When Soldiers Become Cops


As violence in Afghanistan continues to simmer, the stabilizing role of American troops there looks increasingly necessary. Even many members of the Bush administration -- which long resisted expanding the U.S. troop presence beyond Kabul and rejected anything that smacked of "nation building" -- now recognize how important U.S. soldiers are for Afghanistan. At the same time, however, it is also becoming evident that the U.S. military is not very well suited to the task of establishing security in precarious political environments. Because the United States has no paramilitary units and only poorly organized civilian policing tools, elite combat forces have ended up filling the void. This approach has been inefficient and expensive and has reduced Washington's ability to project power. And it has all but ensured that the U.S. military will bog down in Afghanistan -- not because of mission creep or poor civilian oversight, but because military and civilian leaders have yet to fully accept that a security-conscious nation-building plan is a necessary component of an effective exit strategy.

Afghanistan, moreover, has revealed a pattern that the United States seems doomed to repeat elsewhere. The mismatch between resources and requirements will ensure that the country continues to use its forces inefficiently -- unless serious changes are made, that is. Yet despite the best intentions of civilian and military leaders, Washington has failed to address this problem. Nor has it devoted much effort to building the international capabilities that could compensate for this weakness.

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