Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Saturday (December 20) that an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops might be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming year, bringing the total number of U. S. troops there to at least 60,000. According to the Associated Press, this has been the deadliest year for U.S. and Coalition forces since the 2001 invasion. The Taliban have become resurgent in the area, especially in the south. Suicide bombers and roadside bombs have been more effective.
Admiral Mullen also said that the number of troops increased in Afghanistan would be directly tied to the number of troops in Iraq, further indication that the American military is stretched to its limits. In short, the drawdown in Iraq would signal a rise in troop strength in Afghanistan.
Many have wondered why president Bush and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have not ordered troops into Afghanistan earlier, especially since generals in the region have been insistent for quite some time that at least another 20,000 troops were needed in Afghanistan.
A “Stable” Iraq
The answer is far simpler than most realize: The situation in Iraq was and is not as stable as the Bush administration would like the world and the American public to believe. It was of prime importance to keep the image of an increasingly more stable Iraq while the GOP attempted to retain control of the White House. If the very fragile hold on Iraq were to have slipped while Senator John McCain was running for president, by the time November 4 rolled around, the senior senator from Arizona would have lost by far more than 8 million votes.
A stable Iraq was the centerpiece of Senator McCain’s foreign policy platform. The troop surge Senator McCain had advocated and supported had worked. Senator Barack Obama had been wrong in his misguided objections to the surge. Or so it appeared.
That both senators were advocating increasing troop strength in Afghanistan (just as the generals on the ground there were), yet seeing the White House listlessly promise more troops but do nothing to increase the troop strength was telling.
But the so-called “surge,” the deployment of additional troops to help quell the insurgency, was effective because of the hard work General David Petraeus and others had done in convincing Sunni warlords and insurgents to stand down. The extra troops were used to secure and police. Continuing operations were used to ferret out and eliminate pockets of resistance while Shia militias and various insurgent factions were bribed with money and armaments to cease fighting.
Meanwhile, the American-propped central government in Baghdad languidly went about its routine, for the most part oblivious to the dissolution and destruction of their own country, protected within the heavily militarized and secured Green Zone.
And thus was born the extremely fragile but relatively calm Iraq that everyone does not hear about on the evening news – the same Iraq that has not been on the news for nearly a year.
The Iraq Surge And The Connection To Afghanistan
Some say that Iraq has not been in the news because the surge worked. Others say that the appearance of a working surge is all there really is, that the sociopolitical situation is far more complicated and volatile than is evident or being reported.
The truth is: No troops were taken from the “stable” Iraq to bolster the Afghanistan troops because to have moved troops might have destabilized Iraq during the run-up to the election. It could not be done before the election, not while Senator McCain still had a chance to win.
But Senator McCain did not win…
Six weeks after the election, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that nearly 4000 troops of the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, were being sent to Afghanistan in the next few weeks. A few days later, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, suggests that as many as 30,000 American troops will be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming year, but the increase in troops in Afghanistan would be met with an equal decrease in troop strength in Iraq.
The same Iraq that is simply waiting for the right spark to set it off once more.
At What Cost The Withdrawal Of Troops From Iraq?
It is difficult to determine what might send Iraq back into a state of civil war and insurgency, but it is not difficult to see that little has changed within the country of Iraq except that the number of American troops being killed has been severely diminished. Otherwise, conditions remain nearly the same, only scaled back.
Reuters has provided a daily breakdown of incidents or “security developments” in Iraq since the war began. It provides a snapshot into the simmering cauldron of sectarian and political violence that roils beneath the surface, kept in check primarily by the presence of Coalition forces (read: American troops) and the various deals made by emissaries of the American military with various factions.
A policeman was killed by gunmen in Mosul Saturday, December 20. Also in Mosul, two Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. U. S. forces killed one suspected al Qaeda member and rounded up another 28, 3 with suspected ties to Iran, throughout Iraq on December 20.
On December 19, U. S. forces detained 11 suspected militants. Iraqi police found two decomposing bodies and seven severed heads in eastern Baghdad. A bomb that exploded near a police patrol in east Baghdad wounded six people, including three policemen.
On December 18, four gunmen were killed in separate skirmishes in Mosul. A policeman was also killed in Mosul in another incident. A member of the Communist party was stabbed to death in her home in Kirkuk. Six people were wounded by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
On December 15, 5 people were killed and 35 wounded when a car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint in Khan Dhari, a section of western Baghdad. Gunmen killed 8 people in Mosul, seven from a single family, members of the minority Yazidi sect.
To compare: Casualties in Iraq at the time of the beginning of the surge (January 2007) were in the thousands, all told. Shortly after the infusion of additional troops, the casualty rate rose but by April 2007 began to fall. Violence in Iraq has been steady but contained for approximately a year. There have been various theories offered to explain the relative calm, from Sunni warlords biding their time (taking American money and armaments to stand down) until U.S. forces leave Iraq to sectarian cleansing of neighborhoods and localities. And there are those who believe that the American troop presence has simply worked to put a lid on violent activity.
Still, the violence exists, only on a smaller scale than experienced in pre-surge Iraq. That is not to say that the surge has not worked, but that it has only worked as a very tenuous control that will not hold once the controlling force – the American policing force – withdraws to Afghanistan to meet the rising insurgency and Taliban-led resistance in Afghanistan.
An indicator of the possible direction events may take once faction leaders, warlords, powerful politicians and clerics (such as Muqtada al-Sadr) came just a week ago when president Bush became the recipient of the utter disdain of the Iraqi people. Although the outgoing president brushed off the shoe attack by Iraqi reporter Muntadhar al Zaidi as proof of a stronger, more democratic Iraq, the incident appears to be far more than an act of an outraged individual. Given the amount of public support the reporter has been shown throughout Baghdad and Iraq (and the Middle East), there seems to exist a strong anti-American sentiment within the populace.
It is a sentiment that suggests that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the government put in place by the United States after the invasion of Iraq and supported by the American troop presence since the invasion, may not stand long once the number of American troops reach a certain level or, in a more favorable scenario (for Americans), after the American presence becomes nearly nonexistent.
The Iraq situation is extremely complicated and not nearly as simplistic as this article might suggest, as is also true of the situation in Afghanistan. But one of the reasons troop strength in Afghanistan is tied to the troop strength in Iraq is because there are no other troops to be deployed. And the reasons there have been no major troop deployments and/or redeployments to Afghanistan, coupled with the unavailability of fresh or deployable troops, are the actual political and military instability of Iraq and maintaining the guise of a stable Iraq throughout the presidential race.
So why should the Bush administration not keep up appearances at least until he leaves office? Perhaps it is because the Iraq War is extremely unpopular everywhere, the struggle in Afghanistan is seen as a more just theater of operations (and just might be a salvageable operation), and a new president, who favors escalated activity in Afghanistan and a drawdown in troops in Iraq, will soon take office.
And John McCain is not that president…