Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The past few days have been full of discussion on the timeline for troop numbers in Afghanistan: how many are coming back and how fast? The next few days will be more of the same. Conventional wisdom prior to the President's speech tonight is that we'll see 30,000 troops withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 2012. This isn't the number that General Petraeus was shooting for apparently, nor Senator Levin, and is more of a "middle ground." This is obviously a political maneuver aimed at domestic and foreign audiences with some thought for the implications in Afghanistan. That statement isn't to chide the President on the decision - he is a politician after all - and is merely an observation.
Here is an opinion for you, though: I don't care what the total troop numbers are, I care about where they are and what they're doing and how they fit into a greater strategy. First of all, 100K troops does not mean 100K saturating the Afghan landscape. It includes other essential military personnel on both big FOBs and patrol bases: logisticians, communications specialists, headquarters staff, lift and attack aviators, chaplains, mailmen, etc. It also includes those people who do things on big FOBs in the modern age: guards for TCN workers, the guy running the gym, the kid on duty in the MWR tent, military police, etc. The remainder are the guys out on patrol bases, conducting operations and training Afghan security forces.
What I'd like to know is how many fall into the last grouping. I'd like to know where they're positioned throughout Afghanistan. I'd like to know what they're doing. Then I'd like to know how they're doing. We should be able to tell if we need another battalion or company in a certain district or province at this point based on this type of information. I get that most of the Afghan campaign is an exercise in economy of force, but I want better discussions than 10K troops here and there in the whole country. I also understand that a lot of that is classified and will not be publicly released, but for all I know, the first 10K getting pulled out are the tower guards at Bagram and Kandahar and are being replaced by private security contractors (I know this isn't the case, I'm using hyperbole to make a case...). I don't need to know that the 69th Infantry Regiment is going to Village X to do Y. Just a simple troops-to-task layout.
I hope this type of analysis is going on in Afghanistan and here in DC. I suspect it is to an extent. Those of you who have been reading my recent writing on Afghanistan of late have probably noticed my pessimistic attitude towards this endeavor. I have this attitude because I don't feel that we have a strategy there. I feel that we had much better information on what was going on in Iraq when we were having similar discussions about that country a few years ago. How does this draw down compliment a political strategy? How does it tie in to negotiations with the Taliban? Or even some kernel of "we stand down when they stand up"? We don't seem to have strategies or plans for any of these and that's what gets my goat about Afghanistan. Maybe there is one that's classified, but if there is there aren't many indications that it's being used.
The draw down is as much a political decision as it is a strategic decision. But I'm seeing a whole lot of politics and not a whole lot of strategy. Or at least of the ends and means variety. So to those involved in this and those that comment on it: please, please, please tell us what the plan is. Please tell us the strategy. Please tell us how this ranks in our global national interests. Tell us why we're sending our men and women there by explaining how they're going to fix things. Tell us what we're spending our money on. And skip the bromides and quotable platitudes. Because this isn't a numbers game. These are people's real lives - both ours and Afghans.