Afghanistan and Central Asia

Now that the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan has begun to take hold as an emerging consensus, the number has begun to rise. What began as 20,000 has now become a “window of overall increase” between 20 and 30K, according to JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in a weekend press conference (via Army Times). Add in support troops and we’ll probably end up at the 40K number that a plugged in contact confided had been circulating around Washington as far back as a month ago. (Remember that the Surge was initially proposed as a 20K troop increase, but wound up closer to 30K when support units were included.)

But the question remains on just what more American troops will actually do in Afghanistan, and what they are likely to accomplish. Joshua Foust at unpacks the two-pronged approach being formulated (infrastructure and institution development combined with arming local centers of power in order to build security from the bottom up), in a post that’s worth reading in its entirety.

The increase, should it happen, will also put more strain and importance on the already threatened supply lines through Pakistan, and the search for alternate routes has led MK Bhadrakumar to speculate in Asia Times on the broader grand strategy implications of the Afghanistan War: namely, to serve as a pretext for an American presence in the Caucasus-Central Asia corridor.

Bhadrakumar concludes that despite the actual war itself going badly (with the distinct possibility that it ends in failure), its effect on the surrounding security architecture could ultimately advance American regional interests significantly. Thomas Barnett finds the conjecture intriguing and entertaining — “Who knew everything in Afghanistan and Pakistan was actually going our strategic way!” — but ultimately farfetched, given Russia, China and India’s ability and incentive to subsequently frustrate American interests:

That’s not to say that the U.S. shouldn’t or won’t seek additional access rights as a result of ramping up our effort in Afghanistan, because that’s pretty straightforward in logic, including the bit about the Caucasus. But if all this is pursued in an FU! attitude toward interested regional powers, then we’re just setting ourselves up for their spoiler efforts.

That leads me to today’s WPR feature issue, The New “Great Game,” with articles on the great power rivalry for military influence (by Stephen Blank) and energy access (by John Daly) in Central Asia, with an examination of the how the region’s human rights issues complicate the picture for U.S. policy-makers (by Joshua Foust) . I encourage you to read through it, because it’s very likely we’ll be hearing a good deal more about the region in the months — and years — to come.

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