Afghanistan is Not Iraq: Reasons to Be Wary of Another Surge

Afghanistan is Not Iraq: Reasons to Be Wary of Another Surge

After a brazen Taliban attack killed nine U.S. soldiers in a remote outpost in Afghanistan on July 13, Sens. McCain and Obama seemed to start a competition over who would more rapidly surge U.S. military forces to Afghanistan. Sen. Obama's trip to Afghanistan and Iraq has further focused attention on the vast disparity in U.S. resources going to the two wars. Americans should welcome the recognition by both presidential contenders that Afghanistan is central to U.S. and international security. But we should remain wary of promises to apply an Iraq-style surge to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is even more complex than Iraq, and given complicating factors such as the presence of al-Qaida senior leadership, global narco-trafficking, and Pakistani nuclear weapons, the stakes in Afghanistan are higher. The challenge in Afghanistan differs from that in Iraq in several critical ways that raise questions about what a military surge alone can accomplish.

First, porous borders are a much bigger problem in Afghanistan. While Iraqi and coalition forces face extremist infiltration from Iran and Syria, Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces face a more daunting 1,640-mile ungoverned border with Pakistan. This line is recognized and sparsely defended by government forces but ignored by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. The result is a battlefield where the enemy has ready sanctuary from which to stage attacks. How will additional U.S. forces fare any better without either a new partnership with Pakistan on border security or rules that allow counterinsurgency efforts reach across the border into Pakistan?

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