Small Wars Journal

In Afghan Debate, Is There a Lesson in the 2011 Pullout From Iraq?

In Afghan Debate, Is There a Lesson in the 2011 Pullout From Iraq? By Yaroslav Trofimov - Wall Street Journal

As President Donald Trump’s administration weighs how to handle Afghanistan’s chronic war, looming large is the question of what is the right lesson of the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from another conflict: Iraq.

Was it a strategic failure—or a step that, over the long term and at significant cost, forced the Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own war? And if so, can this experience be replicated in Afghanistan?

In 2014, as Islamic State surged to the doorstep of Baghdad and the Iraqi army collapsed, it seemed to many that the American pullout was a catastrophic mistake that enabled international terrorism.

Now that reinvigorated Iraqi security forces have rolled back most of Islamic State’s gains, this perspective isn’t as clear-cut—even taking into account the war’s huge human toll.

After all, in the absence of American backup, Islamic State’s existential threat forced a strong immune response from the Iraqi body politic…

So, as the White House debates its options in Afghanistan—ranging from a significant troop increase to a full withdrawal—to what extent are Iraq’s experiences applicable to the Afghan conflict? Could the Afghan state, left to its own devices at least for a time, also transform the battle against the Taliban into a national and popular struggle?

The answer is, most likely, no. America’s Afghan war, now 16 years long, is different from the Iraqi conflict in many crucial respects. And that is not just because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, unlike Iraq’s leader six years ago, wants an American military presence to continue for as long as possible…

Read on.