Thursday, November 13, 2008

Iraq model not a good fit for Afghanistan

That's the word from Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.

The new strategy in Afghanistan seems to be to try to transfer the successful "surge" strategy from Iraq, which is probably a big part of the reason that Gen. David Petraeus, in charge of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, is moving his headquarters from Baghdad to Kabul. But according to Edelman, "it's not going to be an easy, cookie-cutter transfer."

The idea that since the surge worked in Iraq it'll work in Afghanistan glosses over some big differences between the two places.

Afghanistan's culture is based around tribes that have a long history of trying to keep foreign influences out, Iraq on the other hand for basically its entire history has been a crossroads for many of the world's great civilizations (keep in mind that the whole idea of “modern civilization” began in Iraq's fertile crescent region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers). As far as the war goes, the al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan operate out of the country's vast rural areas, while Iraq's militants were mostly confined to the cities. The whole surge strategy was to send in enough troops to drive militants out of a given city then secure the area with US troops long enough for Iraqi security forces to get a grip on things and keep the militants from flooding back in (which had been the problem in the first couple years of the war in Iraq). Holding a vast stretch of empty mountains is going to be a lot more difficult than a small, densely packed urban area.

Even in the long term Afghanistan and Iraq are vastly different - Iraq generally has a well-educated population and vast reserves of oil (thought to be the second largest in the world), so prospects for development are good assuming the security situation keeps improving and the Iraqi government can stop fighting with itself. Nearly 80% of Afghanistan's population is illiterate and the country has few natural resources, so its development prospects are not nearly as good.

The surge also worked in Iraq because Sunni tribes in the western part of the country got fed up with the radical fundamentalism of al-Qaeda in Iraq; the tribes in Afghanistan so far have been far more sympathetic to their worldview. It all makes Afghanistan a much harder problem to solve than Iraq.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: