It’s impossible to know how much credence to give such reports, but a story out of Washington by McClatchy Newspapers suggests that Gen. Stanley McChrystal might resign as commander of allied forces in Afghanistan unless President Obama gives him the additional troops he is requesting:
“In Kabul, some members of McChrystal’s staff said they don’t understand why Obama called Afghanistan a “war of necessity” but still hasn’t given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.
Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he’d stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.
“Yes, he’ll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,” a senior official in Kabul said. “He’ll hold his ground. He’s not going to bend to political pressure.”
The Washington Post doesn’t go quite that far, but it does report growing impatience in military circles with the pace of deliberation within the administration. Karen DeYoung writes that McChrystal’s grim assessment of our prospects in Afghanistan “opened a divide between the military, which is pushing for an early decision to send more troops, and civilian policymakers who are increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort.”
Personally, I’m thinking the military brass needs to take a very large chill pill and allow the elected civilian leadership to work this through. Furthermore, if McChrystal really is ready to resign if his request is not granted, I hope he doesn’t hesitate in doing so. He is by almost every account a very good general, but a general who can’t in good faith carry out the mission given to him by his president doesn’t belong in command.
When Obama took office, we had roughly 45,000 troops in Afghanistan. In February, he announced the commitment of another 17,700 combat troops and an additional 4,000 military trainers; those reinforcements are still flowing into Afghanistan. That alone represents an almost 50 percent increase in manpower.
Now, word out of Washington is that McChrystal is pushing for another surge of as many as 40,000 additional troops. That would represent a major and more or less open-ended escalation of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, and no administration should be asked to make such a critical decision in haste.
In the assessment leaked to the Washington Post, McChrystal acknowledges that after eight years of fighting, the United States is losing in Afghanistan. He makes a strong case that without a change in strategy and additional resources, mission failure is likely.
To avoid that failure, McChrystal advocates a “comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign” in Afghanistan. That’s hardly surprising, given that his immediate superior, Gen. David Petraeus, supervised drafting of the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, known as FM 3-24. McChyrstal was brought in precisely to lead such an approach.
The problem is that when you compare the situation in Afghanistan as described in McChrystal’s assessment with the doctrine as prepared by Petraeus, the contrast is deeply sobering. Additional troops and a change of strategy may not be capable of closing that enormous gap.
For example, the Petraeus doctrine recommends 20 troops per 1,000 civilians as a rule of thumb for fighting an insurgency such as the Taliban. In Afghanistan, a nation of 28 million, that works out to 560,000 troops, and there’s no way we can or will field a force that size.
In addition, McChrystal suggests that the first order of business for the augmented force must be to protect the Afghan populace, retake the initiative from the Taliban and reverse insurgent momentum. In FM 3-24, those tasks are described as “emergency first aid,” the first things to be accomplished upon taking the field against an insurgency. In other words, after eight years of struggle we are essentially being forced to start over.
Even more sobering, FM 3-24 stresses the importance of a legitimate host government that the local populace can rally around. “The primary objective of any COIN (counterinsurgency) operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government,” the doctrine states.
In fact, the doctrine lays out six possible measures of host-government legitimacy:
“- The ability to provide security for the populace (including protection from internal and external
- Selection of leaders at a frequency and in a manner considered just and fair by a substantial majority
of the populace.
- A high level of popular participation in or support for political processes.
- A culturally acceptable level of corruption.
- A culturally acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development.
- A high level of regime acceptance by major social institutions.”
As recent elections have demonstrated, the current Afghan government fails every one of those tests of legitimacy. To his credit, McChrystal’s assessment acknowledges the difficulty of the situation:
“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials … have given Afghans little reason to support their government. These problems have alienated large segments of the Afghan population. They do not trust (the Afghan government) to provide their essential needs, such as security, justice and basic services. This crisis of confidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency.”
So here’s the problem in a nutshell: To be successful, the strategy recommneded by McChrystal requires much more than more troops. It requires a legitimate Afghan government that can inspire loyalty from the local population. Given that no such government exists or seems likely to exist, and that U.S. soldiers and Marines, like all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, are simply not equipped to put it all back together again, what can we hope to gain through open-ended escalation?
If the administration is taking some time to think that one through, good.