Monday, October 06, 2014

Will It Be Peace and Will We Have a Dividend?

By the end of the year, we'll have fewer than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. Will this be enough to hold the Afghan institutions that are holding the ground we won? And will this give us more freedom of action to address Russia's aggression against Ukraine?

Coalition force levels in Afghanistan are dropping rapidly:

We're currently with about 40,000 troops on the ground, just less than 40,000. We're moving to 12.5 by the end of this year. That's NATO forces and the United States. The number for the United States, you know, was 9,800. We continue to go there. ...

You mentioned 9,800. That's just the U.S. contribution. We'll be at about 12.5, 12.7 with the NATO contribution. And we will have forces in the north, in the west, in the east, and in the south, and then in Kabul center.

So we're going to really a spoke and hub, and come 1 January, in the east, we'll have forces in Jalalabad, in Gamberi, in Bagram. In the north, they'll be in Mazar-e-Sharif, in the west, they'll be in Herat, and in the south, they'll be in Kandahar.

We'll be covered down on four of the six corps, and two of the corps will continue to advise, but just less frequently than we can the other four corps.

We won't be embedded in Afghan brigade or battalion headquarters. Just as the higher levels. I remain concerned about this and the lack of air power, medical support, and other logistics and maintenance support that Afghan forces need.

Also, is the two-year declining presence after this year enough given that the three-year declining presence in Iraq after 2008 was not enough to defend our gains?

I mean, even if you wrongly blame the Iraqis for our failure to stay in Iraq after 2011 or if you wrongly claim that the Bush plan was to stay in Iraq for 3 years only and that Obama was only carrying out that plan (and both defenses of President Obama are laughable), you might think that a mere 2-year plan to stay before leaving is inadequate.

But in a perfect White House world of managing optics and not addressing crises, the president has a decent interval to avoid disaster before he leaves office in 2017.

Another effect of the draw down could be felt in Ukraine. So far, Russia's hold on our supply lines to Afghanistan through Russia theoretically throttles our reactions lest the Russians put our troops at risk in landlocked Afghanistan.

I say it theoretically holds our response back. I have no way of knowing if we'd be leaning forward more to bolster Ukraine openly if we did not rely on Russian logistics lines to Afghanistan.

But once we are down to 12,500 coalition troops in Afghanistan, in a worst case scenario where we lose non-Russian supply lines we could supply or pull our forces out by air.

But don't expect much help from the German air force (tip to Instapundit):

150 German soldiers are stranded in Afghanistan after another plane suffered an equipment failure, and commanders are so strapped for functioning aircraft that they are considering using “a military VIP jet normally reserved for Chancellor Merkel”, as Der Spiegel reports, to get them home.

Yeah, the Germans got the dividend without the peace to justify it.

The German military must look back with fondness at their capable Versailles Treaty-limited military.

But I digress.

Then we see if we are doing enough to defend our gains in Afghanistan and whether we can do enough to support Ukraine.

UPDATE: And with fewer American troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan has less leverage over us because of Pakistan's ability to interfere with land lines of supply to our forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory. Perhaps we'll have better ability to help India pivot to China without unduly worrying that Pakistan will loom as a military threat to their western border.