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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Barack the Great?

Citing an increase in attacks and outlining many of the problems in Afghanistan, Michael Gordon of the New York Times states that:
Military experts agree that more troops are required to carry out an effective counterinsurgency campaign, but they also caution that the reinforcements are unlikely to lead to the sort of rapid turnaround that the so-called troop surge in Iraq produced after its start in 2007.

After seven years of war, Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.

So what now, President-elect Obama? It appears that more troops will be on their way to Afghanistan, but with the additional troops will come some more problems. The troops must be used in the correct fashion and, undoubtedly, many of them have never been to Afghanistan (e.g. the Marines). There will be a learning curve and with it, unfortunately, more casualties. Can an Obama administration withstand criticism from his own party for such an increase in casualties? Can an Obama administration withstand the long war? We will soon see... For all of his faults, President Bush never budged when it came to casualty count criticism.

Although some of the counterinsurgency lessons learned in Iraq can be applied to Afghanistan, it is a very different war zone. Iraq is semi-urban, Afghanistan is rural. Iraq was once a relatively powerful Second World nation, Afghanistan has never been more than a loose confederation of agrarian/nomadic tribes not conquered since Alexander the Great around 300 B.C. Iraq's borders are porous, but not as porous as the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Remember in Eastern Iraq (Western Iraq is a different story...), despite interference from Shiite Iran, there is a mountain range between Iraq and Iran and that mountain range divides Arabs from Persians, which in my mind is one of the key factors undermining Iranian influence in Iraq; there are Shiite Arabs in Iraq, but not many Shiite Persians in Iraq. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Muslims are Sunni without much to differentiate themselves other than tribal affiliation.

As stated on numerous occasions, I feel the key to Afghanistan is the opium trade that props up the Afghan narcostate. Links between President Hamid Karzai's brother and the opium trade have been speculated for quite some time. In sum, the key to Afghanistan is the tribe and the key to the tribe is making tribes prosperous without the opium trade. President-elect Obama must quickly sound the call to serve and beef up PRTs with agricultural experts and not rely on the military as much as the Bush administration has done.

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