Saturday, January 27, 2007

A More Plausible Surge

There are several reasons why the increase in troops and resources being committed to Afghanistan might prove more successful than the surge in Iraq.

Firstly, there aren't really any outside nations with an interest in an unstable Afghanistan. Whatever residual loyalty Pakistan might have felt towards the Taliban has to be pretty much gone after a long period of fighting in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Secondly, we know where the resources of the insurgents are coming from, the opium crop, and that makes it possible for us to attack the source of their funding. If we have sufficient resources we should be able to do this without creating too much ill-will. By contrast, in Iraq there is support from outside, Iran in particular, which is hard to stop without escalating the conflict.

Thirdly, the ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, while keenly felt, do not have the murderous anger which characterises those in Iraq. This is thanks to not having had a long period under the rule of one ethnic group as with the Sunni in Iraq. The Taliban were identified with the Pushtun but had not been in power for nearly so long and had built up a smaller legacy of the grievances and hatred that comes with autocratic, monoethnic, rule of a multiethnic state.

What the new plan is predicated on, correctly in my opinion, is that the crucial challenge will be establishing military authority and hurting the credibility of the Taliban by crushing their expected Spring offensive. As such, there is actually a defined mission for surge troops unlike the more general role envisioned for them in Iraq.

All of this suggests that we can make a success of Afghanistan and it would be a colossal achievement. This is a country with a population around the same size, a little larger according to the CIA World Factbook, as Iraq's, one whose population has suffered massively over the years and which provided a major base for international terror. This is no sideshow.

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