Just 1,000 shy of breaking the Soviet Union’s world record

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The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the U.S.-led coalition, has now more than 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. McClatchy reported there are “101,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan according to Pentagon figures. The New York Times reported the level to be slightly higher at 103,000 troops for the coalition.

The Soviet Union’s military force in Afghanistan was kept roughly between 80,000-104,000 troops for duration of its occupation in the 1980s. The Moscow-backed Afghan government fell despite more than nine years of Soviet military assistance and nearly 14,000 Soviet casualties.

The U.S.-led occupation force is even larger when private civilian and military contractors are added to the Western military footprint. For at least the past couple years, contractors have outnumbered U.S. troops in Afghanistan the NY Times reported on Tuesday.

Not only are there more contractors than U.S. soldiers in uniform, but it is “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel recorded in any war in the history of the United States.”

While many of the 68,197 contractors are Afghans that “handle a variety of jobs, including cooking for the troops, serving as interpreters and even providing security”, the Soviet Union unlikely used private contractors as extensively as the Americans are doing, if at all.

In addition, the State Department and the CIA also make use of contractors which are not part of this total. An increase in contractors is expected as U.S. officials implement plans to swap out 14,000 American soldiers in a support capacity for ‘trigger-pullers’.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been reluctant to deploy troop levels that would match or surpass the level the Soviets had. During an interview with CNN on April 29, Gates was asked “what are the limits to what America can do in Afghanistan? Gates answered:

Well, I have been quoted as accurately as saying I have real reservations about significant further commitments of American military – of the American military to Afghanistan, beyond what the president has already approved. The Soviets were in there with 110,000, 120,000 troops. They didn’t care about civilian casualties. And they couldn’t win. If there’s ever an example that military power alone cannot be successful in Afghanistan, I think it was the Soviet experience. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from that. And so I worry – it is absolutely critical that the Afghans believe that this is their war. It is their war against people who are trying to overthrow their government that they democratically elected.

For all of its flaws and shortcomings, it is theirs. And they – we must be their partner and their ally. If we get to the point where the Afghan people see us as occupiers, then we will have lost. So the way we treat the Afghans, the importance of keeping the Afghans in the lead in many of these activities, the military as well as the civilian, I think is absolutely critical, so that they know – so that these villagers know that it’s their people who are leading this fight. This isn’t some foreign army coming in there, like all the previous foreign armies, to just occupy them.

While Gate’s recollection of Soviet troop levels is a teensy inflated, as of a little more than four months ago he was concerned that if the U.S. had Soviet-levels of troops deployed in Afghanistan, then the U.S.-backed coalition would be seen as an occupational force.

Many Afghans, it would seem, do see this war as their own. But they are not fighting alongside the U.S.-led coalition, rather they are fighting against it. And after nearly eight years and 100,000 plus troops deployed in their country, some Afghans might even describe this as an occupation. Really, how is the U.S.-led coalition not “just” another occupying army?

When asked by CNN if he was “unlikely to approve a request for additional troops in Afghanistan” in six months to a year, Gates answered:

I would be a hard sell; there’s no question about it. And I have not made a secret of that, either publicly or in government meetings. I think we will have – between the American military commitment and our coalition partners, the ISAF partners, we will have about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. That’s only about 10,000 shy of what the Russians had. And I think we need to think about that.

My view is it would be a far better investment to focus on building the strength of the Afghan army and the Afghan police, making sure that of the numbers of people we have there, there are adequate trainers so that we can accelerate the growth of those forces.

It’s that combination of a certain level of international support for the Afghan military effort and the growing of the Afghan security forces themselves. It’s that partnership that I think eventually will be successful in Afghanistan. As long as – if we try to do it all ourselves, I think it won’t work.

Now less than six months later, Gates is open to more troops in Afghanistan according to Reuters. Gates said Afghan concerns that more U.S. troops would signify an occupation could be “mitigated” if the additional forces “interact with the Afghans in a way that give confidence to the Afghans that we’re partners and their allies.”

The Christian Science Monitor added Gates said the U.S. must stay in Afghanistan. “I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan,” he said.

The NY Times reported advisers to Obama are divided on the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan. The administration is debating sending more troops to Afghanistan, but no one advising the president other than possibly the vice president, appears to be advocating a troop reduction for the region or even crafting an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has not asked for a troop increase in a recent report he submitted about the state of the war in Afghanistan, but he is widely expected to request an increase in the coming weeks.

“There is little doubt that McChyrstal will request for additional troops – likely between 25,000 and 30,000. These would be in addition to the troops President Obama authorized this spring, which will bring the US total force in Afghanistan to 68,000 by the fall,” according to the Monitor. The NY Times predicts:

The smallest proposed reinforcement, from 10,000 to 15,000 troops, would be described as the high-risk option. A medium-risk option would involve sending about 25,000 more troops, and a low-risk option would call for sending about 45,000 troops.

But by sending more troops to Afghanistan, is the U.S.-led coalition trying to “do it all ourselves”? And what is the purpose of the occupation on the QT? Does the administration really believe that after nearly 8 years, Afghans have not caught on yet?

No doubt if we leave now, “Islamic fundamentalists could in all likelihood come out ahead” or at least that what Soviet Maj. Gen. Kim M. Tsagolov predicted as the Soviets were preparing to pullout of Afghanistan in 1988.

As Gates explained the Soviets could not “win” – whatever that means – with 100,000 troops. How big does the U.S.-led occupation-sized force need to be to “win”? Does the Obama administration really think it can “win” with just 25,000 or 30,000 more troops and additional military contractors? The U.S. had a larger force in Iraq, is that war a “win” yet?


Cross-posted from Daily Kos.


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  1. For me, the Soviet invasion will always be tied to the 1980 winter Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice” game. If memory serves, Carter had just announced the United States would be boycotting the summer Olympics in Moscow and then the American underdogs pull of an amazing upset to defeat the Soviet hockey team.

    If you would have told me then that 29 years later the United States would have to 68,000 troops inside Afghanistan, I would have told you that you were crazy.

  2. Death in a  pomegranate grove:

    The pomegranate grove looked ominous. The U.S. patrol had a tip that Taliban fighters were lying in ambush…Thirty seconds later, a salvo of gunfire and RPGs – rocket-propelled grenades – poured out of the grove. “Casualty! We’ve got a casualty!” someone shouted. A grenade had hit Lance Cpl. Joshua “Bernie” Bernard in the legs…”I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Bernard said…

    ..A young Afghan in front of the family store showed the patrol a patch of upturned earth in a ditch. It was here that insurgents had fired their mortars a few minutes earlier…”But don’t say I told you, or they’ll kill me,” the man said…

    Adding to the confusion, an Afghan soldier with the troops fired his own grenade at the insurgents, but he hadn’t checked whether anybody was close by. A Marine was knocked out by the back-blast…Some Marines are uneasy patrolling with the Afghan National Army. For one thing, there’s a language barrier…”They’re not lacking courage, they’re just lacking training right now,” …

    That night, officers assembled the platoon in a darkened room of the run-down house where the Marines had camped… a There the officers delivered the news: Bernard had died of a blood clot in his heart on the operating table…

    Bernard was the 19th American to die in Afghanistan in August. Fifty-one Marines, soldiers and seamen lost their lives that month. Of the 739 Americans killed in and around Afghanistan since 2001, 151 died last year and 180 so far this year…

    He was just 21 years old.  Eight long years, and on it goes, with casualties and deaths mounting.  How much longer?  

  3. My prediction is that after killing all those civilians yesterday, the Germans will quietly find a way to leave in 6 months or so.  

  4. A world record.  That’s almost as good as beating them to the moon.  

    • Edger on September 5, 2009 at 17:36

    by Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online, August 26, 2009

    ATol: The Taliban’s army was destroyed during the US invasion. It is a matter of record that thousands were killed and thousands were arrested. How has the Taliban managed to regroup? I spoke to local officials of the Pashtun Nationalist Party (Paktoonkha Awami Party) and also Afghan officials, who say that news concerning the reemergence of the Taliban is fiction, fabricated by Pakistani intelligence agencies. What do you have to say?

    Azmatullah: The Taliban are very much alive and everywhere. I tell you a fact, that even in the provinces of Zabul, Hilmand and Urugzan, the old machinery is very much working that was in operation during the Taliban period. In our land, everybody is Taliban, and from them new teams can be drawn.

    ATol: OK! If I accept your argument, then what is the point of the Taliban attacking these provinces and districts?

    Azmatullah: (He unfolds a piece of a paper) This is a pamphlet we have distributed all over Afghanistan, asking officials not to cooperate with US-backed Afghan officials. It does work. You saw that we captured Zabul and several place in Hilmand, and the officials and soldiers just left their places without a fight. There were skirmishes only when reinforcements were sent from Kandahar and US planes bombed the areas.

    ATol: This is what you say. Here in Chaman I have met several Kandaharis who say that they have not seen the Taliban for a long time.

    Azamtullah: You please go to Kandahar and visit the minister for television and radio who was very recently admitted to a local hospital. His name is Saadat. You know why he was beaten up? The local TV station televised an English-language movie. As a reaction, a commander of the Afghan militia, Mohammed Naeem, entered his office and beat him like a dog until he apologized and said that he would never televise an English movie again. Now tell me, who are these people among them [the militia], Taliban or non-Taliban?

    Similarly, who attacked Hamid Karzai when he was in Kandahar? Was it their own militia or not? My friend, Afghans cannot tolerate foreign occupation. It is not just a compulsion that we bear, it as a matter of strategy, we have retained our presence among them [Afghan militia].

    ATol: But how can a poverty-stricken nation fight? I think even if the Taliban are fighting, it is a temporary phenomena and with the passage of time the struggle will die down.

    Azmatullah: (With a smile) Who says we are poor? You should go to the kilis [villages]. Everybody has refrigerators, wagons, cars and trucks.

    ATol: What is the source of the Taliban’s financing? Where do you get your money to fight?

    Azamtullah: (Again with a deep smile) From US dollars from the US authorities!

    ATol: How?

    Azmatullah: You know that they distribute dollars to the tribal chiefs, local administrators and other concerned people for welfare projects. What is your opinion of where it goes? Not every penny, but most goes into Taliban pockets to refuel their struggle.

    ATol: I wonder, after you attack, you melt away, where do you go? Because I have visited the border areas, and the district headquarters of Zabul and Hilmand are very far away from the border.

    Azmatullah: I tell you, we belong to our people. We do not come from the skies. We belong to this land.

    It is simple that we go out of our homes to attack them, and when we are chased we simply go back to our homes and our people simply say that “we don’t know any Talib”. This is the area where we have not seen any strangers. Thus we are protected.

    ATol: Who are the main commanders in the southern region?

    Azmatullah: Mullah Akhtar Usmani, Mullah Ubaidullah and Mullah Abdul Rauf.

    ATol: How many fighters does each one have?

    Azmatullah: This is not the way we do it, that everybody has separate fighters. Here in the southern region, including Urugzan, Kandahar, Hilmand and Zabul, we have declared Hilmand as the center of resistance. We have about 2,000 fighters. When a commander decides to attack any place, he contacts these fighters scattered in different places and attacks. After the attack, everybody disperses to different positions.

    ATol: Are there Arab fighters still among you?

    Azmatullah: Very few. Most of them were killed when the Taliban retreated. The only ones left are those who have been living in Afghanistan for 20 years or so. They know Afghanistan and Pashtu. So after the Taliban retreated, the newcomers were accosted by the Afghan militia, and if they failed to speak Pashtu, and spoke Arabic, they were killed. Those who know Pashtu survived by showing that they were local Afghans. Now most of them are with us. But they are few in number.

    ATol: Where is Osama bin Laden? Does he speak Pashtu?

    Azmatullah: Bin Laden can understand Pashtu, but cannot speak it well. Even our senior leaders do not know where he is.

    ATol: I think he is dead.

    Azmatullah: No! He is alive because through his representative his letters are delivered, which shows that he is healthy, but we do not know where he is and how he is surviving.

    ATol: Why have the Taliban failed to kill many US soldiers in Afghanistan?

    Azmatullah: They hide the facts. Every day, there are US casualties in Afghanistan.

    ATol: How come? You attack with your AK-47 guns or rocket launchers. These are not effective weapons these days. You cannot use heavy weapons in guerrilla warfare.

    Azmatullah: (Azmatullah mentions the name of a weapon in Pashtu which is not immediately identifiable, but the way he describes it makes it sound like a missile with a range of about 50 kilometers, fired by a one-barreled gun.) We operate it with an ordinary battery as used in cars. In a group of, for example 10 people, two carry guns, two persons carry a battery and the rest carry two missiles each. An attack takes 10 to 15 minutes, and we take position a few kilometer from a target in the mountains. After the attack, we take our missile pad and run away.

    Read the whole thing…

    They will never surrender to occupation.

    • RUKind on September 5, 2009 at 19:43

    Start the draft with elected official’s and millionaire’s children. We’ll be out of there by New Year’s Day.


  5. That killer of empires!


    • Inky99 on September 6, 2009 at 00:02

    about Obama giving a speech to their schoolchildren.

    Thanks, Corporate Media!!!!

  6. on the vote stealing in A has come out.

    On the left: no one cares.

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