The military dimension of the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan requires establishing a high enough degree of security in the country that the Afghan people will transfer their loyalty away from the Taliban (or will feel adequately unthreatened by the likelihood of a Taliban return to express opposition to the insurgents). As noted in a previous posting (”The Afghan ‘New Math’”), the prospects are daunting because of the size of the force necessary to secure and protect the entire Afghan population (a force in the range of 650,000 ocunterinsurgents). Current plans and projections call for a force around half that size that includes a quarter million Afghan troops and over 100,000 police the source of which is unclear. The result currently is a mission-force mismatch that can only be resolved if one assumes that only about half the population needs securing. That possibility is never publicly discussed, but since the Pashtuns make up about half the Afghan population and are the support base for the Taliban, a security strategy aimed at the Pashtun areas would at least match force size to mission. Whether it would successfully pacify Afghanistan is a separate question.
Obama administration officials are now admitting what has been apparent for weeks: that they are giving serious consideration to radically downsizing the Afghanistan mission. That this comes only months after unveiling a substantially different strategy to great fanfare is naturally raising questions.
Last week provided a treasure trove of raw meat for foreign policy enthusiasts, ideologues and talk radio hosts.
Assuming the counterinsurgent partners (in this case, the Afghan and American governments) can agree on a desired outcome that consititutes its version of the better state of the peace (BSOP), the next question is how to achieve that condition? This means determining what political and military conditions must exist to be able to declare the counterinsurgency a “success,” and thus the effort to have attained “victory.” The key terms here have been put in quotation marks because neither is as intuitively obvious as is sometimes supposed in the political debate.
An interesting sidebar to the debate sparked by the leak of General McChrystal's Afghanistan strategy review is the question of how such debates should take place to begin with.