Understanding the Long War
3. What Happened on the Dark Side in Iraq
In Iraq, the dark side first involved the 2003-2004 American-sponsored round-ups and torture, only leaked to the American public and media by a US guard in Abu Ghraib. In addition, as many as 50,000 young Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, have been held in extreme conditions in detention centers across the country (some of them now being released under the pact negotiated between Baghdad and Washington). Then there were the unreported, top-secret extrajudicial killings described chillingly in Bob Woodward's The War Within, which were so effective that they reportedly gave "orgasms" to Gen. Petraeus's top adviser, Derek Harvey. Woodward writes that these killings, in which the Pentagon was the judge, jury and executioner, based heavily on local informants, were "very possibly the biggest factor in reducing" Iraq's violence in 2007. It is likely that death squads were carrying out the revived version of a "global Phoenix program," as advocated by Gen. Petraeus's leading counterinsurgency adviser, David Kilcullen, in the Small Wars Journal (November 30, 2004). Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, confirms that Phoenix became a model after 9/11, despite the fact that military historians called it massive, state-sanctioned murder, and clear evidence that 97 percent of its Vietcong victims were of "negligible importance."
It is far more widely known that Gen. Petraeus reduced the Sunni insurgency by hiring some 100,000 Sunnis, mostly former insurgents, to protect their communities and battle Al Qaeda in Iraq. This was in accord with the strategy proposed by another top Petraeus adviser, Steven Biddle, in 2006:
Use the prospect of a US-trained and US-supported Shiite-Kurdish force to compel the Sunnis to come to the negotiating table [and] in order to get the Shiites and the Kurds to negotiate too, it should threaten to either withdraw prematurely, a move that would throw the country into disarray, or to back the Sunnis. (Foreign Affairs, March-April 2006)
Now those so-called "Sons of Iraq," first known as the "Kit Carson Scouts," are increasingly frustrated by the refusal of the US-supported al-Maliki government to integrate them into the state structure and pay them living wages. It is unclear what the future holds for Iraq as US troops begin to withdraw. Elements of the military, perhaps including Gen. Raymond Odierno, are known to be unhappy with the pace of withdrawal, and already are negotiating with the Iraqi government to delay the six-month deadline for redeploying American troops to barracks outside Iraqi cities. It is apparent that neither conventional warfare (2003-2006) nor counterinsurgency (2006-2009) have solved the fundamental problem of pacifying an insurgent nationalism which was mobilized by the 2003 invasion itself.
In Iraq, the US strategy was to speed up the Iraqi clock while slowing down the American one, Petraeus was fond of saying. That meant accelerating a political compromise between Shi'a, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq, along the lines of the 2007 Baker-Hamilton Report, while cooling American voter impatience with promises that peace was just around the corner of the 2008 elections. It was around this time that the Center for a New American Security was formed among Democratic national security advocates deeply worried that a voter mandate could end the war "prematurely."
The key operative in CNAS was Michelle Flournoy, who went on to vet Pentagon appointments for the Obama transition team and now serves as an assistant secretary of defense. Contrary to the views of many in the antiwar movement and Democratic Party, Petraeus's 2007-08 troop surge was successful in its political mission of sharply reducing both US and Iraqi casualties. However, the US military surge included the massive wave of extrajudicial terror chronicled by Woodward, as well as paying tens of thousands of Sunni insurgents not to shoot at American troops. Neither approach could be counted on to stabilize Iraq for long.
At the end of 2008, the Bush administration was forced to accept what the al-Maliki government described as "the withdrawal pact," according to which the United States would gradually withdraw all troops by late 2011. Since the US forces have not "won" the war militarily, there is little evidence that Iraq will become the stable pro-Western model some seek for their Long War. Even if another insurgency or civil war is averted, Iraq will be aligned with Iran's regional interests for some time to come. President Obama will be under serious pressure from US military officials in Iraq and their allies among the neo-conservatives in Washington, to delay his promised withdrawal or be accused of "losing" Iraq.
The Iraqi security forces now consist of 600,000 soldiers, including 340,000 members of a largely-Shi'a force often described as sectarian or dysfunctional. At present, the US continues to face the dilemma described by James Fallows in 2005:
The crucial need to improve security and order in Iraq puts the United States in an impossible position. It can't honorably leave Iraq--as opposed to simply evacuating Saigon-style--so long as its military must provide most of the manpower, weaponry, intelligence systems and strategies being used against the insurgency. But it can't sensibly stay when the very presence of its troops is a worsening irritant to the Iraqi public and a rallying point for nationalist opponents--to say nothing of the growing pressure in the United States for withdrawal."
4. The Long War Moves from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan
The same counterinsurgency strategies are being transferred to Afghanistan and Pakistan, with US troop levels destined to reach 70,000 this year, bringing the overall Western force level closer and closer to the declining total in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the expanded American forces will concentrate on destroying the poppy fields and villages dominated by the Taliban in southern Kandahar and Helmund provinces, a resource-denial strategy from the Indian wars. Many Americans are expected to be killed or wounded in this effort to secure and inoculate the rural population against the Taliban. Many Taliban are likely to be killed along with along with local civilians, while the core cadre may retreat to redeploy elsewhere.
The Bagram prison is being massively expanded as a detention facility where President Obama's Guantánamo orders do not apply. Bagram now holds an estimated 650 prisoners who, unlike those in Guantánamo, have "almost no rights," including access to lawyers. "Human rights campaigners and journalists are strictly forbidden there," according to a January 28, 2009, report by Der Spiegel International.
According to a RAND report using World Bank data, Afghanistan has perhaps the lowest-ranking justice system in the world. "In comparison to other countries in the region--such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukbekistan--Afghanistan's justice system was one of the least effective." Bagram is only one of many detention facilities that will be filled across the country; the Taliban "liberated" over 1,000 inmates, including 400 of their cadre, from a Kandahar prison just last year.
Counterinsurgency theory, based on the British experience in Malaysia, requires a period of ten to twelve years to impose enough suffering and exhaustion to force the population into accepting the peace terms of the dominant power. This is precisely the timetable laid out by Kilcullen before Sen. John Kerry's Senate Armed Services Committee on February 5:
[It will take] ten to fifteen years, including at least two years of significant combat up front.... thirty thousand extra troops in Afghanistan will cost around 2 billion dollars per month beyond the roughly 20 billion we already spend; additional governance and development efforts will cost even more.... [but] If we fail to stabilize Afghanistan this year, there will be no future.
Kilcullen and others support the current plan to expand the total Afghanistan security forces from 80,000 to a total of 400,000 overall, costing $20 billion over six to seven years.
In Pakistan, where torture and extrajudicial abuse also are prevalent, the US spent $12 billion during the past decade on a [Musharraf] military dictatorship, compared with one-tenth that amount on development schemes. These policies only deepened the Muslim nation's anti-Americanism, alienated the middle-class opposition, and left the poor in festering poverty. In addition to these self-imposed problems, the Pentagon is engaged in a frantic uphill effort to change Pakistan's strategic military doctrine from preparation for another conventional (or even nuclear) war against India to a counterinsurgency war against the Taliban embedded amid its own domestic population, especially in the extremely impoverished federally administered tribal areas that border Afghanistan.
The likelihood of the United States' convincing Pakistan to view the domestic threat as greater than that from India is doubtful. Pakistan has fought three wars with India, and views the US as supporting the expansion of India's interests in Afghanistan, where the Pakistan military has supported the Taliban as a proxy against India. The Northern Alliance forces of Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks were strongly supported by India in 2001 against Pakistan's Taliban's allies, and the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance was a "catastrophe" for Pakistan, according to Juan Cole. Since 2001, India has sent hundreds of millons in assistance to Afghanistan, including funds for Afghan political candidates in 2004, assistance to sitting legislators, Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Heart and Kandahar, and road construction designed, according to the Indian government, to help their countries' armed forces "meet their strategic needs."
Polls show that a vast majority of Pakistanis view the United States and India as far greater threats than the Taliban, despite the Taliban's unpopularity with much of Pakistan's public. While it is unlikely that the Taliban could seize power in Pakistan, it may be impossible for anyone to militarily prevent Taliban control of the tribal areas and a growing base among the Pashtun tribes (28 million in Afghanistan, 12 million in Pakistan).
The remaining options begin to make the United States look like Gulliver tied down among the Lilliputians.
The US will demand that Pakistan's armed forces fight the Taliban, which the American military has driven into Pakistan. Pakistan will demand billions in US aid without giving guarantees that they will shift their security deployments in accord with Washington's will. The US will make clear that it will go to extreme lengths to prevent a scenario in which Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falls into the Taliban's hands. No one on the US side acknowledges that this spiraling disaster was triggered by US policies over the past decade.