The biggest question facing President Obama’s war Cabinet as it sends more troops and resources to the Afghanistan front will be whether Gen. David H. Petraeus can emulate the successful counterinsurgency that helped quiet Iraq.
Whether or not the tactics that prevailed in Iraq can be exported to the rocky valleys and towering peaks of Afghanistan is a major aspect of a classified six-part study report commissioned last fall by Gen. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command. The report has already been distributed to some in the intelligence community for comment.
Those who are working on the document are not sharing many details and stressing that the new strategy will likely remain secret and that it will be comprehensive.
The document, being written by a group of military officers and outside experts in something called the Centcom Assessment Team, will be presented in largely classified form to Gen. Petraeus later this month.
A senior military official familiar with the assessment said on Tuesday the review would cover the entire area of command — a region that runs from the western edge of the Middle East, or Levant, to the countries of southwest Asia. This official also said there was no guarantee the review would become policy.
“If Gen. Petraeus feels it is valuable, then it will be implemented,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he was discussing a confidential document.
In addition to military tactics, the review will also cover U.S. intelligence posture in the region as well as diplomatic issues.
Some basic themes are likely to emerge. One camp in Washington would like to at least try to emulate the Awakening Councils that helped beat back al Qaeda in Anbar and other Sunni provinces in Iraq. On a smaller scale, this approach is already being tried. In Afghanistan, the country’s Interior Ministry over the weekend announced that the U.S. would arm and pay the salaries of what Kabul is calling the Afghan Public Protection Force.
While the rebellion against al Qaeda began before Gen. Petraeus took over U.S.-led forces in Iraq in January 2007, it was the strategy that aimed to protect and fight alongside tribal militias that ultimately wrested control from insurgents in the western, largely Sunni Muslim section of the country.
The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last year agreed to absorb into its security forces up to 20 percent of the nearly 100,000 Sunni fighters who joined U.S. forces to battle al Qaeda.
In December, Iraq took over from U.S. officials the payment of about 54,000 members of the volunteer force. The Iraqi government promised to pay the rest of the Sunni volunteers until it could find them civilian jobs.
An interpreter working with U.S. forces in western Iraq in 2006 and 2007 during the rise of the Awakening rebellion said there were some commonalities between Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The commonality is that there are people in the Awakening that are familiar with the problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They don’t pretend to believe the problem with the Pashto [a major Afghan ethnic group] is the same as the Sunni problem in Iraq. But they do recognize that a murder-and-intimidation campaign against the people is taking place,” Sterling Jensen told The Washington Times.
Indeed, last year, analysts commissioned by Sheik Ahmad Ridshawi — the leader of sheiks in Iraq’s Anbar province — sent a detailed proposal offering to send delegations from his own tribes to meet with Afghan tribal leaders to share best practices for how to start a rebellion against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The proposal was sent at the time to the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Christopher Dell, and was also shared with the Bush administration’s National Security Council.
Daniel Markey, a senior fellow and south Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that basic counterinsurgency lessons from Iraq could be exported to Afghanistan.