23 November 2008

Applying the Right Lessons OR What is "The Surge"

Without a doubt, the security situation in Iraq has improved drastically over the past two years. The causes for this improvement are manifold, and are often open to lengthy debate. It is true that significant improvements have stemmed from the Sunni Awakening movements which began before The Surge of 2007 was underway. Moreover, some experts claim that massive ethnic cleansing of mixed neighborhoods--driving minority groups out of contested villiages much like gang activity in the US--have oddly enough, contributed to an improved security situation.  The stand-down of Shia cleric Motaqua Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army wasn't a bad break, either.

However, the Surge of 2007 is almost universally praised as contributing, at least in part, to the improved security situation in Iraq. The Surge added five brigade combat teams, about 20,000 troops, to Iraq. It also added a vastly-improved counterinsurgency strategy, drafted by military thinkers such as General David Petraeus and Lt. Col. John Nagl. This new strategy pushed American troops out of large forward operating bases and into the streets of the local communities. Soldiers lived and worked among the local citizens, and were given classes on cultural communication. The paramount mission of the American forces became protection of the local population, one of the key principles of counterinsurgency warfare.

Increased contact and communication with the Iraqi people helped to build a rapport with the local citizens, the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army, who then began to work with the American forces much more closely in order to root out insurgents, bombmakers and criminals. The "insurgency" facing Iraq was incredibly complex, as it was composed of multiple insurgent and terrorist groups, as well as foreign fighters and mafia-like criminal elements as well. But through the combined efforts of the Americans, the Iraqi army and police forces, and concerned local citizens, the streets became much safer and the death toll took a dramatic turn for the better.

But although Iraq has taken a dramatic turn for the better, Afghanistan has experienced the opposite effect. Many politicians have talked about a "Surge" in Afghanistan, citing the success of the surge in Iraq. General David Petraeus, although optimistic that NATO could quell much of the re-emerging insurgency in Afghanistan, cautions that every counterinsurgency scenario is different. Afghanistan is a largely rural area and has over 400 different tribes and ethnic groups, as well as a massive opium trade.

A number of military thinkers have gotten together and discussed what lessons from the Iraq "surge" could be applied to Afghanistan, as well as how the Afghan Surge should be adapted to meet the climate of Afghanistan at Small Wars Journal.  Feel free to check it out and add a comment or two.  Preferably to this blog because I need the traffic.  

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