Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bring in the "Contractors": How to "Lose" in Afghanistan

Not that I believe that the US can "win" . . . but I've been puzzled for a long time about how the US could ever sufficiently "resource" the mission there, given commitments in Iraq (where the problems are decidedly not getting any easier to solve), declining enlistments, etc.

Well, the NYTimes reports today on one way of doing it. The US now has more "contractors" (let's call them what they are: mercenaries, guns-for-hire) in Afghanistan than members of the US military. "As of March this year, contractors made up 57 percent of the Pentagon’s force in Afghanistan, and if the figure is averaged over the past two years, it is 65 percent, according to the report by the Congressional Research Service."

These, of course, are the same trigger-happy worthies who became notorious - and universally hated - by Iraqis for their tendencies to shoot first, ask questions later (well, maybe sometimes they asked questions. Mostly it was just, shoot.) And relying on them flies completely in the face of the counter-insurgency doctrines that David Petraeus and his understudy, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, claim they want to rely on for the US mission: protect the civilian population by getting out among the locals and winning hearts and minds.
Oddly, this story appears at the same time that a New Republic blog post (at The Plank) appeared about how it's not legit to compare the US's prospects in Afghanistan with the Soviet experience there in the 1980s, because the Soviets were brutal toward the locals whereas Petraeus/McChrystal are taking a different approach.

I might also note that employing people such as these undercuts Obama's message of outreach to, and empathy with, Muslims across the world. The biggest thing Obama had going for him early on was the change of tone from the Bush years, the new message that the US cares about and respects Muslim peoples. Blackwater mercenaries are nobody's idea of a CARE package.

The other big Afghanistan-related story is, of course, George Will's column yesterday in which he asserts that "it's time to get out of Afghanistan." That such a big gun from the conservative side of the aisle weighed in so heavily against the war was sure to draw some fire from the neocon right - and it did. Fred Kagan (who from what I can tell has never sen a US military intervention that he didn't like) castigated Will, but seemed not to address the meat of Will's argument well at all. (Rather, he focused on Will's characterization of the British contribution to the effort there as relatively small - which, compared to the US effort, it is - and blasted Will for denigrating our comrades-in-arms. That obviously is not what Will intended, but Kagan needed to create a straw man upon which to vent his outrage.

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