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Too Few Good Men

We could use more troops in Afghanistan.

Sep 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 02 • By GARY SCHMITT
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In his Foreign Affairs article, O’Hanlon describes President Obama’s decision last December to send additional troops to Afghanistan as his “attempt to have his cake and eat it, too.” “Obama tried to be muscular enough to create a chance to win the war while at the same time keeping the war’s critics acquiescent.” But being too clever by half is no way to run a war. And the addition of a July 2011 timeline for the start of a drawdown only compounds the error. In the absence of some compelling necessity—which in this case does not exist—it is absurd to fix either hard deadlines or troop levels.

No one wants an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan. But from 2001 until now, both the United States and its allies have taken an economy of force approach. There were enough troops to topple the Taliban and then just enough to keep Afghanistan from reverting to Taliban control. There have never been enough forces, however, to defeat them and to stabilize the country. With the addition of 30,000 American troops, there will undoubtedly be progress. But it would be a strategic roll of the dice to expect to win this war by hoping we have “just enough” forces to carry out the campaign successfully. 

It is difficult to say with precision what the number of additional troops should be. That would require familiarity with in-theater intelligence about the enemy as well as a realistic assessment of the rate at which Afghan troops and police will become self-sufficient. But as a start, we might revisit General McChrystal’s assessment that 40,000 more troops were needed—not the 30,000 that were sent and have only just fully arrived. Adding three Army combat brigades, some 10,000 troops, would give commanders more flexibility to act with the kind of resoluteness that marked the surge in Iraq in 2007 and that allowed it to succeed.

Gary Schmitt is director of the Program on Advanced Strategic Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.


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