Obama and Afghanistan

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 5:03 PM EST

OBAMA AND AFGHANISTAN....Michael Crowley talks to counterinsurgency guru John Nagl after a visit to Afghanistan:

Winning in Afghanistan, he realized, would take more than "a little tweak," as he put it to me from back in Washington a few weeks later, when he was still shaking off the gritty "Kabul crud" that afflicts traveler's lungs. It would take time, money, and blood. "It's a doubling of the U.S. commitment," Nagl said. "It's a doubling of the Afghan army, maybe a tripling. It's going to require a tax increase and a bigger army."

....Nagl's rule of thumb, the one found in the counterinsurgency manual, calls for at least a 1-to-50 ratio of security forces to civilians in contested areas....By Nagl's ratio, Afghanistan's population calls for more than 600,000 security forces. Even adjusting for the relative stability of large swaths of the country, the ideal number could still total around 300,000 — more than a quadrupling of current troop levels. Eventually, Afghanistan's national army could shoulder most of that burden. But, right now, those forces number a ragtag 60,000, a figure Nagl believes will need to at least double and maybe triple.

So how's that ragtag force coming? Joe Klein reports on his visit with British Lieutenant Colonel Graeme Armour in Helmand province last week:

Almost all the recruits were illiterate. "They've had no experience at learning," Armour said. "You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh."

....The war in Afghanistan — the war that President-elect Barack Obama pledged to fight and win — has become an aimless absurdity....The far more serious problem is Pakistan, a flimsy state with illogical borders, nuclear weapons and a mortal religious enmity toward India, its neighbor to the south. Pakistan is where bin Laden now lives, if he lives.

This has now become conventional wisdom: the real problem is Pakistan. So far, however, in the same way that plans for rescuing General Motors rely mostly on handwaving about "restructuring," plans for solving the Pakistan problem rely mostly on handwaving about "getting tough." Unfortunately, hardnosed details on how this is actually going to work are pretty thin on the ground. If Obama wants public support for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, his national security team better start providing those details pretty quickly.

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