The Afghan Surge

Posted by lex, on August 27, 2010


As US troops draw down in Iraq, the last levies of President Obama’s Afghan surge are headed to the region. The president, and General Petraeus, architect of the Iraq War surge, hope that these new forces will sufficiently stabilize Afghanistan in time for at least a token reduction in troop levels by the summer of 2011. The lessons from the Iraq surge will be critical to success in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, no one can quite agree what those lessons are, far less if they in fact apply:

At the end of 2006—with the Democratic takeover of Congress, the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the failure of the military strategy to stem the sectarian civil war—most people in the U.S. and Iraq expected troops to begin withdrawing. Instead, President George W. Bush put more forces in, a surprising doubling down of the American effort.

“The Iraqis responded to the surge because they believed the United States was not just reinforcing its effort, but willing to engage Iraq over the long term,” Col. Mansoor said.

Some officers believe credit lies elsewhere. Charles Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general, said it is often overlooked that during the surge, thousands of insurgents were captured or killed by American special operation forces and airstrikes. “I do believe, firmly, that the much-derided killing and capturing actually was the key to success,” Gen. Dunlap said.

Gen. Dunlap notes that during the Iraq surge, airstrikes increased to five times previous levels. In Afghanistan, current rules aimed at eliminating civilian casualties have dramatically cut the number of airstrikes, a decision Gen. Dunlap views as a mistake.

U.S. military officers in Afghanistan say special-operations raids since last year have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of militant leaders, but they say the restrictions on airpower have saved Afghan lives and improved relations with the Afghan government.

Others, particularly left-of-center military thinkers, say Iraqis themselves deserve the credit for the reduction of violence—Sunni insurgents for turning against al Qaeda, Shiite militias for embracing a cease-fire.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, says the Sunni rebellion against al Qaeda made the difference.

GEN Petraeus has repeatedly said that Afghanistan is not Iraq, a point underscored by ROE restricting casual use of artillery and air fires, not to mention the aggressive use of Predator and Reaper drone attacks against militant sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan’s tribal areas. Also lacking are the sharp theological divide between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’a, widespread literacy and a shared, even if twisted sense of country.

“Everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it’s hard all the time,” Petraeus told Congress, adding that, “It’s do-able.”

In a little less than a year, we’ll see whether he was right.


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