Current state of Afghan war mirrors Iraq circa 2005-2006

This morning I had the opportunity to listen in on a panel called “Will Pakistan be Democratic in 2020?” that was hosted by The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (full disclosure, I am a fellow at FDD). On the panel were Cliff May, the President of FDD; Shuja Nawaz, the Director of the South Asia Center at The Atlantic Council; Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Senior Fellow at FDD; Marvin Weinbaum, a Scholar-in-Residence at the Middle East Institute; and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at FDD. The discussion was based on the new book, The Afghanistan-Pakistan Theater: Militant Islam, Security and Stability, edited by Cliff May and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross.

The timing of the panel on Pakistan was perfect, given the release this past week of the report by the London School of Economics which directly linked Pakistan’s intelligence service, and even its top government leaders, with the Afghan Taliban. This issue was discussed during the Q&A session, and surprisingly, the experts were somewhat dismissive of the report, while acknowledging Pakistan’s longtime links to the Taliban. There was also surprisingly little discussion of direct Pakistani support for jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Much of the discussion centered on the prospects for the development and growth of democratic institutions in Pakistan, and on concerns about an Islamist takeover or another military coup (the panelists seemed to agree both of the latter prospects were unlikely). Nawaz noted that Pakistan’s political parties do not act in a democratic manner internally, and said that food and power shortages and other domestic problems pose a real threat to the nation.

But what struck me most were Reuel Marc Gerecht’s comments about how the US strategy in Afghanistan is failing and how this may impact democratic gains in Pakistan. Gerecht, like many observers, is pessimistic about the prospects of success in Afghanistan, and he asked the question that was on my mind: What happens if the US loses in Afghanistan, and how would a loss impact Pakistan?

“I think the odds are increasing that unless the US significantly changes the way we are conducting the war in Afghanistan we are going to lose,” Gerecht said. Afghanistan would slip into a civil war; the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara would re-form the Northern Alliance, and probably would receive major backing, likely from the US; while Pakistan would support the Pashtuns, he predicted.

“Everybody in Pakistan will support the Pashtuns,” Gerecht said. “The [Pakistani] democrats will support the Pashtuns, the military will support the Pashtuns.” Gerecht said that while this may not destroy Pakistan’s democratic movement, in all likelihood the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan would continue.

Gerecht made an excellent point about the current state of play in Afghanistan, and it is one I have made often on radio with John Batchelor. That point is: The US is now in a situation resembling the 2005-2006 timeframe in Iraq, when the insurgency raged, the political situation was grim, the overall strategy to defeat the insurgency was muddled, the US was looking for the exit, and there were far too few Iraqi and US security forces to tamp down al Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, and allied Islamist and insurgent groups.

“I think what you’re seeing playing out in Afghanistan now is essentially what Bush was dealing with, say 2005, 2006 in Iraq  we’re not dealing with the [Iraqi] surge in 2007 in Afghanistan, we’re dealing with in fact mini surges in 2005, 2006 in Iraq that ultimately failed,” Gerecht said. While not stated, Gerecht is referring to the Marine offensives in western Anbar province and the US Army offensive in Tal Afar, two operations that achieved tactical gains but could not be capitalized on due to a shortage of resources and the lack of a coherent counterinsurgency strategy.

Gerecht described the current situation in Afghanistan as a “make or break moment” for President Obama.

“Will he do what President Bush did in late 2006, will he in fact authorize a bigger surge in Afghanistan?” he asked. Gerecht doesn’t believe he will.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Atiyyatullah says:

    The kind of surge required to even consider being able to hold large territories in Afghanistan would require more than twice the current troop levels. Additionally, Pakistan does not have the military capability, nor does it have the political willpower to deal with the spill over that would be caused in the event that such a surge was even mildly successful.
    Even though the London report would like to indicate the ISI has a major role in Afghanistan, this is just the whim of a group trying to put forth a “bold idea.” What you will witness in the event of any success is the flooding of organizations that are more or less understood to be funded and trained by the ISI pouring into Afghanistan to keep the fight on that side of the border. This seems to be Pakistan’s current strategy and they are not even necessarily feeling the effects of a major spillover at the moment.

  • T Ruth says:

    This issue was discussed during the Q&A session, and surprisingly, the experts were somewhat dismissive of the report, while acknowledging Pakistan’s longtime links to the Taliban. There was also surprisingly little discussion of direct Pakistani support for jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. ”
    Bill, concur with your surprise. The Afghan Taliban were sourced and resourced from Pakistan, to start with. And so it is now.
    The direct support for LeT is the litmus test of the Pak so-called democratic movement (not sure what that means in their context!). Its more of an experiment in a very manipulated laboratory.
    What surprises me is, despite the title of the book, what was being discussed was the war in Afghanistan, which is half the war. On the Pak side the discusion was about strengthening Pak democratic institutions! Since when was that an objective of the AfPak war?
    The US can not win this war with Pak as a military ally, no matter how many surges unless the US gets boots on the ground across the border, which, for the purposes of the insurgency is artificial. Its really awfully simple. And for the White House, simply awful.

  • GeraldAnthro says:

    Afghans key to success lies in Paki.
    Paki is at a fork in the road,
    Wean Paki off the $1 billion a year GWOT teat
    and on to the $3 Trillion golden jack pot mineral
    And the war in Afghan drops way off.

  • Render says:

    “The kind of surge required to even consider being able to hold large territories in Afghanistan would require more than twice the current troop levels.”

  • Mr T says:

    I am remembering that the General asked Obama for 40,000 troops and after months of so called dithering, he approved 30,000.
    Now I am not a Commander in Chief but that shortage of 10,000 between asked for and received could make a big difference. It could mean life or death for some of our troops going into harms way.
    I didn’t understand it at the time and don’t agree with the decision to short the General 10,000 troops. I would have been inclined to say ” How about 50,000?

  • anan says:

    There is a perception that the ISAF doesn’t want to win the war in Afghanistan. The reason is because of the refusal of the international community to commit to long term funding for the ANSF.
    The ANSF can win this war if it gets $200 billion in secure reliable foreign funding over the next two decades. Predictable long term funding would enable the ANSF to plan long term capacity growth much better than the current ad hoc system.
    If the international community can’t pledge $200 billion over 20 years for the ANSF [and another $100 billion in long term development funding], then can you blame anyone for thinking that the US doesn’t want to win?
    In many ways, the war started in late November, 2009, when finally for the first time since 2001 the ANSF got significant resources. However, even with the substantial boost in funding, the Afghan MoI only trains 9 thousand at a time versus the Iraqi MoI which trains 40 thousand at a time; even though Iraqi is smaller and less populous than Afghanistan.
    One conclusion that China, Russia, India, Iran, the Afghans, and others draw from this is that ISAF doesn’t want a powerful ANSF for fear of offending Pakistan and as a result are not serious about winning the war in Afghanistan.
    Is this true?

  • Ryan says:

    We haven’t even really gotten the train on the tracks, and already we have become too population centric. And maybe we cannot ultimately do anything different because of Karzai, but those “mini surges” were ‘gloves off’ operations. Heavy kinetic ops, where we utilized Iraqi strongmen at every level. We kept the channels open to the ruling parties, we spoke with them in daylight, and hunted and killed their people by moonlight.
    Maybe we cannot do that after we have given Karzai as much slack as we have. Certainly enough to hang himself a dozen times over. But we have got to start hunting these people, and really take the gloves off while doing so. Utilize some of the hard men in A-stan, and dont apologize for doing so. Certainly not to our NATO partners. We did this before, we have experience, and the constant second guessing and European finger waving is beyond old.
    I like the idea of securing major population centers, and then hunting the larger pockets, on-down, but it isn’t working.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    I watched General Petraeus’ testimony before the Senate Armed Services yesterday and he seemed very confident that he has the strategy, resources and leaders in place to be successful in Afghanistan. Since he was commander of the Iraq surge that turned out to be successful, I rely on his view more than some academics in a think-tank.

  • T Ruth says:

    “Current state of Afghan war mirrors Iraq circa 2005-2006”
    So, if it has taken 9 yrs in AfPak to get to the 3-yr mark, extrapolating, it’ll take 12 yrs more to get to present-state Iraq. 2022 !!!!
    As many have said here before its going to be a loooooooooooooooooooong war….
    Sounds insane!? I grant you, but only as insane as July 2011.

  • Bulava says:

    Personanly I believe the surge in 07 had little to do
    with the massive change we saw, the key are the
    Awakening Councils I.E. 103 000 + baathists turning their guns on AQI, they’ve been tremendously effective at slaughtering AQI, the problem in Afghanistan is that there is no such a thing as ”Baathists” I.E. a secular force the Coalition could cut deals with, this war of attrition will have to be fought until the insurgents are militarily vanquished.


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