Saturday, December 5, 2009

NYT On a Roll

I abused the New York Times before, but its coverage of the new "surge" into Afghanistan has been very good.  This article shows the parallels of Iraq and Afghanistan and the contrasts AND how the decision-makers thought about them (also see this piece on the challenges of transitioning to the local folks). 

One of the key similarities:
Both surges aimed to knock back an insurgency that had gained territory and caused high casualties, and to buy time and space to train local forces for combat. “Neither one of these surges,” said one officer involved in both decisions, “was born to exploit success. They were designed to reverse momentum.”
Which leads to two other similarities--the surges were and will be accompanied by more violence, more casualties as troops stay put in places where they used to wander through; and politics is key--the outcome really depends on Iraqi and Afghan politicians.

The article then points out that the Iraq surge was successful in large part (almost entirely?) to the Sunni Awakening--when the Sunnis turned on the AQ of Iraq folks who were killing more Sunnis than Shiites.  Also, the surge worked because the Shiite militias stepped down.  And this gets to the criticism that the time limits would just lead to the Taliban laying low for a couple of years.  While there is much to this, if the aim of the surge is not to defeat the Taliban but to reverse momentum, then woo hoo!  I forget who argued this in the last day or two--reading heaps of stuff--but if the Taliban do take a break, then that is a short-term win.  And that is the best we can hope for right now.

The start of a pullout of 2011 is a big risk--that folks will wait for the US to leave, that Afghanistan and Pakistan will freak out over the lack of a long-term commitment.  But fudging is already going on.  So, the next year or so is going to be interesting--how do folks react to the stated timeline....

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