Iraq’s chaos could be omen for Afghanistan with­out U.S.

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Afghanistan’s war plan­ners try­ing to pic­ture their coun­try with­out U.S. troops next year might want to cast an eye to­ward Iraq.

Since the U.S. pullout two years ago, a de­feated al Qaeda in Iraq has re­assem­bled, brought in fresh fight­ers, freed pris­on­ers and un­leashed waves of deadly car bomb­ings. Last week, al Qaeda claimed con­trol of Fal­lu­jah, the town in western An­bar prov­ince where scores of Amer­i­cans lost their lives in house-to-house fight­ing in 2004.

The same sit­u­a­tion could be­fall Afghanistan, as the Tal­iban, the Haqqani Net­work and al Qaeda wait pa­tiently in Pak­istan. Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai has re­fused to sign an agree­ment that would keep U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces in his coun­try af­ter the end of the year. Wash­ing­ton says it needs a go-ahead soon be­cause the ro­ta­tion of com­bat units must be planned well in ad­vance.

“The blue­print is clear,” said for­mer in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive Wayne Sim­mons. “The only dif­fer­ence is that Afghanistan, with the ex­cep­tion of Kabul, has no in­fra­struc­ture so it will fall faster and re­sult in more per­sonal pain and suf­fer­ing. Once again, our blood and trea­sure.”

“The cen­tral gov­ern­ment is bound to crack un­der pres­sure from al Qaeda,” said James Carafano, an an­a­lyst at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. “The best-case sce­nario is the coun­try frag­ments into pro­tracted civil war with sides sup­ported by U.S., In­dia, Pak­istan and Iran. Al Qaeda will be back be­cause [the] Haqqani Net­work will spon­sor them.”

Based in Pak­istan, the Haqqani Net­work is part crim­i­nal en­ter­prise and part ter­ror­ist group that seeks to con­trol sec­tions of Afghanistan. It is linked to al Qaeda and has car­ried out deadly at­tacks against U.S. forces.

But it is the Afghan Tal­iban, which the U.S. ousted in 2001, that would cap­i­tal­ize the most on an Amer­i­can pullout.

The Is­lamic move­ment reg­u­larly re­con­sti­tutes forces across the bor­der in Pak­istan, and would fo­cus al­most im­me­di­ately on tak­ing back vil­lages in the south around Kandahar, the Tal­iban’s spir­i­tual birth­place.

“The Tal­iban are an Afghan na­tion­al­ist move­ment that seeks to con­trol the pol­i­tics of the state,” said James Rus­sell, an in­struc­tor at the Naval Post­grad­u­ate School in Monterey, Calif. “Al Qaeda in Iraq are a bunch of ji­hadist ter­ror­ist ni­hilists that don’t com­mand any kind of wide­spread al­le­giance in the coun­try. I’d say the Tal­iban has a higher chance at re­sum­ing po­lit­i­cal power in Afghanistan than al Qaeda has in Iraq.”

An­a­lysts as­sume that the Tal­iban and their al Qaeda al­lies have watched events un­fold in Iraq since De­cem­ber 2011, when highly trained and ex­pe­ri­enced U.S. com­mando units handed off their jobs to Iraqis. The de­cline in coun­tert­er­ror­ism knowhow was pro­nounced.

With­out the in­tense pres­sure of U.S. sur­veil­lance and com­mando raids, al Qaeda in Iraq has been able to re­build cells and set up back­room shops to turn cars into large ex­plo­sives. With Iraqi se­cu­rity forces un­able to pen­e­trate the cells and find the chop shops, lethal at­tacks have come in co­or­di­nated waves.

“Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has re­con­sti­tuted as a pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary force ca­pa­ble of plan­ning, train­ing and re­sourc­ing and ex­e­cut­ing syn­chro­nized and com­plex at­tacks in Iraq,” said a re­port by the In­sti­tute for the Study of War.

An­a­lyst Jes­sica D. Lewis wrote that al Qaeda is un­leash­ing ve­hi­cle-borne bombs, mor­tars, sui­cide bombers and small-arms fire in at­tacks in what has be­come known as the “break­ing the walls” cam­paign.

This same enemy re­con­sti­tu­tion could hap­pen in Afghanistan.

“To aban­don Afghanistan as we did in Iraq def­i­nitely en­cour­ages and in­vites the Tal­iban to re­assert them­selves in the south, where they have been largely de­feated, and to en­able the Tal­iban to shift the mo­men­tum in the east to their fa­vor, where they are very much still en­trenched,” said re­tired Army Gen. John Keane, an ar­chi­tect of the 2007 U.S. troop surge that re­duced vi­o­lence in Iraq. “The Afghans want a strate­gic part­ner­ship with the U.S. to in­clude a long-term mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship.”

Mr. Rus­sell, who has toured Afghanistan and writ­ten about the bat­tles to re­move the Tal­iban in the south, said a U.S. exit also would mean a loss of dol­lars.

“No­body could cred­i­bly ar­gue that the Karzai gov­ern­ment has cre­ated any sense of al­le­giance through­out the coun­try,” he said. “It is a cor­rupt, crony dic­ta­tor­ship. The in­flow of Western money has stitched to­gether a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent pa­tron net­works that has helped hold the place to­gether, but once that source of money dries up, the real bat­tle for po­lit­i­cal power and au­thor­ity will re­sume.”

The U.S. has about 35,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a surge peak of 100,000 in 2011. Com­man­ders would like to keep about 14,000 troops af­ter this year, pri­mar­ily to train and ac­com­pany Afghans on coun­tert­er­ror­ism raids.

With­out Amer­i­cans, the Afghans would lose not only Amer­i­can might but also Amer­i­can know-how. The U.S. has es­tab­lished in­tri­cate in­tel­li­gence net­works to iden­tify Tal­iban fight­ers and bomb-mak­ing sites. Those as­sets would leave along with U.S. troops.

The State Depart­ment said Fri­day that it is near­ing the point at which the Pen­tagon will be­gin plan­ning a full pullout ab­sent a bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity agree­ment.

“If we can­not con­clude a BSA promptly, then we will ini­ti­ate plan­ning for a post2014 fu­ture in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop pres­ence in Afghanistan,” said spokes­woman Jen­nifer Psaki. “We rec­og­nize that at this time it is up to Pres­i­dent Karzai to de­ter­mine what is in Afghanistan’s best in­ter­est.”

If the U.S. leaves, Mr. Carafano said, “This will be an im­por­tant psy­cho­log­i­cal vic­tory for an Is­lamist move­ment who will claim they de­feated the U.S. like the Soviet em­pire. The West is a pa­per tiger like bin Laden said and it’s only a mat­ter of time.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Afghan po­lice had U.S. as­sis­tance to kill in­sur­gents re­spon­si­ble for a fiery at­tack east of Kabul in Septem­ber. Af­ter this year, se­cu­rity forces will be on their own against in­cur­sions by the Tal­iban, the Haqqani Net­work and al Qaeda.

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