The debate over Afghanistan needs to be a blunt one. Automatic rejection, fancy arguments, and military speak muddle what should be a straight forward dialogue. The resulting mass confusion must be organized by rectifying anomalies and then tearing into the heart of Afghanistan.
The White House has been producing systematic irregularities over the past months and following them leads to the same end. General Stanley McChrystal’s review of the war was supposedly ready a week before Afghanistan's election on August 20th, but its release was delayed because of political concerns. It seems equally logical that the White House was worried of political concerns at home and delayed releasing the pessimistic review, hoping a free and fair election would prevail. It did not.
General McChrystal’s review contained caveats, "laying the groundwork" but eschewing troop requests until the next process of troop-to-task. The many reports that claim the White House opposes more troops opens the possibility that McChrystal refrained under political pressure. Measures employed by the White House and Pentagon are delaying troop requests. Defense spokesman Geoff Morrell told insistent reporters, "We are not there yet. Let's see what Gen. McChrystal comes back and asks for.”
But even the finality of this process won’t bring much clarity to the American people. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that no details of the assessment would be released to the public.
The backdrop to all these oddities has been a consistent denial of additional troops despite all evidence to the contrary - speculation has reached 45,000. President Obama failed to learn after a chaotic health care debate that speculation runs rampant in the absence of his own message, driving down American support for the war. He might be able to counter unpopularity by stepping up and delivering his plan in his own words, but he has yet to do so.
Instead he appears to be engaging in duplicitous politics. Let’s dispense with this notion that the White House is against more troops. It wants more troops, just not at the political cost. There is no real rift between the Pentagon and the White House, only a mirage designed to make Obama look leftist. Then, once he works with the Pentagon he’ll be passed off as a compromiser who listens to his generals. But arguing the necessity of 17,000 troops to stabilize an election that falls flat, then claiming no more are needed, is fallacious.
The sum of these signs add up to one conclusion - that President Obama is fearful of addressing the American people. What exactly does he fear? A draft. Not a draft itself, but the specter of a draft, the slightest allude to a draft, even the thought of a draft. This is Obama’s real enemy and the reason he has been so vigilant in denying rumors and tamping down troop requests. He fears the reaction of the American people. So is his fear and the American people’s justified by the numbers?
For lack of a better source, the Army’s own Counterinsurgency Field Manual must be used as the starting reference. According to section 1-67, “Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 residents in an Area of Operations (AO). Twenty counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective COIN operations; however as with any fixed ratio, such calculations remain very dependent upon the situation.”
Afghanistan has roughly 28,000,000 people spread out over 251,000 square miles. Much of the north is relatively stable, removing it from the equation for the moment. About 12,000,000 Afghans remain over 107,000 square miles in 16 provinces deemed “extreme” or “high risk” by the Afghan government and the UN. These are: Ghazni, Helmand, Kabul, Kandahar, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Orūzgān, Paktia, Paktika, Wardog, and Zabol. The Pashtun population is nearly equivalent to 12,000,000, so even though a portion of the people don't to fall under a Taliban AO it's still a solid figure to rely on. Patches of insecurity in more stable provinces make up the difference.
12,000,000 people requires 240,000 troops to meet the 20/1,000 ratio. With 68,000 US troops, 40,000 from NATO, and an estimated 216,000 Afghan security forces, this ratio is comfortably meet at 320,000. However, the stable north still demands security. At half the country and more than half the population, the north commands a significant portion of Afghan forces. 116,000 should be removed from the equation, leaving 205,000 combined forces for southern Afghanistan. Training and equipment must also be factored in, as Afghan’s security forces are notoriously under-resourced and corrupt; between 25% and 50% could be ineffective.
Thus an estimated 180,000 total counterinsurgents remain, 60,000 below the COIN Field Manual minimum of 20/1,000. As Afghan forces are unlikely to come online in such high numbers, this is the vacuum America must fill in the interim. President Obama plans to expand the Afghan army from 90,000 to 260,000 within five years; dividing 150,000 in half gives a similar figure. 68,000 plus 60,000 is 128,000, about the number in Iraq, a country of lesser size and population but with its own security forces like the Peshmerga.
Assume that America needs another 60,000 troops in Afghanistan to successfully operate; this deployment wouldn’t necessitate a draft. With 68,000 in Afghanistan, 130,000 in Iraq, 85,000 in Europe, and 70,000 in Asia, America deploys almost 350,000 troops overseas while leaving over a million soldiers on active duty at home. They can be trained and shipped without a draft because America won’t need the staggering numbers of Vietnam.
But what if Afghanistan's election pushes the country further into chaos? What if Iraq backslides? What if Somalia demands an invasion after a terrorist attack on American soil? What if Iran goes nuclear? What if Sudan’s government refuses to let the South secede? With the future uncertain and the “War on Terror” far from over, America must keep its powder dry. NATO, if President Obama is lucky, might chip in 10,000 troops so he needs another 50,000. While a draft isn’t imminent, the extra burden will raise the eyebrows of military families. Further contingencies would bring a draft closer to the surface.
Remember it’s not a draft that threatens President Obama's political ambitions, merely the mention of one. More troop deployments, while unlikely to break the military, will cause inevitable friction. Obama has only one remedy - come clean. Address the American people, don’t run or hide. Don’t say you don’t need more troops when you do. Obama said he would be truthful and upfront with the American people in matters of disagreement. We're waiting.