If Afghanistan were in as bad shape as Iraq, stabilizing it would require at least 600,000 troops — an obvious impossibility.First off, notice the use of the word "might" and other such ambiguities. Krugman's not being sheepish, he's just being honest - we don't know if Afghanistan is salvageable with a smaller force, or whether a major occupation is required. (For that matter, we don't know if a major occupation will work, either.)
However, things in Afghanistan aren’t yet as far gone as they are in Iraq, and it’s possible that a smaller force — one in that range of 4 to 10 per 1,000 that has been sufficient in some cases — might be enough to stabilize the situation. But right now, the forces trying to stabilize Afghanistan are absurdly small: we’re trying to provide security to 30 million people with a force of only 32,000 Western troops and 77,000 Afghan national forces.
But Krugman's own guesstimate here shows the problem - the high end of this range (10 soldiers per 1,000) means an army of 300,000. (1% of 30 million = 300,000) That's almost triple the current forces, even if we include the Afghan forces, and almost an order of magnitude larger than present if we don't include Karzai's bodyguards.
A few more implications follow: the low end of Krugman's numbers imply a force of 120,000 is necessary to pacify the country. But if we do include the ANF, we've already got a force of 110,000 in-country. Yet the situation is deteriorating. (Operation Medusa may already need a do-over, as of yesterday's NYT.) This implies either a) we can't rely on the ANF; b) we can't rely on low-ball estimates of the forces required; or c) 10,000 soldiers is the difference between victory and defeat.
The median between 120,000 and 300,000 is 210,000 soldiers. If we arbitrarily take that as our starting point, we see the problems - combining the existing, in-country forces with the American and British forces in Iraq just barely brings us to 210,000. (30,000 NATO + 180,000 OIF forces.) And remember, this is still assuming optimistic numbers. What if we're still 90,000 troops short, as the higher estimates suggest? Do we hope the ANF can fill that gap? Is hope a plan?
Moreover - and this is the bedrock problem for this idea - it's difficult for me to see the American and British militaries, already stretched to the breaking point, committing 100% of their Iraqi forces to Afghanistan. Frankly, we'd be lucky if we saw half of those troops arrive in Kabul or Kandahar.
Finally, this plan assumes that the US military has learned its lessons from Iraq and is willing to adopt a reality-based counterinsurgency doctrine, an assumption I'm not willing to wager more lives on. Does anyone want to wager on the competence of a plan for Afghanistan that continues to rely on the competence of the Bush Administration?
There seems to be this hope - having collectively waged the Afghanistan war on the cheap for the last five years - that we can now salvage it with a quick transfusion of labour from Baghdad to Kabul, from al-Anbar to Kandahar. We'd like to pretend it's a change of strategy, but fundamentally it's the same idea: hoping for success, hoping the easy way out will work. This way neither Canada nor the other NATO allies need to, say, raise taxes or dramatically increase their own military spending, while we let the two biggest military powers in the alliance shoulder a burden we're not even sure is worthwhile anymore.
Frankly, unless Canada, France, Germany and the rest of NATO start ponying up some more money and some more bodies, I'm not sure it's terribly ethical for us to ask the Americans to do so on our behalf, especially when there's no national consensus in Canada on the value of the mission. To ask Americans and British to die because, you know, whatever, is in fact profoundly wrong.
Question: If Afghanistan can muster a force of 70,000, why can't Canada, with a GDP fifty times greater? Other NATO allies can and have been criticized, but we in this country seem to have this idea that Canada is undertaking a uniquely Herculean task. But obviously, if we were committed to this war the way we're committed to the rhetoric of war, we could do very much more. This idea seems to be beyond polite discussion - our own Defense Minister seems to think it's only other countries who need to man up at this point. My support for the Afghanistan mission is waning on a daily basis - has nearly entirely disappeared, in fact - but surely we can all agree that to fight this war badly, spending men and women's lives to no purpose, is worse than to not fight it at all?
But fighting this war properly - with the level of national commitment that would have required - might have necessitated tough decisions for the Liberals while they were in power, and would definitely require tough decisions for the Conservatives today (like sacrificing those precious tax cuts, or facing the wrath of a disenchanted public) so I don't think it's going to happen at all. We're going to waste dozens, a hundred, or maybe (God please no) hundreds of more lives, until the situation goes from unsustainable to total disaster.