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Tommy Sowers

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Who Will Pay for the Afghan Military? The Question Congress Must Answer Now

Posted: 07/22/10 08:42 PM ET

An old military maxim states, "Amateurs think about strategy and professionals think about logistics." At West Point I taught cadets the U.S. Constitution, which clearly empowers Congress to be active in logistic questions of war. For Afghanistan, Congress must start thinking professionally and ask a tough logistical question -- who will pay for the Afghan military once America leaves?

Victory in Afghanistan relies on building the Afghan National Army and police towards a day when Afghans lead and our troops finally come home. My experience as a Special Forces officer was in building a professional Iraqi military from scratch. No easy task, but my challenges in Iraq paled next to the challenges faced by our troops in Afghanistan: the second most corrupt nation in the world, millennia of history absent a strong central government or military, poor education and infrastructure, a tribal mentality and an illegitimate government and leader.

Afghanistan's specific challenges aside, the logistical question of the eventual size of the Afghan force is also problematic. History and General Petraeus' own U.S. Army counterinsurgency doctrine recommends a minimum force ratio of 1:50, or an Afghan policeman or solider to keep the peace for every 50 civilians. Afghanistan's current population is 29,121,000. Our doctrine dictates that to secure Afghanistan and bring our troops home will require training and arming, at minimum, 582,000 Afghans. This would be a force larger than the active U.S. Army.

Yet America' current strategy is not to train the minimum force of 582,000, but to double the number of Afghan security personnel to 400,000. This will cost significant American blood and treasure to achieve, but Afghan will and funds to maintain.

400,000 Afghan security personnel will cost Afghanistan at least 15% of its GDP, far and away the greatest percentage spent on the military by any nation in the world. While U.S. doctrine states that the future Afghan military will be too few to secure Afghanistan, logistics portend that the future Afghan military will be too many for Afghanistan to maintain.

The question Congress must answer now: Who will pay for the future Afghan Army? The Afghans can't. Our allies won't. And America's budget deficit and growing entitlements indicate America can't pay forever.

After a decade of U.S. military sacrifice and billions of taxpayer dollars, one day America will have created 400,000 trained, armed and unpaid Afghans. These Afghans will seek employment. It is a horde that will fracture with services available to the highest bidder, be it a tribal chief, the Taliban, or the forces seeking to topple the Pakistani government. This is the seed of the next Afghan Civil War or a nuclear armed Al Qaeda. This is why logistics predict that America will lose with our current strategy in Afghanistan.

In seeking to honor our nation's sacrifice and advance our interests, Congress can look back and take a lesson from the Cold War. The West did not prevail over a corrosive ideology by invading and occupying the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe or the dozens of nations where communism ruled. America prevailed because Congress funded containment, deterrence and employed the full spectrum of finite resources towards realistic and accomplishable objectives. America's current strategy in Yemen, executed at a fraction of the logistical cost of Afghanistan, is a model for the way forward.

For the last ten months, I've been campaigning for Congress in my home in Missouri's Eighth, a rural district with twenty-eight counties. Areas like my home, with more than 70,000 veterans and thousands of families with loved ones serving, have born the burden of this war. In the town halls I'm holding in every county people ask me "why are we still in Afghanistan?" On an issue that crosses the political spectrum, they don't ask about strategy. The voters I meet talk logistics. They know their family members and our nation's treasure are not being spent wisely.

Today, it is past time to for Congress to make a professional and difficult decision about Afghanistan. This accepts that tax dollars spent to build an Afghan Army are dollars not spent towards defeating Al Qaeda. America's limited security resources must be focused now on hunting down and destroying Al Qaeda where it exists -- in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia -- not where it was or could be one day. And our increasingly limited fiscal resources should stop being poured into a capacity building mission that will eventually fail. Far better to keep those dollars home, pay down the debt, or build our own capacity right here in rural America.

For Congress, accepting this logistical reality becomes more expensive every day they wait. With the lowest number of veterans in Congress since World War II, members of Congress must believe they are unqualified to ask these logistical questions. But exercising their constitutional duty is not accepting defeat in Afghanistan just as supporting the troops and honoring the fallen does not mean sending more. Supporting the troops is only sending our men and women on accomplishable missions in our nation's long term strategic interest so that our troops can eventually come home.

Eisenhower, cited by President Obama in his speech on Afghanistan at West Point, said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs." Yet balancing funds amongst competing priorities is not only the president's job. Resource allocation is primarily the constitutional role of Congress. Today, Congress must ask the difficult questions and hasten the end to the flawed strategy of training Afghan military capacity. Congress must start thinking about Afghanistan like professionals, not amateurs.