Afghanistan needs more Afghan troops

By John Nagl George Will’s argument that it is “Time for the U.S. to Get Out of Afghanistan” is based on a misunderstanding of the essential principles of counterinsurgency. The classic “clear, hold, and build” counterinsurgency strategy, which the United States ultimately adopted in Iraq, requires that counterinsurgents remain to hold areas once they have ...

By , a retired Army officer and a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College.
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By John Nagl

George Will’s argument that it is “Time for the U.S. to Get Out of Afghanistan” is based on a misunderstanding of the essential principles of counterinsurgency. The classic “clear, hold, and build” counterinsurgency strategy, which the United States ultimately adopted in Iraq, requires that counterinsurgents remain to hold areas once they have been cleared of insurgents. Given current force ratios in country, it is sadly true that today, “Taliban forces can evaporate and then return;” preventing this from happening is the key to the strategy that Gen. Stanley McChrystal recommends in his strategic assessment. The key change: building the Afghan Army to hold what we have cleared.

Because we have not properly resourced Afghan security forces, American troops have had to clear the same areas repeatedly — paying a price for each operation whenever we “clear and leave.” The answer is an expanded Afghan National Army of 250,000 soldiers and effective police forces numbering 150,000. The successful implementation of a well-resourced effort to build Iraqi security forces is now enabling the drawdown of American forces from that country as Iraqi forces increasingly take responsibility for their own security; a similar situation will be the definition of success in Afghanistan.

It’s far too soon to declare defeat, take pressure off al Qaeda, and again abandon the people of Afghanistan to the harsh rule of the Taliban. We know how to conduct counterinsurgency successfully; the commander on the ground has recommended the right strategy. Now Washington must resource the strategy properly — not with hundreds of thousands of American troops, but with thousands of advisors supporting tens of thousands of additional Afghan troops.

John Nagl is the president of the Center for a New American Security and the author of Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife.

REZA SHIRMOHAMMADI/AFP/Getty Images

John Nagl is a retired Army officer and a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College who served in both Iraq wars. He helped write the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. These views are his own and do not represent those of the U.S. Defense Department, Army, or Army War College.

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