McChrystal’s Command: There Are Enough Troops for Kandahar
Yesterday, I cited a blind quote in a McClatchy story from a Defense Department official. It raised doubts that the force levels anticipated for Kandahar’s “rising tide” — 20,350 NATO and Afghan troops by September — are sufficient to protect the population from insurgents. “None of this makes any sense,” read the quote. “If it took you 10,000 (U.S. troops) to do Marjah, there aren’t enough troops (for Kandahar).” Stanley McChrystal’s chief spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, disagrees.
“What the anonymous US official quoted has not accounted for are the differences between Central Helmand and Kandahar,” Sholtis wrote to me in an email. “Simply stated, there was nothing but Taliban in places like Marjah; security forces had to be created from scratch, and security imposed from the outside. That’s not the case in Kandahar City, where existing security forces only need to be augmented and security can be increased from the inside.” To be specific, right now there are about 6900 NATO troops and 5300 Afghan troops inside Kandahar. “Those forces include police in the city itself, where there are outbreaks of terrorist violence,” Sholtis continued, “and army in the districts surrounding it, where the Taliban are conducting a more classic insurgency to try to control the approaches to the city.”
For what it’s worth, counterinsurgency doctrine bears Sholtis out. The Army’s field manual on counterinsurgency, known as FM 3-24, postulates a formula of 25 counterinsurgents per 1000 civilian residents. While a hard-and-fast census for Kandahar isn’t on offer, the figures U.S. planners typically cite for the city’s population hover between 800,000 and 850,000. Let’s use the 850,000 number. FM 3-24′s formula would suggest a counterinsurgent force of 21,250. That’s fewer than 1,000 additional troops to the 20,350 counterinsurgents that McChrystal will have in place by September.
None of this is to suggest that FM 3-24′s ratio — a guiding tool for planners, not a magic incantation for success — holds any guarantee of sustainable security for Kandahar. In Marja, clearly McChrystal went far larger in invading the village than FM 3-24 suggested, and the clearing phase, to put it mildly, remains in question after three months. Whether the “rising tide” of security operations lead to deliverable advancements in governance, justice, economic activity and perceptions of insurgent illegitimacy and government legitimacy are the measurements more likely to determine the outcome in Kandahar.