A Surge in Afghanistan?

| Mon Sep. 22, 2008 2:02 PM EDT

A SURGE IN AFGHANISTAN?....Iraq is hardly a finished success story yet, but there's no question that violence is down, security is up, and political reconciliation is at least a distant possibility. Credit for this goes to the Five S's:

  • Surge

  • Sectarian cleansing

  • Separation barriers throughout Baghdad

  • Sadr's ceasefire

  • Sunni awakening movements

So do we need a surge in Afghanistan? A better question is: can a surge succeed without the other four S's? After all, Afghanistan may be full of tribal animosities, but none of those tribes are going anywhere. Furthermore, Afghanistan doesn't have a single key city like Baghdad where separating those tribes with miles of concrete barriers is both feasible and productive; the Taliban hasn't and won't declare a ceasefire; and since the Taliban is fundamentally an ideological movement, not a sectarian one, there's not much hope for any kind of "Awakening" movement that will sap their strength. Bottom line: One S is the most we'll get.

Unfortunately, Fred Kaplan suggests that we can't even count on that. The effectiveness of the Iraqi surge depended on flooding a single city — Baghdad — with troops. But in Afghanistan there's no single city that we can focus all our attention on:

The ultimate military goal — one lesson from Petraeus' strategy in Iraq that is worth learning and might be applicable — is to protect the Afghan population, and that requires putting a lot of troops in the neighborhoods of towns and villages, to provide security and build trust. It might be possible to do this in Afghanistan, just as it was done in many Iraqi neighborhoods with one important difference — it has to be done by the Afghan National Army, not by us.

There are a few reasons for this. First, we simply can't do it. Stephen Biddle — a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, who was an adviser on some aspects of Iraq strategy — estimates that securing the Afghan population would require about 500,000 troops. That's 10 times the combined number of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan now. We don't have anywhere near this level of manpower to spare (the three extra U.S. brigades under consideration would amount to about 12,000 troops), and even if we did, and even if we wanted to send them, we'd have no way to maintain them.

So what should we do instead? Kaplan suggests building up the Afghan army, airdropping mountains of money on the region, and paying way more serious attention to Afghanistan's most troubling neighbor: "Pakistan is not a sideshow to Afghanistan. It is the main show, dwarfing every other problem in the region." Read the rest for more.

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