Although not quite the trade-off analysis that it promises, since each scenario starts with different resource allocations, this is a good overview of what things look like in Afghanistan. The most relevant piece of information: there are only 5000 American and Canadian soldiers in Kandahar (21,000 sq miles, 1 million population) and 4000 American Marines in Helmand (22600 sq miles, 1.4 million population). Afganistan has a road density of 5 km/100km of land area, compared to 71 in the US or 300-500 in Western Europe.
If Mr. Obama limited any additional American troops to 10,000 to 15,000, the military would deploy them largely as trainers, with some reinforcements likely in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual home. The neighboring, and opium-rich, Helmand Province and the eastern border with Pakistan, military analysts say, would receive few if any American troops and would remain largely as they are today.
Such trade-offs are part of the discussions under way in the West Wing and at the Pentagon as Mr. Obama and his top advisers debate escalating the eight-year-old war. And they drive home the basic point that while the numbers will dominate the headlines, what is really at stake is how to fight the war.
Here is a primer, culled from the diverse views of administration officials and military analysts, on the military utility of some of the force options before the president to bolster the 68,000 American troops already in Afghanistan.