Thursday, December 3, 2009

Analysis: Barack Obama's strategy not as easy in Afghanistan as Iraq

It is about making the target of operations the people of Afghanistan, helping them to fight the Taliban themselves, turn against local Taliban leaders and build up their own structures while coalition forces put hard-core Taliban groups under pressure. Fight those Taliban that need to be fought; persuade and reward the Afghan people to chase the others out or render them ineffective.

But this strategy will not be as easy in Afghanistan as it seemed in Iraq – where even now the gains of 2007-8 are precarious. The "Sunni awakening" in Iraq was successful in kicking al-Qaeda out of the country after the organisation overplayed its hand so spectacularly. But there are believed to be very few al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and the Taliban are a different proposition all together. Most of Afghanistan's insurgents are locals, fighting with the Taliban more than for them; Taliban in the morning, farmers and even policemen in the afternoon. So a movement to turn against the foreign zealots that made quick progress in Iraq will be far more complex in Afghanistan where most Taliban are neither foreign nor especially zealous. There are some advantages in this picture, but only if we show patience.

Then, too, the Iraqi insurgency had multiple points of leverage on Sunni and Shia groups inside the country that could be tackled by a reasonably competent Iraqi government that spoke the language of inclusion. The Afghan insurgency is driven from Quetta and Peshawar in neighbouring Pakistan and whatever good and inclusive intentions President Karzai expressed at his second inauguration last month, he still has it all to prove on both counts.

Afghanistan is a very different sort of country from Iraq. Over 85 per cent of its population live in rural areas, the country hovers around the bottom five of the IMF's Per Capita Income League; it has no economic resources that could kick-start rapid economic growth. Iraq has an infra-structure base, education and oil. Afghanistan has little or none of these.

Not least, the US had some real strategic control over centres of government power in Iraq in 2007. The international coalition in Iraq was so dominated by the US that – for good and bad – there was a controlling mind behind the surge. But for all its "uplift" to around 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, the Americans will have to deal with the 43 tribes of the coalition in addition to Karzai and the indigenous tribes of Afghanistan.

What this surge will have uniquely in its favour, however, is that the US has visibly realised how to do this from the Iraq campaign. US forces learn fast and are now probably the best in the world at counter-insurgency. President Obama has been careful to appoint all his most successful commanders from Iraq into the Afghan theatre. Britain is trying to get its corresponding stars into positions close to them.

There is a real consensus now that the coalition partners want a strong American lead to score some political and military successes against the Taliban, change the atmosphere in Kabul and give the future of Afghanistan – whatever that may be – back to its people.


1 comment:

  1. Take this to the bank:

    We will lose the war in Afghanistan. Just as in Iraq, every serviceman or woman who has died there has died for no reason. Russia and merrie old England learned this lesson a long time ago. You would think....Never mind.

    Suffice to say, on my best day I do not receive one tenth of the information that President Obama receives. I don't read any of the Presidential Daily Briefings that are placed on his desk every morning. Obviously he is in possession of a wealth of intelligence that you and I are just not privy to. Maybe we should be giving him the benefit of the doubt - and I have been doing just that, I promise you. But from my vantage point it appears to me that this president has failed to learn the lessons that have been passed onto us down the decades by the administrations of Franklin Delano Rossevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson - lessons involving bold action in times of economic crisis (more on that another day) and the utter folly of waging wars that cannot be won.

    Let this be etched in stone:

    Any country that would view its women as inferior beings not entitled to basic human rights is not worth one drop of ANYBODY'S blood.

    I want to believe in this president. He is the chief executive I worked harder to elect than any other in my lifetime. I realize that it is simply far too early in this administration to write a final assessment of his term of office. That being said, my confidence in the Obama White House is ebbing rapidly. Where in the hell is all of this change I could believe in? Is the Bush Mob still in charge? What gives?


    No, I am still exceedingly grateful that John McCain and Gidget von Braun did not win the election last year. Have another sip.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen NY