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The 9 Surges of Obama's War

The troop surge is only one part of the escalation of the Afghanistan war. Here are 8 more signs of how fully the President has committed us.

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6.  The Base-Building Surge:  Like the surge in contractors and in drone attacks, the surge in base-building in Afghanistan significantly preceded Obama's latest troop-surge announcement.  A  recent NBC Nightly News report on the ever-expanding U.S. base at Kandahar Airfield, which it aptly termed a “boom town,” shows just how ongoing this part of the overall surge is, and at what a staggering level.  As  in Iraq from 2003 on, billions of dollars are being sunk into bases, the largest of which -- especially the old Soviet site, Bagram Air Base, with more than $200 million in construction projects and upgrades underway at the moment -- are beginning to look like ever more permanent fixtures on the landscape. 

In addition, as Nick Turse of has  reported, forward observation bases and smaller combat outposts have been sprouting all over southern Afghanistan.  “Forget for a moment the ‘debates’ in Washington over Afghan War policy,” he wrote in early November, “and, if you just focus on the construction activity and the flow of money into Afghanistan, what you see is a war that, from the point of view of the Pentagon, isn't going to end any time soon. In fact, the U.S. military's building boom in that country suggests that, in the ninth year of the Afghan War, the Pentagon has plans for a far longer-term, if not near-permanent, garrisoning of the country, no matter what course Washington may decide upon.”  

7.  The Training Surge:   In some ways, the greatest prospective surge may prove to be in the training of the Afghan national army and police.  Despite years of American and NATO “mentoring,” both are in  notoriously poor shape.  The Afghan army is riddled with desertions --  25% of those trained in the last year are now gone -- and the Afghan police are reportedly a hapless, ill-paid, corrupt, drug-addicted lot.  Nonetheless, Washington (with the help of NATO reinforcements) is planning to bring an army whose numbers officially stand at approximately 94,000 (but may actually be as low as  40-odd thousand) to 134,000 reasonably well-trained troops by next fall and 240,000 a year later.  Similarly, the Obama administration hopes to  take the police numbers from an official 93,000 to 160,000.

8.  The Cost Surge:  This is a difficult subject to pin down in part because the Pentagon is, in cost-accounting terms, one of the least transparent organizations around.  What can be said for certain is that Obama’s $30 billion figure won’t faintly hold when it comes to the real surge.  There is no way that figure will cover anything like all the troops, bases, contractors, and the rest.  Just take the plan to train an Afghan security force of approximately 400,000 in the coming years.  We’ve already spent more than  $15 billion on the training of the Afghan Army and more than  $10 billion has gone into police training -- staggering figures for a far smaller combined force with poor results.  Imagine, then, what a massive bulking up of the country's security forces will actually cost.  In congressional testimony, Centcom commander General David Petraeus  suggested a possible price tag of $10 billion a year.  And if such a program works (which seems unlikely), try to imagine how one of the poorest countries on the planet will support a 400,000-man force.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai has  just suggested that it will take at least 15-20 years before the country can actually pay for such a force itself.  In translation, what we have here is undoubtedly a version of Colin Powell’s  Pottery Barn rule(“You break it, you own it”); in this case, you build it, you own it.  If we create such security forces, they will be, financially speaking, ours into the foreseeable future.  (And this is even without adding in those local militias we’re planning to invest “millions” in.) 

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