Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghanistan harder than Iraq?

December 16, 2009


Afghanistan is going to be a tougher nut to crack than Iraq, some 62 percent of U.S. voters said in a recent Rasmussen poll.

Military generals and experts have said much the same thing.

General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that “achieving progress in Afghanistan will be hard and progress there likely will be slower in developing than was the progress in Iraq.” But he added, “As with Iraq, in Afghanistan hard is not hopeless.”

Hard but not hopeless. But can a population-centric counter insurgency campaign work  as  it did during the Iraq surge? Nir Rosen, writing in the Boston Review, lays bare the differences between the two wars.

Iraq was in the middle of an exhausting sectarian conflict which changed the nature of violence there from an anti-occupation struggle to a civil war when the surge started in 2007. The Sunnis were willing to cooperate with the Americans because the Sunnis knew they had been defeated by the time the “Sunni Awakening” began in Anbar Province in September 2006; the victorious Shias were divided, and militias degenerated into gangsterism.

“In comparison with al Qaeda in Iraq and Shia gangs, the Americans looked good. They could step into the void without escalating the conflict, even as casualties rose temporarily,” Rosen writes.  And finally with more than two-thirds of Iraq’s population in cities, the U.S. efforts could focus on large urban centers, especially Baghdad, the epicenter of the civil war.

In Afghanistan, for all the mounting violence, there is no comparable exhaustion of the population, Rosen writes.  It has not fallen into a civil war, even though tensions may be increasing between the Pashtuns and Tajiks. And so the United States cannot be its saviour.

The Taliban also appear to target only those Afghan civilians who collaborate with the Americans or the government in Kabul and those who violate their extremely harsh interpretation of Islam. You don’t have a situation like Iraq where predatory militias were targeting innocent civilians. In fact civilians in Afghanistan are as likely to be targeted by their own government as by paramilitary groups, Rosen says.

Finally two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population lives in hard-to-reach rural  areas and so you can’t really build walls around their homes in a way that was possible if they lived in cities.

Even the whole idea of putting in more forces, such as police on the ground is drawing criticism. Everyone recognises that thing holding back effective policing is corruption, so how does expanding the force help matters?

“If I take drug dealers and gangbangers from the streets of D.C. to an eight-week program and then put them back in the same environment, can we expect it to change their activities,” Rosen quotes a counter-insurgency expert in Afghanistan as saying.

“If the corrupt force is the problem, why put twice as many police out there?”


What’s going to really make it harder is that we
know we shouldn’t be there.

Posted by Mario | Report as abusive

The U.S. is repeating much the same mistake as Governor General Lord Auckland of British India committed in the Afghan invasion of 1838. The Afghans are a fiercely proud people and the presence of occupying uniforms everywhere will only humiliate them further and strengthen support for the insurgents.
Moreover, the US forces are much too conspicuous. It should first spend more time in studying the enemy, thinking like the enemy and subsequently by assimilating itself among the enemy, use the Taliban’s own tactics against it (emulating what Austrian envoy to France Prince Metternich did in a personal capacity, to bring about the downfall of Napoleon).
Nobody doubts the capability of the US forces, they are the best of their kind anywhere in the world. All that is needed is ingenuity- Ingenuity in warfare coupled with compassion and respect towards the Afghan people. Best wishes from India.

Posted by Well wisher in India | Report as abusive

The first Afro-american President adventure in the land of Pushtoons is itself a history. Many great soldiers, generals and Lords had the distinct honour to participate im battles against the Pushtoons, some perished and others defeated, but were still content with the consolation prize of having participated in battles against the great warriors of the Afghan Valleys. The Brits. were successful to the extent that the Pushtoon land was cut in half, one part still carrying no recognisable name other than the North West Frontier and the other intact as part of Afghanistan. For comparison. the British raised an expeditionary force in the UK of simple but illetrate conscripts mostly of poor stock with a corps of officers,highly professional from the noble UK families. In addition to the regular Indian regiments containing non-muslim soldiers, several militias were raised from local tribesmen who were familiar with the terrain and spoke local languages. Mr Obama, the great crusader has asked the NATo heads of State to allocate additional soldiers for the campaign with a searge in the American contingent and requested full support from its new ally Pakistan. It is ironic that the new American General in command for this allied operation seems to be of scottish origin, whose ancestors most probably were in the British expeditions. Interesting enough the tactics or the new strategy is the exact copy of what was adopted in the previous campaign, mainly to win the heart and support of the people at village and province levels.Is it difficult for the observers to foresee the outcome? Unfortunately for the US and its Allies the current military contingent is the weakest of all the armies who previously went into the land of invincibles. Perhaps, this could become a new opportunity for the Pushtoons,who in total number more than sixty millions, to become once again a single unit and no longer land locked, with the help and blessing of Mr Obama. After all he loves to say, YES WE CAN, meaning YOU CAN!!

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

the americans a locked into a ‘follow the colonialists’ mentality. they followed the brits into china and got chased out. they followed the french into vietnam and got waxed. and they’ve chased all around the world getting into everybody’s crop! and what have they got for it? nothing! more crop? or maybe, say, 911?

now, they’re following the russians into afghanistan, after helping the afghans chase them out. didn’t the americans see what happened to the russians with a little help from their own c.i.a.? don’t they think there may be other c.i.a.’s in the world willing to send a little ‘help’ to see americans leaving yet another place with their tails between their legs?

if you throw out all of the above, you’re still left with the bottom line: unless americans stay in afghanistan FOREVER, they will never be able to insure the taliban (or some group like them) don’t come back! and if the americans try to stay in afghanistan forever, there won’t be an america after a while. there’ll only be another third world failed state. let’s call it: mexamerica! hasta la vista…baby !

Posted by dr arp | Report as abusive

Afghanistan has been extremely troublesome for the british and even said to cause the downfall of the USSR however the current war does not have the same objectives as the British in the beginning of the century or the USSR in the later part of the century.
The war with the USSR devasted the land in Afghanistan, there’s still landmines to this day around the country. Worse than that was the civil war that followed the Soviets pulling out of the country. During the civil war most of the countries infrastructure was destroyed. Electrity was almost non-existant until the removal of the Taliban. There was very little medical care in the country, the motherhood and infant mortality rate in the 2nd highest in the world. There was hardly an education system in place. Many indigeonous species to Afghanistan are extinct due to overhunting due to lack of a decent government. Women had no rights in the country during the Taliban. My point here is that the prevalence of terrorism in Afghanistan is not a product of religion like a lot of anti-muslims try to say, but instead its a product of poverty and lack of security. The goal of having NATO forces in Afghanistan is to bring about security, not to colonize or claim the country as theirs, and to protect the Afghan people. There are numerous problems in Afghanistan since the country has been at war for 30 years. It is completely different from Iraq since Iraq did have an infrastructure in place.
The key to the war is the Afghan people. Destroying more of the country will only push the people to joining groups like the Taliban and validate their claims against the NATO forces. However promoting education, rebuilding the infrastructure (utilities, roads, etc), and creating economic opportunity for the people of the country will help promote success in the war, which is what the UN has been accomplishing.

Posted by Rae K | Report as abusive

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