Afghan withdrawal would undermine local security effort

Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Otero/US Air Force

U.S. Army Sgt. James Lee provides aerial security from the rear door of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, Khost Province, Afghanistan, Feb. 24, 2010.

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  • Local security efforts in #Afghanistan can't make up for the loss of American troops @criticalthreats

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  • Will Afghans continue to lose faith that they can win against #terrorism if the US withdrawals? @criticalthreats

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  • Local security cannot clear enemy-held areas, nor can they withstand concerted enemy attacks

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Seth Jones, an Afghanistan expert at the Rand Corp., a Santa Monica-based think tank, said he did not expect the withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops to cause security conditions to worsen in southern Afghanistan. He said the U.S. and the Afghan government were recruiting local police units that, along with Afghan army units, could help fill the gap.

"With the increasing…[U.S.] move toward a strategy that involved local security forces, I think that the U.S. can make do with a smaller force," said Jones, who was an advisor to special operations units in Afghanistan until earlier this year. "I don't think 10,000 is going to have a meaningful impact on the strategy."

Follow AEI's full coverage of the July 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan

Local security forces do not offset the risks incurred by premature withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan. In fact, premature withdrawal of combat forces undermines the local security effort. Local security forces operate in remote areas that have either been cleared or that were not enemy safe-havens to begin with. They cannot by themselves clear enemy-held areas, nor can they withstand concerted enemy attacks from nearby safe-havens without support from U.S. mentors, Afghan National Security Forces, and sometimes U.S. enablers. They operate to extend security outside of population centers and hold cleared areas.

Above all, enrollment in local security forces is driven by conviction on the part of the local population that ISAF and the Afghan government will win. Removing conventional forces puts that conviction into question, will encourage more Afghans to sit on the fence, and can undermine the entire local security effort. Local security forces, finally, number on the close order of 6,000--remember that there were over 100,000 Sons of Iraq. Increasing their numbers depends on having requisite numbers of partners and mentors, both U.S. and Afghan. We would be hard pressed to add 10,000 local security forces every six months--even if we could assume that there is a one-for-one tradeoff between U.S. forces and local forces, which there is not.

Frederick Kagan is a resident scholar and director for the AEI Critical Threats Project.

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