Wednesday, 16 November 2011 23:58
Since the summer of 2011 various US officials have made statements about the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars which have now lasted longer than WW2 and are considered by many an analyst to have set in motion the end of the American century.
With an escalation in suicide attacks in Afghanistan, an uncooperative Pakistan (according to US officials) and with Iran firmly in control of Iraq, one would consider the withdrawal of US forces as something contrary to protecting US interests. After incurring astronomical costs in maintaining the US war machine in the Muslim world we witnessing the end of the US in the region? Has it been defeated?
In both Iraq and Afghanistan the US has achieved its short to medium terms aims, not without many problems en route. The current events are a reorientation of US resources in order to secure its longer term strategic interests in the region.
The US had its eyes on Iraq and its coveted oil fields going back to George Bush senior. 9/11 finally presented the Neocon government the justification to launch a full scale invasion and implement regime change. A strategy of using military force to enforce 'democracy' on the region ensued and after a month of fighting the US occupied the country and withdrew half its troops. It was after this the Shi'ah in the South of Iraq launched there insurgency, whilst the Sunnis around Baghdad made the US occupation a living nightmare. Within a few months of the invasion, the US very quickly became marred in an insurgency that today has greatly affected US prowess around the world.
By 2005 the US was well and truly drowning in Iraq and comparisons were being made with Vietnam. It became clear to all that the US had massively underestimated the enemy and whilst it had rapidly removed Iraq's conventional forces the unconventional elements in Iraq had brought the US army to a stalemate. A position from which the US was never going to win the war, but it was a war it was not prepared to lose either.
It was at this juncture the US began discussing selective engagement with Iran. Whilst the Baker-Hamilton report to congress in 2006 contained such a proposition, engagement with Iran had already begun, in order to contain the Shi'ia insurgency.
The US turned to countries surrounding Iraq to save its self from bleeding to death. Iran's proxy the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) a group created in Tehran in 1982 gathered the major Shi'ah factions to partake in Iraq's government, bringing to an end the insurgency in the South. Syria played an active role in infiltrating the Sunni resistance against the US in Iraq and passed on valuable intelligence to the US led coalition. Syria's influence over the Sunni resistance fighters that operated in Iraq was emphasized by the Baker-Hamilton report.
Similarly Turkey played a central role in ensuring the US constructed architecture came together. Turkey had a policy of maintaining contact with all groups in Iraq. Moqtada Al-Sadr's held numerous in Ankara focused on the political process in 2009, the deadlock after the March 2010 elections saw Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of ISCI and Iyad Alawi travel to Turkey in order to gain its support in forming the new government. Similarly the Semi-autonomous Northern Iraq has seen over $5 billion in investment from Turkey.
In this way the US was able to stem the insurgency, construct a political system, which the various factions have now entered and through which they will fight for their interests. This allowed the US to withdraw its troops in stages as the insurgency was stemmed.
The US has achieved its strategic interests in controlling the flow of Iraqi oil. This is through the nature of the agreements to extract oil in the country. Usually governments and oil companies agree to so-called "Production Sharing Agreements (PSA)." Under a PSA, a government gives the oil company the rights to a certain share of the proven crude oil reserves, in return for pumping up (extracting) crude oil. Governments usually grant oil companies a share of the crude oil in the range of 30 - 70%. However the contracts in the case of the Iraqi crude oil are 'Service Contracts (ST).' Under the ST an oil company is only contracted by the government to perform the service of pumping up the crude oil. For each barrel it pumps up, the oil company is then awarded a remuneration fee. But ownership of the crude oil remains in the hands of the government. In this way Iraqi oil remained within the control of the US sponsored Iraqi government that is dependent on the US. The US controls Iraq's converted oil fields by ensuring no other nation gained access to the oil.
With the day-to-day politics firmly in the hand of proxies of Syria, Iran and Turkey, this allows the US to consolidate its position in the region. Combat troops are now no longer needed in Iraq and a smaller more specialized force can protect US interests. This is why the US drawdown in Iraq saw thousands of troops renamed as transition troops rather than combat troops in 2010.
The reduced level of troops is possible in tandem with the expanded diplomatic mission because the US has been largely successful in its intentions in Iraq, setting in place the intended political, military, and economic elements for Iraq to remain firmly within American sphere of control. As the New York Times reported in September, the debate over specific numbers and figures is unimportant. "The administration has already drawn up plans for an extensive expansion of the American Embassy and its operations, bolstered by thousands of paramilitary security contractors."
The US plans to maintain as it does in many other countries, large embassies staffed by civilians and military personnel overseeing the training and equipping of Iraq's security forces for an indefinite period. The State Department is expected to have up to 17,000 employees and contractors for this ongoing diplomatic presence, which has been described as necessary to provide "situational awareness around the country, manage political crises in potential hotspots such as Kirkuk, and provide a platform for delivering economic, development and security assistance." Providing housing, workspace, medical facilities, and security for a legion of civilian workers requires exorbitant funds, expansive land use, and construction not yet finalized in most areas as well as security contractors to protect them.
America had its eyes on Afghanistan well before the events of 9/11. When troops were deployed to Afghanistan the Bush administration maintained a very small military footprint and this is what set him apart from the Obama administration that escalated the US military footprint. Both administrations planned to use Pakistan to win the war in Afghanistan in order to maintain America's long term presence in Afghanistan in order to:
1. Prevent Russian and Chinese domination of Eurasia
2. Prevent the emergence of the Khilafah State
3. Control the hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Sea and the Middle East
4. Control the security and the transit of hydrocarbons from the Caspian Sea and the Middle East
Obama's strategy, which called for a massive escalation was in reality just another in a number of nominally different strategies announced throughout the decade of war. All of them had roughly the same theme, more troops and more attacks, and had the same results, an ever worsening security situation.
Through using Pakistan as well as Iran in its solution for Afghanistan the US under Obama executed plans for a long term strategic presence, from large combat force to small focused special operations force. US bases will also remain within the country which the US has secured. The US is in the process of expanding the Bagram, Kandahar and Mazar-E-Shairf military bases in Afghanistan with an allocation of over $300 million. The expansion of US military bases in Afghanistan is running counter to the commitment to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011.
A large CIA and Joint Special Operations forces (JSOC) presence will remain in the country for the foreseeable future. Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, a former colonel with US special operations forces told the New York Times in August "We're moving toward an increased special operations role," together with US intelligence, "whether it's counterterrorism-centric, or counterterrorism blended with counterinsurgency."
The problem the US has faced in Afghanistan unlike in Iraq is that it has been unable to placate the Taliban into its political system and has thus relied on the corrupt and inept Hamid Karzai. Bombing Afghanistan to the stone age has failed. Whilst a combination of bombing and negotiations is also not working. The debate between negotiations and military strikes continues to divide the US government. There continues to be indifference in the Afghan strategy between the military-intelligence and the Obama administration. The military and the CIA have argued strongly against negotiating with the Taliban. In June 2010, CIA director Leon Panetta declared publicly, "We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al-Qaeda, where they would really try to become part of that society."
Several current and former American officials say the United States has tried this bomb-them-to-the-bargaining-table approach before. In the 1990s, it helped drive Serbian leaders to peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, but it has resulted in little so far with the Afghan Taliban. Mulla Umar confirmed in his Eid al fitr message that negotiations are taking place.
The Obama administration's December 2010 strategy review produced a potential alternative to that military-CIA approach. An intelligence assessment circulated just as the 50-page classified review of progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan was being completed concluded that Pakistan was not likely to agree to carry out a major military operation against the Haqqani group, regardless of US pressures. It also suggested that, without such a change in Pakistan's policy, the US military strategy in Afghanistan couldn't succeed. That strengthened the hand of those who had been skeptical about the military's approach to the problem. The result, according to sources familiar with the document, was that the strategy review suggested the need for a "political approach" to the insurgency in general and the Haqqani network in particular.
Hilary Clinton confirmed that in her visit to Pakistan in October 2011 she used her meeting to reassure the Pakistanis that they would play a central role in such reconciliation talks. "We're at the point where Pakistanis have told us they're going to squeeze the Haqqani network," a senior administration official said. "They're satisfied they've got a way forward on reconciliation. They've got a role to play." That first exploratory meeting was held secretly in the United Arab Emirates between a midlevel American diplomat and Ibrahim Haqqani, a brother of the tribal network's patriarch. Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI, brokered the meeting.
It appears the US is looking to divide the insurgency by negotiating bilaterally with the Haqqani network and Mullah Umar's Taliban. This process does not require a large military footprint which allows Obama to make good on his election pledge of withdrawing American troops from both theatres. Whether the US can placate the Taliban remains to be seen.
The US is not about to abandon its strategic interests but changing the manner in which it plans to achieve them as during its decade of war various challenges and obstacles presented themselves that led to a change of strategies and how US interests would be protected. The US quickly abandoned its aim of setting up a democracy in Afghanistan as the Taliban launched its insurgency to having a client state with an acceptable dictator.
The withdrawal of US troops is primarily for Obama to re-run as US president as the US caucuses start in January 2012, with elections in December 2012. The US with the help of its regional surrogates who have protected US interests in return for crumbs have allowed the US to not be embarrassed or bleed itself to death. The US is confident that it can achieve its interests with a smaller more specialized force alongside thousands of contractors. The New York Times reported in October 2011 that the Obama administration is planning a massive troop surge into Kuwait and the surrounding region, as well as a major naval build-up in international waters in the area. The US most certainly has no plans to abandon its strategic interests in Eurasia.