Posted by: Tony Carson | 16 October, 2009

Afghanistan: What are the real numbers?

The number of US troops in Afghanistan are variously reported to be in the 68,000 range, with an addition 35,000 NATO troops. So, roughly 100,000 total with McChrystal calling for another 40-60,000.

But this is hardly an accurate picture. Contractors, who do everything from guard to cook, add an additional 65% to the over-all manpower total (contractors were about 18% in Vietnam). In fact, WashPo reports that “the 21,000 troops (so far) ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama were accompanied by an additional 13,000 so-called ‘enablers,’ which wouldn’t change the current authorized US force level of 68,000.”

The picture is even more confused. In addition to human troop levels the US has a second army/navy/airforce of drones and bots that do much of the surveillance, patrolling and even forward attacking once done by men.

So what is the real total of boots on the ground? We we don’t know.

But we can get some idea of what a hell of a logistical nightmare it is to get the men and material to Afghanistan.

So slow is the process to ship troops to the land-locked, enemy-ringed country that “not all of the support troops order to Afghanistan by President Bush had arrived by the time he left office.”

If McChrystal gets his wish of 40,000 more troops, the best the US will be able to do is to transport a single brigade of 4,000 troops a month, with their equipment taking over two months to meet up with them.

In this Time article Moving Troops To Afghanistan Harder Than Getting Them we learn of the daunting challenges of not only transporting troops to the embattled country but supplying them once they are there.

“We’re resupplying between 30% and 40% of our forward operating bases by air because we just can’t get to them on the ground,” says a senior Army logistician, speaking on condition of anonymity, referring to the roughly 180 U.S. outposts around the country. That’s because the Taliban control much of the “ring road,” a circular route that links Afghanistan’s few major cities. “Trucking contractors trying to supply some of them aren’t making it,” he adds. “The Taliban are just wiping them out.”

Does it matter that real numbers are being obscured? It does if comparisons matter. There were about 250,000 ‘troops’ in Vietnam. Comparing apples to apples, if McChrystal’s wish is granted there will soon be ‘troops’ approaching that number in Afghanistan, too — offering more fodder for the quagmire comparison.



  1. Responding to the Pengaton’s subterfuge in leaking McChrystal’s “40,000 more or you lose” ploy, Obama’s team are fighting back by leaking that McChrystal has actually asked for 80,000 more (McClatchey).

    What’s often ignored is that the US has more combat “contractors” in Afghanistan than it has troops, at least currently. When you add the mercenary force to the military forces, it totals more than the Soviets had deployed in Afghanistan at their peak. I recently met one of these civilian contractors – a real eye opener.

    Current US counterinsurgency doctrine prescribes a force of at least 600,000 troops for a country with the population of Afghanistan. Even with the extra troops and with NATO, McChrystal will have but one-third that number and yet he’s promised not only to tackle the growing insurgency but to reform Kabul, safeguard tne population and combat Afghan corruption in the countryside. This is a joke.

    What’s going on now has nothing to do with a strategy to fight the Afghan War. It has everything to do with fingering someone to carry the blame for the defeat. Petraeus and McChrystal appear intent to pinning that on Obama.

    In this most peculiar form of warfare the main issue is often decided years before the fighting ends. I doubt Afghanistan will be the exception to that rule.

  2. how many levels of commanders is there on top of the soldier? he must be confuse if he tell his commander there is a family planting bombs close so his chief will say dont shoot because of civiliens well that what make those soldiers very depress,Karsei call the General not to kill civiliens and the General promist so who is protecting our soldiers/war upside down it is,Karsei must be telling the Aghans it is okay go ahead people work with the taliban this is just a show the nato forces wont hurt you.thank you

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