Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama Wants to Double Afghan Army

It's been a long, long time coming but finally an American administration has become serious about giving Afghanistan the army it needs. Afghan soldiers - not Europeans or North Americans.

The New York Times reports that Obama's vision for the way out of Afghanistan is to create an Afghan security force of 400,000 soldiers and national police officers more than three times the number that American commanders in 2002 thought would be sufficient. According to the paper, the plan is based on, "the hope that a much larger professional army and national police force could fill a void left by the central government and do more to promote stability in the country."

There is some concern that a mega-army could create a military rival for power with the Kabul government. We in the West have a fairly black and white opinion on military rule which has, in some cases, proven a better vehicle to democratic reform than corrupt civil administration. In some South American countries the societies were dominated by landed gentry, typically of European descent, in which social advancement for the native population was limited to the armed forces. The ruling class retained a decidedly oppressive grip on both power and wealth that was broken only by military coup. Now these things tend to be messy and they were fraught with betrayal and corruption but, eventually, they did in many cases make way for democratic reform.

We can build Afghanistan an army but we've done a miserable job at building that country an effective, democratic government and I suspect it's from that perspective that Obama has decided to focus on security rather than governance. He must've read that old memo about how securing Afghanistan would require 3-400,000 troops and worked out that trying to muster that many American forces was neither feasible nor, in the long term, would it be effective.

Once again you see clear logic in this president's thinking, not the dull "gut instinct" decision making of his predecessor.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in Congress. Based on their joint opinion piece in today's Washington Post, it would appear the Obama plan will be a winner with senators McCain and Lieberman:


LeDaro said...

Only problem I see is that how are you going to pay salary to 400,000 soldiers and other costs? Opium money? Will that army be loyal to US interests?

Economic development is needed simultaneously.

The Mound of Sound said...

I think the Americans are looking to foot the bill for establishing, training and equipping this army. It's vastly cheaper to use Afghans than to pay Americans.

My guess is that Obama's best and brightest told him he'd need at least 300,000 US troops to secure Afghanistan and that's when he realized the only way to do it was to raise an indigenous force.

Then there's the economic problem. If America doesn't want Afghanistan to remain dependent on a narco-economy, it has to develop an alternative. The country has done well in the past without reliance on opium.

The big snag is what Chatham House defined as the "nexus" of power that links the corrupt government, the insurgency and the narcotics industry. Any chance of success in Afghanistan is dependent on breaking that bond that links those entities.

Fish said...

I have to admit, this is probably the only credible chance of getting out of Afghanistan, but it reminds me of Nixon's "Vietnamization phase" of the Vietnam war.

It allowed the Americans to turn tail and run without losing face, but unfortunately for them, the South eventually collapsed on its own anyway.

Since there's no "North Vietnam" to take over in this scenario, a bulked up Afghan military could probably handle the Taliban (the modern equivalent to the Viet Cong) on their own, but the problem with letting someone else do the fighting for you is that eventually they'll become strong enough to become a threat themselves, as was the case with Saddam and the Taliban.

The Mound of Sound said...

It might work, if the Afghan army was able to find a way to be independent of its government.

When you look at what it's up against I'm not so sure the ANA has great long-term prospects.

It's a national institution for a nation that's deeply fragmented along ethnic and tribal lines. So long as the warlord structure we've allowed to insinuate itself into the Afghan government, it's hard to see how the ANA will resist the inevitable pulls to break into ethnic militias again.

The central government has little chance of succeeding. Some time ago a State Department staffer gave evidence that no viable Muslim state has ever been created without first eliminating warlordism and tribalism. Instead of heeding that warning, our side simply went along with the "my enemy's enemy" nonsense about the Northern Alliance warlords.

Just as Washington abandoned the Afghans after the Sovs were run out, so it abandoned them after the Taliban were sent packing. It never gave Karzai the muscle he needed to be able to form a government free of the scourge of the warlords. In that omission our side planted the seeds of Afghanistan as a perpetual failed state. Sucks to be them, eh?