Do We Need a Bigger Hammer in Afghanistan?

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold penned on op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor questioning the wisdom of increasing U. S. troop strength in Afghanistan:

We need to ask: After seven years of war, will more troops help us achieve our strategic goals in Afghanistan? How many troops would be needed and for how long? Is there a danger that a heavier military footprint will further alienate the population, and, if so, what are the alternatives? And — with the lessons of Iraq in mind — will this approach advance our top national security priority, namely defeating Al Qaeda?

We must target Al Qaeda aggressively, and we cannot allow Afghanistan to be used again as a launching pad for attacks on America. It is far from clear, however, that a larger military presence there would advance these goals.

To the contrary, it might only perpetuate a counterproductive game of cat and mouse that has led to a steep erosion in Afghans’ support for foreign forces in southwestern Afghanistan, the main Taliban stronghold. One of the most recent polls found that, while most Afghans support the US presence, only a minority rate it positively.

He concludes with a set of proposals some of which I agree with:

  • Encourage a more representative, less corrupt Afghan government.
  • Provide incentives for Afghan farmers to produce crops other than opium. I think, contrariwise, that we should buy up all of the opium that Afghan farmers can produce. It would support rural development and take the revenue away from the Taliban. Natural opioids tend to be better analgesics than their artificial substitutes. It won’t make the drug companies happy.
  • More support for infrastructure development in Afghanistan.

I think there’s just one good argument for more U. S. troops in Afghanistan: lower troop levels make us depend on airstrikes more and civilian damage as a consequence of airstrikes undermines the strategic objectives of our presence in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s politically possible for us to put the amount of force in Afghanistan we’d need to change that. Afghanistan is too big, too wild, too rural, and has that long, unsecured border with Pakistan.

There’s an old engineering quip: don’t force it, use a bigger hammer. If you favor a bigger hammer in Afghanistan, I’d appreciate an explanation of how you plan to use it, what it will accomplish, and how long we’ll need it.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, General,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Food for thought. We need to look at a wide spectrum of tools for dealing with our problems in the Muslim world. Force all by itself is not going to get the job done, unless we just plan on staying in an open-ended shooting war.

  2. rodney dill says:

    I have an idea… Let’s try a Muslim President.

  3. Michael says:

    I have an idea… Let’s try a Muslim President.

    We will probably have that sometime in the next 50 years. Though we’ll probably have a Jewish President first, so the first Muslim President may only be able to bring things back to where they are now.

  4. sam says:

    He does say this:

    We must target Al Qaeda aggressively, and we cannot allow Afghanistan to be used again as a launching pad for attacks on America. It is far from clear, however, that a larger military presence there would advance these goals.

    Perhaps not a (very much) larger military, but a smarter use of military power. I’ve read that there will be a much greater emphasis on small unit, special forces targeted operations. Maybe that’s the way to go:

    In a sign that the U.S. military is scaling back its goals in Afghanistan, senior Pentagon officials are weighing controversial proposals to send additional teams of highly trained special operations forces to narrowly target the most violent insurgent bands in the country.

    The proposals are part of an acknowledgment among senior brass that a large-scale influx of conventional forces is unlikely in the near future because of troop commitments in Iraq. It also reflects the urgency to take some action to reverse recent setbacks in Afghanistan. [Source]

    This is not to gainsay the importance of the civic actions Feingold lists. We might not prevail with them, but we sure won’t without them.

    Oh, and yeah, Rodney, Dave presented a serious post, and you respond with something more suited to one of your caption contests. Why don’t you stick to those; they seem more in line with your abilities.

  5. tom p says:

    We need to look at a wide spectrum of tools

    A very good question indeed, one I do not have an answer to, but we could start by making a serious investment in infratructure. Another thing we could do, is start dealing with the Taliban as a seperate political entity from Al Queada, divide and conquer and all that. (unless I am greatly mistaken, this seems to be Petraeus’s position)

    I have an idea… Let’s try a Muslim President.

    And who would you suggest Rodney? Osama Bin Laden? Or maybe just his best recruiting tool would suffice? Say… the reincarnation of GWB? Meanwhile, what the hell is wrong with being a Muslim? Or having one as President?

    If you will recall, the Constitution (art 6, para 3) says:

    but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    You could well argue, that the founders never dreamed of a “Muslim” President. But I could argue, with a lot more force of fact that the Founders were already well acquainted with “Christain” demagoguery (they came here to get away from it in all it’s forms), and found that, it was a thing to be far more feared.

    My grand parents came here in 1904, and if it was up to the likes of you, we “Catholics” would still be living in the “Belfasts” of Chicago. With in my life time, people said a Catholic would never be President. This despite the fact that my father fought in 2 wars for this country (and almost got shot down on several occasions)(and a catholic buddy of mine, his father DID get shot down…. etc etc)

    F U Rodney… f u…

  6. tom p says:

    thank you sam

  7. sam says:

    NP, tom. Paddy Power Rulz in Chicago! I’m from Boston, and even we don’t dye the Charles River green on St.Pat’s day. (I won’t go into what flows down the gutters of a number of streets in Boston on that wonderful occasion…)

  8. anjin-san says:

    James,

    The kind of bigotry Rodney is showing is jeopardizing the credibility of your blog.

    As has been pointed out recently, Muslims have died fighting for our country in THIS war.

    You might want to look at getting some new contributors.

  9. rodney dill says:

    And who would you suggest

    John McCain, he should convert to Islam. His running mate has a large Christian constituency. No other candidate or running mate has any link to Islam. As a muslim McCain would gain instant credibility with the Middle East governments.

    but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    I’m not suggesting making it a requirement, I’m just promoting the idea of the voters just doing it. Why? Don’t you think Muslims have been valuable contributors to our society?

  10. rodney dill says:

    We will probably have that sometime in the next 50 years. Though we’ll probably have a Jewish President first

    Lieberman certainly is qualified, if not really electable by either party. Most of the Jews I consider friends I think of as more Israeli, than Jewish, so they wouldn’t be qualified to run.

  11. Michael says:

    The kind of bigotry Rodney is showing is jeopardizing the credibility of your blog.

    That’s not bigotry, it’s just stupid partisanship.

  12. rodney dill says:

    Meanwhile, what the hell is wrong with being a Muslim? Or having one as President?

    I never said anything was wrong with either. I just proposed it as an idea to face some of the problems in the MiddleEast, A better understanding of Islam, i.e. someone with actual understanding of that religion may be of benefit.

    That’s not bigotry, it’s just stupid partisanship.

    Thanks for recognizing it as not bigotry. That claim made no sense at all, just the sound of a sizzling moonbat, I guess. I never claimed to be anything other than partisan, as for ‘stupid’, everyone will make up their own mind on that anyway.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Ok Rodney, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. You were simply saying something really, really stupid, not bigoted.

  14. rodney dill says:

    I think there’s just one good argument for more U. S. troops in Afghanistan:

    Seeing some of the reports on the Viper company in the Korengal Valley makes you wonder if more troops/something isn’t necessary, but that is just one of the aspects of our presence in Afghanistan.

  15. tom p says:

    Rodney:

    Sometimes sarcasm does not come through in this format. If that is in fact what you were trying to inject into this conversation, my apologies.

    In the meanwhile, I hava a rather long post I could interject into this conversation that I hold back for the moment (it may or may not be pertinent, basically “prejudice has been with us a long time, and it was not that long ago” sort of thing. I could share it… or not, depending upon how this conversation goes.

    I’m not suggesting making it a requirement, I’m just promoting the idea of the voters just doing it.

    Ok, I am a voter, and an aetheist, I should consider one’s religous beliefs (or lack thereof?) This strikes me as the heigth of stupidity. I do not care where one gets one beliefs, so much as where as one’s beliefs takes them.

    Why? Don’t you think Muslims have been valuable contributors to our society?

    I Know one who “contributed” more than you (or I) ever will…

    tom

  16. mannning says:

    Some seeming bright boys here have proposed that we put forward a Muslim for President. Think about that for a minute. By what test will we know that any particular Muslim called out gives his undivided allegience to the United States and not Islam? Fighting for the nation is a good step, but it is definitely not conclusive. Many Muslims have been mercenaries over the centuries, and US citizenship and approbation is a coveted status as a reward.

    Such a test of allegience is not possible, I assert, and all past performance and stirling CV information one can cite for the individual is totally negated once he feels he must execute his allegience to Muhammad. How can we find out whether he would ever change, or reassert, his allegience in the future? We can’t.

    Given that this Muslim as President could indeed reassert his Islamic preferences, and perform many actions from that position that would harm the nation immesurably, why would any sane American want such a thing?

    Perhaps we would be so unlucky as to elect one that would fight to have Sharia at least partially installed, and would support enclaves of Muslims using Sharia to the exclusion of US law. Yet another step towards Islamic ascendance in the West, as has already been happening in just about every nation in Europe.

    We cannot become blinded by the idea that all religions are equal, and all are to be accepted. A religion that has as its main principle the overthrow of all non-Islamic nations in order to install Islam as the one and only true religion, is by definition excluded from the protection of the Constitution.

    This idea shows complete ignorance of the Islamic faith and its objectives, and should be rejected out of hand. I consider such promotion of a Muslim the act of a traitor to the United States.

    Very bright maneuver, very bright.

  17. Michael says:

    Oh manning, you try so very hard, and yet can’t come up with anything worth replying to.

  18. mannning says:

    Oh Michael, you are so blind.

  19. Brett says:

    Getting back to the actual post as opposed to the bizarre tangent about a muslim president –

    Wouldn’t one of the benefits of greatly increasing the troop presence in Afghanistan mean that you could, in addition to training the Afghan Army and fighting Taliban, set up secure training camps on the Afghanistan border to train the lashkars, if negotiations with the Taliban fall apart? They seem to at least be willing, but they lack good weaponry compared to the Taliban and could probably benefit from more military training.

    Not to mention, of course, that if you had more troops in Afghanistan, you could re-double and deepen border patrols.

  20. Brett says:

    To add, I like the idea of simply buying up all the opium in Afghanistan. The only downside I can see is that it would probably drive-up worldwide prices of opium, encouraging production both in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

  21. To win in Afghanistan means attaining three objectives:
    1.Preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist launching ground.
    2.Keeping a national government intact in spite of religious and tribal opposition.
    3.Securing the borders from any illegal or anti-government activity.

    To those three things, I would add more troops, weapons,money, and advisors. I don’t care if one tribe fights with another but if they fight against the national government,I would strike.
    I would seek no peace terms with any tribe but I would reward any tribe’s loyalty with protection (not weapons). I would not countenance any illegal drug exports and I would eradicate all poppy fields. I would compensate the landowner an amount equal to other legal agricultural products of the same acreage when I burned their fields.
    That would be my five year strategy.

    My ten year strategy would be to 1. disrupt the political and economic agendas of disloyal tribal leaders,2. establish social justice within the understanding of Afghanistan culture, and 3.develop a political ruling class and governmental structure to take over when the US departs.

    That is what I would do with more troops, money, and weapons. I don’t care if Afghanistan is a democracy, republic, oligarchy, or monarchy. I care that it works to support itself in a community of nations and has the opportunity to control its own destiny.

  22. Michael says:

    To add, I like the idea of simply buying up all the opium in Afghanistan. The only downside I can see is that it would probably drive-up worldwide prices of opium, encouraging production both in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    The problem with this is that it doesn’t end the farmer’s dependency on opium production. That means we have to keep paying for it, and at above market value, which as you mention will rise if we’re buying it all. It’s not a sustainable solution, as some point we will have to stop buying, and when we do all the problem this solution will delay will come back with a vengeance.

  23. mannning says:

    Sems to me that the answer is a qualified yes. It is a concrete commitment to the Afghans that would hopefully hasten some of the things we are trying to do. Such as building an Afghan Army that can fight on its own, training it in depth, including fighting alongside our troops, and bringing up a cadre of sergeants and officers that have proven themselves in combat, all of which takes time and exposure. The more troops, the more exposure.

    I would guess that many of the Afghan tribes are woefully unequipped for even the primitive fighting they do engage in, and could use a serious boost in arms, supplies and transport; something that would require serious Army supervision lest it all reappear in Taliban hands. Some more US troop power would be needed for this.

    The more we can insert ourselves at brigade strength, and given a growing Afghan Army with us, the more likely it is that we can sieze and hold key points, roads, towns, and cities. So the hammer for this purpose might be simply three or four brigades, and their supporting units, plus air support.

    Some simple, relatively inexpensive infrastructure improvements within the held areas would be useful, but I do not think we should go too far in trying to rebuild the country.

    Buying up the poppy crop is an interesting ploy, perhaps as an interim step to finding another cash crop for the farmers, that also would have to be subsidized for a while. What else can be grown there profitably I do not know. All I have seen is rocky land.

    The word “encouraging” when applied to a people that have been horse-trading their allegiences for centuries is rather inadequate. Perhaps corruption from our viewpoint is a favorable deal from theirs–it has been a way of life in that part of the world for a very long time.

    Warlords just might be the better interim deal for us. Buy them off to fight, as we did earlier, but intersperse strong US contingents around them better to ensure their presence and loyalty. Another reason for a bit of a hammer. We will not deflect the existing tribal allegiences in any material way, so try to make them work for us.
    Troops needed.

  24. anjin-san says:

    Warlords just might be the better interim deal for us.

    If we don’t give some thought to what is good for the people that live there, this problem is never going to go away.

  25. Brett says:

    The problem with this is that it doesn’t end the farmer’s dependency on opium production. That means we have to keep paying for it, and at above market value, which as you mention will rise if we’re buying it all. It’s not a sustainable solution, as some point we will have to stop buying, and when we do all the problem this solution will delay will come back with a vengeance.

    To be honest, I doubt we’re seriously going to get the farmers there to stop planting opium short of really draconian anti-opium actions or legalization of opium in the Western World (which would collapse prices, driving many away from it). We’re going headfirst into a wall of economic reality – why should a farmer spend all his time planting a cheap crop of wheat or grains that might feed his family and allow him to live in a state of desperate poverty, as opposed to planting opium and reaping the benefits of higher prices?

  26. John425 says:

    “Afghanistan is too big, too wild, too rural, and has that long, unsecured border with Pakistan.”

    This is the nut of the situation. Look at a map. Afghanistan is slightly smaller than Texas, Iraq is about 2x the size of Idaho and the terrain in Afghanistan is mostly mountainous. Conventional land forces won’t work in Afghanistan. This is a job for numerous, but small units of Special Forces troops. Strike fast and move on, follow up is by the “hearts n’ minds” services.