Analysts: US should reconsider reducing Afghan forces

The Obama administration and NATO officials have defended the plan to reduce the size of the Afghan army and police to 230,000. They say that the force of 350,000 was always intended to be a surge size, and that 230,000 will be sufficient to keep Afghanistan secure.

But lawmakers in Congress from both parties have questioned that wisdom, pointing to reports that money for Afghanistan is a factor in the decision. The United States has been working to collect pledges from NATO countries for Afghanistan after 2014, which it will continue to do at the Tokyo conference in July.

The issue of the size of the Afghan security forces — as well as capability — is likely to continue playing a big role in the debate over Afghanistan as U.S. troops draw down beyond the 68,000 who will be there in the fall after the U.S. surge troops depart. So far, U.S. Afghanistan commander Gen. John Allen and President Obama have not indicated at what pace U.S. troops would leave in 2013 and 2014.

Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, said he was also skeptical that 230,000 troops would be sufficient. He said that Afghanistan’s Defense Minster Abdul Rahim Wardack told him that reducing to 230,000 could leave “a power vacuum” if 120,000 are kicked out of the army and police.

“They are concerned about being able to transition those 120,000 people into some productive element of society there and not have them become part of the insurgency,” Wittman said.

Boot and O’Hanlon focused on the cost to maintain a bigger Afghan security force. The administration plans to reduce funding from $6 billion per year to $4.1 billion as the Afghan forces shrink.

“I really do not see the necessity of doing so when all we would be saving is approximately $2 billion a year, which I realize in the real world is a lot of money, but around here is not a significant portion of the federal budget,” Boot said.

O’Hanlon said that the cost for the Afghan force was “nothing compared to the $100 billion a year we're spending now on our own operations in the field.”

“If we even had to add 2,000 more American troops post-2014 to compensate for an insufficiently sized Afghan force, that would consume all the savings right there because of the enormous expense of our forces in the field,” he said.