A Decade at War: Afghanistan, Iraq and Counterinsurgency

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A Decade at War: Afghanistan, Iraq and Counterinsurgency

In this special anniversary episode, A Decade at War: Iraq, Afghanistan & Counterinsurgency, America Abroad looks back at the policies and lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the efficacy of the US. counterinsurgency strategy. 

The terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers in September 2001 was one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history. That event triggered the beginning of the United States’ involvement in two major wars abroad, one in Afghanistan and later, one in Iraq. Twelve years later, the United States is out of Iraq and President Barack Obama has begun the final drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. Earlier this year, in his State of the Union address, he announced he will be withdrawing thirty-four thousand US troops by the end of this year.

“Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and achieve our objective of defeating the core of Al Qaeda...This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over."

American troops may be leaving but the outcome of the war is far from clear. Agreement on what these two wars have accomplished is far from settled. After overthrowing regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US military was forced to fight a different war. It was one against insurgents and terrorists. It is known as counterinsurgency. But, whether the US military should have been fighting such a war and whether they fought it well, is still being hotly debated. Fred Kaplan is a journalist and author of the book “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the plot to change the American way of war.” He describes counterinsurgency this way: “The premise of counterinsurgency is that insurgents arise out of socio-political conditions and, therefore, the point of a counterinsurgency campaign, or the goal of it, is not just to kill and capture insurgents, but to change the living conditions to help the government provide basic services to the people, so that support for the insurgency dries up.”

Over the next hour, we’ll explore America’s decade of experience with counterinsurgency, and the role it might play in the future.

How well did it work in Iraq and in Afghanistan? Was it oversold as a success, following the Iraq “surge,” led by General David Petraeus in 2007?

And in an era of smaller defense budgets, will it be banished from the military as it was after Vietnam, only to be needed again in the future?

A Decade at War: Afghanistan, Iraq and Counterinsurgency / Produced by A.C. Valdez/ Edited by Martha Little with additional production help from Flawn Williams. / Web Producer: Philippa Levenberg / Photos courtesy of Penguin Publishing and via Wikimedia commons (U.S. Army; U.S. Navy; Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison; Scott Davis; Pete Souza; White House) / Host: Madeleine Brand/ Length: 51 minutes / Airdate: March and September 2013

Supported By: 
Stuart Family Foundation