As the “surge” began in Iraq in 2007, there was little reason for optimism: 40 to 50 bodies a day were turning up in Baghdad alone, and the country was in a state of civil war. But slowly, surprisingly, the number of civilian casualties began to drop. In fact, by the fall of 2007, the number of violent attacks countrywide were at their lowest point in three years. There were several factors that led to the success of the surge, but the most important was this: American troops shifted their focus to protecting the population.
As the Afghan surge gets underway in 2009, the pundits are as pessimistic as they were about Iraq in 2007. But the surge will work, because Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has shown every indication that he’s learned the lessons of the Iraqi experience. He’s already pushed for a serious investigation into a NATO bomb attack in September that killed several civilians. McChrystal, in other words, is serious about protecting the population. That will help the U.S. military receive more and better intelligence as they spread out into communities and signal their commitment to ensuring safety. The secrets of the Taliban’s logistical networks and hideouts will be revealed, paving the way for a crushing offense. There’s a lot that’s different about Afghanistan in 2010 than Iraq in 2007. But the U.S. military’s “Hail Mary” pass worked in Iraq, and it will in Afghanistan, too.