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Afghanistan by the Numbers

Measuring a war gone to hell.

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:54 AM EDT

Escalation

Number of additional troops General McChrystal is expected to recommend that President Obama send to Afghanistan in the coming months: 21,000 to 45,000, according to the McClatchy Newspapers; 10,000 to 15,000 ("described as a high-risk option"), 25,000 ("a medium-risk option"), 45,000 ("a low-risk option"), according to the New York Times; fewer than 10,000, according to the Associated Press.

Number of support troops Defense Department officials are planning to replace with "trigger-pullers" (combat troops) in the coming months, effectively an escalation in place: 6,000-14,000. ("The changes will not offset the potential need for additional troops in the future, but could reduce the size of any request... officials said.")

Number of additional NATO forces General McChrystal will reportedly ask for: 20,000.

Optimal number of additional Afghan National Army (ANA) troops to be trained by 2012, according to reports on General McChrystal's draft plan: 162,000. (According to Naval Postgraduate School professor Thomas H. Johnson and retired Foreign Service officer M. Chris Mason,"[T]he U.S. military touts 91,000 ANA soldiers as 'trained and equipped,' knowing full well that barely 39,000 are still in the ranks and present for duty.")

Public Opinion

Percentage of Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan: 57%, according to the latest CNN poll, an 11% rise since April. Only 42% now support the war.

Percentage of Republicans who support the war: 70%, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Percentage of Americans who approve of President's Obama's handling of the war: 48%, according to the latest CBS poll, a drop of 8 points since April. (Support for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan is now at just 25%, down 14% from April.)

Percentage of British who feel their forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan: 59%.

Percentage of Germans opposed to that country's 4,000 troop commitment to Afghanistan: More than 70%.

The Presidential Election

Estimated cost of staging the 2009 Afghan presidential election: $500 million.

Number of complaints of voting irregularities: More than 2,500 and still climbing, 691 of them described as "serious charges."

Number of members of the "Independent Election Commission" not appointed by Afghan President (and presidential candidate) Hamid Karzai: 0.

Cost of blank voting-registration cards in Ghazni Province in May 2009: $200 for 200 blank registration cards.

Cost of such a card purchased by "an undercover Afghan journalist working for the BBC" this fall: $8.

Number of voter registration cards (not including fakes) reportedly distributed countrywide: 17 million or almost twice the estimated number of eligible voters.

Number of ballots cast at the Hajji Janat Gul High School polling place, half an hour from the center of Kabul: 600.

Number of votes recorded for Karzai at that polling station: 996. (Number of votes for other candidates: 5.)

Number of ballots marked for Karzai and shipped to Kabul from 45 polling sites in Shorabak District in Southern Afghanistan that were shut down by local officials connected to Karzai before voting could begin: 23,900.

Number of fake polling sites set up by backers of Karzai where no one voted but hundreds of thousands of votes were recorded: as many as 800, according to the New York Times. (Another 800 actual polling sites were taken over by Karzai supporters "to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai.")

Number of ballots in Karzai's home province, Kandahar, where an estimated 25,000 Afghans actually voted, submitted to be counted: approximately 350,000.

Private Contractors

Number of military contractors hired by the Pentagon in Afghanistan by the end of June 2009: Almost 74,000, nearly two-thirds of them local hires, a 9% rise over the previous three months.

Percentage of the Pentagon's force in Afghanistan made up of contractors in March 2009: 57%.

Ranking for the percentage of contractors used by the Pentagon in Afghanistan: highest in any conflict in U.S. history.

Diplomats and the Civilian Surge

Cost of new "crash" program to expand the U.S. "diplomatic presence" in Afghanistan and Pakistan: $1 billion. ($736 million of which is slated for the construction of a massive new embassy/regional headquarters in Islamabad, Pakistan.)

Number of additional U.S. government personnel reportedly slated to be sent to Pakistan to augment the 750 civilians already there: almost 1,000.

Expected number of U.S. government civilians to be posted at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan by the end of 2009: 976. (There were 562 at the end of 2008 and there are now reportedly more than 1,000 diplomats, staff, and Afghan nationals already working there.)

Estimated total number of civilians to be assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as part of a proposed ongoing "civilian surge" by 2011: 1,350 (800 to be posted in Kabul, 550 outside the capital).

Cost of the State Department's five-year contract with Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) to provide security for U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan: $210 million.

Cost of the State Department's contract with ArmorGroup North America, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Wackenhutt Services Inc., to guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul: $189 million.

Number of private guards provided by ArmorGroup North America: 450, based at Camp Sullivan, several miles from the embassy compound where they reportedly engaged in Lord of the Flies-style behavior.

The Metrics of Success

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on success in Afghanistan: It will take "a few years" to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Admiral "Mike" Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Meet the Press: "I believe we've got to start to turn this thing around from a security standpoint in the next 12 to 18 months." (He would not directly answer the "how long" question.)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on the Afghan War: "None of the civilian officials or military officers interviewed in Afghanistan and elsewhere expected substantial progress in the short term. They talked in terms of years two, five and 10... Military officials believe the Afghanistan mission can only succeed if troops are there far longer — anywhere from five years to 12 years."

Military experts cited by Walter Pincus of the Washington Post warn: "[T]he United States is taking on security and political commitments that will last at least a decade and a cost that will probably eclipse that of the Iraq war."

Anthony H. Cordesman, a member of a "team" put together by U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan Stanley A. McChrystal to assess war strategy, and a national security expert for the Center for Strategic and International Studies: "told reporters recently that even with military gains in the next 12 to 18 months, it would take years to reduce sharply the threat from the Taliban and other insurgent forces."

Robert Dreyfuss of the Nation summarizing the opinions of a panel of experts on the Afghan War, including Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA veteran and adviser to four presidents, who chaired President Obama's Afghan task force, two McChrystal task force members, Kim Kagan and Cordesman, and the Brooking Institution's Michael O'Hanlon: "(1) A significant escalation of the war will be necessary to avoid utter defeat. (2) Even if tens of thousands of troops are added to the US occupation, it won't be possible to determine if the US/NATO effort is succeeding until eighteen months later. (3) Even if the United States turns the tide in Afghanistan, no significant drawdown of US forces will take place until five years have passed." (Riedel commented: "Anyone who thinks that in 12 to 18 months we're going to be anywhere close to victory is living in a fantasy.")

New chief of staff of the British Army, General Sir David Richards: "The Army's role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years." (After much criticism, he retracted the statement.)

New NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: NATO's mission in Afghanistan will last "as long as it takes" to ensure that the country is secure.

Afghanistan by the Numbers

Cost of a Kalashnikov rifle in Afghanistan today: $400-600.

Cost of a Kalakov (the Afghan name for a new model of Kalashnikov): $1,100. (For a $150 surcharge, you can have it delivered to southern Afghanistan.)

Cost of a kilo of heroin in Afghanistan: $2,500. (Cost of that same kilo in Moscow: an estimated $100,000.)

Cost in police bribes of getting contraband into or out of Afghanistan: "$20 on each weapon, $100 for a kilo of heroin and $1,000 for each thousand kilos of hashish."

Afghanistan's ranking among the globe's "weakest states," according to the Brookings Institution: second weakest. (It is also regularly referred to as the world's fourth poorest country.)

Unemployment rate in Afghanistan, according to the CIA World Factbook: 40% (2008 figures).

Monthly wage for Afghan National Police: $110 (less than $4 per day).

Daily wage Taliban reputedly pays its fighters: $4-8. (Often the only "job" available.)

How long it may take to get a case through a government court (with bribes): 4-5 years.

How long it may take to get a case through a Taliban court (without bribes): 1 day.

Number of registered Afghan refugees still in Iran and Pakistan: 3 million.

Number of al-Qaeda base camps estimated to be in Afghanistan today: 0. (All reputable experts seem agreed on this.)

The Next War

The price tag the Obama administration's budget team reportedly put on U.S. future wars almost every year through 2019: More than $100 billion a year.

The cost of equipping seven Army brigades with a Boeing advanced coordinated system of hand-held drones, robots, sensors, and other battlefield surveillance equipment over the next two years: $2 billion.

Date when all 73 Army active and reserve brigades will be equipped with the system: 2025.

What Can't Be Measured

Here's a conundrum to be considered and filed away under the rubric "impossible to measure" as you leave the world of Afghan War metrics: The U.S. continues to struggle to train Afghan police and soldiers who will actually turn out and fight with discipline (see above). In the meantime, as a recent Washington Post piece by Karen DeYoung indicated, the Taliban regularly turn out fighters who are reportedly using ever more sophisticated and tenacious fire-and-maneuver techniques against the overwhelming firepower of U.S. and NATO forces. ("To many of the Americans, it appeared as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the U.S. Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments.")

Both groups are, of course, Afghans. It might be worth considering why "their" Afghans are the fierce fighters of history books and legend and ours, despite billions of dollars and massive training efforts, are not. This puzzling situation had its parallel in Vietnam decades ago when American military advisors regularly claimed they would give up a division of U.S.-trained South Vietnamese forces for a single battalion of "VC."

Here's something to carry away with you: Life is invariably hard when you set up your massive embassies, your regional command centers, your election advisors, your private security guards, your military trainers and advisors, your diplomats and civilian enablers and then try to come up with a formula for motivating the locals to do your bidding.

[Note: Thanks for help in researching this piece goes, first and foremost, to Nick Turse — with a small bow to Frida Berrigan as well. Crucial websites, if you want to keep up-to-date on Afghanistan, include Juan Cole's Informed Comment, which has recently focused an ever more laser-like beam of analysis on events in that country, the invaluable Antiwar.com (especially Jason Ditz's daily summaries), the War in Context (not to be missed more generally on "the Greater Middle East"); Rethink Afghanistan, and Foreign Policy's the Af/Pak Channel. If you want to download a "cost of war" counter to your computer, check out the National Priorities Project website.]

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