Blogger face-off: Iraqi bloggers discuss Obama's Afghanistan surge strategy

The Hill invites two established bloggers from either side of the political spectrum to sound off on a designated topic in original commentary each Saturday. This week, two well-known Iraqi bloggers were asked if President Obama's surge strategy will work in bringing the Afghanistan war to a successful conclusion.


Surge isn't the answer; withdrawal is

by Raed Jarrar

There is no successful way to conduct or win an occupation. The Surge is not a strategy, it is a tactic in implementing an ongoing plan, which is to maintain an indefinite occupation. So examining the troop levels and tactics in a given month or year do not mean much without looking at the big picture.

I believe that any U.S. strategy that is not based on getting out completely is a failure. Just as there is no such a thing as good slavery or good torture, there are no good military occupations out there. The assumption that there is a right way to occupy Afghanistan is a myth that will continue to cause death and destruction in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

This entire "surge" business is based on what took place in Iraq a few years ago. Most of the U.S. mainstream media and political analysts claim that the Iraq Surge has "worked," and therefore applying the same formula in Afghanistan will most likely “work” as well.

Of course, I beg to differ.

On the one hand, I do not believe the surge has worked in Iraq. While the Surge managed to put violence on pause for a few months, no one can claim it was a success in helping Iraq move forward. Bush's Surge did not help build Iraq or enhance basic services like electricity, water, sewage, healthcare and education. Moreover, the Surge failed in providing any long-term solutions for Iraq's political and security problems. Violence spiked again after it and Iraq's politicians did not move a step closer to reconciliation.

On the other hand, I do not think it will work in Afghanistan. While the U.S. deployed more than 300,000 troops, contractors, and mercenaries in Iraq during the Surge, there are around half of that number deployed in Afghanistan, a country one and a half times the size of Iraq. So it does not seem that Obama's Surge in Afghanistan will have the power to even put violence on pause for a few months. But even if it did, that would be a temporary and unsustainable pause. Neither the U.S. nor Afghanistan can afford to have a Surge forever.

While the Surge in Iraq failed miserably in providing solutions to any of the country's problems, there is something that seems to have worked: the U.S. promise of total withdrawal. This plan, requiring a complete departure by the end of 2011 in accordance to the bilateral Security Agreement, is helping Iraqis work together to achieve national reconciliation and to begin real reconstruction campaigns. There is a long list of tasks that Iraqis realize they need to deal with before living in a stable and prosperous country, but ending foreign intervention has always been a pre-condition for putting Iraq on the right path.

The U.S. mission of fighting against al-Qaeda does not require occupying Afghanistan or any of the other 100 countries that have active Al-Qaeda cells. So, instead of debating the number of troops the U.S. has in Afghanistan, it is time to think about a complete U.S. withdrawal plan from the war-torn nation.

Raed Jarrar is an architect, blogger, and political analyst based in Washington, D.C. He started blogging in 2002, and continues to maintain his popular blog, “In the Middle”. Raed Jarrar was born in Baghdad where he spent most of his life before immigrating to the U.S. after the 2003 invasion. He is currently the Iraq Consultant for the American Friends Service Committee and a Senior Fellow at Peace Action.


Realities, rules, relationships won't help surge succeed

by Omar Al-Nidawi

When the Bush administration unveiled the Iraq surge and new war strategy, then Senator Barak Obama opposed the plan, arguing it was bound to fail and increase the violence. He was proven wrong. A few years later, President Obama, faced with a dismal situation in Afghanistan, is trying to copy the same approach, minus the right strategy and necessary catalysts. Although it may take many months before a reliable assessment of success or failure can be made, there is little reason to expect Obama’s plan to meet with the same success of the Iraq surge.

Let’s look at some of the enablers of success in Iraq and compare those with the situation in Afghanistan.

First, differences in the capability, resolve and reliability of local partners matter. In Iraq's case, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acted as a resolute, if sometimes reckless, partner. He did not shy away from cracking down on terrorists or confronting insurgents — Shiite or Sunni — head-on. The parallel rapid growth in the size and proficiency of Iraqi security forces — which some keen observers called “the real surge” — was also instrumental in turning the tide.

In Afghanistan, the situation is not even remotely similar. President Hamid Karzai not only has been reluctant to support military operations but went as far as threatening to join the Taliban. Moreover, U.S. forces cannot expect from Afghan forces the same level of active participation the Iraqis were able to contribute. Despite having a larger population, Afghanistan’s security forces are a third the size of Iraq’s. Tough terrain and more scattered population centers further complicate counterinsurgency operations by the smaller combined U.S.-Afghan force.

Second, different operational strategies and stricter rules of engagement represent another challenge to troops in Afghanistan. While both surge plans emphasized protecting the civilian population, the strategy in Iraq also emphasized taking the fight to the enemy. An important part of the strategy was sending troops out of large bases to fight their way into neighborhoods where they established combat outposts from which they could protect civilians and proactively tackle the enemy at the same time, which they did. Troops in Afghanistan do not have the same freedom of action. The rules in Iraq offered troops more flexibility in force employment, allowing them to take timely decisive action against the enemy. In Afghanistan it is common to hear troops complain how the new rules of engagement can allow enemy fighters to escape, and occasionally put the troops in danger. This was not the case in Iraq.
 
Third, the relationships between the population, terrorists and government were different in Iraq than in Afghanistan. Afghans, while not necessarily fond of the Taliban actions, do not seem to see huge differences between Taliban and government control. In fact sometimes they prefer the former as the Taliban can be better at governance and creating working relations with the population, largely because the government is so incompetent and corrupt.

In Iraq the situation was different. Terrorists alienated the population with their brutality, while the government and U.S. forces offered brighter and more viable alternatives. By the time the surge started, Awakening tribes were already chasing down al-Qaeda.

The Iraq surge had the right enablers, but also clear and suitable political and military goals—to protect the population, defeat the irreconcilable, and offer the reconcilable a chance to find political solutions. Obama sent the additional troops, and the generals wrote great counterinsurgency manuals, but a comprehensive strategy based on the needs and assets on the ground does not seem to exist yet.

Omar Al-Nidawi is an Iraqi security policy analyst. He blogs at IraqTheModel.blogspot.com, well-known for providing detailed accounts with his brother from Baghdad at the height of the Iraq war.