Afghan Withdrawal Would Undermine Local Security Effort (UPDATED)
Local security forces do not offset the risks incurred by premature withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan. In fact, premature withdrawal of combat forces undermines the local security effort. Local security forces operate in remote areas that have either been cleared or that were not enemy safe-havens to begin with. They cannot by themselves clear enemy-held areas, nor can they withstand concerted enemy attacks from nearby safe-havens without support from U.S. mentors, Afghan National Security Forces, and sometimes U.S. enablers. They operate to extend security outside of population centers and hold cleared areas.
Above all, enrollment in local security forces is driven by conviction on the part of the local population that ISAF and the Afghan government will win. Removing conventional forces puts that conviction into question, will encourage more Afghans to sit on the fence, and can undermine the entire local security effort. Local security forces, finally, number on the close order of 6,000—remember that there were over 100,000 Sons of Iraq. Increasing their numbers depends on having requisite numbers of partners and mentors, both U.S. and Afghan. We would be hard pressed to add 10,000 local security forces every six months—even if we could assume that there is a one-for-one tradeoff between U.S. forces and local forces, which there is not.
UPDATE: Seth Jones, whose quotation in the Los Angeles Times we've quoted above, writes:
We were surprised to see Jones’s quotation appear in that context—not surprised now, thanks to his explanation—and apologize to Jones. The local security forces argument is prevalent in policy circles in the exaggerated form that we criticized (though it is not, thankfully, being propounded by Jones), and it remains dangerous to the local security forces in Afghanistan – as well as to the nation writ large.
Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and director of its Critical Threats Project. Kimberly Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War.