Afghanistan: What is the Strategy?

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 7 months ago

Colonel Gian Gentile continues to point out the obvious dictum that counterinsurgency is not a strategy.  It is a set of tactics rolled up into a discrete form of military operation.  But it may not be so obvious to everyone.  Beyond implementing certain kinds of tactics (tactics that by themselves, i.e., without the necessary force projection, do nothing, or worse yet, harm the campaign), what is the overarching plan for the campaign?

The populist narrative can be found at a recent Huffington Post article.

From a strategic and financial perspective, the push to bolster the numbers and quality of the Afghan forces makes clear sense. On the strategic level, the coalition simply doesn’t have enough troops to satisfy the “clear, hold and build” formula of the counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban. Earlier this year, the Director of National Intelligence, former Admiral Dennis Blair, told Congress that the Afghan forces were less than one-tenth the size necessary to defend country. And as McChrystal has noted, “The demand and the supply don’t line up, even with the new troops that are coming in.” The financial equation is equally apparent. In pure dollar terms, the U.S. can field and train 60 Afghans for the price of one deployed American soldier.

Tactics and dollars are important criterion by which to evaluate the proposal; however, the real value of increasing the strength and size of the Afghan forces is less obvious. A successful counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan will require the coalition to protect the civilian population and win their support in the fight against the Taliban. With these goals in mind, strengthening the Afghanistan National Army and Police may represent the single most important aspect of McChyrstal’s new strategy.

Why? Because bolstering the Afghan security forces will not only restore trust in coalition forces, but also build Afghans’ confidence in the future of the country.

So the overall strategic goal is to train the Afghan National Army, start them up more quickly, and make the size of the ANA larger.  It’s simple math according to the Huffington Post.  Get 60 for one – what a deal.  But like used car salesmen, when you’re told that there is a deal waiting for you, it’s a lie.  There are no deals, and how a country with the GNP of Afghanistan is going to support a professional ANA of this size of simply not yet even on the drawing board of the planners.

Recall our coverage of the ANA? We have watched watched the ANA engage in drug abuse, smoke hashish before patrols, collude with Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops, themselves claim that they cannot hold Helmand without Marines and fear being killed if they even go out into the streets, be relatively ineffective against Taliban fighters, sleep on their watch, and claim to be on vacation in the Helmand Province.

But if the Huffington Post is the idiot’s narrative for the “new strategy,” there is a moderately more sophisticated version on the other side of the political isle.  It comes from Fred Kagan, who argued at the National Review Online (a link that is no longer valid) that the number of forces per non-combatant required in FM 3-24 could be filled by ANA, not U.S. or NATO forces.  So Kagan argues for the same counterinsurgency tactics as a strategy, but concurs with the notion of a rapid startup of ANA in lieu of U.S. force presence.

“The surge of forces that some (including me) are proposing is intended to bridge the gap between current Afghan capacity and their future capacity, while simultaneously reducing the insurgency’s capabilities. Whatever may happen in Afghanistan, counterinsurgency theory does not call for the deployment of hundreds of thousands of coalition forces for decades.”

The Afghan National Police are horrible, and even more horrible still.  The ANP cannot be relied upon any time soon, but is the assessment we have made of the ANA above still accurate after lo these many days (30 or so) since we opined?  Well, when Julie Jacobson isn’t wasting her time taking photos that should never have been published, she is actually doing some fairly good reporting in certain instances (but one has to wade through the trash to find it).  This kind of report is what she should have been doing all along, since it actually informs the reader.

It was freakin’ hot. About 115 degrees. The patrol started at 11 a.m. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to start it at that time. We started walking in two columns. Not five minutes out of the post gunfire erupted from the hillside to our right. We all just started running for cover behind walls. The ANA dropped into holes to provide cover but I don’t think they ever fired a shot. They just kind of sat there staring. All the cover fire came from the Marine support vehicles.

So the ANA dropped into holes and never fired in this kinetic engagement.  How are they doing with the whole winning hearts and minds tactic?  This account gives us pause.

The U.S. military is reaching out to civilians more now that NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has made gaining popular support the crux of his counterinsurgency strategy.

While that includes doling out cash, it also means consulting villagers in a region where local councils are a normal means of decision-making — including allowing residents directly affected by operations to air their grievances.

Abdul-Hamid, his wife, and their 10 children, for instance, endured a terrifying, middle-of-the-night ordeal on the outskirts of Dahaneh, a longtime Taliban stronghold stormed last week by Marines from Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.

The Marines arrived by helicopter in the middle of the night, shoving M-16s in the family members’ faces as multiple squads stormed through. At one point, one of the farmer’s adult sons cried softly because his plastic handcuffs were so tight his fingers turned purple.

The Marines then used explosives to burst through the wall into the compound belonging to Abdul-Hamid’s neighbor. A baby started crying after the second explosion sent shrapnel and debris flying high over Abdul-Hamid’s courtyard.

Minutes later, the Taliban in town had regrouped and begun firing rockets, mortars and missiles at the Marines resisting from Abdul-Hamid’s and his neighbor’s compounds.

Barely two days after that, Abdul-Hamid sat down with village elders, Afghan army officers and a dozen Marines, discussing how to improve relations and bring normalcy back to Dahaneh.

The elders wanted their detained clansmen freed, which Marines said would happen once they’d been fully investigated. The elders assured the troops that no Taliban were left in town and pledged to press fleeing civilians to return.

Abdul-Hamid wanted the troops to return to his house, where Afghan soldiers who’d moved in along with the Marines were already plucking chickens from his courtyard.

There you have it.  Plucking the chickens of the locals.  The reality of the situation is that the planning for ANA troops has been there all along.  There is nothing new regardless of what the Huffington Post says, and this still won’t work in the short term regardless of what Fred Kagan says.  Afghanistan is a long term commitment, and without the force projection by professional troops such as the U.S. Army and Marines, the campaign is lost.


  1. On September 10, 2009 at 9:01 am, Warbucks said:

    Following the clue train.

    What do we know (if anything) about any on-going stateside military training for Afghans in the areas of (a) numbers of personnel stateside (if any), (b) specific areas of coverage in their training overseen by concentrated US stateside schooling?

    It is only my perception. But, I have found that the real war plans being implemented tomorrow are often buried in stateside training quietly underway today.


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You are currently reading "Afghanistan: What is the Strategy?", entry #3767 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghan National Army,Afghan National Police,Afghanistan,Featured and was published September 9th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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