AN Security

Iraq or Afghanistan: Flipping the coin

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm

The following is a response to a post published on Intellicept 3 blog.

If you were the US where would you stay, in Iraq or Afghanistan and why?

I’d say if given a choice, Iraq would probably be a better option.

There are two important elements that we are ignoring in fighting wars on two fronts:

  • Clear mission objectives
  • Completion timelines

Unfortunately we are experiencing great strains in our national security capabilities to fight insurgencies operating both in weak and fairly stable countries. We are practicing a doctrine of telegraphing our strategies to our enemies which poses greater dangers to troops on the ground. There is no clear long-term plan to stay in Afghanistan at least from what I can see however Iraq, though touted as a done deal, troops out by December 2011, is still very much the focus on the US government and one has to ask why?

If we observe carefully there have been many visits between Joe Biden and Nouri al-Maliki over the past year to discuss our future ‘relationship’ which means we’re here to stay. The level of diplomatic interactions between Iraq and Afghanistan are quite different; if we’re leaving Iraq then the focus should be more on Afghanistan yet this is not the case.

The building of the new US embassy compound in what is left of the Green Zone two years ago was the first sign that the US would have a long-term presence in this country. Furthermore Obama’s order to phase out military troops is not a complete truth; there are still thousands of US troops in support and advisor roles who will be here for a while. The US State Department’s initiative to take over many of the military outposts as they are vacated by military troops is meant to replace the troops with private security personnel is a red flag. The interesting factor is yet to be explored as the Iraqi government screens and approves of security contractors and they all basically function under one label. I don’t know how that will fare over time; state must be positioning itself to conduct sort of a peacekeeping mission shifting away from the occupation force approach. That is up in the air right now.

There is one conveniently interesting set of events like the return of the Muqtada al Sadr, now a newly minted Jedi coming home to stir up the political climate. His rhetoric points at a run for office or a power-grab in Iraqi government as he has clearly stated he’s willing to work with the current Iraqi administration. This political shift will certainly make Iran’s open entrance into the equation much more attractive because al Sadr will have Iranian support even if they do not agree on religious grounds. This is a strong trend also used by terrorist groups; outsourcing security, operations, political activism, assassinations and so forth. Iran is already in Iraq and could use a stronger ally as al Sadr campaigns for a piece of the pie. Lastly, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) states that the Iraqi government has the option to request that troops or security remain in country if needed. This is not something that the media broadcasts but it is a telling detail that while we’re leaving there is room being made for us to stay. The SOFA once meant more protections for US military and civilian personnel yet that provision was changed after the US – not the coalition – returned power to the Iraqis. This meant that Iraqi laws apply on the spot without the benefit

Iraq has many advantages that Afghanistan lacks:

  • Though ruled under a dictatorship, there was a semblance of a centralized government and more receptive to a federalized government model
  • The concept of being Iraqi was stronger even amongst people of rival ethnic and religious groups – they had more of a national identity
  • A strong economy and trade relationships with other countries (not isolated) and a rising middle-class
  • Their infrastructure may be in shambles however many programs implemented via state department and NGOs are steadily engaged in reconstruction
  • There is a visible change in the attitudes of Iraqis regarding the growth of businesses, banking industry

Why not Afghanistan

Afghanistan has three elements which makes it a less desirable area to continue the deployment of troops:

  • Lack of infrastructure to create a stronger economy over time
  • A long-standing resentment against the US and westerners for abandoning them after the Soviets were ejected from their country and
  • Lastly their tribal culture will continue to weather any foreign influence/interference in local affairs

It doesn’t matter whether Afghanistan has potential to become a more stable country. Changes regarding security, the harboring of Taliban fighters and porous borders which allow intrusions from Pakistan’s intelligence services are too disruptive of what we are trying to accomplish there and is a never ending battle. If we want to eliminate this issue then we’ll have to enter into a fight with our sort-of-friend Pakistan. Do we want to do this? India is a friendly state and emerging economy and rivals Pakistan so we’re treading in rough waters trying to keep either side from taking a path which could result in actual conflict with the US in the future. Pakistan is waging its own internal war against domestic terrorism – though there are plenty of other foreign influences at work – and could use our help. It’s a no-win situation. This region is too unstable to slow or stop harboring of terrorist elements which is always a threat to global security.

Centralized government models are not feasible in Afghanistan at least not for another generation plus the Obama administration has already pushed to keep its promise of a pullout. This spells more trouble ahead for our troops fighting the Taliban because security will definitely be challenged on their way out. This theatre of operations was ignored by media for a long time and there were many calls to strengthen troop numbers which did not happen until after this past elections and even then numbers are insufficient. Now we’re both in a hurry to pull out merely as a political move yet we’re still sending more troops. How a 1,400 contingency of Marines – as DOD is currently looking to cut personnel numbers within active duty members – will work towards stabilizing Taliban-controlled areas is questionable. Since the Obama administration chose not to augment troop numbers as recommended the chances of mitigating the continued growth of terrorist networks are slim. The objective at hand appears to be nation building which really has less to do with the GWOT than anything else and has gravitated far away from the original purpose of retaliation for 9/11. The conditions overall are not ideal at all for this endeavor and since this is still a shooting war security is not guaranteed either from the afghans themselves or from coalition forces.

Sources:

Iraq, Iran to open a free zone in Wassit http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2011/01/11/iraq-iran-to-open-free-zone-in-wassit/

Can federalism stabilize Iraq?

http://www.twq.com/04spring/docs/04spring_brancati.pdf

Contours of a large and lasting American presence in Iraq starting to take shape

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/12/AR2011011204225.html

Rush for results in Afghanistan may undermine aid goals

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/0113/Rush-for-results-in-Afghanistan-may-undermine-aid-goals

U.S.-Japan ties should deepen, Gates says, citing threats from China, N. Korea

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/13/AR2011011306736.html?hpid=moreheadlines

Iran’s Role in Collapse of Lebanese Government May Serve as Warning for Iraqis

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/01/12/irans-role-collapse-lebanese-government-serve-warning-iraqis/

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