How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?

Summary:   How many troops must we send to win in Afghanistan.  It’s a key question that receives too little attention in public sources, other than guessing.   What have our generals told DoD planners?  Are we being guided into a larger war according to a well-considered plan?  Or are we sliding thoughtlessly into a larger war, as we did in Vietnam?  The answer is more complex, but it makes clear our responsibility for the results — and our role in reforming the system.


  1. Force requirements in wars like Af-Pak
  2. Results so far
  3. Echos from Vietnam about the process of escalation
  4. Conclusions – about our role in the war
  5. Update:  evidence DoD did ignore this question
  6. All this assumes that counter-insurgency works
  7. Afterword and For More Information

(1)  Force requirements in wars like Af-Pak

There is a large body of work on the general question, starting with “Force Requirements in Stability Operations“, James T. Quinlivan, Parameters, Winter 1995.  The COIN manual, FM 3-24, echoed Quinlivan’s conclusions:

No predetermined, fixed ratio of friendly troops to enemy combatants ensures success in COIN. The conditions of the operational environment and the approaches insurgents use vary too widely.

A better force requirement gauge is troop density, the ratio of security forces (including the host nation’s military and police forces as well as foreign counterinsurgents) to inhabitants. Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents in an AO. Twenty counterinsurgents per 1000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective COIN operations; however as with any fixed ratio, such calculations remain very dependent upon the situation.

By this calculation NATO must send horrifically large forces, given the number of Afghanistan government forces (and their limited training and willingness to fight).  Instead the NATO planners decided to send few troops to Afghanistan, as described in America’s Role in Nation-Building – From Germany to Iraq, RAND, 2003

A small international peacekeeping force of about 5,000 troops, initially under UK command, was established for the capital, Kabul. U.S. and coalition forces of about 8,000 troops continued to conduct counterterrorist operations against residual Taliban and al Qaeda elements throughout the country, mostly along the border with Pakistan. But they did not undertake any peacekeeping or stabilization responsibilities.

The United States initially opposed establishing a countrywide international stabilization force for several reasons.

  • There was some fear that Afghanistan’s legendary xenophobia would manifest itself anew in resistance to any substantial foreign troop presence.
  • The U.S. administration wanted to break with the pattern of ever-more-ambitious nation-building endeavors that its predecessor had set.
  • Establishing even a modest countrywide peacekeeping presence would raise daunting logistical challenges. Because of the country’s destroyed infrastructure, all troops, equipment, and sustaining supplies would initially have to be flown in.
  • Finally, the U.S. administration viewed Afghanistan as the opening campaign in a larger war against terrorism. U.S. policymakers did not want to tie down significant numbers of U.S. forces or logistical capabilities in Afghanistan.

Since then troop numbers have crept up, but our leaders carefully avoid discussing how many NATO troops are needed for victory.  As seen in this interview with General Jones and Senators Levin and Graham on Face the Nation, 9 August 2009. General Jones adroitly dances around the question of more troops, while the Senators call for more troops — without placing limits on what “more” means.  It adds up to more troops, one slice of the salami at a time.

The war’s advocates among NGO experts are no more eager to discuss this.  As in this brief essay by Adam Silverman, “Counterinsurgency Operations: Strategy versus Tactics“, posted Sic Semper Tyrannis at 13 September 2009.  Strong advocacy of the war, with no discussion of costs in money or blood.

(2)  Results so far are not good

It should not surprise us that too few troops produced few good results.  As described in this excerpt from “Securing Afghanistan“, C. Christine Fair and Seth G. Jones, US Institute for Peace, 23 January 2009 — Emphasis added:

Violence has increased virtually every year between 2002 and 2008, especially in southern Afghanistan. It increased 27% between 2006 and 2007, and another 32% between 2007 and 2008. The low level of U.S. and international forces has contributed to the rising violence, and international force levels are among the lowest of any stability operation since World War II. Indeed, there are three times the number of international forces in Iraq as in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is larger in terms of population (31,056,947 compared with 26,783,383) and geography (647,500 square kilometers compared with 432,162).

So the military appears ready to request more troops.  Without any analysis of how this next tranche of troops will change the situation.  Just hope for change.  To use another analogy from Vietnam:  our generals will ask for another slice of the salami, an incremental slide into a larger war.

(3)  Echos from Vietnam about the process of escalation

Is there a plan?  Are there elements in US military pushing for more US involvement, as there was in Vietnam.  From David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest:

As far as Washington was concerned, it was something they slipped into more than they chose; they thought they were going to have time to make clear, well-planned choices, to decide how many men and what type of strategy they would follow, but events got ahead of them. The pressures from Saigon for more and more men would exceed Washington’s capacity to slow it down and think coolly, and so the decisions evolved rather than were made, and Washington slipped into a ground combat war.

But it was not something that the military in Saigon slipped into; the planning of troops, the need for them and how to use them was something that had long been in the contingency planning stage, and now, slowly, MACV {the US military command in Vietnam} was moving toward it, careful not to ask for too much too soon lest it scare the White House … In April the military arm of MACV was asked to do an estimate for Westmoreland on the enemy capacity for reinforcement; when the assignment was given, no one knew what the answer would be. But when Colonel William Crossen, one of the top intelligence officers, put it together he was appalled: the number of men that Hanoi could send down the trails without seriously damaging its defenses at home was quite astonishing. … “Jesus,” said the general {Westmoreland}, “if we tell this to the people in Washington we’ll be out of the war tomorrow. We’ll have to revise it downward.”

So Crossen’s figures were duly scaled down considerably, which was a good example of how the Army system worked, the staff intuitively protecting the commander from things he didn’t want to see and didn’t want to hear, never coming up with information which might challenge what a commander wanted to do at a given moment. Because the Westmoreland staff in February, March and April of 1965 knew that he wanted to get in the ball game with combat troops, it did everything carefully, never getting ahead of itself. The design was in private, if the truth were to be known, rather grand …

But why did civilian decision-makers approve each round of escalation, until public suport for the war collapsed?  Daniel Ellsberg explains in The Quagmire Myth and the Stalemate Machine:

In the light of the internal documentation in the Pentagon Papers, it appears that the pattern of Presidential choice described above for 1961 applies virtually across-the-board to major presidential initiatives on Vietnam over the last 2 decades … No more than in 1961 were any of the measures of increased involvement that a President actually adopted described to him by officials as being adequate “last steps”, or indeed, as anything but holding actions, adequate to avoid defeat in the short run but long shots so far as ultimate success was concerned.

… Even in the Phase A {of crisis and deception} years of decision, analyses were not devoid of optimism; on the contrary, it was typical that certain approaches were presented by their proponents as winning strategies; but these were never the options chosen.

… But it was not only the military who told each President that what he had chosen would, at best, restore a violent stalemate. that was, regularly, also the gist of the National Intelligence Estimates (which also said much the same for the more violent or costly measures that the military proposed as well … and it was also the view of those, mainly in State, who believed that a different political strategy was essential.

To summarize Ellsberg’s subtle analysis (of which this is just a fragment), Presidents receive 3 proposals.  Generals say the first will produce victory, but the costs will be great and selling it to the public too difficult.  The third risks defeat — even worse, defeat before the next election.  So the middle course, a compromise, gets chosen.  Ellsberg continues:

… successful politicians are likely to exhibit these same traits for temperamental reasons as well. A strong focus on the short run, a hopeful attitude toward the future, a tendency to put off painful decisions in the hope, and with some confidence, that something will turn up to make the decision either unnecessary or easier…

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. memorably described this dynamic in “Eyeless in Indochina“, New York Review of Books, 21 October 1971:

Immersion in the Pentagon Papers had persuaded me that I was mistaken in the suggestion that the escalatory steps actually taken by Presidents were accompanied by promises that these particular steps would bring victory or would be the last steps necessary. No President ever escalated enough to satisfy the military, who always complained about civilian restrictions on military action and kept insisting that they be allowed to bomb, shoot, and drown more and more Vietnamese.

Other sources of information about this aspect of the Vietnam War:

(4)  Conclusions – about our role in the war

The decision-making process described here is another aspect of America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop).   It operates because public officials routinely lie to us, and we passively accept their lies — over and over and over again.

We can whine about this.  Or we can accept responsibility for it — the first step towards reform.  America is a Republic, which means that we can only to ourselves to produce a better future.

(5)  Evidence DoD did ignore this question

Excerpt from “Civilian, Military Officials at Odds Over Resources Needed for Afghan Mission“, Washington Post, 8 October 2009:

In early March, after weeks of debate across a conference table in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the participants in President Obama’s strategic review of the war in Afghanistan figured that the most contentious part of their discussions was behind them. Everyone, save Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, agreed that the United States needed to mount a comprehensive counterinsurgency mission to defeat the Taliban.

That conclusion, which was later endorsed by the president and members of his national security team, would become the first in a set of recommendations contained in an administration white paper outlining what Obama called “a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Preventing al-Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan, the document stated, would require “executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy.”

To senior military commanders, the sentence was unambiguous: U.S. and NATO forces would have to change the way they operated in Afghanistan. Instead of focusing on hunting and killing insurgents, the troops would have to concentrate on protecting the good Afghans from the bad ones.

And to carry out such a counterinsurgency effort the way its doctrine prescribes, the military would almost certainly need more boots on the ground.

To some civilians who participated in the strategic review, that conclusion was much less clear. Some took it as inevitable that more troops would be needed, but others thought the thrust of the new approach was to send over scores more diplomats and reconstruction experts. They figured a counterinsurgency mission could be accomplished with the forces already in the country, plus the 17,000 new troops Obama had authorized in February.

“It was easy to say, ‘Hey, I support COIN,’ because nobody had done the assessment of what it would really take, and nobody had thought through whether we want to do what it takes,” said one senior civilian administration official who participated in the review, using the shorthand for counterinsurgency.

The failure to reach a shared understanding of the resources required to execute the strategy has complicated the White House’s response to the grim assessment of the war by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, forcing the president to decide, in effect, what his administration really meant when it endorsed a counterinsurgency plan. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s follow-up request for more forces, which presents a range of options but makes clear that the best chance of achieving the administration’s goals requires an additional 40,000 U.S. troops on top of the 68,000 who are already there, has given senior members of Obama’s national security team “a case of sticker shock,” the administration official said.

This well-sourced article describes a shocking level of incompetence — shocking to those unfamilar with the history of the US government’s war-making processes. Apparently that includes Prof Bernard Finel. See this from “A Broken Process and a Lack of Due Diligence“, at his blog on 8 October 2009:

This story is extremely depressing. It suggests a shockingly low level of debate. No one brought up the force-sizing requirements in 3-24? And it makes me wonder whether they even considered what “diplomats and reconstruction experts” could actually accomplish in one of the poorest countries in the world.

This was the product of “weeks” of discussion? A strategy signed off on with no sense of the forces required? A strategy bolstered by a hand-wave about “reconstruction experts”? am just speechless.

But I have to admit, if this story is correct, my initial assessment of the process was wrong. The policy process was not captured by a cabal of COINdinistas shutting out all skeptics — the policy process was instead mismanaged and the participants failed to do sufficient due diligence. Incompetence rather than conspiracy explained the outcome.

Prof Finel is a brilliant and knowledgeable expert in these things.  Why does he find this surprising?  Why didn’t most of our geopolitical experts expect this?  It was clear from the stream of news leaks that force levels were not being realistically discussed.

(6)  All this assumes that counter-insurgency works

This analysis assumes that more foreign troops increases the odds of success in counter-insurgency.  As many experts have shown, the historical record provides little support for this belief.  Since Mao brought 4GW to maturity, most CI by foreign troops end in defeat.  The few wins tend to be special cases:

  • Small:  Kenya (aprox 1,000 government forces killed; achieved independence 2 years later)
  • Not-very-foreign:  Northern Ireland
  • Strong local government:  Malaysia  (the “emergency” ran from 1948-1960; Malaysia became independent 1957)

In general, increasing the number of foreign troops does not help in CI.  Often it decreases the legitimacy of the local government (increasing its legitimacy is a major focus of FM 3-24), more than offsetting the increased military effectiveness.

(7)  For more information

To see all posts about our new wars: Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles

Posts about America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop):

  1. News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
  2. Another cycle down the Defense Death Spiral, 30 January 2008
  3. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
  4. The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
  5. We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009
  6. The decay of our government, visible for all to see, 3 June 2009
  7. A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2009
  8. Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009

16 thoughts on “How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?”

  1. Section header #5 is a very significant insight, “All this assumes that counter-insurgency works.”

    Even if you buy the theory of pop-centric COIN — which is conceptually problematic – and you accept the historical analysis — which is often a tremendously incomplete — you still come to the conclusion that we can’t implement the strategy due to resource limitations.

    Even if you buy into the incredibly ambitious (I’d argued dangerously unrealistic) assumption that the Afghans are going to field 400,000 !!!! effective troops, you’d still need 150k American forces in Afghanistan for years and years to meet the requirements of doctrine.

    And when you mention any of this to COIN theorists they immediately dismiss you as a “defeatist.”
    Fabius Maximus replies: You are a defeatest (as I am) to those who believe in the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics, according to which a sufficiently strong willpower can win any conflict.

  2. The British settlers in Kenya lost. Their aim was to continue their dominance over the blacks. Jomo Kenyatta became president of an independent Kenya. The counter-insurgents failed. The Brits may have won all the battles against the Mau Mau but they lost the war.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree, as noted in this post. It’s shown that way (as a success for foreign troops) in the post because that’s the conventional history. I’ll go further — the Malayan Emergency is the most commonly cited CI victory by foreign troops (e.g., by Nagl in “How to eat soup with a knife”. This is a misreading of it, IMO.

    (1) The UK had committed to withdrawal, and there was a legitimate government in place. The locals did most of the fighting and dieing. It was their victory.
    (2) It was, like many defeated insurgencies, run by an unpopular minority ethnic group (like Sri Lanke). This made #1 the likely outcome.
    As a result, it tells us almost nothing about winning in places like Afghanistan.

  3. Gen. Stanley McChrystal says there are no signs of major Al Qaeda activity in Afghanistan.. Meanwhile, Sen. Diane Feinstein, chairperson of the senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says “I do not believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan.”

    So if it’s impossible to build a democracy in Afghanistan and if there are no major Al Qaeada activities there. Why are American troops in Afghanistan?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Good question. I wish I had an answer. Obama’s support for the Af-Pak War, for escalating it, is one of the cancers eating away at the political foundation of his Administration (as it did to Lyndon Johnson’s). The outcome might be the same, should a strong figure in the Democratic Party challenge him in 2012.

  4. Support for these misadventures comes from our rural political enclave. To persuade these folks to oppose this war, we need to emphasize that they are being sold a bill of goods in the sense that rural Afghans are not like rural Americans. Bush Jr. argued (with help from Rice) that Iraqi’s potentially could embrace notions of freedom and democracy the same way we do. Implicit in this, and resonant to rural Americans, is a functioning agricultural nation-state, i.e. an array of functioning cities, all with a shared culture, punctuating a cohesive countryside economically and politically aligned with, and willingly ruled by legitimate authority in those cities. This argument was weak in the case of Iraq. It is nonexistent in the case of Afghanistan. The stark apples to oranges nature of this sales pitch is the pressure point to hit. The rest is preaching to the choir in our urban centers, fun but ineffective towards ending the war.

  5. How many troops? That’s easy, it will take all of them.

    Sorry for the flippancy… More to the point it will take as many as the logistical system can handle. Estimating the number of troops based on a mathmatical formula seems a bit flawed from the get go. Human beings often times do not respond the way the numbers say they should.

    “ending the war” There ya go again… What if the enemy doesn’t want it to end? OBL himself just presented his terms for our surrender, they’re pretty much the same that they were in 1998.

    Fabious: I agree wholeheartedly regarding the COIN mafia and Maylasia. Haiti (1915-1934), Mexico 1916, Dominican Republic 1916-1924, Nicaragua 1926-33 would all seem to offer better examples of the COIN tool at work – or at least better lessons learned.

    I’m not sure I want to trust the HuffingtonPosts edited version of anything General McChrystal says officially {comment #3}, anymore then I would want the Freeper edited version. I’m reasonably certain that there is a dot mil link out there that contains the official DoD version in full, or at least edited by the DoD.

    There is a reason why there are very few al-Q operating inside Afghanistan. Most open source estimates have al-Q total manpower somewhere between 1,600 and 2,500 in Pakistan. The total list of al-Q High Value Targets (leadership) is somewhere under 200. Including the Black Guard (OBL’s bodyguard), Brigade 055, the Chechens, and the Uzbeks. They’re all somewhat busy with various operations inside the FATA, like guarding OBL and Z-man, training new Talib recruits, expanding their caliphate in the FATA at the expense of the Pakistani government, and planning/organizing for international strikes.

    What is it that any of the enemy leadership has said (and when) that would lead one to think that if we go away they’ll just quit? MADNESS, R
    Fabius Maximus replies: This does not really make much sense to me.

    (1) Your disregard of basic military planning is …odd. Estimating the resources required is an essential first step. Your comment does not explain what you believe should be done instead. Hope? Prayer? Sending troops in insufficient numbers to have reasonable odds of success is … let’s just say it’s a bad idea.

    (2) “What if the enemy doesn’t want it to end?”

    This is the false dilemma repeatedly used by the war’s advocates, a rhetorical trick for morons. Ending the war does not mean stopping the inteligence and security work that has done the most to protect us since 9-11. Nor does it mean ending diplomatic, financial, and training support for our allies.

    (3) “Haiti (1915-1934), Mexico 1916, Dominican Republic 1916-1924, Nicaragua 1926-33 would all seem to offer better examples of the COIN tool at work – or at least better lessons learned.”

    Did you notice the words “since Mao brought 4GW to maturity”? All of your examples pre-date this, and the successful anti-colonial insurgencies which followed.

    (4) “I’m not sure I want to trust the HuffingtonPosts edited version of anything General McChrystal says officially”

    You can’t be bothered to check Google before slamming the Huff Post? Similar stories appear from multiple other sources, such as the AP — posted at that leftist rag, Stars and Stripes.

    (5) “OBL himself just presented his terms for our surrender … What is it that any of the enemy leadership has said (and when) that would lead one to think that if we go away they’ll just quit?”

    We should go to war every time somebody in a Central Asian cave talks big? Nor am I impressed by the guesses from the unstated “open source” guesses about al Qaeda.

  6. “Support for these misadventures comes from our rural political enclave.” BC, have any proof for your assertion, any references, documentation or sources to share with us? Who and what exactly, is “our rural political enclave”? You write “To persuade these folks to oppose this war…” – of whom are you speaking? Do you even know anyone who lives or works in rural America, or someone from rural America who serves in the military? Or, are you another one of those types who likes to blame the folks in “flyover country” for everything wrong with the nation?

    As you may gather, I get a little unhappy, let us say, with single factor explainations for complex problems; reality is seldom so neat and tidy. I also abhor identity politics, of which your post seems to be an example.

    FM, regarding your post on the number of troops needed for Afghanistan, leaving aside whether or not more troops will in fact lead to victory, let me offer the following:

    1. This is a classic means and ends dilemma, isn’t it? Our military is straining to keep the status quo up-and-running, surging our troops in Af-Pak will require either removing troops from other postings (some of which has already been done, i.e. S. Korea), denuding Iraq for operations in Afganistan (also done), scaling back our goals to fit our logistical/personnel resources, or ramping up the number of people in the pipeline – increasing the size of our forces. The latter would require a draft, wouldn’t it?

    2. The draft is politically untenable in the USA today, under Obama, just as it was under GWB. Therefore, we will continue to “ride the horses” we’ve got til they drop, a terrible disservice to those troopers (epsecially married reservists with families) who’ve done multiple deployments for policies that depart radically from prior use of the NG/reserve, which is now being used as a tactical reserve, not as a strategic reserve and/or homeland security force as it was intended.

    In other words, means and ends will continue to be mismatched, because not enough of our senior officers and policymakers have the courage to admit the inconvenient truth that they have dug us into a deep hole from which a graceful exit will be very tough.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I share your dislike of single-factor explanations. As for where DoD plans to get the troops, there are two sources.
    (1) Planned expansion of the Army and Marines.
    (2) Re-deployment of forces from Iraq. With aprox 130 thousand troops still in Iraq, it has hardly been “denuded.”
    Will this be sufficient? Will #2 even be possible? Or, as Pat Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired) speculates, might we be kicked out of Iraq? (“January will bring the curtain down in Iraq“, posted at Sic Semper Tyrannis, 14 September 2009)

  7. >Twenty counterinsurgents per 1000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective COIN operations; however as with any fixed ratio, such calculations remain very dependent upon the situation.

    If the situation is that you wrote the counter insurgency manual but you have made a career of sucking up to those above you then it immediately drops to two per 1000.

    >No President ever escalated enough to satisfy the military, who always complained about civilian restrictions on military action and kept insisting that they be allowed to bomb, shoot, and drown more and more Vietnamese.

    This is just an artifact of naive faith Americans put in their military. The military were not only willing to fight to the last Vietnamese they are willing to fight to the last American too. The civilian may laugh at it, but they are serious.

    >Why are American troops in Afghanistan?

    There is no mystery here – because America can’t be seen to lose to a bunch of farmers. What would that say about America’s role in the world ?

    Obama’s naively assumed that good intentions and clarity were required in Afghanistan. But to leave Afghanistan requires ambiguity and chaos so that the defeat can be hidden from both the American public and the wider world. The best way to do that is to keep the war small and stay as uncommitted as possible. The chaos of Afpak politics is your friend not something that is to be clarified.

    You can imagine the ISI sitting there just shaking their head at the simple minded Americans. It was obvious to them that the smart thing to do was to put on a show and hand the war over to them at some point. Instead the Americans think they can fix things, and as a result are creating a disaster for everyone.

    As I have said before every indication is that the Afghani war was originally intended to be little more than a raid. But core American values and beliefs shared across the political spectrum have dragged it into the quagmire.

    >More to the point it will take as many as the logistical system can handle. Estimating the number of troops based on a mathmatical formula seems a bit flawed from the get go.

    It is not mathematics it is history. Those that claim that an inconvenient history can just be finessed away are bound to repeat it.

  8. “increasing the size of our forces. The latter would require a draft, wouldn’t it?”

    We have a draft. We just don’t call it that. Using – or rather misusing – the National Guard as a tactical reserve rather than the homeland security force it was intended to be is a de facto draft.

  9. The 20 per 1000 ratio of troops to population if think is considered the bare minimum. But a large percentage of Afghanistans population is rural and some places very isolated. It allows the US/UK forces to acheive a sort of local superiority in numbers. I don’t think we conduct operations were we are at a disadvantage in terms of numbers. Having said that, I suspect we are “robbing peter to pay paul” by shifting units here and there to acheive that superiority leaving areas alone and hoping that the afghan security forces can cope.

    To concentrate on the numbers issue is to lose sight of the real problems. I contend that the stragety itself is not working for reasons I and many others have gone into.

    It seems to me that the pro-war pundits are perhaps getting their excuses ready for the day when we have to leave, our tails firmly tucked between our legs?

  10. Fabius Maximus replies: “I share your dislike of single-factor explanations.

    So, as you climb into the ring with a nasty looking opponent, when I say, “He has a sore eye, put your thumb in there and he’ll squeal.” You can say, “Spare me the single-factor advise, fool.” Channeling Mr. T no doubt.

    Rice had a stump speech she gave on Iraq for eight years. Call it the “They’re just like us.” speech. Why did they push this meme so hard? Because it worked. Bush supporters, mostly rural, (remember “What’s Wrong With Kansas?”, identified with the Iraqi’s, and so supported their “struggle for freedom” with our blood and treasure. This was a crock of course. Obama is not pounding this drum for A, but the meme survives. Eight years of repetition will do that, ask any advertiser. This meme is the sore eye of the pro-war crowd. Put your thumb in there and they’ll squeal.
    Fabius Maximus replies: What does your first paragraph mean? I don’t get it. Single factor explanations are seldom useful explanations for complex social phenomena, however useful for simple events such as a man biting an apply.

  11. >”The 20 per 1000 ratio of troops to population if think is considered the bare minimum. But a large percentage of Afghanistans population is rural and some places very isolated. It allows the US/UK forces to acheive a sort of local superiority in numbers. I don’t think we conduct operations were we are at a disadvantage in terms of numbers.”

    The ratio is with regard to the local population – not insurgents. The counter-insurgents typically outnumber the insurgents by several factors and have thousands to hundreds of thousands of times more firepower. All of which is irrelevant.

    >”Bush supporters, mostly rural, (remember “What’s Wrong With Kansas?”, identified with the Iraqi’s, and so supported their “struggle for freedom” with our blood and treasure.”

    It wasn’t identification with Iraqi’s. What does rural America know about Iraq? It was the notion of a Great America that was appealing. Read the speech it is full of coded “American values”.

    To the rural and working class Americans that had personally seen decades of decline the idea that Bush was going to make America great again was a ray of hope. Not only did it make people feel good, maybe there was a chance that America would pull out of the decline and they would all benefit.

    This is hardly an American phenomenon; countries in decline are all susceptible to nationalistic demagogy. We should be thankful that W was such an idiot, a smarter man would have been able to do far worse damage before he was stopped. That Ms Rice isn’t serving jail time for crimes against humanity makes that still possible.

  12. Re: 11
    It used to be, you built public support for war by dehumanizing and vilifying the enemy, in aggregate, in his nation-state. In our brave new world of 4GW, the new trick is to get the public to identify with, and ideally, to actually bond with the locals, while simultaneously dehumanizing and vilifying the “insurgents” among them. This is a very tricky business, especially when the facts on the ground don’t support the model. No doubt, such a model was presented to George III by way of explaining the deteriorating course of events circa 1776. This is the case for war I’m not buying, until someone shows me some maudlin and heartwarming examples of Afghan freedom fighters dying in droves for their country.

  13. Does anyone know how ‘ big ‘ the ‘enemy’is ? Perhaps the recent election was an opportunity to find out . But the opportunity was missed due to restrictions on the candidates allowed to stand , and non residents ( who had already voted with their feet ) not allowed to vote .

  14. Robert Paterson from PEI has a damn smart solution to some of our woes in Afghanistan (of course it will never be done): “Afghanistan – The Roxanne Option?”, at his blog, 16 September 2009 — Excerpt:

    The Roxanne Option – the Game Changer – is to take over the drug trade. We buy all the opium. We can burn it if we want or make it into medical products. My point is that we have to control the trade and make the locals rich and keep the money for us to hand out to whom we please.

    They key to the hearts and minds of the people is not to have them like us but to have them see us as useful. Once we have control of the opium, we have control of everything and everyone. We have the money. With that kind of power and with the loss of power to the warlords, we have room to move.

    Fabius Maximus replies: This is one of many articles noting the absurdity of waging war in these 3rd world nations, when we could put the entire nation on our payroll for less money — and far less bloodshed (both their’s and ours). We’re leasing peace, not buying friends (and certainly not buying subjects).

  15. Update: the New York Times considers this question

    How Many Troops to Secure Afghanistan?“, Robert MacKey, blog of the NY Times, 21 September 2009 — Excerpt:

    Now that word has leaked out that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that he will need more than 68,000 American troops to defeat the Taliban, the natural question is: how many foreign troops does it take to secure Afghanistan?

    The fast answer is that no one really knows, since, as even late-night comics have noticed recently, armies have been failing to do it for centuries.

    On Saturday the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, weighed in with an op-ed of sorts posted on a Taliban Web site — helpfully made available in English, as well as Pashto, Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, Finnish, German, Spanish, Russian, French, Somali and Malay/Indonesian — noting that history has not been kind to foreign forces seeking to control Afghanistan, “from the time of the aggression of Alexander.”

    Mullah Omar invoked a somewhat more recent example as well, pointing out that the Afghans “fought against the British invaders for eighty years from 1839 to 1919 and ultimately got independence by defeating Britain.” …

  16. I seem to remember reading that the force ratio for successful COIN operations, the COIN forces need to have 10 men with rifles chasing each individual insurgent. Now when you remember that for every 10 line riflemen in a given army, you need about 50 non-riflemen supporting them,a single armed insurgent demands the attention of about 60 COIN troopers in total. Now if the insurgent forces in Afghanistan only have about 10,000 total figthers, we would have to have about 600,000 troops (of which 100,000 would be guys with rifles hunting/gunning for them)on the ground in the Area of Operations (AO). We don’t have that level of troop strength to spare out of our other worldwide commitments. And besides, the wrecked infrastructure and neigh unto destroyed road-net in Afghanistan would be hard pressed to service the needs for much more than 160,000 high technology forces such as the USA would field. The Soviet Union found that out in their go-around with the insurgents in Afghanistan during their unpleasant time there.


    Bill Mayhue

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