September 8, 2009

COIN 101

Today was a terrible day to be a US soldier; four of them fell in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also not a good day to be an American or European politician, as the events suggest increasing destabilization. Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman, only said troops in Afghanistan came under "a complex attack" in Kunar province, which is far from Helmand and Kandahar. Kunar is also an alleged hideout of Osama bin Laden according to Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik. "Complex attack" means ambush, another bad sign. IED's are one of the many evolving Taliban tactics.

Bombings in Iraq are equally disturbing despite their simplicity, coming as they did near Baghdad and Kirkuk. Insurgents retain a presence throughout the country and are alternating their signals. Sometimes they appear to be lying in wait for America to leave, content to wage a low-intensity conflict in the meantime. Other days spill blood around the country. Today an IED killed the head of an Iraqi anti-terrorism police unit and four of his bodyguards. Three more IED's killed policemen, soldiers, government officials, and civilians.

"August was the third deadliest month for Iraqis this year," according to an AP count, "with at least 425 people killed. Only June with 448 casualties, and April with 451, saw more people killed. So far this month at least 63 Iraqis have been killed." Six US troops have also been killed.

While the fact that Iraqi violence has ebbed since its peak levels of 2006 and 2007 cannot be disputed, the current level of violence is still unacceptable to any modern society. Though al-Qaeda's ranks may have dwindled in Iraq, plenty of native militants remain to carry out the insurgency and are better candidates to do so. This turns the question of Afghanistan upside down. America will leave enemies in Iraq - why is this so unacceptable in Afghanistan?

Iraq is also experiencing another problem American officials should take note of. Following up the August 19 bombings of government ministry buildings that killed over 100 people, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said 29 police and army officers responsible for security in the areas had been arrested and charged with negligence. In the worst terms possible, he admitted, "Absolutely, what has been achieved so far in the intelligence and security efforts is below expectations. There is a review to all security plans with the supervision of the prime minister."

Iraqi security forces have been trained for years now. US officials hail their abilities while cautioning their greenness, and many Iraqis make outstanding soldiers and policemen. But the danger of infiltration and ineptness obviously persists. America is helpless when Iraqi security is bypassed by militants or corruption and the same will prove true in Afghanistan. America must fastidiously recruit, train, and instill a sense of unity into the Afghan forces, a daunting task. Failure to do so, no matter how large the army becomes, will lead to security failures. If Iraq is still suffering them, Afghanistan is likely over a decade away from competent security forces.

Above these tactical concerns. lies a strategic breakdown. Iraq isn't in imminent danger of backsliding into its Hyde form, but security and political progress has underwhelmed US expectations. Complications are natural as US forces pull out of Iraq's cities, but that hasn't stopped them from dying. There is still a war in Iraq, America hasn't left.Iraq is also a moderate nation-building project to accompany the Frankenstein experiment that is Afghanistan. Without sufficient knowledge of nation-building and how to implement it, how does America plan to do so in two states at once? Reality is being stretched thin.

And wouldn't it be ironic if Iraq destabilized because President Obama turned his attention to Afghanistan?

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