More NATO troops required for Afghanistan

Dan LaGraffe
Staff Writer
October 25, 2009

In 2001, for the first time in its history, NATO invoked Article 5, declaring an attack on one member nation as an attack on all member nations. As the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the American-led ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) faces a dire situation and the United States must decide whether to increase its commitment. Many of the prominent thinkers on this subject believe that America and ISAF are at a critical juncture in Afghanistan, but that success is still attainable with the proper strategy.

A successful strategy, however, will require a significant investment in the number and capacity of allied NATO troops. The United States currently underwrites the lion’s share of this burden in troop numbers, dollars and in scope. Last week’s announcement of more support to the United States’s effort in Afghanistan is welcome.

With counterinsurgency as one of the President’s strategy options, troop numbers are increasingly important. Classic counterinsurgency doctrine identifies a 50:1 ratio between the population and the counterinsurgent as the ideal force level in a successful counterinsurgency campaign.

Retired General Bantz Craddock, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces Europe, says that although the U.S. will not be able to deploy a force of this size in Afghanistan, any increase in force levels will still produce results. Dr. John Nagl, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, noted counterinsurgency theorist and current President of prominent Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security, advocates a significant increase of troop levels in Afghanistan, specifically among Afghan forces.

However, Nagl asserts that there are currently insufficient Afghan forces to secure the country and that the United States should buffer those with our own. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen reinforces these views by placing an emphasis on the need for a troop increase in Afghanistan and by calling for NATO forces to help specifically in a training capacity.

Of the forces currently contributed to the effort by allied countries, the majority comes with constraints and caveats that prevent them from engaging in combat operations. These include not being able to leave the base after dark, as well as being restricted from conducting counternarcotics operations. General Craddock insists that these caveats are “a detriment to effective command and control, unity of effort and command.”

Currently U.S. forces make up approximately one-half of the total forces from 42 nations. This is not including an even greater number of American forces not under ISAF command, which will ultimately bring the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to at least 68,000 by the end of this year.

As the U.S. is forced to bear the heaviest burden, the cost of the situation is not only in blood, but also in treasure. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. has spent approximately $223.2 billion on the war in Afghanistan. This is an enormous amount, but looks especially large when compared to the 9.2 Billion dollars spent by the UK, the next largest financial contributor to the Afghanistan effort.

NATO members must be convinced that the threat emanating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is worldwide and requires a worldwide solution. Attacks with ideological ties to Al Qaeda in this region have taken place in the U.S., as well as in England, Spain, and East Africa. Even more relevant to NATO is the destabilizing effect this threat has on the region.

This is increasingly apparent. Just last week emboldened militants in Pakistan attacked the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi and a local police station, bringing the monthly death toll in Pakistan to 150. The shockwave of instability continues to reverberate, as bombings also occurred this week in Iran’s southeastern region bordering Pakistan. Ceding control of these regions to militants and extremists would allow them to sway upwards of 200 million people.

A mission of this magnitude must be correctly resourced, and the United States needs credible allies throughout this effort. The U.S. requires a meaningful contribution from allied countries in NATO including military manpower for combat and training missions, as well as an increased investment in civilian manpower for reconstruction operations. Additionally, the caveats that limit the flexibility of allied forces must be removed immediately so that the limited number of international forces already there can be most effective. General Craddock argues that it would be just as useful to get these caveats removed, as it would be to get an increase in troop numbers.

International participation of this type should be a prerequisite to any more US troops. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski clearly states in regards to maintaining alliance credibility, “The alliance made that commitment on its own and not under U.S. pressure. It must accordingly be pursued on a genuinely shared military and economic basis, without caveats regarding military participation or evasions regarding badly needed financial assistance for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The commitment of troops and money cannot be overwhelmingly a U.S. responsibility.”

NATO allies must demonstrate that they are willing and able to commit to a mission of this type or else risk losing their relevance in the international community.

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