A Step in the Right Direction

Somewhat in line with my last post about the difficulties of counterinsurgency in Afghanstan (and the way in which NATO/ISAF is falling short), along comes the Obama administration to say that they intend to dramatically increase the number of Afghans in the security forces.

From the New York Times:

A plan awaiting final approval by the president would set a goal of about 400,000 troops and national police officers, more than twice the forces’ current size, and more than three times the size that American officials believed would be adequate for Afghanistan in 2002…

While my first reaction is, “Do we really want more guys with guns in this country?” on second thought I am heartened by the possibility of a stronger ANA/ANP.  There are two reasons for this.

First, the Afghan National Army (ANA) consistently ranks among the most respected institutions in Afghanistan, higher than the central government, higher than local and provincial governors.  If any indigenous institution can bring stability to this country, its probably the ANA.

Second, from the standpoint of ISAF/NATO forces, the larger and more professional the ANA becomes, the more they can take the lead on the really nasty counterinsurgency work that needs to be done.  For all of their tactical and technological excellence, foreign forces are always at a disadvantage when conducting population-centric operations.  Locals simply don’t face the same constraints and difficulties.  If we’re ever going to leave this country (that is, leave it better than it was when we got here), the Afghans are going to have to prove that they can handle this fight on their own.  A strong and effective ANA is the first step in that process.

The always-wise Abu Muqawama seems to disagree with my position on this, citing an unnamed defense analyst who questions the long-term financial costs.  I’m all for long-term thinking, but I think that if the biggest problem Afghanistan faces ten years from now is a budget deficit, then at least we’ve done something right.

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