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January 22, 2009

"We're not there"
Posted by Max Bergmann

Dexter Filkins in The New York Times this morning has another story on the huge problems our military operations are facing in Afghanistan. It is actually a fairly basic problem: the Taliban are everywhere and coalition soldiers are not. He quotes the deputy commander saying that "We're not there." This void has meant that the Taliban basically has control of large swaths of the country, while the present size of our forces have little ability to uproot them.

Now there are differences of opinion over whether to increase the number of forces in Afghanistan - but as Filkins' piece points out it is hard to see how we deploy any non-military elements of an Afghanistan plan if we simply aren't there.

But it is also important to question the scope of the proposed troop increase. The story notes that adding 20,000 troops would create a force ratio of 60,000 to a population of 3.2 million in the south - which is within the 1:50 ratio called for by the counter-insurgency manual. It is my understanding that this ratio does not distinguish between rural and urban environments. But the rural nature of the Taliban insurgency creates a number of additional challenges - namely that the population centers are so spread out and the distances so large that it seems even with the proposed increase there will still be places where we are still "not there."


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The problem isn't only in the south. The Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan, up from 54% a year ago. Taliban forces have advanced from their southern heartlands, where they are now the de facto governing power in a number of towns and villages, to Afghanistan’s western and north-western provinces, as well as provinces north of Kabul.

These geniuses never learn. Half a million troops in Vietnam weren't enough. Now in Iraq we have 140,00 troops, a similar number of contractors supporting them plus 250,000 Iraqi troops being tied down by 28m people, the situation "fragile" according to Petraeus.

Afghanistan is a larger country with more people, and with open borders. The population of Afghanistan is 32m and COIN requires 600,000 troops. If you reduce it considering the 72% figure you still need 400,000, the approximate number in Iraq. The Afghan Army (70k) is ineffective.

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