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August 4th, 2009
10:50 AM ET

Afghan war needs more troops

Afghan soldiers are shown marching in a ceremony in Herat province in early July.

Afghan soldiers are shown marching in a ceremony in Herat province in early July.

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann
Special to CNN

CNN's Barbara Starr reported last week that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is expected to ask the Obama administration for additional troops and equipment for conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as more military resources to deal with roadside bombs and explosives.

This impending request appears to conflict with a report earlier in July by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward who wrote that on a trip to Afghanistan, James L. Jones, national security adviser, personally told U.S. military commanders in the country that the Obama administration wants to hold troop levels flat for now.

But given the relatively small size of the Afghan army and police - numbering some 170,000 men - and with the total number of U.S./NATO troops numbering around 100,000, McChrystal's impending request makes a great deal of military sense. While the combined forces total 270,000, classic counterinsurgency doctrine indicates that Afghanistan needs as many as 600,000 soldiers and cops to protect its population of some 30 million.

An additional reason why more boots on the ground makes military sense is the large geographic scope of the Taliban insurgency. Estimates of the number of full-time fighters generally do not go above 20,000 men.

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