Today, U.S. President Barack Obama met with top advisers to debate four proposals for a new military strategy for Afghanistan, most of which include increased troop levels. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has requested an additional 40,000 soldiers to neutralize the insurgency, stabilize the government, and increase U.S. security. Vice President Joe Biden and others propose a lighter-footprint counterterrorism strategy aimed at fighting al Qaeda rather than the Taliban that would keep approximately the same number of troops in place.
The truth is: None of the proposals would have much effect.
We used forecasts from statistical models to determine how the two strategies under Obama's consideration might play out: the chances that insurgency will abate and democracy will strengthen, as well as the impact on the stability of Afghanistan's democratic government and its neighbors, like Pakistan. Unfortunately, we found that regardless of what the United States does, the chance of violent insurgency remains woefully high -- and that a larger force deployment might actually endanger the weak Afghan state.
To perform this analysis, we studied similar efforts by foreign powers to establish democracy during the 20th century -- the Allied forces in Germany and Japan after World War II, for instance, and Sudan after the British colonial occupation. We studied the correlation between the occurrence of insurgency in foreign-created democracies and factors such as the level of economic development, social divisions, number of neighboring democratic states, and historical episodes of political violence. In turn, we studied how these characteristics and the insurgencies they spur influence the durability of democracy. We input data on historical conflicts and current conditions in Afghanistan to generate forecasts for each of the force deployment strategies under Obama's consideration.
We studied the prospects for Afghanistan on a two-year time frame under several scenarios: a same-sized U.S. force, an increased U.S. force, and an increased Afghan force, for instance. In all of our models, regardless of the number of soldiers deployed, the probability of insurgency in the years after the force deployment -- and, thus, continued violence and instability in Afghanistan -- remains so high as to seem certain.
The current cadre fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban includes 68,000 U.S. troops, 40,000 NATO troops, and 94,000 soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA). If that same force stays in place, there is a 93.6 percent probability of insurgency over the next year. Regardless of how many additional troops arrive -- or who sends them -- the chance of insurgency in 2010 and 2011 remains more than 90 percent. If the ANA achieves its force target of 134,000 troops, for instance, the probability of insurgency reduces negligibly. Deploying 15,000 more U.S. troops reduces the risk a scant 0.1 percent in 2010. Deploying 60,000 more -- the largest additional U.S. force suggested -- reduces the risk just 0.1 percent further than that.