Afghan Army per Capita

I usually don’t do any posting over the weekend, but that doesn’t mean the internal content management system gets shut down. To give an example, a not-so-little number kept rattling around in the cranium the past couple of days: 162,000. That’s the end strength goal the Dept. of Defense has now set for the Afghan National Army by 2010, in order to provide the manpower needed to adequately support U.S.-NATO operations once “surged.” Since Afghanistan’s population, according to the latest CIA Factbook estimates, is 32.7 million, that’s roughly the size, per capita, of the combined American military (including the Air Force and Navy).

To give an idea for comparison, France has almost exactly twice the population of Afghanistan, and its combined armed forces are roughly 225K, with plans for significant cuts. Great Britain, also roughly twice the population of Afghanistan, maintains a military of just 195K.

Now, granted, high tech armies require less manpower. And the numbers forecasted for Afghanistan wouldn’t even put it at the high end of the spectrum compared to, say, Turkey (with half a million soldiers and 70 million inhabitants) or Syria (800K to 20 million), and don’t come anywhere near to Colombia (960K to 44 million), with which it shares the challenge of a broad counterinsurgency. But Turkey is a regional power and NATO member, and Syria is technically at war with one of the more potent militaries in the world, whereas Afghanistan’s army will be required for exclusively internal security operations. Which gives an idea of the kind of militarization required for a “successful” outcome of the Afghanistan War. (All figures via Wikipedia military and population entries.)

Meanwhile, what’s left unexamined is the conflict between the national command structure of the Afghan army and the increasing consensus that the most effective approach to counterinsurgency in the country will engage on the local level of tribal authority.

In Iraq, that issue has been left as deferred maintenance, with the status of the Sadrist militia subject to speculation, and the commitment to a national command of the Kurdish Peshmergas half-hearted at best.

But Afghanistan isn’t Iraq. Its power structure is more atomized than federal, and the reach of the central government is not so much contested as non-existent. So that kind of deterred maintenance, transposed to Afghanistan, takes on the color of a logical fallacy whereby a foreign military force will ultimately be replaced by a centralized Kabul-controlled force without creating the same kind of residual resentment that leads to insurgency.

Comments and pushback welcome. But I remain unconvinced.

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