September 30, 2008


Why the US is losing in Afghanistan (Anthony H Cordesman, 10/01/08, Asia Times)

The problem is not simply US troop levels. It is dealing with a failure to create anything like an effective overall strategy to fight the war, if strategy is defined as a requiring a practical plan to implement and the resources to act.

Afghanistan is larger than Iraq, has a larger population, has far more difficult terrain to fight in, and has a virtual enemy sanctuary in Pakistan on its eastern and southern borders. It is also a nation which has never had a cohesive government and whose governmental structure was in war or near chaos over two decades before the US invasion. It also never had a military or police force that was more than a fraction the size of Iraq, and had no modern national military forces after 1993.

While there are no reliable statistics on either country, the CIA data provide as good a rough estimate as any. Moreover, many of these numbers show just how much more serious the nation building challenge is in a country that has never moved towards major economic development in the past, and that Afghanistan faces ethnic, sectarian, and linguistic divisions at least as serious as those in Iraq.

While there are no reliable estimates of the size of Taliban-HI-Haqqani forces in Afghanistan relative to the size of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliates, the background briefings given by various intelligence organizations indicate that the insurgent threat to Afghanistan - core cadres (the guesstimate of 10,000 is often used for both wars), part time fighters, and associated supporters - is probably at least as large as the insurgent threat in Iraq.

Recent background briefs also indicate that there are now significantly more foreign fighters involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan than the insurgency in Iraq, although numbers vary so much from estimate to estimate that it is impossible to provide even a reasonable range of numbers.

A comparison of the cost to date of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, however, reflects the same comparative lack of resources that is reflected in troop levels and in aid personnel. In spite of significant allied contributions, the Afghan War has so far received less outside funding than the Iraq War, and has had fewer combat troops than were committed to the Coalition forces in Iraq at their peak.

Afghanistan is also a far poorer country, had no savings and capital resources to draw upon once the initial fighting war over, and not oil exports or other economic activity capable of funding the basic needs of its population, much less funding development and strong national security forces.

By Mr. Cordesman's own definition of "strategy," this essay doesn't answer the question it purports to. There's a lot about the adequate resources end of things but, not surprisingly, precious little about the practical plan for creating a cohesive state where one has never existed before, for overcoming the ethnic divisions in the region, nor even for crushing the insurgency over the "border" in Pakistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 30, 2008 7:28 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus