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Why Don't We Ask China For Help?

In my mind, we need two things in Afghanistan. The first is better COIN techniques, and the military is slowly but surely on its way there. The second is troops. If we need thousands upon thousands of additional troops, why don't we ask China for help in Afghanistan? In a long term view, it is in China's interest to create a secure Afghanistan, and by extension Pakistan, a region vital to the stability of central Asia.

There is already a precedence for deploying non-Nato troops to Afghanistan--America’s coalition in Afghanistan includes the Republic of Korea and Poland. Could we bring in the largest military in the world, the People's Liberation Army of China, to occupy some ground?

Before I get into why this won't work, let's think about China's amazing capabilities.

China could easily send as many troops as the US currently has deployed (the US has about 100,000 Soldiers deployed including both combat and support troops). This would be a fraction of China's 1.6 million men in uniform. In comparison, the US Army has around half a million men in uniform.

Imagine the possibilities with that many additional troops. The People's Liberation Army could take over Helmand and Kandahar provinces, basically the whole of Regional Command South. That would free the US to control Regional Command East, that includes the capital of Kabul, Bagram Air Field, and the closest areas to the Pakistan tribal areas. Or the US could take the South and the Chinese could take the East. Or the Chinese could secure the West and North areas while the Germans, Italians, and Canadians help the US double down on the South and East. With the thousands of troops China has, we could execute a true population-centric counter-insurgency in a variety of ways.

Of course, we could just take the additional 100,000 troops and line them up on the border. This would make the Pakistan FATA sanctuary a non-factor. The point is, with another 100,000 troops, the options are almost limitless.

In casual conversation with other Soldiers, this idea always gets massacred, and I can see why. Realistically, it is in China's interest to allow the US to devote thousands of troops and billions of dollars in Afghanistan while they invest soft power in Africa, South America and other parts of Asia. Being intellectually honest, they have more to gain flexing their influence while America remains mired in expensive military quagmires.

Getting China to sign off on this plan, or getting domestic support is a long shot. We could ask, but would risk diplomatic capital if the Chinese refused. Also, too many American leaders view the Chinese as the enemy--or our future enemy--to allow them to come in and save the day.

This is unfortunate, we really could use 100,000 additional troops in Afghanistan.

five comments

There is another issue here we don’t mention, which is that we’d have those extra troops if we weren’t involved in another war…

Great post as always, guys!

Another possible roadblock in domestic support for asking China for help: The idea of two world powers, one capitalist and one communist, splitting occupation of a nation… it can quickly remind people of the US and the USSR in Germany after WWII. The situations clearly aren’t greatly analogous, but that parallel can certainly cause plenty of concern.

@ That’s a really great analogy. Kind of mad I didn’t think about it…

@Eric No worries, man. At least we know we won’t be asking Russia for those 100,000 troops.

China is involved in the war, although they don´t want to touch it directly or politically. I think Washington is already trying to play that angle:


Do you think the war is being paid for just by taxes? No its being paid for by the US´s biggest creditor, China. Who do you think got the first big oil contract in Iraq? China.

From the counterinsurgency viewpoint, you may not want the military that was responsible for cleaning up Tiananmen Square 20 years ago trying to handle a counter-insurgency. Sometimes its not just about the number of pieces on the chessboard, but how you play as well. Chess probably isn´t a good analogy, as it brings to mind a classical batttle kind of situation, but I think Afghanistan could just as well benefit from Chinese engineers, doctors, teachers, and technology as they could from Chinese soldiers, and not having to worry about the stigma of “becoming the occupier” and losing international political face.