Surging into Afghanistan

It’s reassuring to see that a COIN pro like Charlie over at Abu Muqawama has got some concerns about the McCain campaign’s Afghanistan “surge”:

Charlie would love to know which specific “strategy” has been nominated for export….and whether it was based on any assessment of, you know, Afghanistan. There are some basic COIN best practices that might improve the situation in Afg (one word: sanctuary), but the broader population centric approach would require significant changes to be successfully applied there. And if McCain’s crew think they can blindly transfer “lessons” from the Anbar Awakening to the assorted tribes in Afg (and NWFP?) then we’re gonna have some real fireworks.

Two thoughts. First, the Anbar Awakening might or might not be a sound application of COIN tactics, depending on how successfully the Sons of Iraq are ultimately integrated into the Iraqi security apparatus. (See Michael Wahid Hanna’s recent WPR piece for an excellent rundown of the challenges the Awakening now poses.) But not only is it not the same thing as the Surge, in many ways it’s the exact opposite approach.

Second, the Surge was a Baghdad-based troop infusion that, while allowing some more forward operations in other districts, concentrated on securing the urban centers where Iraq’s sectarian violence (ie. civil war) was playing out. Kabul, on the other hand, is perhaps the only part of Afghanistan that’s nominally secured. And from what I understand, most of the actual territory being contested is in the broad expanses beyond Afghanistan’s few urban centers. That means that there’s less of a multiplying effect as troops are spread out over broader distances.

Like Charlie, I’m skeptical about how applicable either approach is to Afghanistan. Perhaps more significantly, I’m not sure we have a clear enough understanding of the causal factors behind the improvements in Iraq’s security situation to begin using anything we actually did there as a model to be applied elsewhere at all.