PLEASE Stay off our side

by Joshua Foust on 11/14/2008 · 1 comment

Michael O’Hanlon—who last year had a habit of making sh*t up when reality didn’t suit him (see here, here, and here, for example)—now thinks the one thing missing from Afghanistan is… another Surge:

The war in Afghanistan is not going well, and the critical problem is the same one that dogged our efforts in Iraq for years: grossly inadequate troop levels. Western troop totals there have just inched over 60,000, while Afghan security forces total some 140,000. Let’s put this into perspective: We are trying to do with 200,000 personnel what it took 700,000 soldiers and police (plus 100,000 “volunteers”) to accomplish in Iraq. But Afghanistan is even larger than Iraq, and more populous.

President-elect Barack Obama has wisely promised an increase in U.S. forces for Afghanistan. But his proposed minisurge of perhaps 15,000 more troops, on top of the 30,000 Americans and 30,000 NATO personnel now there, will not suffice as a strategy. More is needed.

But it is not about numbers, he reminds us. But instead of noting the surge that already happened in 2006—when NATO took over, an additional 30,000 troops entered the country, with quite the opposite effect of a similarly-sized Surge in Iraq—O’Hanlon instead mouths the same old boring platitudes that Iraq and Afghanistan are, in fact, different countries, and oh yeah Pakistan is mean and really hard too.

Missing is an understanding of why 30,000 extra troops didn’t help things before, or why anything would be different this time around. You can talk doctrine, training, and so on, all you want. But unless it is connected to a concrete doctrine, some method of making it all work plausibly, then you are spouting platitudes.

The best part? Because Afghanistan is not as bloody as Iraq was in 2006, we can take our time. But we shouldn’t waste time in flooding the country with troops and money to train them. Or something. By the end, I’m not really sure if he’s arguing that the U.S. and NATO should send more troops, or if we should instead train up more locals. Or take our time while also acting urgently.

Like much of his other work, O’Hanlon’s argument is a mess, demonstrating his deep familiarity with buzzwords and deep ignorance of the places he advocates flooding with troops. It doesn’t mean he’s wrong—there is a pressing need for better security across the country, as regular readers here can attest—but I really wish he’d stay off our side. And maybe not invent a new set of benchmarks to prove himself right again.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

matt November 15, 2008 at 12:40 pm

“But his proposed minisurge of perhaps 15,000 more troops, on top of the 30,000 Americans and 30,000 NATO personnel now there, will not suffice as a strategy. More is needed.”

Someone should let General O’Hanlon know that an influx of troops is not a strategy.

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