Considering a “surge” for Afghanistan, Glenn Reynolds asks, “How many troops can we support, logistically, in Afghanistan?”
The Soviets had this same problem when they invaded back in 1979. And the Soviet Union bordered Afghanistan; they had rail lines going from their industrial centers right to the border, or nearly so. We have to fly most everything in we need. On the other hand, the Soviets spent their time destroying Afghanistan’s infrastructure, while we’ve spent our time building it up.
Best guess? It’s a wash. I’d be surprised if we could support more than 100,000 troops in-country, same as the Soviets. It would help, of course, if some thousands of those troops (German, French, etc.) would actually, you know, shoot back at the bad guys. Almost every non-English speaking NATO soldier adds to the logistical problem while adding nothing to our combat power. (Although to be fair, soldiers who don’t shoot their guns require slightly less logistical support than those who require a constant supply of fresh ammo.)
We may come to learn that, like Roman attempts to pacify Scotland, the terrain won’t support enough troops to get the job done. Rome’s response was to build Hadrian’s Wall and seal of the north of Great Britain. What would we do with Afghanistan?