"Can Iraq Awakening be repeated..."

"Can Iraq Awakening be repeated in Afghanistan?"

By Dr. Kimberly Kagan, ISW President and Examiner National Security Columnist

September 15, 2009


The Anbar Awakening was one of the keys to American success in Iraq. Many policymakers are now wondering aloud if it is possible to replicate that phenomenon in Afghanistan.

This question is important because it directly relates to the number of additional American forces that will be required to succeed in Afghanistan.

On the surface, there are a number of indicators that an Afghan Awakening might be possible: Support for the Taliban is low and fragile; Afghan tribal structures are as strong or stronger than those in Iraq; Afghans have a long tradition of self-organization in defense of their own communities against outsiders.

These indicators, however, conceal more fundamental constraints on the development and spread of any "awakening" in Afghanistan.

The Anbar Awakening resulted from three critical factors. Al Qaeda in Iraq violated cultural norms of Iraq's Sunni Arabs and ultimately targeted Sunni tribal leaders who began to resist them, alienating the tribes from the terrorists. By the end of 2006, American forces within Ramadi had begun to change the balance of power, and the addition of surge forces in 2007 gave the U.S. the upper hand. This added to the pressure on Iraqi tribal leaders who now faced attacks by al Qaeda and the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Americans.

The Anbari tribes that initially "awoke" were part of the Dulaimi Tribal Confederation, one of the largest and most cohesive in Iraq. The awakening spread rapidly among members of the Duleimi Confederation, but it required active outreach by the movement's leaders and coalition forces to get it beyond the boundaries of that tribal grouping. They succeeded only where they could convince local tribal leaders that the balance of power had definitively changed.

None of these conditions holds in Afghanistan today. The Taliban leadership has been extremely careful to observe cultural norms within the Pashtun communities in which it lives and operates. Taliban leaders have observed and adapted to the community responses to their activities. As resentment against civilian casualties rose among Afghans, the Taliban leadership expressly ordered its fighters to avoid targeting civilians and to minimize the risk of collateral damage in their operations.

The Taliban also established an ombudsmen commission to receive complaints from locals and act on them. Taliban operations against the election were a demonstration of this sensitivity to local concerns -- the Taliban kept voter participation very low with a limited number of attacks that caused very few casualties. It is very unlikely that the Taliban will repeat the mistakes of al Qaeda in Iraq and turn the population so dramatically against them.

Coalition forces are not now on a path to establishing sufficient security to allow local leaders to mobilize their communities against the Taliban in most contested areas. The pilot program for this effort -- the Afghan Public Protection Program -- is in Wardak province, west of Kabul. The insurgency there has generally been weak. The province is close to the principal concentration of coalition forces in and around the capital. And the district is not critical terrain for the enemy. Attempting to replicate this model in areas that have not been cleared of enemy forces and are not protected by sufficient numbers of coalition and Afghan army forces is nearly certain to fail...


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