4 years, 6 months ago
The Center for a New American Security, which is advising the Obama administration, has released Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Permit us a few observations? On page 4 we read that they advocate that we:
Adopt a truly population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes protecting the population rather than controlling physical terrain or killing the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Notice how killing Taliban and al Qaeda has been set in juxtaposition over against protecting the population, as if the two are mutually exclusive. We have dealt with this before in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN, where we argued that the Clausewitzian concept of a single center of gravity should be jettisoned in favor of multiple lines of operation and lines of effort. As far as protecting the population and killing the enemy, it isn’t EITHER-OR, it’s BOTH-AND. But we have to get off of the huge FOBs in order to do it. Dealing with this in a little more visceral way, let’s allow Greyhawk to respond as he did in a comment at Abu Muqawama.
I may be wrong – but there seems to be some fundamental misunderstanding of COIN in general and “protecting the population” at play here.
The idea that those are somehow efforts that don’t involve killing bad guys and blowing things up is wrong. I know this is obvious to 90% of the people who comment here, but there’s also a growing number of people seeking understanding of this newfangled “COIN” business who may be under the impression that it’s some sort of bloodless warfare – and some may scan these comments for illumination. If you aren’t among that number skip this rest of this.
In Iraq for the early days of the surge we did not pull away from contact for fear of hurting someone – in fact we did the opposite. We plopped ourselves down in various neighborhoods (very much to protect the populations therein) knowing full well a bit of the old ultra violence would ensue. Check the death tolls* – civilian or military – for late winter to early summer ’07 to see the result.
We killed bad guys (“irreconcilables”) in droves. If they didn’t come to us, we air assaulted (sorry – delivered troops via helicopter) to them. And if CAS (sorry – close air support, aka death from above via fixed or rotary wing aircraft…) was needed for TIC (sorry – troops in contact, meaning exchanging gunfire with the enemy), CAS was delivered. (Do not, however, take this to mean wanton, indiscriminate slaughter.)
COIN is not a fluffy bunny warfare world where no one gets hurt and we all ride unicorns over rainbows. It is very much killing the enemy. Protecting the population requires it.
To be completely fair, they do tip the hat to “lines of operation” on page 15, but this still doesn’t undo the basic presupposition where one aspect of counterinsurgency is set over against another. But it gets a little better. On page 19 and following, CNAS may even be taking a page from us when they take direct aim at the HVT concept. If they are advocating a stand-down from the high value target campaign, they we heartily agree. We have gone further in advocating the re-attachment of SOF to infantry, and getting infantry all places, everywhere, all of the time.
But of course, this requires troops. What is strangely missing in this report is advocacy for large troop additions. It isn’t mere coincidence that John Nagl, who once advocated 600,000 troops for Afghanistan, now heads up CNAS which is advising the Obama administration. It has become apparent that this administration will not contribute more than around 68,000 troops to Afghanistan.
The report may not be the triage it was meant to be. Instead, it may be well intentioned [politically affected?] analysis that sends too few men on an impossible mission.