Should the US adopt a 'Colombia standard' of success in Afghanistan?
Measuring success in Afghanistan on Afghans' ability to fight their own conflicts may appeal, but a 'Plan Afghanistan' would still be far more costly – and less successful – than Colombia's, argues blogger James Bosworth.
Michael O'Hanlon and Paul Wolfowitz argue that the US should strive for a "Colombia standard" of success in Afghanistan. They argue that though Colombia continues to have a conflict (in fact, a higher homicide rate than Afghanistan), its relative success in reducing the conflict, providing state presence in the population centers and having a fighting force capable of managing its own conflict should be seen as a model for "success" in Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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While Colombians deserve most of the credit for success, they depended on a long-term U.S. commitment that was limited in scale but not in time.
I agree with that sentence, but not the rest of the paragraph.
IN PICTURES: Colombia's FARC rebels
I once wrote that Latin American analysts liked to refer to Plan Colombia not because of any specific details as much as it was "very big." That's true in terms of security assistance to the Western Hemisphere, where Plan Colombia was bigger and longer lasting than any other comparable initiative. The Merida Initiative in Mexico and the more recent CARSI and CBSI in Central America and the Caribbean are quite undersized compared to the scale of resources and commitment the US gave Colombia in the late 1990's and throughout the 00's.
That said, compared to Afghanistan or Iraq, Plan Colombia is peanuts. Over the past decade, there have been times the US has spent more in a day on its two wars than was spent in an entire year in Colombia. Additionally, Plan Colombia limited the number of troops and contractors in the country to less than 1,500 at any given time and the US was often well under the limits. Compare that to the 150,000 military personnel that were in Iraq at its peak or the about 90,000 that remain in Afghanistan today, and neither of those numbers include thousands of additional contractors.
Those limitations benefited Colombia. Having a smaller budget and a troop/contractor cap prevented the US from throwing excessive troops and resources at the problem, which often creates temporary success but also a level of dependency that make it hard to step away. The limitations on US assistance meant Colombia had to succeed on its own because the US was legislatively self-limited from imposing temporary "success" from the outside by ramping up troops or aid.