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.