At his blog, Nation-Building, Aziz Poonawalla analyzes the policies of the first-tier Democratic candidates with respect to Afghanistan such as they are and finds the lack of attention stunning. He proposes increasing our forces there.
That’s certainly the prevailing wisdom but I’m far from certain that it’s correct. The Durand Line, Pakistan’s 1,600 some-odd mile long border with Afghanistan, runs through some of the wildest, most rugged territory in the world. So long as that border remains open what, specifically, can be accomplished in Afghanistan? I think that achievable missions there are limited to preventing the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies from re-establishing their control over Afghan territory and force protection and that the level of troops in Afghanistan for those missions are probably about right.
I’m open to those who think otherwise so you be the general. What missions can be accomplished in Afghanistan? How many troops will you need? How will you supply them? As I see it the constraints are that we aren’t going to war with Pakistan or invading Pakistan. That runs the risk of further destabilizing the already shaky Pakistani government or of Pakistan using its nuclear arsenal against our troops. And we don’t have any large military bases in any country adjacent to Afghanistan.
I don’t understand what the mission of a large force in Afghanistan would be. Defending the border? Nonetheless just for fun I’ll take a quick crack at some of the logistical issues involved in maintaining a force the size of the one in Iraq in Afghanistan.
I figure that supplying our troops takes about 50 kg. of materiel per man per day (it may be more). Afghanistan is land-locked and we don’t have the bases to supply Afghanistan overland. The country has virtually nothing, not even enough food to feed its own people. Everything will need to be brought in by plane.
50 kg. X 150,000 = 7,500,000 kg. per day. The cargo capacity of a C130 is roughly 20,000 kg. That means, using round numbers, roughly 400 landings per day. There will need to be multiple landings and takeoffs going on at the same time—you don’t offload a C130 instantaneously. I don’t believe that any airport in Afghanistan has that capacity. Kandahar’s airport doesn’t. We’ll need to build one, plus space for the freight helicopters necessary to supply troops in the field. That’s about a quarter of the traffic of O’Hare Airport, the second busiest in the world. It’ll make a nice target so it will need to be fortified and defended.
Where will the C130’s come from? I have no idea. Presumably they’ll fly out of a base in Iraq which in turn will need to be supplied, fortified, and defended.