TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen on Security Deliverables for Afghans


(Peter Bergen is a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation).
The question about more boots on the ground is a relatively easy one to answer.
None, or few, of those new boots will come from NATO allies and if they do come they will come so freighted with national caveats and domestic political considerations that will make them largely ineffective. So they will have to come from the U.S.
Why are more needed? Well do the math: Afghanistan is a country ideally suited to guerilla warfare with its high mountain ranges and it is a third larger than Iraq and its population is some 6 million or so greater, yet the numbers of soldiers and policemen in Iraq are more than three times larger than in Afghanistan.
Iraq has more than 600,000 Iraqi members of the security services and some 150,000 American soldiers in addition, while Afghanistan has 150,000 local soldiers and police and some 60,000 US and NATO troops. You can’t bring security to the country with those low numbers of soldiers and police. And without security you can’t have reconstruction. And so what Afghanistan desperately needs is more American Special Forces and other advisors to build up the size of the Afghan army and police which right now are way too small to secure the country.
The New York Police Department numbers some 40,000 cops. Afghanistan right now has 70,000 cops for the whole country, which is wracked by a violent insurgency in all of its eastern and southern provinces and increasingly in its central provinces and is, to boot, the center of the world’s heroin trade. So more American soldiers on the ground — the right kind of soldiers — and a far better strategy are required. I can’t get into that strategy as that is a much a longer answer unsuitable for a post, but part of it, of course, is securing the population, which can’t be done right now with the “economy of force” as Admiral Mullen so aptly puts it that is now in place in Afghanistan.

By the way, what Greg describes as Afghanistan’s historic aversion to interlopers has, indeed, a long history, but there is one incredibly important caveat: that is relevant to this discussion.
An ABC News/BBC poll released in December 2006 shows that despite the disappointments that Afghans have felt about inadequate reconstruction and declining security on a wide range of key issues, they maintain positive attitudes. It is classic counterinsurgency doctrine that the center of gravity in a conflict is the people. And the Afghan people, unlike the Iraqis, have positive feelings about the U.S.-led occupation, their own government and their lives. The conclusions of the ABC/BBC poll are worth quoting in some detail:

Big majorities continue to call the U.S.-led invasion a good thing for their country (88 percent), to express a favorable opinion of the United States (74 percent) and to prefer the current Afghan government to Taliban rule (88 percent). Indeed eight in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S., British and other international forces on their soil; that compares with five percent support for Taliban fighters…Fifty-five percent of Afghans still say the country’s going in the right direction, but that’s down sharply from 77 percent last year. Whatever the problems, 74 percent say their living conditions today are better now than they were under the Taliban. That rating, however, is 11 points lower now than it was a year ago.

These poll results, which are very similar to another poll taken in December 2006 by the Program on International Policy Attitude’s World Public Opinion.org, demonstrate that there remains strong support for the Afghan central government and U.S./NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
All of these positive poll numbers are continuing to slide downwards but the fact is that the “historic aversion” to outsiders was simply not the case in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. So if we start delivering tangible security and reconstruction Afghans will actually welcome our presence.
–Peter Bergen
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.


4 comments on “TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen on Security Deliverables for Afghans

  1. Charles H. Conn says:

    An excellent article by one Rory Stewart appeared in Time magazine, dated 28Jul08. It is a very well-reasoned presentation, thoughtfully done and addresses many of these issues. Mr. Stewart is obviously familiar with his subject and his proposals are worth serious consideration by the in-coming administration. Bottom line: A surge in Afghanistan would be counter-productive. Mr. Stewart would make an interesting and provocative subject for an interview! Just a thought….?


  2. Arun says:

    There is truely an international coalition in Afghanistan.
    Also, in Afghanistan reconstruction and narcotics may be two areas where US and Iranian interests coincide and may serve as a useful place to test rapprochement.


  3. David says:

    We’re in another trap, a trap made much, much worse by the bombing, strafing, and Predator drone strikes, all of which lack any human contact with the “collateral damage,” the indifference to which is, as one would expect, losing for us the most important battle, the one for hearts and minds. There are rational, productive ways of helping bring enough safety to Afghanistan for it to regain its bearings, if that is the actual goal. They were not always a devastated, violence-wracked country, but they have been nothing but a pawn in great power machinations for at least four decades, and I do not yet see any signs of a change in that status. Obama can change that. McCain will not even entertain the notion.
    Quite telling is the reason the Afghanis embraced the Taliban – the Taliban gave them safety from the warlords, which warlords we have embraced. An increase in troops must be tied to a real shift in our reasons for being there, and to our attitude toward Afghanistan as a sovereign nation, not just a pawn in great power machinations. Enough with “US national interests” as something independent of the actual well being and right to self determination of nations which have been treated as nothing more than pawns in great power machinations and sources of cheap resources extracted with little regard for the populations of the nations from which they are extracted. That is something which cannot stand, and with which the Americas to our south are finally rejecting. We can move forward as partners, even to some extent still leaders, in ameliorating the major problems facing the planet, or we can continue following traditional models, to everyone’s detriment. This is not about restoring some mythical past, this is about whether we will choose to be partners in a better tomorrow, or one of the engines for a continuing deterioration of both our collective natural and political environments.


  4. barrisj says:

    I find it interesting that nowhere do you mention Afghan civilian deaths and injuries, and that 40-50% of these casualties in 2007-8 have been direct results of Nato/US military actions, especially from air-strikes. No matter what “polls” say, the ever-increasing reliance on bombing, strafing, and Predator strikes is unquestionably driving local support of pro-government policies rapidly downward, and that “ramping up” troop levels will only spread the trail of destruction to civilians and infrastructure even further.


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