(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.
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.