Sitting in the United States, I wondered why it was necessary for the United States, and the international community, to remain in Afghanistan. Hadn’t we built their military? Couldn’t they take charge now? After six weeks on the ground listening, reading, and observing, I have come to the following conclusion.
We are here because me must Make Might Right. Day by day, there are pundits and politicians around the world calling for an end to international actions in Afghanistan. Yet, one never hears the same learned individuals explain what is to happen in Afghanistan after we leave them with a mighty force… A mighty force that is not a right force.
Afghans have seen this before. The United States supported the mujahideen in the 1980s to defeat the Soviet Union, and then, as success was realized, we left a small quality force that was insufficient in size to wrest control from the Taliban as it became more powerful, more mighty. The Soviet Union itself built a capable force that included MiG fighters, armor, and artillery. Yet, that force was not right either.
There is a consistent challenge throughout history regarding building military force. That challenge is finding the fulcrum, the balance point, between quantity and quality. Too often, when discussions regarding military forces occur, quantity, or might, becomes the default discussion. Those who fear, or disdain, standing military force argue for a small force. Those who fear the loss of power, national or personal, argue for a large standing military force. Neither of these arguments considers the quality of the force. A quality force is a professional force that is capable of stewarding its people, equipment, and resources (e.g. funding, food, etc.). Additionally, a quality force recognizes the need to build institutional knowledge in its individuals and the overall organization.
Let us consider a couple of examples. The Swiss Guard that has protected the Pope for five hundred years is a high quality, professional force. That force is designed to protect the Pope and the Vatican within the concentric security bubbles provided by Rome and Italy. That force does not need to protect against a military attack from a major land force. So, its might is right as the force is built to the appropriate size for its mission and professionalized with quality troops who train continuously.
Another example is familiar to many after seeing the movie 300, the story of the Battle of Thermoplylae. This example juxtaposes a very high quality force of just 300 Spartans against the might of the Persian army – one million strong. While the Persians won the battle, they lost the war and were unable to complete their objective because the professional, quality force of just 300 men had decimated its ranks and caused fear and uncertainty in the remaining.
In Afghanistan, the weight of effort from 2003-2009 was heavily weighted on the quantity side of the fulcrum. The Afghan National Army had might but lacked quality. It’s soldiers could not read the serial number on their weapons; they could not conduct maintenance on their vehicles according to the manufacturer’s instructions; they did not understand how to engage the enemy with modern techniques, especially without coalition support.
Since November 2009, the international community has recognized the incorrectly weighted effort. It has increased spending and focused on making right the effort to build the Afghan National Security Force. Mandatory literacy training and the establishment of the middle managers, non-commissioned officers, is moving that weight towards the fulcrum and promoting the correct balance for an enduring, self-sustaining Afghan National Security Force (ANSF).
Proceeds that matter to citizens of the U.S. and contributing nations are already taking place. On March 22, President Karzai announced that his forces would begin transitioning responsibility of security in 3 provinces and 4 cities from the coalition to his own forces. He iterated this first transition as the beginning of the overall transition that allows coalition forces to end combat operations by the end of 2014. In mid-March, the ANSF destroyed more than $140 million worth of narcotics. Those narcotics will not reach the cities, or the children, of the USA, and they will not fund the Taliban or other terrorist groups.
The cost of this war is great. The cost in blood is undeniable. However, ignoring the past and failing to make might right here in Afghanistan will undoubtedly result in a terrible burden in the future whether it be terrorist attacks on the soil of the U.S. or our friends, narco-trafficking throughout the world, or fomenting extremist networks. Afghanistan is the core of Central Asia and sits at the cross-roads of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Only by making might right in Afghanistan, balancing quantity and quality, can we make way against the two major challenges our world faces today and for the foreseeable future… extremist elements and narco-trafficking. We must make might right here and learn this lesson evermore when we consider utilizing the military element of national power in the future.