Population-Centric Counterinsurgency: Abandoning the Pech Valley Part III

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 8 months ago

The ISAF has released a statement on “repositioning” troops from the Pech Valley:

Coalition forces are repositioning from the Pech Valley to locations along Highway 7 to block insurgent infiltration along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“Afghan forces will take the lead in the Pech Valley,” said German Army Gen. Josef Blotz, spokesman, International Security Assistance Force Headquarters, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, during a weekly update.

Repositioning forces is a normal task for military operations as new strategies and counter-strategies are enacted to win the war. The repositioning of coalition forces also shows an increase in the abilities of Afghan National Security Forces.

“Afghan Security Forces are able to take responsibility of Pech Valley,” Blotz continued. “This is testimony to our confidence.” Blotz highlighted that while the numbers of ANSF have increased, their skill and abilities have also improved.

C. J. Chivers also discusses this at The New York Times.

After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

Abandoning the Pech?  Who said anything about abandoning the Pech?  This is just a “repositioning” of assets.  But wait.  The ANSF, despite the high praise from the ISAF, doubts their ability to hold the Pech.  They don’t appear too keen on the idea of going it alone in the Pech River Valley, and they shouldn’t be after watching the Taliban go after the outposts in Eastern Afghanistan such as at Wanat and Kamdesh.

They probably know that as soon as they are alone in the Pech, the Haqqani network will mass forces up to 200 or 300 fighters to go against the ANSF, and while the U.S. troops weren’t overrun at Wanat and Kamdesh, the ANSF will be in short order.  After all, we have seen what they do when left alone in large scale, high stakes, high profile operations.

And then there will be the investigations, maybe beginning something like this:

Flag officer A: So did we abandon the Pech Valley?

Flag Officer B: No sir, we repositioned to large population centers so that our operations comport with the doctrines of population-centric COIN.

Flag Officer A: So there isn’t any population in the Pech Valley?

Flag Officer B: Not nearly like in Kandahar, Jalalabad or Kabul.

Flag Officer A: So why did we leave the ANSF there if the population isn’t there?

Flag Officer B: Well, we thought it might be important to consider the fact that the insurgency would have safe haven in Pech and all along the Hindu Kush if we didn’t have troops there, and so we decided to …

Flag Officer A, interrupting: What do you mean insurgency and safe haven?  I thought you said the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency informed your judgment?  What difference does it make about the fighters if we protect the population?  Isn’t that our doctrine now?

Flag Officer B: Well, yes sir, but … um … you see, we thought that, um …

And I would love to be a fly on the wall for the rest of that conversation.  Can we put it on YouTube?

Prior:

Korengal Abandoned, Pech River Valley Still Problematic

Abandoning the Pech Valley

Abandoning the Pech Valley Part II




You are currently reading "Population-Centric Counterinsurgency: Abandoning the Pech Valley Part III", entry #6470 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Pech River Valley and was published March 2nd, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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