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Afghanistan: On the right track

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This post is part of the Afghanistan debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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3 August 2009 14:05


This post is part of the Afghanistan debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

The reasons Sam moved me to such annoyance are simple, and he mentions both of them in his riposte.

The first is the proposition that you only need 20,000 troops to do anything in Afghanistan. We did have 20,000 troops there at one stage and it did not quite work. I acknowledge that Rory Stewart might be right; there are no absolutes. What he advocates might work now when it did not work before in Afghanistan or Vietnam or Iraq or Malaya or Northern Ireland, but I doubt it, and what will Rory Stewart do if he is wrong?

The second issue that annoyed me in Sam's post is the examination of how we would approach the problem of Afghanistan if we were not there. The fact is that we are there and that presents a much greater policy problem to any government than not committing in the first place. It is much easier not to commit than it is to un-commit.

The issue in relation to Afghanistan is what to do now. The issue of why we are there and whether we should either pull out or continue is important. But given that we are there, and given that the probability of leaving seems to me to be very low, most of our brain power should be directed at how to proceed.

Pulling out, or even reducing to 20,000 troops and only concentrating on terrorists and 'good' projects is a valid course of action. It needs to be addressed just as much as my proposal – increasing the number of troops to historically consistent effective levels to establish security and, once security is adequate, addressing governance and the economy, and so attacking terrorism.

Even if the aim is anti-terrorism only, the solution will still look something like rebuilding the country. The trick is to try solutions until one is found that works. In my view, we tried small numbers of troops and well-intentioned projects in the NATO period for the first five years of the Afghan war, and it failed spectacularly. We are now in the process of trying more troops as well as governance, economy, negotiations, US involvement, fewer bombs, new leadership, etc. I believe it has a better chance of working, or at least stopping us going backwards as fast.

In my view we still do not have enough security forces, either foreign or Afghan, to establish security, and so nothing we do will be decisive in terms of security, governance or the economy. We will not be defeated militarily, but the war will go on for a long time until we fully resource it or US resolve disappears. The rest of the world (less a few countries) refuses to resource the war and some people justify this by continually looking at other non-military ways to win, and because they are good people, they hope that such an approach might work.

The non-military ways are important, but only after security is established locally or nationally. There is experience and there are studies to indicate that the right number of security forces are needed before security can be established, and that one of the constants of war is that we start with too few security forces, then relearn the lesson. We now have US leadership, resources and a degree of resolve (which is a mighty plus compared to European leadership). Now we just need the right amount of resources.

So what should the coalition do across all of Afghanistan now, and what should Australia do in Oruzgan province? The course of action the West is pursuing in Afghanistan should be let run its course. We tried only a few troops for the first few years, and it did not work. We are now trying a few more (still too few, I believe, but a less wrong course of action), so lets see how that goes. Hopefully, if the need to put in more troops to increase the probability of success is seen to be the next course of action, the situation will be recoverable.

Photo by Flickr user startledrabbit III, used under a Creative Commons license.

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