by SWJ Editors
How Should the U.S. Execute a Surge in Afghanistan?
by Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Downey, Lieutenant Colonel Lee K. Grubbs, Commander Brian J. Malloy and Lieutenant Colonel Craig R. Wonson, Small Wars Journal
In the fall of 2006, the security situation in Iraq had deteriorated to a level worse than at any other period during the previous three years of U.S. occupation. Violence was on the rise and attacks by insurgents continued to increase even after the top Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, was killed by U.S. forces. Calls for a drawdown of U.S. troops gained considerable support in Washington as policymakers questioned whether long-term stability in Iraq was achievable or if continued U.S. presence would merely add to the growing number of casualties. Reinforcing the perception that U.S. forces were not making sufficient gains was the release of a Marine Corps intelligence report stating that the struggle against Sunni insurgents in Al Anbar Province could not be won militarily.
U.S. military commanders concluded that the best way to improve the security situation in Iraq was to adopt a more proactive "clear-hold-build" strategy supported by a significant increase in the number of ground combat units. This increase in forces, often referred to simply as "the surge", introduced five additional combat brigades into Iraq that provided the means to wrest the initiative from the enemy. It allowed U.S. forces to simultaneously conduct large-scale operations to clear enemy safe havens, train Iraqi security forces, and disrupt insurgent lines of communication without having to leave key urban areas unprotected. In less than a year, the surge helped reduce the number of enemy attacks, increased the support of the Iraqi people, improved the security situation throughout the country, and all but defeated the insurgency.
The security situation in Afghanistan has steadily deteriorated since 2006 largely due to the lack of forces required to execute an effective counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. As the U.S. struggles to find a viable solution to this problem, calls for an Iraq-type surge of forces to help stabilize security and set conditions for political and economic improvement in Afghanistan have increased. President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have both acknowledged that additional forces are needed in Afghanistan but have not specifically outlined how many or what type. Although the goal of executing a surge in Afghanistan would be similar in nature to that of Iraq, the challenges presented by a larger, rural-based population with unique tribal dynamics, a harsher geography, and an enemy operating from bases outside the country will require a different focus and force structure.