Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Afghanistan: Is Containment Possible?

I. Imagine if you will, an NFL football game that never seems to end. No quarters, no halftime. An almost endless supply of players to feed into the game. For many, this may sound like Hell. For a team that wants to win and go home, it seems crazy. But for those who love the process of the game, it could go on forever.

Afghanistan is not exactly like that. But it is a situation that's tough for "the West" -- the US and the rest of NATO and other involved friendlies. One problem is cost -- in terms of human casualties, and in terms of money spent: more than a million dollars' investment per soldier in the field, per year, in training, equipment, support, medical care. But for the enemy fighters? Much cheaper, not in terms of actual casualties, which are high, but in replacement costs, which are low. Local demographics work against the West. Insurgents can be replaced a lot easier and faster than Western soldiers. A kid of ten when the war began in 2001 is an eighteen year old fighter now. And it's cultural. IEDs, small arms and suicide vests are far cheaper to acquire and deploy than jets, bombers, transports, helicopters and mechanized equipment. The West must seek to minimize its own casualties; the insurgents would like to minimize their casualties, but are, to be frank, less concerned. And time works against the West, because the West thinks in terms of fast results. After eight years, a much longer war of attrition will cost the West far more than it will be willing to commit.

Seems to me that the West cannot "win victory" in Afghanistan, as in a post-season football game. It can only contain its enemies, as in a draw.

II. Finally, I was very sorry to learn via Johnny Yen's blog of the death of George Kaplan, whose MacGuffin movie poster blog I have enjoyed greatly. For more, see Johnny's post:


Today's Rune: The Self.


the walking man said...

Burn and poison the ground where the poppy fields are and leave. Bring the military home and secure the borders to the point where nothing, No human and not one single cargo container of anything from anywhere gets in without an off shore eyeball inspection.

Charles Gramlich said...

A million dollars a soldier per year? Wow.

Erik Donald France said...

Hey gyys, thanks for the comments.

Charles, the Congressional Research Service is one source for the one million per soldier. See:

I've seen another report for NATO along similar lines.

Johnny Yen said...

I remember hearing a statistic when I was a kid during the Vietnam War about the cost per dead NVA or Viet Cong soldier-- hundreds of thousands of dollars. Comedian Pat Paulsen spoke about it, pointing out that he could buy them off for far less.

There are some hard choices. As Clausewitz pointed out, they need to figure out what they want politically and make a decision. What do we want politically? Not leaving a "failed state" behind? Defeat of the Taliban? Denying terrrorists a place to operate from? I think the key to having the right answer is asking the right questions.