Memo to the US Defense Department: resource the Advisor Mission in Afghanistan
By John Nagl
The US military is struggling to adapt to a world in which the most pressing challenges to American power come not from states that are too strong but from ones that are not strong enough. From Afghanistan to Mexico, the US confronts insurgents, terrorists and criminal gangs who take advantage of corrupt, incompetent, or non-existent governments to spread disorder.
This is a problem that the US can’t kill or capture its way out of. Instead, the US military should focus on helping to build up the security capabilities of legitimate governments to defend their citizens from illegal violence. The latest National Defense Strategy (2008) acknowledges this: “Arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves.”
But the US has not yet put adequate resources into this mission. In November, the commander in charge of building security forces in Afghanistan reported a shortfall of 3,300 advisers required by the Afghan army and police alone. Traditionally, this mission would be performed by Special Forces but demand of these troops exceeds supply. The army has had to make do with soldiers drawn from the main army, but these are under-resourced.
The Afghan army is the most respected institution in that troubled country. Unfortunately, there are too few Afghan soldiers and not enough Americans advising them. The Pentagon is writing a new strategy for Afghanistan; it will have to include a bigger Afghan National Army, supported by more advisers. Failing states need help more than bullets.
John Nagl is president of the Center for a New American Security