Diving into the Afghan Abyss

Admiral “Mike” Mullen announced yesterday in Kabul that the United States may well increase U.S. force commitments not by the 20,000 previously announced and discussed in this space, but might go to 30,000 additional troops, thereby doubling the American commitment to Afghanistan. He (and whoever else in the command chain contributed to this decision) have to be kidding! His statement and rationale may be the dumbest military pronouncement since General William Westmoreland justified one of many troop buildups in Vietnam by saying he could “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” As a reminder, he saw that light in 1967; the United States limped out of Vietnam in 1973. Adding additional troops to the Afghan mix is similarly akin to throwing them into the abyss.

Currently, there are about 60,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, about half American and half non-American NATO. An additional 30,000 American troops would raise the number to 90,000. That may sound like a lot until one looks at a map of Afghanistan, which is the size of Texas. The reason for adding 30,000 tyroops, in Mullen’s words is “to provide security for the Afghan people so these other areas can be developed.”

90,000 troops to secure and protect a country of 30,000,000, most of them hostile? The estimates vary, but all the figures I have seen suggest that a force of at least 300,000 would be necessary to provide even rudimentary protection for the Afghan populace, and that figure is probably unnecessarily optimistic and based on estimates of a level of cooperation between the liberators/occupiers and the Afghan population that is highly dubious. Adding 30,000 to the existing force and expecting it to make a difference is ludicrous.

The admiral also has something to say about what all this is supposed to accomplish. The idea, apparently, is to achieve “moderate” U.S. strategic goals defined as an Afghanistan that can govern itself and be a responsible member of the international community. That presumably means an Afghanistan that will not protect Al Qaeda and will suppress the heroin trade. How exactly the United States Army and Marines are going to contribute meaningfully to that objective is not so clear.

To repeat an earlier assessment, the United States cannot achieve its goals in Afghanistan with military force. Suggesting that putting an additional 30,000 American military lives at risk will change that dismal situation is irresponsible at best, totally incompetent at worst. If this is the best advice that Admiral Mullen can provide to the Commander-in-Chief, he should be relieved of his responsibilities immediately. He is counseling a descent into the abyss. That is shameful!  Americans expect better advice from their military leaders than that–and they should!

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