009 than by the danger that the country is about to collapse.
To the question, "Is there really nothing we can do unless we send more troops?" the answer is unequivocally that there is something we can do. Congress can do it, in fact, and very quickly. Pass the supplemental defense appropriation that would allow development money to flow reliably to our soldiers in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. The advantage of Afghanistan's poverty (for us) is that a little money goes a long way. American soldiers have increasingly been leveraging development funds to starve the insurgency of recruits in a way similar to what has worked in Iraq (but tailored appropriately to conditions in Afghanistan). They need more money. One of the problems the British face in the south of the country is that their government does not give their soldiers development money to spend. We should find ways to help them out. Congress could do all of this with one roll-call vote in each house, and the aid would start flowing to Afghanistan faster than any additional brigades could arrive. American soldiers in Iraq often say that dollars are their best bullets--the same is true in Afghanistan. If the congressmen who evince so much concern about Afghanistan's well-being really had the success of our effort at heart, they would stop playing political football with the supplemental and send the aid they control to our soldiers in this key front right away. The fact that they have preferred to delay the supplemental in order to threaten to force the president to withdraw forces from Iraq--a tactic that hinders the effort in the theater they say is the most important in order to force a change of strategy in a secondary (to them) theater--speaks volumes.
Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Iraq: The Way Ahead," the Iraq Planning Group's phase IV report.