The debate in Washington and European capitals has recently centered on how many more troops will be sent to Afghanistan in 2009 as part of a military surge. Gilles Dorronsoro, Afghanistan expert and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, argued that such a tactical adjustment is unlikely to make much of a difference in a country where the basic population-to-troops ratio is estimated at approximately 430 people per foreign soldier.

The real question is how combat troops should be used. The West faces two choices: continue playing offense by going after the Taliban, especially in the south and the east, and spreading troops thin; or adopt a new strategy focused on protecting strategic sites, namely, urban centers and key roads, to allow for the development of a strong core of Afghan institutions.

At a discussion, co-hosted with the Royal United Services Insitute (RUSI) Dorronsoro advocated for the latter strategy. Fabrice Pothier, Director of Carnegie Europe, and Michael Codner, Director of the Military Sciences Department at RUSI, co-chaired the event.

Highlights include…

  • Gilles Dorronsoro explained that the Karzai government has a fragile relationship with the United States right now because the latter is increasingly dealing with local groups and militias who are especially hostile to the U.S. The Karzai government is in the awkward position of attempting to maintain friendly with the U.S. without alienating parts of its population.
  • Dorronsoro also explained that the Taliban are not a loose local group, but a well-structured and strategic organisation that succeeds in building alliances with other militant groups. He underlined that the Taliban have the potential to go north in Afghanistan and build a national movement. The idea that the Taliban will stay in the south is deeply flawed. 
  • According to Dorronsoro, sending more troops to the south could be an effective short-term stragtegy for fighting the Taliban in some areas. But it would not work in the long run beause it would not help foster an effective Afghan state, which is a necessary precondition for any exit-strategy.