Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 19:29 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 19:29 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: When is a surge not a surge?


Anthony Bubalo

11 March 2009 13:07

Graeme Dobell’s post on last week’s ANU Afghanistan conference prompts me to make a small, but I think important, point. Many journalists and commentators are calling the increase in US troops in Afghanistan a 'surge', primarily because of the superficial similarities between it and the US troop surge that took place in Iraq in 2007.

In Iraq, the US temporarily bolstered troop numbers to short-circuit escalating sectarian violence and buy time for the political process to work. By that definition, what the US is now doing in Afghanistan is not a surge. As the Commander, US Forces Afghanistan and NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Gen. David McKiernan said in a press briefing on 18 February:

Q. General, can I just ask a follow-up? How long are these additional troops going to be needed? Or how much do -- will that -- how long will that elevated force level be required? You've avoided using the term "surge" before because you've talked about the long-term nature of this. Should we presume that the extra forces announced yesterday will have to be replaced in time?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think -- and I would reinforce what I said -- that this is not a temporary force uplift, that it's going to need to be sustained for some period of time. I can't give you an exact number of -- the year that it would be. But I've said I'm trying to look out for the next three to four or five years.

Q (So it'd?) be several years of that kind of force level.

GEN. MCKIERNAN: It could be as much as that.

This is not just semantics. As the Obama Administration is itself making clear, it sees this as a long-term commitment, something which policymakers here are presumably factoring into their decision-making about any increase in Australia’s commitment.