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October 08, 2009

108,000 is a lot closer to 68,000 than 600,000
Posted by Patrick Barry

There's something odd about Rajiv Chandrasekaran's sensational account of the Obama administration's troubles setting the strategy for Afghanistan.  The piece shows that the civilian leadership's understanding of the resources required by a COIN diverged pretty dramatically from the military's understanding. This has the effect of making the civilian strategy-makers look pretty silly and naive for not getting what it takes to do COIN properly. (The piece lightly plays down the fact that General McKiernan had "said he had shifted his troops toward counterinsurgency operations," and the Administration had already OK'd his troop request) On the military side, you have the newly appointed COIN guru General McChrystal, who goes through an agonizing review process, which results in a politically explosive request for 40,000 additional troops. All of a sudden we're left with a choice between 68,000 from the White House back in March, compared with 108,000 by the Pentagon today. That's a big difference.

But how big? Certainly the two numbers diverge quite a bit when compared with one another.  But when you compare both of them to the 600,000 or so troops that the COIN manual force ratios actually dictate, they're actually much closer! Now I know all the counterarguments. Violence isn't as bad in the North and West! Don't forget about our NATO allies! Focusing on population centers would allow the U.S. to do more with less!  Training the Afghan security forces boosts our numbers!  That's a lot of assumptions strung together.  

The truth is that if you're assessing faithfulness to COIN, both the White House AND the Pentagon fall far short of the standard laid out in 3-24 in significant ways.  That doesn't absolve the disconnect hit upon in the Washington Post piece, but it puts a question Michael has raised several times - whether we have the capacity and political will for a fully resourced, prolonged counterinsurgency - in stark relief.   


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Patrick, I think you are getting very close to the problems that come to the fore when COIN is seen as dogma. The issues in Afghanistan cry out for a new way forward; one that is not constrained by the COIN principles conceived for Iraq. I srongly suspect that the current COIN formuala do not apply in Afghanistan. Our young captains and majors will figure things out on their own just as they did in Iraq.

I mourn the loss as they find they way forward - in spite of the dogma imposed from above.

I mourn the loss as they find they way forward - in spite of the dogma imposed from above.

I mourn the loss as they find they way forward - in spite of the dogma imposed from above.

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