Applying Iraq Lessons to Afghanistan

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Much of the impetus behind the Obama administration's strategy for Afghanistan seems to be predicated on the fact that since a counter-insurgency strategy worked in Iraq, it will work in Afghanistan. Kimberly Kagan makes that argument in Foreign Policy today.

Leave aside the obvious dissimilarities between Iraq and Afghanistan, there's a bigger problem with this line of thought: we don't know if the counter-insurgency in Iraq succeeded. Yes, we know that the combination of counter-insurgency tactics, a surge in U.S. combat forces and the flipping of the Sunni tribes, brought violence down. What we don't know is whether this trend is irreversible and whether any of the underlying drivers of this violence have been adequately addressed. That's because, by their very nature, the answers to these questions reveal themselves over time.

What the surge and counter-insurgency in Iraq did accomplish is pave the way for an American exit. The Iraq war's supporters could claim victory, and the U.S. could withdraw with the trends lines pointing in the right direction. Perhaps this, rather than an enduring transformation of Afghanistan, is what the Obama administration is ultimately after.


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