Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Afghanistan Surge (4)

Tom Engelhardt writes about the new counterinsurgency ideology in Victory at Last! Monty Python in Afghanistan TomDispatch 12/03/09

Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine was dusted off from the moldy Vietnam archives and made spanking new by General David Petraeus in 2006, applied in Iraq (and Washington) in 2007, and put forward for Afghanistan in late 2008. It has now been largely endorsed, and a major escalation of the war -- a new kind of military-led nation building (or, as they like to say, “good governance”) is to be cranked up and set in motion. COIN is being billed as a “population-centric,” not “enemy-centric” approach in which U.S. troops are distinctly to be "nation-builders as well as warriors."
Juan Cole talks about how unrealistic the assumptions of the Afghanistan Surge are in Obama's surge: Has the president been misled by the Iraq analogy? Salon 12/01/09:

But Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq, and the Washington consensus about its supposed end-game success in Iraq is wrong in key respects. Are think tank fantasies about an Iraq "victory" now misleading Obama into a set of serious missteps in Afghanistan?
Cole notes that the Iraqi army is now playing a more active role in fighting insurgents, which of course was one of the goals of Iraqi policy. But notice what he says is that "the new Iraqi army is now capable of patrolling independently and is willing to stand and fight against popular militias, albeit with U.S. supplies and close air support." (my emphasis)

Being reliant on US supplies and close air support and not unambiguously good for the Iraqi Army. If they rely on a style of fighting that requires the kind of close air support that the US is currently providing but the Iraqis don't have the capability to replicate, that calls into question the ability of the US to ever leave.

He also notes that Prime Minister Maliki's government has successfully fought Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, but also that Iran played a major role in encouraging Muqtada to stand down his militia.

Robert Perry in Explaining the Drop in Iraqi War Dead Consortium News 12/01/09 also warns about the dangers in wishful thinking about the results of the 2007 Surge in Iraq:

The prevailing wisdom in Washington is that President George W. Bush’s decision in early 2007 to “surge” troops in Iraq – a policy implemented by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus of the Central Command – led to the decline in Iraqi violence. Therefore, the thinking goes, a “surge” should be tried in Afghanistan.

However, there’s an opposite way of reading the same data – that Bush’s “surge” increased the Iraqi violence in late spring 2007, including a spike in U.S. casualties, and that only a political-military decision to pull back from offensive operations that summer began the gradual reduction in the killing. That drop has grown dramatic since mid-2009 when U.S. forces withdrew to bases on the edge of the cities.

If one reads the data that way – seeing a correlation between fewer American troops on patrol and less overall violence – Obama’s Afghan decision could be viewed as likely to increase the disorder in Afghanistan, not tamp it down.

In another article describing the continuing influence of the neocons on US war policies, Obama Pleases the Neocons Cosortium News 12/03/09, Perry writes:

Most importantly, the neocons exploited the superficial impression in 2007-2008 that Bush’s “surge” of about 20,000 additional U.S. troops in Iraq was what brought about a decline in violence there.

Though the neocons sold the “surge” myth to Washington insiders, many military analysts considered the troop increase as only one element – and possibly only a minor one – compared to the buying off of Sunni insurgents in 2006, the de facto ethnic cleansing of many Iraqi neighborhoods, and the unilateral decision by anti-American Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr to demobilize his militia. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Rising Cost of the Iraq Surge.”]

Nevertheless, the “surge” myth allowed the neocons to insist that they had been right after all, even if there may have been some bumps along the way.
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