RAND Study on Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 3 months ago

Seth G. Jones of RAND National Defense Research Institute has published Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.  It will required several assessments to analyze the entirety of the paper, and in lieu of attempting to assess the paper chronologically, we will address it thematically.  Several quotes will be supplied (mainly from Chapter 2 which is entitled Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare).  The last quote is from the recommendations section at the end of the paper.

RAND Study

One of the key challenges in waging effective counterinsurgency operations is understanding the variables that impact their success (or failure).  Most assessments of counterinsurgency operations tend to ignore or downplay the role of indigenous forces and mistakenly focus on how to improve the capabilities of outside forces to directly defeat insurgents. This might include revising the U.S. military’s organizationalstructure or increasing external resources (such as troops) to directly counterinsurgents. This approach assumes the recipe for a successful counterinsurgency is adapting the U.S. military’scapabilities so it can win the support of the local population and defeat insurgents. The problem with this approach is that it ignores or underestimates the most critical actor in a counterinsurgency campaign: the indigenous government and its security forces.

This mistake is common in the counterinsurgency literature. John Nagl argues, for example, that success in counterinsurgency operations is largely a function of an external military’s ability to adapt its organizational structure and strategy to win the support of the local population and directly defeat insurgents. But he largely ignores the role of the indigenous government and its security forces.

This focus on winning counterinsurgency campaigns by improving the capabilities of external actors has become conventional wisdom among numerous military officials and counterinsurgency experts. However, such a strategy is misplaced. While improving the U.S. military’sability to directly counter insurgents may be necessary to a successful counterinsurgency campaign, it is not sufficient. In particular, it underestimates the importance of indigenous forces: Most counterinsurgency campaigns are not won or lost by external forces, but by indigenous forces. The quality of indigenous forces and government has significantly impacted the outcome of past counterinsurgencies.

Indeed, there are dangers in focusing too heavily on a lead U.S. role and improving U.S. military capabilities to directly act against insurgents. First, U.S. forces are unlikely to remain for the duration of any counterinsurgency effort, at least as a major combatant force.  Insurgencies are usually of short duration only if the indigenous government collapses at an early stage. An analysis of all insurgencies since 1945 shows that successful counterinsurgency campaigns last for an average of 14 years, and unsuccessful ones last for an average of 11years. Many also end in a draw, with neither side winning. Insurgencies can also have long tails: Approximately 25 percent of insurgencies won by the government and 11 percent won by insurgents last more than 20 years.  Since indigenous forces eventually have to win the war on their own, they must develop the capacity to do so. If they do not develop this capacity, indigenous forces are likely to lose the war once international assistance ends.  Second, indigenous forces usually know the population and terrain better than external actors and are better able to gather intelligence. Third, a lead U.S. role may be interpreted by the population as an occupation, eliciting nationalist reactions that impede success.  Fourth, a lead indigenous role can provide a focus for national aspirations and show the population that they—and not foreign forces—control their destiny. Competent governments that can provide services to their population in a timely manner can best prevent and overcome insurgencies.

Recommendations section: Where possible, U.S. counterinsurgency forces should be kept to a minimum and supported with civil-affairs and psychological operations units.

Analysis & Commentary

Jones is obviously well-studied and presents the data clearly, and the citations above are all the more remarkable because of these facts.  Without even a careful reading of the text, Jones is calling for the small footprint model of counterinsurgency.

Jones presents data and analysis to support a number of self-evident truths, such as the need to stand up the country’s own counterinsurgency forces as U.S. forces stand down, the need for a government essentially without corruption, and so forth.  But the leap from these truths to the necessity for a small footprint is not obviously or logically a necessary one.

More to the point, it is remarkable that this analysis was written in 2008.  General Abizaid and his successors were under orders to train the Iraqi Security Forces, and while some forces were deployed in the field conducting regular counterinsurgency operations, many weren’t until the security plan.

The Marines didn’t pay much attention to things going on outside of the Anbar Province, having had that AO turned over to them in 2004.  After a halting start in Fallujah, al Fajr set the stage for things to come in the province.  To rehearse an old theme, the tribal turn against al Qaeda and the insurgency didn’t occur in a vacuum.  Not only did al Qaeda’s brutality aid the turning, Shiekh Abdul Abu Sattar Risha had smuggling lines completely cut by U.S. kinetic operations.  Al Qaeda had become brutal, but the U.S. was an impediment to the welfare of his tribe.  He chose to fight al Qaeda, and even after beginning this part of the awakening a U.S. tank was parked in his front yard to protect his home and family.  The Sunnis turned on al Qaeda and sided with the U.S. because it was advantageous to do so.

Force projection was the hallmark of the Marine campaign in Anbar, with constant contact with both the enemy and population.  The small footprint or minimal force projection model was not applied in Anbar.  Subsequently after implementation of the security plan in and around Baghdad, it is simply impossible to argue that the small footprint model was used by Petraeus.

In fact, the opposite is true.  If there is any legacy of the small footprint model it is that in part it led to the necessity for the surge and security plan.  The notion of standing up the Iraqi Army suffered in the wake of cultural differences (e.g., the foreign idea of NCOs) as well as porous borders and a transnational insurgency.  Without a heavier footprint than in the early phases of OIF, the institutions couldn’t stand up and become disentangled from corruption (and still haven’t completely).

Turning East to Operation Enduring Freedom, it is no secret that the campaign is under-resourced by a wide margin, as the retiring General McNeill has said so.  The strategy planned for the future of Afghanistan is to negotiate with the Taliban from a position of weakness rather than from a position of strength as was done with the Sunni insurgency in Anbar.  The desperation is obvious, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai while offering peace talks has said he would personally go and talk to the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he knew his whereabouts or “his phone number.”  This last point should be reconsidered for its power and pedagogical value.  Karzai is talking about making peace with (and thus legitimizing) the very forces which made safe haven for al Qaeda prior to 9/11.

The most recent success in Afghanistan, the Helmand Province, is a success because of force projection by U.S. Marines.  Security is the necessary precondition for standing up the institutions that Jones wants to rely upon.  As one tribal elder in Garmser said to the Marines after entering, “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you.”

This protection doesn’t come with the small footprint model of COIN.  The two most recent insurgencies in history, involving not only radicalized elements but also transnational engagement, are evidence that the large footprint model for COIN is a winner.  Seth Jones has made a number of salient observations concerning COIN in the RAND paper, but almost-failed-nation-states which are vulnerable to criminals and transnational insurgents require nontrivial force size and obvious force projection (such as was the case in Anbar).  Whatever good might come from Jones’ study, his paper, at least on this point, seems badly dated and out of context given the recent conduct of COIN in OIF and OEF.

Further reading:

International Herald Tribune, U.S. think tank: Pakistan helped train Taliban, gave info on U.S. troops

MSNBC, U.S. think tank: Pakistan officials help Taliban


You are currently reading "RAND Study on Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan", entry #1139 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,The Anbar Narrative and was published June 9th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (677)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (31)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (7)
Ammunition (22)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (68)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (44)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (51)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (17)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (5)
Body Armor (17)
Books (2)
Border War (7)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (27)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (2)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (8)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (215)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (124)
Department of Homeland Security (13)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (6)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
El Salvador (1)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (3)
Featured (176)
Federal Firearms Laws (17)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (467)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (40)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (411)
Guns (961)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (45)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (38)
Islamists (63)
Israel (18)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (80)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (9)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (3)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (49)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (240)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (23)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (23)
Mexico (30)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (14)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (17)
NATO (15)
Navy (21)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (216)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (31)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (2)
Police (207)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (242)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (107)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (28)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (159)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (24)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (2)
Survival (12)
SWAT Raids (53)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (92)
Thanksgiving (5)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (13)
TSA Ineptitude (11)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (5)
U.S. Border Security (13)
U.S. Sovereignty (15)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (3)
Uncategorized (42)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (3)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (17)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2016 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.