All of the options that President Obama is reportedly considering for troop increases in Afghanistan require tens of thousands of soldiers.
The top commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, has requested at
least 40,000, the high end of the options under consideration. But an in-depth investigation by Spencer Ackerman
reveals that the American military may simply lack enough troops for
that to be a viable option. This raises a major concern: what happens if we deplete the number of standing troops? With ongoing tensions with Iran and
North Korea, a shortage of available brigades could risk
emboldening America's antagonists. Should this change our thinking on
Afghan troop levels?
- Why We Don't Have The Troops Spencer Ackerman explains.
"If President Obama orders an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to
Afghanistan, he will be deploying practically every available U.S. Army
brigade to war, leaving few units in reserve in case of an unforeseen
emergency and further stressing a force that has seen repeated combat
deployments since 2002." Ackerman finds "about 50,600 active-duty
soldiers, serving in 14 combat brigades, and
as many as 24,000 National Guard soldiers available for deployment." Of
those, 19,000 are from "heavy brigades" supporting equipment such as
tanks, which are not currently deployed to Afghanistan owing to the
lack of paved roads. Moreover, any escalation is likely to last much
longer than a single tour of duty, but troop brigades are required to
return home for several months between each tour. If all available
brigades were sent, two would be embarking on their fifth tour of duty.
- 'Game-Changing' Rachel Maddow insists
that the report should get as much attention as possible. She calls it,
"One giant, game-changing, brand new fact, reported by Spencer Ackerman
today, that should change the whole way the country talks about and
thinks about this war," she says. "This is so important. I mean, we
talked about so many elements of the war effort. Talking about the
actual constraints of what we are capable of doing. It is almost
verboten in American politics, but it sounds like a hard sale and it
needs to be considered here."
Pull Them From Iraq? Spencer Ackerman cites analyst and Reagan-era official Lawrence Korb, who "said a
more realistic troop increase for Afghanistan would be 10,000 soldiers
until the drawdown of troops from Iraq 'begins in earnest.' There are
currently 120,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq, almost twice the total
in Afghanistan, though Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S.
troops in Iraq, told Congress in September
that he plans to reduce that total to around 50,000 by August 30, 2010.
Alternatively, Korb said, Obama could speed up the pace of redeployment
out of Iraq in order to relieve the stress on the force."
- NATO Could Supply In a follow-up, Ackerman notes
that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has signaled that
NATO could increase its already significant presence in Afghanistan.
"Anders Fogh Rasmussen says enigmatically
that he thinks the NATO allies will pony up. And maybe they will, but
it will break precedent, and the question of what they’d do remains, as
does the related question of national caveats inhibiting the actions of
troops from select NATO nations."
- Politically Disastrous Michael Cohen worries
that such a large increase would cripple Obama's administration.
"[P]residential administrations have a hard time walking and chewing
at the same time. In other words, 100,000 troops in Afghanistan will
suck up so much oxygen that it will almost certainly short-change other
important efforts, and what's more, will subvert other goals. Instead
of rebuilding AID, you will probably see more of its resources devoted
to nation building in Afghanistan instead of long-term development in
non-kinetic environments. Shifting the civil/military balance back to
the civilian capacity side - good luck with that. Getting more money
out of Congress, which is already allocating $65 billion a year for the
war in Afghanistan and facing mushrooming budget deficits for those
civilian agencies. Not going to happen. Focusing the attention of
policymakers on these key issues: even less likely."
- Is It Too Late? The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz suggests this is further evidence our window may be closing. "When McChrystal made his original requests at the end of the summer,
his strategic review described a 12-month window for changing the
dynamic of the war, a window that is rapidly shrinking -- even if the
first deployments began in January, it's not clear that overall levels
could rise until the spring, nearly eight months after his deadline,
and I'm curious what effect that would have on the conflict."
- No 'Practical Urgency' Matthew Yglesias thinks any increase would be gradual. "I think this underscores the fact that even though it’s annoying, from
the point of view of a political observer in Washington, to see the
internal administration Afghanistan debate drag on like this there’s no
particular practical urgency to making a decision. The U.S. presence in
Afghanistan has been scaled-up substantially in the two years, and
further increases would need to be implemented over time."
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