Will a surge of combat troops work in Afghanistan? In short, I don’t know.
When discussing my wartime experience with friends and family, this question always comes up. My answer illustrates the limits of any one person’s experience during war. It may sound trite to say that I am a cog in the machine, but I am that small compared to the enormity of an Army at war.
My own experience in war changed drastically when I moved a mere dozen or so kilometers east. Counter-intuitively, as my platoon moved closer to Pakistan the war became increasingly less violent. The cause was one simple geographical feature, a giant river valley.
In Afghanistan, as I think is the case in Iraq, each village in each district of each province has its own cultural and religious nuances. As a nation, we fail to appreciate these nuances, even though they also exist in America. In Los Angeles County, you have a multi-ethnic metropolis that votes primarily democratic. Abutting it south, Orange County votes primarily Republican and is extremely wealthy. In this small county, though, each city or small section looks and acts differently. Some parts are more Caucasian, others more Hispanic. Some are urban, others suburban.
All this relates to my two different areas of operations. One had paved roads, the other didn’t. One had barely six thousand individuals. The other had over forty-thousand families. One was largely flat, the other was mountainous.
As my two areas of operations differed dramatically, so too does Afghanistan itself differ widely from province to province, district to district. Some places speak Pashtun, some speak Dari. There are dozens of ethnic groups with as many different levels of economic development from rural-nomadic to emerging industrialization. Some places are influenced by Pakistan and some by Iran. Some areas are Shia, some are Sunni.
Counter-insurgency boggles the mind in its complexity and the factors that can influence a battle. Did the surge work in Iraq? Yes, but it was coupled with so many different changes in tactics and political shifts that historians could never isolate whether it alone caused the decrease in violence. I do not know enough about Afghanistan to determine if more forces will “work” in quelling Afghanistan’s insurgency. Every unit could use more troops. Every commander wants more troops. All I can say, is a surge by itself will not solve the country’s problems only deep historical and political change.