Center for Arms Control

Afghanistan & Iraq

Afghanistan and Iraq


U.S. soldier in Al Asad, Iraq (June 11, 2007). DOD photo.

Before the U.S. invasion in 2003, warnings about an insurgency developing in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's regime fell were ignored by the Bush administration. Lacking training in counterinsurgency operations, U.S. armed forces initially used aggressive offensive tactics employing heavy firepower and ignored the two fundamental principles of counterinsurgency operations: create a secure environment for the civilian population and isolate the insurgents.

This initial lack of planning and strategy, along with an insufficient number of U.S. troops, stoked the insurgency. Tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties resulted, which in turn produced an irreversible backlash of enmity and revenge toward U.S. troops from the families, friends, and other tribal members of the Iraqi dead and wounded.

As outlined in the 2006 Iraq Study Group report, political stability and reduced violence in Iraq cannot be achieved by military force alone. A strong diplomatic surge is needed. There will be flare-ups of violence no matter how many U.S. troops remain in Iraq. Policymakers need to accept that fact. They also need to accept that diplomatic and economic initiatives can increase the chances for stability and for reducing outbreaks of violence. It is in the interests of all Middle Eastern countries that Iraq not return to violence and civil war. What is needed is a security arrangement acceptable to all Iraq’s neighbors. That means balancing Saudi and other Arab interests with Iranian interests and finding a balance that protects U.S. interests as well.

Given these realities, the United States needs to undertake an all-fronts diplomatic initiative to engage the nations of the region to help stabilize Iraq. This includes addressing the internal tensions between and among the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, especially at flash points such as Kirkuk. Funding must be found to resettle the five million or more internal and external Iraqi refugees. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States need to help the Iraqi Sunni population with economic development so the Sunnis can play a strong role in Iraqi politics.

There will never be a Victory in Iraq or “V-I” Day. Americans were not greeted as “liberators” at the war’s beginning, and will not be treated to parades at the war’s end. Division and sectarian conflict hopefully should continue to diminish over time despite periodic flare-ups. A more authoritarian regime may emerge or perhaps one less secular than the United States would prefer.


On September 15, the board of the Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation endorsed the August 16th report from the Afghanistan Study Group. The report, entitled: A New Way Forward—Rethinking the U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan, argues that the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is not vitally essential to U.S. national security, ensnares U.S. forces in a civil war, has costs of over $100 billion a year to counter an al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan of less than 100 members and is counter-productive to regional stability.

The report calls for a recalibration of U.S. strategy by focusing on the following five recommendations:

1. Emphasize power sharing and inclusion: The report calls for a “fast track” peace process built on decentralized governance and power sharing among key groups.

2. Downsize and eventually end military operations in Southern Afghanistan, and reduce the U.S. military footprint: The report argues that the U.S. presence radicalizes many Afghans and suggests a diminished troop presence there could yield significant security benefits.

3.Focus security efforts on Al Qaeda and domestic security: The report calls for increased capability to target Al Qaeda operatives and other terrorist organizations.

4.Encourage economic development: The report promotes economic development as a safeguard against increased international terrorism and drug trafficking, arguing that failed states are incubators for terrorism.

5. Encourage regional stakeholders: The report calls for a multi-state diplomatic effort to promote Afghan neutrality and regional stability.

Please read the Afghanistan Study Group Report as well as the Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation’s own statement on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and share it with others.

Position on Afghanistan for Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Approved September 15, 2010

In July of 2009, the Boards of the CLW and the Center adopted a position on Afghanistan calling on the Administration to provide a clear statement of objectives for the war and metrics that would show whether those objectives were being met.

To date, no such clear objectives have been publicly stated, except for a general notion of building a stable Afghanistan that cannot be used again by Al Qaeda as a base for planning and mounting attacks on the United States and its allies.

After nearly a decade of warfare that is currently costing about $10 billion per month with no clear path to ultimate resolution, and at a time when the U.S. Federal government must increase its involvement in fighting the most serious economic downturn since the great depression, and at a time when it is critical to prevent further slippage on the agenda of nuclear disarmament, it is time to change U.S.policy in Afghanistan. We must shift the burden of building a stable society to the Afghans, and refocus U.S. attention on national security concerns of more direct impact on the lives of Americans, including stemming the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Boards of CLW and the Center endorse the new strategy proposed in the report of the Afghanistan Study Group.


John Isaacs

John Isaacs

Senior Fellow
202-546-0795 ext.2222
jdi AT armscontrolcenter DOT org


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