The War On Terror
Al Qaeda has been reborn. The Muslim world will become more radicalized than ever. This is not an indictment of Islam. But if just 1-in-10,000 Muslims become radicalized then Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups can expect to have passive or active support worldwide by 10-15,000 motivated supporters.
The force multiplier for jihadists will be a continued demonstrated willingness to bring violence upon fellow believers that do not cooperate or appropriately support their operations.
Bottomline: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now a distraction. We can’t walk away but ‘winning’ is not a definable concept. Stopping Al Qaeda internationally will be as difficult as it was for pre-Soviet Russia in its multigenerational war against the Anarchists.
The Wars in Iraq & Afghanistan
It will be a relatively quiet year in Iraq. Economic power has been transferred to a diverse set of Iraqi beneficiaries. It is in their economic interests to put downward pressure on jihadists. Late economic developments in 2009 shows the emergence of a national economic development strategy. An unexpressed part of that strategy is to encourage the U.S. to leave and to give it no reason to stay.
U.S. fortunes in Iraq are best illustrated by the fact that of 24 countries investing in Iraq, the U.S. investment level is barely 1% of total investments. China, France, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey have heavily directly invested in Iraqi economic development.
The U.S. relationship with Iraq exists almost exclusively within military terms, and Iraq sees the U.S. in the same way. See http://www.dfcinternational.com/files/DuniaPrivateForeignInvestmentinIraq2009UPDATE.pdf — Iraq is not Afghanistan, it is more like Lebanon: with moderation of the most negative internal influences then the nation thrives. Foreign assistance is needed only when those internal divisions get out of control.
Al Qaeda will focus on demonstrating that it still exists and that it has diversified its operational base — the message being that large armed forces are of limited value in fighting it.
Despite the surge in Afghanistan the Taliban will thrive. It does not need to win military battles to control Afghanistan.
The Taliban share a common trait with Hezbollah: it seeks to win the trust and respect of the ‘core’ of local citizens through through the provision of stability, legal predictability, and essential social services.
Afghanistan’s current national and regional government have neither time nor trend on their side.
The alternative to the surge is a policy of long-term military presence. The Afghani cannot become a nation within a single generation, possibly not in 2-3 generations. An equilibrium of development across tribal areas may bring cooperation of locales, and opposition to the Taliban but there must be trust that we will be there for years to come. Won’t happen. We can’t afford it. The Taliban will wait us out; they will wait out the 2010 elections and the next major phase in their retaking of Afghanistan will be in 2011.
Two scenarios for 2010 are the most likely:
– Scenario #1: U.S. surge forces arrive, conduct fly-the-flag operations with minimal effort to confront Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. There will be some pushback but mostly Taliban and Al Qaeda will stay under the radar. Instead of direct confrontation, the Taliban will focus on small personal strikes against Afghan government targets to undermine confidence in it, and against NATO C4ISR facilities. The goal of both us and them will be to make it through 2010 with minimal confrontation.
– Scenario #2: U.S. surge forces seek out and seek to disrupt Taliban operational capabilities. The objective would be similar to Iraq where surge forces wanted it understood that they were omnipresent and would respond accordingly. In Afghanistan, this will be like throwing rocks at a hornets nest, where the hornets are able to cajole others into joining the fight. The Taliban will respond violently.
One Army estimate (Jan 4, 2010 Army Times) is that this scenario would cost the U.S. casualty rate to rise to possibly 500+ per month beginning in spring and running through next September. The Taliban will respond violently because it wants it understood that this is an all or nothing longterm battle. If it cannot be eradicated then Afghani should be on notice that it will outlast both the presence of NATO forces and the existence of the Karzai govenment. In the minds of the Taliban this is a win-win situation. Perverse but it is a strategy that could work.
The real war on terrorism and against Al Qaeda and friends will be outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda Inc. will seem to be everywhere. Al Qaeda wants to be viewed as active and operational across the face of the planet: the message being that they cannot be stopped.