Interpreting the End of US Operation Iraqi Freedom

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Context
250_Iraq_PicturesPresident Obama announced the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom on August 31st and shifting of the focus to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. However, he made it clear the priority of his administration will be on resuscitating the American economy. This analysis interprets the deeper message of the speech and the underlying constraints and assumptions.  – Haqqani Network, Kurram Agency and Iran

Analysis

Without doubt the Iraqi and Afghan operations have considerably reduced the available capacity of the American military might. Particularly, when it needs to be concentrating on dealing with not only terrorism but also increasingly aggressive Russia and growing concerns regarding the expanding Chinese army, especially its navy.

Additionally, President Obama and many others have long believed that the real emphasis should have been the Afghan Theater, after all that is where the 911 attacks originated. On the other hand, the Iraq war proved to be a distraction and WMD’s were never found. Nonetheless, the Iraqi operation had to be properly managed and brought to a reasonable conclusion, allowing the American diplomatic, military and economic resources to be shifted to more urgent matters such as the Horn of Africa, AfPak, Middle East Peace Process and Iran. The job in Iraq though is far from over and even though Saddam and his regime were toppled other ethnic fault lines have rekindled and Iran’s regional influence has been strengthened.

The end of Iraq mission represents a shift of US policy from primarily military emphasis to a diplomatic and regional approach, brought about by its dwindling economy. However, the correct terminology should be the transition of the mission, where Iraqi’s are to take on the primary responsibility for the security and running the country while US acting as a back-up support. This is also a model to be replicated in Afghanistan.

A key realization on part of the US, which does not get much mention, is that its mere presence in these Islamic regions is fueling a reaction. The dynamics of this function complicates the US mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, and provides fodder for exploitation at the hands of the extremists. Under the new strategy, US forces will maneuver behind the scenes while reinforcing the local authorities and partners and using covert operations and US Special Forces instead, just as they are in Pakistan. The New York Times reported in May that General Petraeus signed a secret order in late 2009, increasing covert operations to counter militants and other threats across the region. The order authorizes Special Operations forces to operate in both allied and hostile nations in the Mideast, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.

The long-term efficacy of this new strategy is yet to be seen. However, two outcomes are obvious. Firstly, it will move the focus of the extremists away from targeting the US troops and towards its local partners. Secondly, this could create a civil war like situation in these countries as the infighting intensifies. If US does not work on improving its own credibility in the Islamic world, the partners are going to simply appear as proxies and thus enhancing the probability of the Islamic hardliners to extend their influence. The Freedom Flotilla incident in May proved the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that galvanizes the entire Islamic world, and it is also the issue where US can remarkably amplify its respect.

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