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Making Might Right

Below is an Op-Ed submission from a soldier (and Army pal of mine) in Afghanistan:

Making Might Right

Day by day, there are pundits and politicians calling for an end to the U.S. actions in Afghanistan. Yet, one never hears the same learned individuals explain what is to happen in Afghanistan after we leave them with a mighty force... A mighty force that is not a right force. Afghans have seen this before. The USA supported the mujahideen in the 80s to defeat the U.S.S.R., and then, as success was realized, we left a small quality force that was insufficient in size to wrest control from the Taliban as it became more powerful, more mighty. The U.S.S.R. itself built a capable force that included MiG fighters, armor, and artillery. Yet, that force was not right either.

The challenge is a common problem throughout history with military force. The key is finding the fulcrum, the balance point, between quantity and quality. Quantity might seem clear to many as one reads the word, but too often, when discussions regarding military forces occur, the quantity becomes the default discussion. Those who fear, or disdain, standing military force argue for a small force. Those who fear the loss of power, national or personal, argue for a large standing military force. Neither of these arguments consider the quality of the force. A quality force is a professional force that is capable of stewarding its people, equipment, and resources (e.g. funding, food, etc.). Additionally, a quality force recognizes the need to build institutional knowledge in its individuals and the overall organization.

Let us consider a couple of examples. The Swiss Guard that has protected the Pope for five hundred years is a high quality, professional force. That force is designed to protect the Pope and the Vatican within the concentric security bubble provided by Italy and Rome. That force does not need to protect against a military attack from a major land force. So, its might is right; the force is built to the appropriate size for its mission and professionalized with quality troops who train continuously.

Another example is familiar to many after seeing the movie 300, the story of the Battle of Thermopylae. This example juxtaposes a very high quality force of just 300 Spartans against the might of the Persian army - one million strong. While the Persians won the battle, they lost the war and were unable to complete their objective because the professional, quality force of just 300 men had decimated its ranks and caused fear and uncertainty in the remaining.

From 2003-2009, the international effort in Afghanistan was heavily weighted on the quantity side of the fulcrum. The Afghan National Army had might but lacked quality. It's soldiers could not read the serial number on their weapons; they could not conduct maintenance on their vehicles according to the manufacturer's instructions; they did not understand how to conduct a movement to contact as modern armies have instructed for decades (those who saw Band of Brothers likely could perform better).

Since November 2009, the international community has recognized the need to rebalance the effort. It has increased spending and focused on making right the effort to build the Afghan National Security Force. Mandatory literacy training and the establishment of the middle managers, non-commissioned officers, is moving that weight towards the fulcrum and promoting the correct balance for an enduring, self-sustaining Afghan National Security Force.

Proceeds that matter to the USA are already taking place. On March 22, President Karzai announced that his forces would begin transitioning responsibility of security in 2 provinces and 5 cities from the coalition to his own forces. He iterated this first transition as the beginning of the overall transition that allows coalition forces to end combat operations by the end of 2014. In mid-March, the ANSF destroyed more than $140 million, repeat $140 MILLION, worth of narcotics. Those narcotics will not reach the cities of the USA, the children of the USA, and they will not fund the Taliban or other terrorist groups.

The cost of this war is great. The cost in blood is undeniable. However, ignoring the past and failing to make might right here in Afghanistan will undoubtedly result in a terrible burden in the future whether it be terrorist attacks on U.S. soil or the soil of our friends, narco-trafficking throughout the world, or fomenting extremist networks. Afghanistan is the core of Central Asia and sits at the cross-roads of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Only by making might right, balancing quantity and quality, in Afghanistan can we make way against the two major challenges our world faces today and for the foreseeable future... extremist elements and narco-trafficking. We must make might right here and learn this lesson evermore when we consider utilizing the military element of national power in the future.