An Afghanistan Surge: The Logistics

Jeff McCausland, senior fellow at the Carnegie Council, wears many hats. As a retired Army colonel who’s on a first name basis with Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, he has an acutely military perspective on the war in Afghanistan. As an analyst, professor, and former dean of academics of the U.S. Army War College, he also sees the conflict through an academic lens. When McCausland spoke to a small group at the council’s headquarters in New York yesterday, he combined these two perspectives and outlined the unique challenges of this particular war.

To surge or not to surge? That’s the question at the center of the current strategic review in Washington. But as that debate moves toward a conclusion, McCausland cautioned that while a surge would be possible, it would not be easy to implement. Beyond the question of having ample time to properly train troops for deployment, there is also the issue of logistics when boots hit the ground. Afghanistan is a difficult place to supply, and according to McCausland, more and more supplies are being intercepted by the Taliban in the notorious Khyber pass. So while we might be able to deploy more troops, feeding and arming them properly will become even more difficult, especially as Afghanistan heads into winter.

McCausland noted that Taliban fighters, too, are constrained by Afghanistan’s harsh winter, resulting in the yearly drop-off in violence over the winter months. But he pointed to another area that will be impacted by the weather: the democratic process. As run-off elections in Afghanistan approach, poor weather is just one more reason for many Afghans to stay at home, especially given the scale of the first-round irregularities. That, in turn, will have implications for the long-term goal of establishing the Afghan government’s legitimacy.

McCausland touched on other issues that are familiar to those following the debate closely — including the need to grow the Afghan security forces and to strengthen provincial governments. He also argued for a more cohesive front from coalition forces who, due to domestic politics and differing rules of engagement, have not agreed on a conflict-wide strategy.

McCausland drew comparisons to past United States conflicts, and predicted that Afghanistan will easily be the longest one yet, surpassing the eight-year-long Vietnam War. “History doesn’t repeat itself,” he said, “but it rhymes.”

He commended the White House’s refusal to hastily roll out an Afghanistan policy. But, McCausland warned, just because the United States decides on a strategy in the coming weeks doesn’t mean the Taliban will go along with it. “The enemy gets a vote,” he said.

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