The South Asia Channel

It’s not about the number of troops

By Gretchen Peters July 13, 2008 July 13, 2008 There has been too much focus on troop numbers. Debating whether to send 20,000 troops to Afghanistan, or 40,000, or to bring some home, misses the point entirely: The key is deciding the strategy and then determining what resources will be needed to support that strategy. ...

By Gretchen Peters

July 13, 2008

July 13, 2008

There has been too much focus on troop numbers. Debating whether to send 20,000 troops to Afghanistan, or 40,000, or to bring some home, misses the point entirely: The key is deciding the strategy and then determining what resources will be needed to support that strategy. The U.S. could deploy five million soldiers to Afghanistan, but they will fail if the end goal is not clearly defined, if they are not trained to support the strategy necessary to reach that goal, and if the numerous government agencies taking part in the mission are not unified in how to reach it. That, unfortunately, is the current state of affairs.

The two main strategies being bandied about now — counterinsurgency and counterterrorism — are quite distinct, both in terms of the end goal, and how you go about reaching it. One is about state building, the other about containing a problem. What won’t work is trying to split the two strategies down the middle.

I support the idea of a properly resourced COIN strategy, but I am pessimistic about the chances of success in Afghanistan unless certain key factors start changing.

One. The military effort must be supported by an intensive diplomatic effort to ease regional tensions that contribute, in a variety of ways, to violence, corruption and instability inside Afghanistan. These include the India/Pakistan divide and the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Obama could set an example for India and Pakistan by sitting down with Iranian leaders.

Two. Washington must clean up its own house before it can expect the Afghans and Pakistanis to weed out corruption. That means not keeping alleged drug smugglers on the CIA payroll. It means not allowing U.S. contractors to skim off huge percentages of the contracts they win by subcontracting (depending on whom you ask, somewhere between 40 and 90 percent of the aid US taxpayers send to Afghanistan never reaches the Afghan people). It means stopping contracts with firms who pay off the insurgents for protection (Coalition troops, working with local communities, should protect projects that the communities themselves have requested).

Three. Define how the various factions of the enemy, as well as corrupt state actors, victimize the local population, and start protecting them against those activities. Across the battle space, insurgents engage in drug smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, banditry, and the central victims are the villagers who live in the places they operate. U.S. officials (and the Taliban) claim the insurgents get money from donations, but last time I checked, it’s not called a donation when someone has got a gun to your head. I am fairly sure the Marines currently deployed to Helmand did not join the Marines because they wanted to be a policeman in Helmand, but there are basic law enforcement strategies that could help them clean up the communities where they are deployed, where factions of the Taliban behave more like criminal gangs than a military force.

I’m not suggesting any of this will be simple, and it won’t happen fast. But eventually Obama — or someone else — is going to have to get serious about cleaning up this region.

Gretchen Peters is the author of Seeds of Terror, How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda.

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