Sat Sep 5th, 2009 at 02:05:17 AM EST
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the U.S.-led coalition, has now more than 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. McClatchy reported there are "101,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan according to Pentagon figures. The New York Times reported the level to be slightly higher at 103,000 troops for the coalition.
The Soviet Union's military force in Afghanistan was kept roughly between 80,000-104,000 troops for duration of its occupation in the 1980s. The Moscow-backed Afghan government fell despite more than nine years of Soviet military assistance and nearly 14,000 Soviet casualties.
The U.S.-led occupation force is even larger when private civilian and military contractors are added to the Western military footprint. For at least the past couple years, contractors have outnumbered U.S. troops in Afghanistan the NY Times reported on Tuesday.
Not only are there more contractors than U.S. soldiers in uniform, but it is "the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel recorded in any war in the history of the United States."
While many of the 68,197 contractors are Afghans that "handle a variety of jobs, including cooking for the troops, serving as interpreters and even providing security", the Soviet Union unlikely used private contractors as extensively as the Americans are doing, if at all.
In addition, the State Department and the CIA also make use of contractors which are not part of this total. An increase in contractors is expected as U.S. officials implement plans to swap out 14,000 American soldiers in a support capacity for 'trigger-pullers'.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been reluctant to deploy troop levels that would match or surpass the level the Soviets had. During an interview with CNN on April 29, Gates was asked "what are the limits to what America can do in Afghanistan? Gates answered:
Well, I have been quoted as accurately as saying I have real reservations about significant further commitments of American military - of the American military to Afghanistan, beyond what the president has already approved. The Soviets were in there with 110,000, 120,000 troops. They didn't care about civilian casualties. And they couldn't win. If there's ever an example that military power alone cannot be successful in Afghanistan, I think it was the Soviet experience. ;And I think there's a lot we can learn from that. And so I worry - it is absolutely critical that the Afghans believe that this is their war. It is their war against people who are trying to overthrow their government that they democratically elected.
For all of its flaws and shortcomings, it is theirs. And they - we must be their partner and their ally. If we get to the point where the Afghan people see us as occupiers, then we will have lost. So the way we treat the Afghans, the importance of keeping the Afghans in the lead in many of these activities, the military as well as the civilian, I think is absolutely critical, so that they know - so that these villagers know that it's their people who are leading this fight. This isn't some foreign army coming in there, like all the previous foreign armies, to just occupy them.
While Gate's recollection of Soviet troop levels is a teensy inflated, as of a little more than four months ago he was concerned that if the U.S. had Soviet-levels of troops deployed in Afghanistan, then the U.S.-backed coalition would be seen as an occupational force.
Many Afghans, it would seem, do see this war as their own. But they are not fighting alongside the U.S.-led coalition, rather they are fighting against it. And after nearly eight years and 100,000 plus troops deployed in their country, some Afghans might even describe this as an occupation. Really, how is the U.S.-led coalition not "just" another occupying army?
When asked by CNN if he was "unlikely to approve a request for additional troops in Afghanistan" in six months to a year, Gates answered:
I would be a hard sell; there's no question about it. And I have not made a secret of that, either publicly or in government meetings. I think we will have - between the American military commitment and our coalition partners, the ISAF partners, we will have about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. That's only about 10,000 shy of what the Russians had. And I think we need to think about that.
My view is it would be a far better investment to focus on building the strength of the Afghan army and the Afghan police, making sure that of the numbers of people we have there, there are adequate trainers so that we can accelerate the growth of those forces.
It's that combination of a certain level of international support for the Afghan military effort and the growing of the Afghan security forces themselves. It's that partnership that I think eventually will be successful in Afghanistan. As long as - if we try to do it all ourselves, I think it won't work.
Now less than six months later, Gates is open to more troops in Afghanistan according to Reuters. Gates said Afghan concerns that more U.S. troops would signify an occupation could be "mitigated" if the additional forces "interact with the Afghans in a way that give confidence to the Afghans that we're partners and their allies."
The Christian Science Monitor added Gates said the U.S. must stay in Afghanistan. "I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan," he said.
The NY Times reported advisers to Obama are divided on the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan. The administration is debating sending more troops to Afghanistan, but no one advising the president other than possibly the vice president, appears to be advocating a troop reduction for the region or even crafting an exit strategy from Afghanistan.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has not asked for a troop increase in a recent report he submitted about the state of the war in Afghanistan, but he is widely expected to request an increase in the coming weeks.
"There is little doubt that McChyrstal will request for additional troops - likely between 25,000 and 30,000. These would be in addition to the troops President Obama authorized this spring, which will bring the US total force in Afghanistan to 68,000 by the fall," according to the Monitor. The NY Times predicts:
The smallest proposed reinforcement, from 10,000 to 15,000 troops, would be described as the high-risk option. A medium-risk option would involve sending about 25,000 more troops, and a low-risk option would call for sending about 45,000 troops.
But by sending more troops to Afghanistan, is the U.S.-led coalition trying to "do it all ourselves"? And what is the purpose of the occupation on the QT? Does the administration really believe that after nearly 8 years, Afghans have not caught on yet?
No doubt if we leave now, "Islamic fundamentalists could in all likelihood come out ahead" or at least that what Soviet Maj. Gen. Kim M. Tsagolov predicted as the Soviets were preparing to pullout of Afghanistan in 1988.
As Gates explained the Soviets could not "win" -- whatever that means -- with 100,000 troops. How big does the U.S.-led occupation-sized force need to be to "win"? Does the Obama administration really think it can "win" with just 25,000 or 30,000 more troops and additional military contractors? The U.S. had a larger force in Iraq, is that war a "win" yet?
Cross-posted at Daily Kos.