The New Plan for Afghanistan

In anticipation of next week’s NATO meeting in which the issue of Afghanistan will be front and center, President Obama has briefed Congressional leaders on his plans:

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan and for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban there and in Pakistan, officials said Thursday.

In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating a strategy used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod governments in the region to take more responsibility for quelling the insurgency and building lasting political institutions.

In the new plan the number of U. S. troops will be increased:

The new strategy, which Mr. Obama will formally announce Friday, will send 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security forces on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that he already ordered to Afghanistan shortly after taking office, administration and Congressional officials said. But for now, Mr. Obama has decided not to send additional combat forces, they said, although military commanders at one point had requested a total of 30,000 more American troops.

I gather that the new plan places substantial emphasis on the role of other countries in the region:

The goals that Mr. Obama has settled on may be elusive and, according to some critics, even naïve. Among other things, officials said he planned to recast the Afghan war as a regional issue involving not only Pakistan but also India, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Central Asian states.

His plan envisions persuading Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on its longstanding enemy, India, so it can concentrate more on battling insurgents in its lawless tribal regions. That goal may be especially hard to achieve given more than a half century of enmity — including a nuclear arms race — between Pakistan and India.

Although there is no bright line between counter-terrorist activities and counter-insurgency activities, one possible yardstick would be the relative emphasis on providing security for local people under a counter-insurgency strategy. As I understand President Obama’s plan, he intends to focus more strongly on counter-terrorism than counter-insurgency.

This promises to allow for a shorter term commitment than the as much as thirty years that might be required for a successful counter-insurgency operation and, possibly, at a lower cost.

There are, however, no guarantees and in some ways the plan is a risky one. Imagine a highly intricate machine that is completely dependent on just a couple of fragile parts. In the case of this plan among the fragile parts would be getting the Pakistanis to devote their attentions to what we’re interested in (securing their border with Afghanistan and pursuing the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, a mischievously puzzling euphemism if ever there was one) as opposed to what they’re interesting (their ongoing hostilities with neighboring India, generally percolating just below the level of war).

Another of the fragile parts is the ability of Afghanistan to support a large, standing national army. The per capita GDP of Afghanistan is $800. The American way of war is expensive and, since they’ll be trained by Americans, the new Afghan military will be trained in practicing the American way of war. I see no way that Afghanistan will be able to support that for the foreseeable future.

My conjecture is that we’ll be footing the bill for the Afghan military in a place far, far away with head-spinningly complex ethnic and tribal interrelationships. If you think that there has been a lot of waste and corruption in Iraq, just wait until you get a load of supporting the Afghan military in perpetuity.

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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.


  1. Wayne says:

    I think a better model would be what we did in Columbia than Iraq. Of course each situation is unique. The military should be train more in counter insurgency than conventional. Of course some conventional small units’ tactics would be train but the military wouldn’t be design to take on a Foreign invading military but against mobile small units.

    Nothing new for us but it is a process that takes time. Unfortunately Afghanistan is in the news so it makes it much more difficult to accomplish what needs to be done. Most Americans and Politician are too impatient especially when the MSM is screaming “the sky is falling”.