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Afghan troop increase similar to Iraq surge of 2007?

By Ed Hornick, CNN
  • Some 30,000 troops will be deployed to Afghanistan, President Obama says
  • Analysts say there are big differences between this surge and the Iraq '07 one
  • Both surges, however, involve securing population centers
  • Question: Will lessons from Iraq surge experience transfer to to Afghanistan?

Washington (CNN) -- Will the Iraq troop surge strategy of 2007 help serve as a guidepost for President Obama's troop increase in Afghanistan?

Some say comparing President Bush's decision to send an additional 20,000 troops into Iraq four years into that war and President Obama's announcement that he's sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan is comparing apples with oranges.

By most assessments, Bush's decision in 2007 to implement a "surge" of troops into Iraq was deemed successful: Violence was significantly reduced in Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province.

But analysts point out it wasn't just the surge that helped stabilize the country, which was going through sectarian violence that was becoming a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. They say it was a combination of factors.

"The Anbar Awakenings were happening simultaneously as [Iraqi political leader] Muqtadr Al Sadr was laying down his militias," said CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen. "The surge kind of became a force multiplier with a whole set of underlying circumstances that weren't entirely predictable."

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Unlike 2007, this is not the first surge of troops into Afghanistan.

"It's surge number three [in Afghanistan]. That's a big difference between this surge and the Iraq surge," Bergen said. "Obama already authorized 21,000 [in March]. And before that there was a Bush mini-surge of 10,000."

Michael O'Hanlon, national security expert at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank, said this is the first time the U.S. has had forces deployed to Afghanistan "based on a detailed assessment of local needs."

"That makes this time promising," he added.

But Iraq and Afghanistan are vastly different countries with unique political problems.

The U.S. was seen as a broker in helping end a brutal civil war among the Iraqi population. In Afghanistan, however, it's American and NATO forces fighting back against the Taliban.

"The [2007] surge started as Iraq was in the middle of one of the nastiest civil wars in the modern era," Bergen said. "Afghanistan has got problems, but it's not in the middle of a vicious sectarian civil war."

In February 2007, six U.S. helicopters were shot down, deadly bombings were common and hundreds of bodies were found in Baghdad. At the time, Bush said the concept behind the surge was to give Iraqis help in defending, uniting and sustaining themselves.

That idea is similar to the plan the Obama administration is working on in Afghanistan.

Obama said the additional 30,000 troops would concentrate on population centers and target the insurgency. The idea is to provide Afghanis a sense that the U.S. is there to help protect them from the Taliban.

"Most of the [2007] surge went into Baghdad and the belts around Baghdad, which were the center of gravity for the Iraq war," Bergen said. "This surge is going into Kandahar and Helmand, which is the center of gravity of this war. They are going into population centers, and they are supposedly protecting the population."

Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project for the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan institution, agreed.

"The ability to reach out to the tribal leaders has a lot to do, not only with our actual success on the ground, but also with the perception of our power," Kagan said.

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Part of that perception of power is not just adding troops, but also working with local leaders, which is what happened in Iraq.

"Yes he did add more troops, but we also made deals with the so-called 'Sons of Iraq,' the former insurgents," said Lawrence Korb, with the Center for American Progress. "We changed how we were using the troops. We put them out more into the cities."

And like Iraq, deals are also being made in Afghanistan.

There are funds in the 2010 defense appropriations bill that finances a Taliban reintegration provision, which essentially would pay Taliban fighters to switch sides. CERP funding also is intended for humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects at commanders' discretion.

The buyout idea, according to the Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to separate local Taliban from their leaders, replicating a program used to neutralize the insurgency against Americans in Iraq.

"Afghan leaders and our military say that local Taliban fighters are motivated largely by the need for a job or loyalty to the local leader who pays them and not by ideology or religious zeal," Levin said in a Senate floor speech on September 11. "They believe an effort to attract these fighters to the government's side could succeed, if they are offered security for themselves and their families, and if there is no penalty for previous activity against us."

CNN's Elaine Quijano contributed to this report.

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