There is much discussion here in the United States about a "surge" in Afghanistan. The Presidential election has brought forth plenty of discussion about Iraq and Afghanistan. The leading candidate expresses the idea that he will send several brigades of combat troops to Afghanistan as soon as possible.
While more combat troops would be a welcome addition to the existing force structure, any surge in Afghanistan must be tailored to the particular needs of Afghanistan. Afghans do not suffer occupation well. The current international force, ISAF, is by definition a " Security Assistance Force," assisting the Afghan government in securing its own country.
While American forces deployed along the border would make a difference in hindering infiltration and exfiltration between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the first task in counterinsurgency is to provide security to local populations. Utilizing American (or European) troops to provide local security will not be well-received by Afghans. It must be an Afghan mission, an Afghan accomplishment.
Tremendous progress has been made with the Afghan National Army (ANA) over the past six years of mentorship by international forces, but the Afghan National Police (ANP) have had mentoring for only about a year and a half. Only a tiny percentage of the 364 districts have had active mentoring from ISAF soldiers. The ANP continues to suffer from lack of training, lack of leadership, generally poor public opinion, endemic corruption, and a death rate ten times higher than their ANA counterparts. Under the current force structure, there is no way to provide mentors to each district in Afghanistan.
Our district teams consisted of three mentors and three SECFOR (Security Force) personnel as well as two UAHs (Up-Armored Humvees). That adds up to roughly 2200 mentors and 724 Humvees. It is possible that there can be some efficiencies found to make do with fewer, but the problems with the ANP are pervasive, so it really isn't an option to ignore any of the districts. This does not address the higher level leadership at the Ministry of the Interior, where corruption is rampant.
2200 troops are far less than the strength of a combat brigade, but 724 vehicles are far more than the commensurate number of combat troops would normally be equipped with. Another issue is training and deploying large numbers of higher-ranking officers and NCOs, which are what mentor teams usually consist of.
These are certainly challenges, but the desired end state is an Afghan government able to provide security for its people. The ANP are the lynchpin of security for each village in Afghanistan, where security is most effectively provided by an Afghan face.
When the men in the village carrying guns are ANP, and when life under those ANP is safe, just, and better than life under the Taliban, there will be security, and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will have a future without being militarily propped-up by foreign forces.
Morgan Sheeran is a veteran of the US Armed Forces with 26 years of service including a tour in Afghanistan as a mentor/trainer; view his blog.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Julianne Smith: Europe Can Help in Afghanistan with More than Just Troops
- David Neil Lebhar: How the US and Germany Can Win in Afghanistan
- Djörn Eversteijn: Out of Afghanistan Means Out of Business for NATO