Archive for the 'Counterinsurgency' Category



The Nexus Of Counterinsurgency And Community Policing

BY Herschel Smith
1 month, 3 weeks ago

The Small Wars Journal has a tradition of publishing white papers and opinion pieces on the relationship of counterinsurgency tactics to community policing, even advocating the use of regular U.S. military forces to couple with police in the States, and the latest is entitled Counterinsurgency and Community Policing: More Alike than Meets the Eye.

I won’t duplicate what ends up being a very long article here, since you can study it yourself.  But I will make several observations.  The first has to do with his MOS.  By training and trade the author is a LEO who apparently deployed as a Naval Reserve Intelligence Officer.  He wasn’t the pointy end of the spear as was my son and many others.

What you don’t get is the perspective of someone who had to engage in room clearing operations against people shouting Allahu Akbar, chopped boats and people to pieces with an M2 aboard a helicopter, who were boating across the Euphrates River after you had locked down Fallujah, or who constructed your FOB on your back handing sandbags over your head to the next Marine while you were being shot at.

I’m not recounting this brief history for fun – it wasn’t for my son.  I am mentioning it in order to explain what you do mainly get with this paper: happy face COIN, or the mythical story told to the masses in order to get them to support state-building across the pond.

The author sets up the article with this:

The term counterinsurgency has long been associated with military operations and soldiers.  It conjures visions of violent urban combat action, population relocation, social engineering, and a tool for dealing with foreign political emergencies.  These visions are not inaccurate as they represent some of the methods and strategies used in COIN operations throughout history.  But these methods and strategies do not encapsulate all aspects of COIN.  As COIN operations shift from combat to peace keeping and community-building they begin to resemble traditional community policing activities in which the public servant controls through education and raising ethical stature in communities.  It is in the transitional phase – when the soldier transitions into the policeman and community facilitator – that COIN and Community policing share the same strategies and tactics.

Part of the happy face is in his presentation of typical policing:

COIN is typically employed by uniformed soldiers, armed with assault rifles and supported by light and heavy armored vehicles and tactical air assets.  Community Policing is conducted by uniformed police officers, representatives of the community they serve, with a badge, a holstered pistol, and a number of less-lethal tools.  In COIN, soldiers control population movement and space through use of roadblocks, cordoning off, house to house search and clearing operations, and patrolling villages and neighborhoods in HUMVEE’s and Armored Personnel Carriers.  In Community Policing, police patrol neighborhoods in police cars, bicycles, foot beats, and horses, people are free to move about and there is no outward show of force.

He is intentionally ignoring the militarization of police in America, or perhaps better yet, he is attempting to show both the militarized presence and the so-called population-centric community building he believes police do.

He says “COIN and Community Policing are intrinsically linked,” and then makes this pregnant statement:

In addition to the non-kinetic imperatives mentioned above, similarities can also be found in traditional policing activities such as crime prevention, traffic control, crime investigation, and overall public safety.  In COIN operations powers of arrest are generally left to the police organizations of the host nation.  However, soldiers stand side by side with their host nation counterpart and provide assistance in the form of identifying and, when necessary, arresting insurgents.

As a successful COIN operation, he uses the British experience in Northern Ireland where British troops coupled with local police.  But it is important to get the thrust of his article in the alignment, or nexus, of tactics to achieve the overall strategy.  He ends with this:

Ultimately, the desired end state is a strategy that is seen as legitimate, employing social, political, economic, and security measures that meet the population’s needs, including adequate mechanisms to address the grievances that may have fueled support of the insurgency.

In his world, police become social planners, and employ various tools to meet the population’s needs and address grievances, while at the same time coupling with a more militarized presence to tamp down violence and insurgency.

This thinking isn’t foreign to American police.  They have been playing social planner and policy-maker for decades now, making better sense of the recent blame the Chicago chief of police laid with the availability of guns for violence in Chicago.

But heretofore, this thinking i.e., alignment of military with local police, was indeed foreign to military strategists.  With papers like this it is becoming more commonplace and when something becomes commonplace and worthy of consideration, it becomes easier to engage.

Take note of these things.  Not only are the police becoming more militarized, the armed forces is studying policy-making, trying to learn to employ the tools of social engineering and building human terrain systems, and talking about addressing grievances and meeting community needs.

It all continues a rich tradition of flirtation with treasonous theories at the SWJ.  After all, it worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, why not try it in the United States?

The Self Inflicted Tragedy Of The Afghanistan Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
2 years ago

Mark Steyn observes:

The pitiful self-inflicted tragedy of the west’s “strategy” in Afghanistan is summed up in this opening sentence:

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A newly recruited Afghan village policeman opened fire on his American allies on Friday, killing two US service members minutes after they handed him his official weapon in an inauguration ceremony.

There’s nothing clever or sophisticated about this attack. You don’t have to plot, or disguise yourself, or break into a secure facility. They come to you, to your village. They even give you money. And then they give you the gun. And then you shoot them.

Do they cover that in Pentagon-approved must-read Three Cups Of Tea? Afghanistan is just another in the long roll-call of America’s un-won wars these past six decades – except that it’s taken longer to lose than the others, and in their barbarity the locals demonstrate an almost gleeful contempt for a lavishly endowed enemy with everything except the one thing it needs: strategic purpose. This ought to be a national scandal …

To some degree we’ve covered this in Green On Blue Bloodbath In Afghanistan.  At least now they have changed their disposition towards the ANA and ANP.

The uptick in attacks by Afghan security forces against coalition troops has hit home, with all troops at NATO headquarters and all bases across Afghanistan now ordered to carry loaded weapons around the clock, CNN learned Friday.

Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, ordered the move, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the orders. The order, made in recent days, was divulged amid two more so-called green-on-blue or insider attacks Friday.

It’s ridiculous that we weren’t already behaving this way.  This is part of the impetus behind me asking why all Soldiers and Marines don’t already carry a sidearm. In Iraq when the Marines, 2/6 Golf Company, was in Fallujah (2007), they wouldn’t even sleep around ISF unless they had concertina wire and armed, on duty Marines between them and ISF soldiers.

As for the tragedy of the Afghanistan strategy, it isn’t that there wasn’t one.  It’s that the flag and staff officers from the Pentagon to Afghanistan came under the spell of the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency and nation-building.  For it, as Steyn observes, “We came, we saw, we left no trace. America’s longest war will leave nothing behind.”  Not even killing enough of the enemy.  We will be back again, hopefully as grown ups next time.

The Kagan’s And The Strategy For Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

From The Washington Times:

Afghanistan’s harsh and isolated Korengal Valley two years ago this month served as the setting for an unlikely U.S. military maneuver — a retreat.

The Army evacuated a network of hilltop platoon outposts, left them to the Taliban and started a war strategy devised by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan in 2010.

[ ... ]

Today, the failed Korengal experiment is a factor in a new way of conducting missions in the east, which includes Kunar and 13 other provinces, and a 450-mile-long border with terrorist-infested Pakistan. The military calls it a “refocus” on finding and hitting the enemy, with less reliance on static valley outposts.

[ ... ]

Nearly nine years into the war, the military had to acknowledge a big mistake.

“So what the commanders did, they took a very hard look at the east, with the help of the Kagans, who analyzed the terrain and the enemy to a level of detail that maybe had not been done in the past,” Gen. Keane said.

The Kagans are Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, a husband-and-wife analytical team who played a major role in developing and selling the Iraq surge.

In 2010, the U.S. command invited them to Afghanistan as an outside “red team” to tell the generals how operations could be improved.

Mr. Kagan, a military historian who taught at West Point, is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mrs. Kagan, who also taught at West Point, is president of the Institute for the Study of War.

The Kagans spent months in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. They traveled throughout the battle space to study the enemy and the tactics to kill them.

As the Kagans gave their advice, U.S. troops adapted.

“They refocused on the populated areas, which has meant coming out of some of the valleys,” Mrs. Kagan told The Times. “Troops rearranged so that they were massed in the key terrain in population areas in order to interact with the population, protect that population and really help abrogate the enemy by seeing to it they could not engage in the same intimidation campaigns that they were engaged in populated areas.”

Three main intelligence/strike targets emerged: “mobility corridors” through which the Taliban and allied Haqqani Network fighters moved; “support zones,” or safe havens, where the enemy planned and rested; and the areas around possible enemy targets.

“The Kagans did a better job in analyzing which were the ones the enemy was using and which ones were more important,” Gen. Keane said.

And what about the valleys such as Korengal?

“They are using strike forces and basically planned operations on occasion to go back into the valleys and remove pockets of the enemies when they grow sufficient to warrant military attention,” Mrs. Kagan said. “That is really what has changed in operating in the northern Kabul area.”

Mrs. Kagan said the operations of Army Col. Andrew Poppas, who led Task Force Bastogne last year, stand as a good example. He used “creative ways to mass forces” to go after the Taliban, she said.

Nine months into his mission, Col. Poppas talked to the Pentagon press corps from a base in Jalalabad. He gave three examples of combined strikes on identified safe havens that took territory away from the Taliban.

In Operation Bulldog Bite in Kunar’s Pech River Valley, “we successfully reduced the amount of insurgent attacks on the local populace and proved wrong the entire mystique that there were safe havens [for] the enemy,” he said. “We worked through each of the separate valleys, identifying, targeting the enemy network, predominately Taliban.”

Analysis & Commentary

Sounds nice, no?  “Mobility corridors,” and “creative ways to mass forces”?  The only problem is that despite what General Keane is saying, it hasn’t worked, and won’t work.  Let’s begin with Highway 1, the most significant transportation and logistics corridor in Afghanistan, running between Kabul and Kandahar, and then on to other cities as the so-called “ring road.”  Greg Jaffe recently authored a good piece at The Washington Post on this very road.  The entire report is well worth the study time, but after a recent IED attack on Highway 1, U.S. forces wanted to know why a local farmer didn’t report the IED.  The farmer’s reply is telling: “The Taliban were everywhere, including the Afghan army, the farmer replied. “There is no one I can trust,” he insisted.

On to RC South, which is supposed to be so much better off than RC East.  The Marines are frustrated with the constant release of insurgents from prison, the changing strategies, and so much more.  This report is disheartening.

I have seen courageous American soldiers get increasingly frustrated and cynical about the war. Last summer a Marine colonel in southern Afghanistan told me there was low morale among the troops. He said, “On an operational level, the soldiers are saying, ‘I’m going to go over there and try to not get my legs blown off. My nation will shut this bullshit down.’ That’s the feeling of my fellow soldiers.” The marine officer said, “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”

As for Keane’s claims for the success of the Kagan’s plans in RC East, there is near panic among Afghans in the Nuristan Province.

Local Afghan officials have called for a military intervention in the country’s northeast after scores of suspected Pakistani Taliban fighters overran several districts in Nuristan, a remote province bordering Pakistan.

Ghulamullah Nuristani, the security chief in Nuristan, says the militants captured the Kamdesh and Bargmatal districts of Nuristan two weeks ago and have torched dozens of homes and threatened to kill local villagers who work for the Afghan government.

Nuristani has called on NATO and the Afghan government to intervene, insisting that the small contingent of local police is powerless to stop the militants in Nuristan, from where U.S. forces withdrew in 2009.

“If anybody opposes them, the insurgents burn their homes and threaten to kill them. I have witnessed several houses being burned and seen many of the inhabitants beaten,” Nuristani says. “Until the government intervenes, we don’t have the resources [to fight back]. We can’t do it alone.”

It’s not clear where the militants are from. Nuristani says they are members of the Pakistani Taliban, who control the Pakistani side of the border alongside Al-Qaeda operatives and fighters from the Hizb-e Islami group headed by notorious former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Aziz Rahman, a village elder in Kamdesh, describes the militants as armed and wearing black clothing. He says the militants have set up a shadow government, opening local offices and collecting taxes from local residents.

“Kamdesh is under the control of the Taliban. The men in black clothing are here. They have opened a Department of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” Rahman says. “They are teaching religious material and are telling people to do the right things. If people violate the rules, then they get punished.”

[ ... ]

Mawlawi Ahmadullah Moahad, a member of parliament from Nuristan, issued a warning to the government on the deteriorating situation in Nuristan when he addressed parliament on March 24.

Moahad told parliament that the militants had crossed the border from Pakistan and had evicted hundreds of villagers from their homes and replaced them with families from the Pakistani town of Chitral, which is across the border in the Bajaur tribal agency.

It’s just as I had forecast for the Pech River Valley and Hindu Kush once U.S. troops left.  A better chance to kill the trouble-makers in their own safe haven, we will never have.  But we chose to implement population-centric counterinsurgency and withdraw to the cities, and then to top it all off, we decreased troop levels.  It’s a sad, sad story that regular readers have seen well documented on the pages of The Captain’s Journal.

But what we see above is the fruit of our strategy.  The chickens are coming home to roost.  The people of Nuristan are in a panic, the Marines are fed up with the strategy, the farmers in the Kandahar Province are afraid of the Taliban, and just to make sure that you understand how parents and loved ones feel about the engagement, read the comments about the report from Nuristan when the author got the date for the battle at Kamdesh wrong.

by: Vanessa Adelson from: USA

March 29, 2012 23:59
Please get your facts straight. COP Keating was attacked in October 2009, not 2008. I should know. My son was killed during that attack. 300 Taliban attacked our small COP of about 50 soldiers. NOT ONE person from the village of Kamdesh let our COP know about the imminent attack. Some ANA were killed that day. Others turned their guns and attacked our soldiers. Others ran and hid. Let them ROT! Oh yeah, America….Pakistan is not a nation that should be considered our friend. Where do you think the Taliban came from that attacked my son and his buddies. Let’s just get the hell out of that country.

by: Dave from: Ft drum

March 30, 2012 16:52
Justice served. Keating was attacked repeatedly during 2008 as well and the first indicator of an attack was always the locals not showing up for work. No warnings. Screw em. My CO, Capt Yellescas died there in october 2008, a week after telling the local shura that America would abandon them to the Taliban if they didn’t start helping.

by: Cynthia Woodard from: Pa

March 30, 2012 00:23
The Battle of Kemdash was Oct 03, 09, not 08. My son was one of the 8 that were killed that day. Those people didn’t warn the soldiers that they were going to be attacked by 300+ insurgens. NOW they cry for our help. I say NO NO NO.

by: Knighthawk from: USA

March 30, 2012 00:44

All due respect – tough doo-doo. Too little too late we’re out of there soon and these people are screwed by their own failures to act when they had a chance, and their not the only area with the same story. The time for such calls were years ago but most of these villagers didn’t want to risk being involved then, or in many cases they did far worse by aiding the enemy (the very same people they are now complaining about) when US\NATO et all actually did try to secure their areas but this same population wouldn’t lift much of a finger to help themselves.

The fact they are crying foul now is pretty rich, but typical of the general afghan mentality.

Not a lot of love going around.  And when you have lost morale among the Marines due to failed strategy and the parents and loved ones of men who have suffered are angry and resentful, you know that support for the campaign has evaporated.

It didn’t have to be this way, but we pretended that minimal troops and nation-building would work in Afghanistan.  It’s been a costly pretension.

Where Counterinsurgency Hath Brought Us

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 5 months ago

Courtesy of reader Šťoural.  The COIN dance.

Maj. Gen. John Toolan turned over the reins of Regional Command Southwest yesterday to Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, who will lead Marine forces in Helmand and Nimroz provinces this summer.

Toolan has repeatedly praised Mohammad Gulab Mangal, Helmand’s provincial governor for his leadership. The general cited Mangal jumping to action as one reason why Helmand didn’t have the same kind of violent protests other parts of the country did after U.S. soldiers burned Qurans at Bagram Air Base last month.

To thank Mangal and other top Afghan officials for their year-long partnership, Toolan held a farewell dinner last week at the Afghan Cultural Center at Camp Leatherneck. And as you can see in the photograph above released by the Corps, the general threw himself into the mix completely, dressing in traditional Afghan garb and joining others on the dance floor.

Observe where population-centric counterinsurgency hath brought us … and left us.

U.S. Foreign Policy Triumphs Again! Turkey Fills the Vacuum In Iraq

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 10 months ago

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the U.S. could not figure out how to negotiate an extension of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, leading to the “premature evacuation” of our forces in two months time, the Turks have decided to make it clear to the world (and, more importantly, the regional powers that matter) the decidedly unmanly U.S. foreign policy.

Turkey has apparently decided that it is really just too inconvenient to keep dodging back and forth across the northern Iraqi border in pursuit of Kurdish militants.  Instead, according to this news item from August (which seems to have slipped under the collective radar), the Turks are fortifying bases in northern Iraq and settling in for a seemingly long stay.

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 19 (UPI) — Turkey targeted Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq for a second day, broadening the reach of its fight against the rebels, officials said.

The attacks Thursday came as Turkey said it’s turning intelligence outposts into operations garrisons to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, to northern Iraq, where Turkey has 2,500 troops.

Turkey, which has had intelligence outposts in the region since 1995, will transform a Bamerni garrison into a logistics center for supporting major operations against PKK, Today’s Zaman reported.

The publication, citing sources, said fortification of outposts would enable Turkish troops in Iraq to stay there longer to search for members of the outlawed PKK. Bombings are to continue and units from Sirnak province will be deployed in the region, officials said.

Today’s Zaman did not give casualty figures in the latest attacks.

The 25 cross-border operations Turkey has conducted so far have been short because of pressure from allies and regional governments, but sources told Today’s Zaman Turkey would now continue operations as long as necessary to end the threat of terrorism in northern Iraq.

After a regular meeting Thursday, led by President Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s National Security Council said it’s embarking on “more effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”

About 20 million of Turkey’s 74 million residents are Kurds, living mainly in the southeast near the country’s borders with Iraq and Iran, and the PKK’s fight for Kurdish independence has claimed 40,000 lives in the past three decades.

There are so many knife wounds in such a short story.  The actions of Turkey here could not present a stronger contrast with U.S. actions if Hollywood wanted to script it.

First off, the Turks do not seem to have learned that Iraq is a sovereign state and that any bases in Iraq used to pursue Turkey’s enemies must be subject to arduous and infinite negotiations, full of lavish offers of foreign aid and support.    How long did Turkey negotiate with Nouri al-Maliki in order to get these basing rights in a supposedly sovereign Iraq?  The article is silent but it is a safe bet that there were no negotiations.   Turkey essentially told the Iraqis, “We’re doing this.  Get used to it.”

Next, what about immunity for Turkish soldiers from prosecution under Iraqi laws?   Obama has told us that those Iraqis are absolute sticklers about this sort of thing.  Why the Iraqi people would never allow foreign soldiers on their soil who can violate Iraqi law with impunity.   The U.S. just couldn’t get that point resolved, so time to pack up in a hurry and get out of Dodge.    Somehow, though, it doesn’t look like the Turks are at all worried about Iraqi prosecutors putting Turkish soldiers in jail.

And how about that nasty Turkish attitude about a few, measly PKK fighters taking shelter in Iraq?  Kurds make up over 25% of Turkey’s population and have historic claims to parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran.   Arguably, the Kurds were robbed of their own state when the victors of World War I split up the Ottoman Empire.   Unlike the U.S. in Pakistan, Turkey seems to have no problem treating the Iraqi border as purely optional and, now, it seems that part of Iraq itself will become effectively Turkish until the PKK is sorted out.   If that ever happens.

And what to make of Turkey’s methods for defeating the PKK?  It sure does not sound like Turkey is establishing these bases in Iraq in order to win the hearts and minds of PKK guerillas.   I sure hope that Turkish forces are going to be culturally sensitive and not commit any grievous offenses like flatulence in the presence of Iraqi Kurds, but we cannot expect that Turkish leaders will be nearly as enlightened as American leadership in this regard.  Instead, it appears that the Turks are intent on finding and killing as many of the PKK militants as possible, hence the talk by President Gul about “effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”   Sounds way too warlike.   Not at all a COIN-centric policy.

Nonetheless, these actions by Turkey should not diminish the crowning achievement announced by President Obama that U.S. forces will be completely withdrawn from Iraq by January 1, 2012 and the war officially “over.”

Funny.  Wasn’t there a time in U.S. history when a war was not “over,” it was “won” ?

UPDATE: Michael Rubin has just posted this damning bit of information that relates how the once openly-pro American Kurds of Iraq have now (correctly) read the complete collapse of American foreign policy in the Middle East and are embracing the Iranian Regime:

The Iraqi Kurds have prided themselves on being America’s allies throughout the Iraq war and its aftermath. Repeatedly, regional leader Masud Barzani​ told visiting American generals and dignitaries that the Kurdish region was the most pro-American in Iraq.

The Kurdish authorities, however, have never made ideological alliances, but are the ultimate realists: Barzani forms partnerships with whomever he believes can most fulfill his own interests. With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, it is clear that anyone with an ounce of self-preservation is rushing to cut deals with the Iran. After all, the most common Iranian influence theme, Iraqi politicians say, is that “You may like the Americans better, but we will always be your neighbors.” Hence, on October 29, Barzani traveled to Iran where, on Sunday, he warmly embraced both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. According to press reports, Barzani declared, “We will not forget the assistance of the Iranian people and government during the hard times passed by Iraq. To preserve our victory we need Iranian assistance and guidance….”

Everyone in the region knows that the way Iraqis negotiate is to state extreme positions as a deadline approaches, and then go behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room to hash out agreements. The Iranians often quip that they play chess while the Americans play checkers. No one expected Obama to forfeit before the game actually began. But, alas, now that he has done so, he will discover just how deeply he has lost Iraq and Iraqis.

The only consolation I can take from this is that Obama’s replacement in 2013 may be able to undo some of the terrific damage done U.S. interests in the world.   The Kurds and Iraqis at large may quickly come to regret making any deals with the Iranian Regime and may be looking for help in 2013 once the U.S. regains its senses.

Night Raids, Prisons, Politics and the Afghanistan Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 11 months ago

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Over the past year, US and NATO forces say they have made considerable progress against the Afghan insurgency through the use of night raids. But a new study suggests that the long-controversial nighttime operations are doing more harm than good.

Despite a sharp rise in the number of night raids, there have been no benefits in the form of decreased insurgent attacks, and anger over the operations has continued to mount among Afghan civilians, found the report by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office, a research and analysis group in Kabul.

“The dramatic increase in the number of night raids, and evidence that night raids or other operations may be more broadly targeting civilians to gather information and intelligence, appear to have overwhelmed Afghan tolerance of the practice,” wrote the authors of the report. “Afghan attitudes toward night raids are as hostile as ever, if not more so.”

International forces rely heavily on night raids to capture or kill high-level insurgents. Night raids are a critical component of NATO’s strategy here, but a growing number of Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, have condemned the raids as disrespectful to Afghan culture, and say they undermine the authority of the government and security forces …

Even in the face of heated political debate about the night raids, there was fivefold increase between February 2009 and December 2010. Though newer statistics are unavailable, military officials indicated to Open Society Foundations that international forces still conduct a large number of night raids, possibly at higher rates than those previously documented. By one estimate, up to 40 night raids occur daily throughout Afghanistan.

“The night raids are perceived by the people, by the government, by Afghans as an insult. It’s a very big insult because they are insulting our privacy … so people hate them from the depths of their hearts,” says Rahim Khurram, deputy director of The Liaison Office …

The US and international forces have made a number of changes to their night-raid policy that have, by many measures, improved their accuracy and addressed Afghan concerns. Among other changes, Afghan officials are now incorporated in the planning process, and 25 percent of night operations are led by Afghan forces.

Presently, International Security Assistance Force officials say that they get their target 80 percent of the time during night raids. The report does not state what portion of the remaining 20 percent escaped or if they mistakenly arrested the wrong person. ISAF officials also point out that the night raids account for less than 1 percent of civilian casualties and that 85 percent are conducted without any shots fired.

“Night operations are an effective method of maintaining the pressure on the enemy while minimizing risk to innocent civilians,” says US Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, an ISAF spokesman.

Many of the improvements have been overlooked or gone unnoticed by Afghans, however, due to the sheer quantity.

Despite pervasive disapproval of night raids among many Afghans, if conducted properly, they are a valuable tool against the insurgency, says Mirwais Yasini, a member of parliament from Nangarhar Province, where night raids have been a serious point of contention.

“We cannot do without them, because if we do away with the night raids it means we are cutting [ISAF’s] operational capacity to the day, and if we do that it means we’re cutting their operational capacity to less than 50 percent,” says Mr. Yasini.

He suggests that instead of raiding houses during the night, international forces should try surrounding a village at night and make arrests during the day time.

Analysis & Commentary

Of course many of the Afghan people don’t like it.  But the edifice upon which this whole objection is built is population-centric counterinsurgency, with its adage that “if you kill one insurgent you create ten more.”  There isn’t a single shred of evidence that killing an insurgent creates ten more – that’s just a doctrinal mantra, and if repeated enough times it begins to be taken as science.  However, while the objection lodged by the Afghans to high value target raids may not be salient, there is a much more important reason that these raids are not as successful as they are purported to be.  Prisons.  Many or most of the HVTs are not killed, but captured and sent to prisons.  These prisons have become not only a laughingstock of the Afghan culture, they have become dangerous.

Cell Block 3 was in flames as prison riots continued in the next block over. The Taliban had grown too powerful, and the confinements of Afghanistan’s Pol-e-charki prison became little more than protective walls rendering them untouchable from the war raging outside.

The December 2008 riots at Pol-e-charki prison on the outskirts of Kabul served as a wake-up call to the severity of the corruption that had crept in through padded pockets and turning blind eyes. Captured Taliban commanders and radicalized prisoners had formed an operating center within Cell Block 3—armed with weapons, and with their own Shura Council to hold trials, vote, and eliminate those who refused to cooperate.

“The guards were not even allowed to go down into the cell block because they would be killed or kidnapped—I mean, its the Wild West out there,” said Drew Berquist, a former U.S. intelligence agent and author of “The Maverick Experiment,” in a phone interview.

Attention fell on the prison after the riots, and rebuilding efforts became focused on increasing security. This included eliminating cells for large groups, and replacing them with cells for smaller groups of between two and eight.

“You had a prison that was run by the Afghan government, but really, entire facilities within that prison were being used as training and education grounds for insurgent elements,” said Drew Quinn, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs director at the U.S. Embassy Kabul, on the NATO Channel in Nov. 2009.

Resolving such issues is no simple matter, and the battle behind prison walls continues to this day.

A rare news conference in Kabul, held by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security intelligence service in February, highlighted the breadth of the problem—noting that despite efforts to root out operations at Pul-e-Charkhi, it is still going strong.

Taliban commander Talib Jan, a prisoner at Pul-e-Charkhi, is one of the more extreme cases. He organizes suicide bombings across Kabul from within his cell—including the Jan. 28 suicide bombing of a supermarket that killed 14 people.

“Most of the terrorist and suicide attacks in Kabul were planned from inside this prison by this man,” said National Directorate of Security spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, at the conference, New York Times reported.

The problem, according to Berquist, runs deep.

“The prison systems are corrupt,” Berquist said. “The safest place for the Taliban is the prisons because they can’t get caught again.”

But if killing an insurgent doesn’t in fact create ten more, imprisonment of one may in fact do just that.  To coin a phrase, “imprisonment one insurgent creates ten more.”  Remember that phrase.  Since HVT raids focus so much on imprisonment of insurgents, they are counterproductive.  Killing the enemy isn’t counterproductive, but because we place so much value in not doing that in the campaign, it has affected the entirety of the effort.

And this clouds the whole strategy.  Thus, Presidential candidate Rick Perry is not clear yet in his proposed strategy for Afghansitan.

Rick Perry is still laboring to articulate a clear position on Afghanistan. At Monday night’s Republican debate, Perry–who has no real foreign policy experience beyond flying Air Force cargo planes abroad–seemed to endorse Jon Huntsman’s call for a major drawdown from Afghanistan. Yesterday, an unnamed Perry adviser revised and extended the gentleman’s remarks for Foreign Policy:

“If increasingly the Afghans can do this kind of work, then of course we want to bring our people home. It’s good for us, it’s good for them. But Gov. Perry is not confident in the Obama policy, which seems to be driven largely by politics, and he’s not confident in the 100,000 troops number. He’d like to know if it’s possible at 40,000,” the advisor said, explaining that the rationale for the specific number of U.S. troops on the ground has never been clearly explained by the administration.”He would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending.”

This position is incredibly tortured. A presence of 100,000 troops seems too high to Perry, but he opposes Obama’s plan for a modest withdrawal of about 30,000 troops because it’s apparently driven by “politics.” He’s against a precipitous withdrawal, yet he’s interested in a 60 percent reduction in forces–to a level that would make David Petraeus bang his forehead on his desk.

Perry isn’t the only Republican to send mixed signals on Afghanistan. That’s because the GOP candidates are torn between two powerful forces. One is the general public’s loss of patience with the Afghanistan war. Especially now that Osama bin Laden is shark food, a clear majority of Americans want us out–regardless of whether Afghan troops can execute jumping jacks. But Republican voters are still on board: As of June, 53% of them still favored fighting on until Afghanistan has been stabilized (whatever that means).

Even Andrew McCarthy, writing for NRO, observes that Perry’s answer was muddled (although McCarthy parrots the usual stuff about killing and capturing a lot of people which makes his case rather odd).  Since we have tried population-centric counterinsurgency and nation-building in the most backwards place on earth, the last ten years has seen a groundhog day rinse and repeat of the same thing, over and over again.  Of course our strategy is confused.  The people who implemented it were confused.

Mr. Obama has been content to go along with a confused strategy and cut his losses as soon as possible.  In challenging him, the GOP needs to see their way clear to a revised strategy and a justification for said approach.  This needs to fit within the framework of the larger war against the transnational insurgency, in which AQ, the Taliban, the TTP, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., are just manifestations of the militant side of Islamism, with the Muslim Brotherhood being the manifestation of the more political side of (what will ultimately become the forcible implementation of) sharia law.

Whatever is decided, let’s be clear.  A small footprint, HVT raid-based approach by 10,000 – 15,000 troopers, mostly SOF, won’t work.  When there are no troops to provide security for the people who supply intelligence for the raids, the raids will dry up.  When logistics cannot get supplies to the troopers, it will take SOF missions to rescue the SOF troopers remaining in Afghanistan.  A small footprint is a silly, juvenile cop out, and a poor excuse for actually thinking through the difficult issues of the war.

The troops exist for the proper execution of the campaign.  The CJCS could tell the Commandant of the Marines to stop playing Iwo Jima, give up the ridiculous EFV, settle for a mission that includes air-based forcible entry capabilities, and send Marines all over the world in distributed operations (similar to SOF).  There are missions for the Marines to do, surely.

And as for what to do with the insurgents, they must be killed or released.  Prisons are not only not helpful in counterinsurgency, they are counterproductive.  As I have said before, prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency.

UPDATE: From The Washington Post:

Even as U.S.-led forces draw down in Afghanistan, U.S. officials expect the number of detainees at their main prison to increase — and by a significant margin.

Officials had already announced that they would retain control of the Parwan Detention Center north of Kabul well beyond the planned 2012 transfer date because of concerns that the Afghan legal system is still too weak. But U.S. officials recently said they intend to solicit contractors to help expand the facility’s capacity from about 3,500 beds to 5,500 beds.

Parwan, which has been expanded previously, holds about 2,500 detainees. Those detainees include high-profile insurgents as well as Afghans who are suspected of playing more of a peripheral role in the conflict.

The construction project “is part of our established and ongoing transition efforts” with the Afghan government, Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for the U.S. task force that oversees detention operations in Afghanistan, said in an e-mail. Aandahl said the expansion was necessary to “accommodate an increase in the number of suspected insurgents being detained as a result of intelligence-based counter- terrorism operations, which we conduct with our Afghan partners.

There is a massive amount of hope in this plan.  It is being planned in order to “accommodate an increase in the number of suspected insurgents being detained as a result of intelligence-based counter- terrorism operations …”  All of which means that the U.S. wants to turn this even more into a SOF High Value Target campaign.  In other words, take that which hasn’t succeeded thus far, and intensify it without the troopers on the ground to supply logistics and security for those who supply intelligence.  This exemplifies the bankruptcy of our military thinking on Afghanistan.

Prior:

The Long Term Effects of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

The Great Escape – in Afghanistan!

Because Prisons Work So Well In Counterinsurgency

Afghan Prison An Insurgent Breeding Ground

Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

Hamid Karzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

True Confessions of British Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 3 months ago

General Sir David Richards recently discussed the British experience in the Helmand Province, and he gave an interesting perspective to the British public.

Serious intelligence failures meant British commanders were unprepared for the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan as soldiers “turned up a hornets’ nest”, three of the country’s most senior military officers have said.

General Sir David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, told MPs the British had got involved in a very serious situation, adding: “War is a bummer.”

A failure of intelligence, notably about tribal loyalties and aggressive US operations, and ill-thought out attempts to eradicate the opium poppy harvest, combined to exacerbate an already dangerous situation facing the 3,000 British troops sent to Helmand by the Blair government in 2006, the officers said.

[ ... ]

Houghton, a widely respected general who, along with Richards, was interviewed by Cameron for the top military post, listed a number of problems that came together.

Britain’s military commitment to Iraq was higher than it was anticipated it would still be in 2006, and British troops arrived in May, “the natural start of the fighting season”.

The Taliban, at the time, encouraged the belief that foreign troops were out to eradicate the poppy harvest, a valuable source of income for local farmers. Some 200,000 labourers migrated from Pakistan to help with the poppy harvest, and some were happy to stay as “guns for hire”.

Houghton added that US troops had just engaged in “particularly kinetic” [aggressive] military operations at the time.

Moreover, at the behest of President Hamid Karzai, British troops were deployed to forward “platoon houses” in northern Helmand areas such as Sangin and Musa Qala. The soldiers turned out to be dangerously exposed and too few in number.

Assessing the list for a moment, the Brits did indeed deploy to hard area, the same areas that know a U.S. Marine presence right now.  There have not been enough troops, and the Brits certainly had a hard time of things in Helmand.  They didn’t have the necessary troops to cover the Province, and Taliban fighters had taken over Now Zad as an R&R area.  When the U.S. Marines arrived in Now Zad they brought two trauma physicians with them due to the severe injuries they sustained.  They routinely slept forward deployed in groups of two or three Marines in what they would later term as “Hobbit Holes” dug into the earth and other structures.  Now Zad was almost entirely outside the wire.

Yet the British Generals are hedging.  It wasn’t the lack of troops that lost Musa Qala.  It was the ill-conceived alliance with one Mullah Abdul Salaam.  But the most significant observation concerns U.S. operations, and the British regarded them as “particularly kinetic.”  A clearer statement is given to us by The Independent.

These included the Taliban’s portrayal of moves to eradicate opium plants as evidence that the UK forces wanted to destroy local farmers’ livelihoods, the appointment of a new provincial governor which destabilised the tribal balance, and previous intensive American military operations which “whipped up” the situation.

American military operations whipped up the situation.  This is an absolutely remarkable comment.  Just remarkable.  In Getting the Narrative Right on Southern Afghanistan I strongly criticized a strategic assessment conducted by Professor Theo Farrell of Kings College in London.  Being a classy fellow, Theo offered a clinical and unemotional response in the comments.

In my visits to Helmand, I have found differences of opinion – some expressed in strong terms – betw Brit and USMC officers. But I consider this entirely natural (indeed there are considerable differences of opinion w/in the Brit Army, as I expect they are w/in the US Army and USMC). So I don’t want to overplay these. The one general difference that I would draw out is over the pace of progress. Basically Marine commanders push the pace beyond that which the British consider sustainable and indeed desirable. Fast progress on the military line of ops is not sustainable in COIN if it outpaces too much the governance and development lines of ops.

I don’t think there is a ‘gov in a box’ theory of COIN. Basically, this term came from somewhere in ISAF command as part of a media spin which ultimately backfired. I believe that M4 was referring to the District Delivery Program, which was a GIRoA program to rapidly develop governance in 80 key terrain districts. 6 were selected for trial, 4 in Helmand. Nad-e-Ali was one of these, and it may be that Marjah was part of this package (as before Op MOSHTARAK, Marjah was actually part of Nad-e-Ali; it became a full fledged district afterwards). DDP has some promise. And the latest word I hear is that Marjah is looking pretty good. But the main point of my analysis, which I refer to in this interview, is that COIN takes time. The CLEAR can be done fairly quickly, as indeed the Marines demonstrated in Marjah. But the HOLD requires the slow building up, consolidation and/or improvement of governance, infrastructure and basic services. That stuff just can’t be rushed. You can’t fedex it in.

Let me also emphasise that I’m not saying for a moment that the Brits have all the answers or that they are somehow better at COIN than the US Marines. British Army officers are the first to admit now that they’ve much to learn from their American brothers in arms. And indeed, 52 Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade have only praise for the MEU (I think it was the 24 MEU) which provided critical support to Task Force Helmand in 2007-08. I spent some time with the 2/8 Marines in Garmsir in late 2009. As I emphasise in my report on Op MOSHTARAK for British Land Warfare Command, armies aren’t good or bad at COIN, commanders and units are. Anyway, my report can be downloaded from here.

I appreciate the professor’s good natured comments.  But I still think we’re missing each other’s point.  If Theo cares to elaborate further I welcome the correction or clarification.  As to the issue of “government in a box,” I simply cannot account for General McChrystal’s remark that Marjah was a “bleeding ulcer” just months (or weeks) after arrival of the Marines.  Only someone with a childlike belief in magic could possibly believe that the Marines could waltz into Marjah with a governor and make things okay.  Michael Yon also tells me that to a man, the British officers believe in the “government in a box” view of counterinsurgency.

But more to the point, I am not implying, nor would I imply, that the U.S. Marines are better at counterinsurgency than the British.  The U.S. Marines claim that they the greatest at everything, and cheaper and faster than anyone else, but that’s just propaganda and they say it all the time about everything.  Tactics are just that, and any army can be trained for tactics as long as they have high quality NCOs, and the British and Americans do have high quality NCOs.  Additionally, I know first hand that the U.S. Marines (whom I know) have the utmost respect for the Royal Marines, more so in fact than they do for themselves.  But who is better at tactics is irrelevant.  The aggregation of tactics does not make a strategy.

Speaking of the U.S. Marine presence in Garmsir (24th MEU), they did more than support a British operations.  They killed some 400 Taliban fighters, and in spite of complaints over the heavy kinetics by the British, turned over an AO back to the British that was relatively stable and free of Taliban violence.  When the Marines took Garmsir, the local elders were even courting the Marines and told them “if you protect us, we will be able to protect you.”

But upon returning to Garmsir and taking over from the British, they met stiff Taliban resistance.  The locals told the Marines that they wanted them to follow and kill every single Taliban fighter, but the U.S. Marines and the British are still significantly at odds over their approach to counterinsurgency.  The Marines made a conscious choice to be more aggressive than the British in Sangin, and the British advisers continue to counsel the same approach that the British took in Helmand.  They want the U.S. to “de-escalate” the situation.

The point has never gone to tactics and the ability to implement them.  There is a school of counterinsurgency that believes that until heavy kinetics has the insurgency on the run and effectively defeated, legitimate governance cannot exist.  The opposite school sees a more symbiotic relationship between actors and root causes in counterinsurgency.

It isn’t my intent to argue this disagreement in this article.  My point is that while the British may be the best and most staunch allies of the U.S., the perspectives concerning counterinsurgency, stability operations and irregular warfare couldn’t be more dissimilar.  I say again, for General Sir David Richards to remark that U.S. kinetic operations “whipped up” the situation is truly remarkable itself.  Just remarkable.

Getting the Narrative Right on Southern Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 4 months ago

The Small Wars Journal has an interview of Professor Theo Farrell and MG Nick Carter in which the following summary statement is provided:

There were very high hopes for Marjah. General McChrystal was looking for a ‘strategic accelerator’, something dramatic that would restore momentum to the ISAF campaign. He was looking in Helmand to inflict a strategic defeat on the Taliban, and to demonstrate the virtue of his new approach to local and home audiences. This explains the ill-advised term that there would be “government in a box” for Marjah, implying that shortly after the Marines pushed in, you would have a government established almost immediately. The Marines were perfectly on board with the idea that they could achieve such quick progress.

When the ISAF pushed in Marjah, they discovered a very different picture. What they expected to find in Marjah was a relatively wealthy population of mostly land owners, many involved in drug trade, but confident people with pretty good economic resources. And as long as you got them on board by demonstrating the virtues of the Afghan governance, they would help keep the Taliban at bay. What ISAF discovered was that those working the land were not owners but down-trodden tenants. Also the local infrastructure was far worse than anticipated. Thus the problem was twofold: first, it was going to take some time to deliver governance and improve infrastructure; second, it was very easy for the Taliban to intimidate the locals. So whilst the Marines cleared Marjah quickly, the hold proved more troublesome.

This is just horrible analysis.  Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez did indeed believe in the “government in a box” theory, but the U.S. Marines came from Anbar, Iraq.  They know exactly what it takes to effect counterinsurgency.  But Michael Yon tells me that to a man the officer corps of the British Army believes in the government in a box theory of counterinsurgency, probably leading in no small part to the friction between the Marines and their British advisers (it still isn’t clear to me why the Marines have British advisers).

A somewhat clearer narrative is emerging.  Our friend Gian Gentile argues that what’s happening in Helmand is different, and points to a “story running today by Rajiv C in the Washington Post on “progress” in South Afghanistan. His article to be sure shows that progress has been made, but it has come about at the barrel of a gun through death and destruction, and not through the winning of the trust of the local population. If there was any success in Vietnam during the latter years of that war with pacification it was from the same thing; combat produced massed movements of people from rural hamlets and villages into government controlled areas. But again the point is that persuading the people to side with the government and against the communist enemy never happened.”

Gian is referring to this report on signs of progress in Southern Afghanistan at The Washington Post.

SANGIN, AFGHANISTAN — Signs of change have sprouted this spring amid the lush fields and mud-brick villages of southern Afghanistan.

In Sangin, a riverine area that has been the deadliest part of the country for coalition troops, a journey between two bases that used to take eight hours because of scores of roadside bombs can now be completed in 18 minutes.

In Zhari district, a once-impenetrable insurgent redoubt on the western outskirts of Kandahar city, residents benefiting from U.S.-funded jobs recently hurled a volley of stones at Taliban henchmen who sought to threaten them.

And in Arghandab district, a fertile valley on Kandahar’s northern fringe where dozens of U.S. soldiers have been felled by homemade mines, three gray-bearded village elders made a poignant appearance at a memorial service last month for an Army staff sergeant killed by one of those devices.

Those indications of progress are among a mosaic of developments that point to a profound shift across a swath of Afghanistan that has been the focus of the American-led military campaign: For the first time since the war began nearly a decade ago, the Taliban is commencing a summer fighting season with less control and influence of territory in the south than it had the previous year.

“We start this year in a very different place from last year,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan, said in a recent interview.

The security improvements have been the result of intense fighting and the use of high-impact weapons systems not normally associated with the protect-the-population counterinsurgency mission.

In Sangin, Zhari and Arghandab — the three most insurgent-ridden districts in the south — the cost in American lives and limbs since the summer has been far greater than in any other part of the country. More than 40 Marines have been killed in Sangin in the past nine months, and three dozen more have lost both legs. The Army brigade responsible for Zhari and part of Arghandab has lost 63 soldiers since July.

Read the entire report.  The Marines have been learning their way through Sangin and other parts of Afghanistan, but they have been in Helmand a long time, and already had a bloody history in Now Zad by the time Marjah rolled around.  No Marine seriously believed that he could bring Shangi La to Helmand by toting along a governor to adjudicate disputes and get largesse.  Answering for why McChrystal and Rodriguez believed in the government in a box view of counterinsurgency is the same thing as answering why the British believe it.   But don’t drag the Marines into this dispute.  It isn’t their debate.  They do things differently.

But Rajiv’s account weapons not normally used in counterinsurgency is odd and inexplicable.  Remember Marine combat action in Fallujah?

It’s important to get the narrative right so that we know what worked and what doesn’t.  Making excuses for McChrystal’s “ill advised term” and blaming the U.S. Marines or some other exigency for Marjah or Sangin or some other part of Helmand isn’t adding anything to the discussion.  And connecting the use of heavy weapons with something other than counterinsurgency is selling a “bill of goods” to the reader.

Must We Engage In Nation Building?

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 5 months ago

Paul Miller at Foreign Policy has an interesting take on counterinsurgency as nation-building.

General David Petraeus, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told Congress this week “I am concerned that funding for our State Department and USAID partners will not sufficiently enable them to build on the hard-fought security achievements of our men and women in uniform.  Inadequate resourcing of our civilian partners could, in fact, jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission.”

Congressional testimony is usually bland and does not often contain any real news.  Petraeus’ remarks mostly wrote themselves:  he started by announcing that the Taliban’s momentum “has been arrested,” but progress is “fragile and reversible.”  You might as well say “Progress Made, Challenges Remain.”  Nothing new here.

But then Petraeus came out with that bombshell about funding for civilians near the end of his testimony.  He could not have been more stark.  We will lose the war in Afghanistan unless we pony up more money for our civilian efforts-which is to say, for nation building.

Nation building, as I’ve argued earlier, is not international charity.  It is not a superfluous and dispensable exercise in appeasing western guilt, an expensive tribute to humanitarianism, or an act of unvarnished selflessness and goodwill.  Nation building is a response to the threat of failed states that threaten regional stability.  It is a pragmatic exercise of hard power to protect vital national interests.  In the context of Afghanistan, nation building is the civilian side of counterinsurgency, the primary objective of which is to “foster the development of effective governance by a legitimate government,” according to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual Petraeus wrote.

Afghanistan’s weakness threatens America’s security.  State failure, chaos, or Taliban rule in Afghanistan will provide a safe haven for al-Qaida, destabilize western Pakistan and endanger its nuclear weapons, become a worldwide headquarters for narcotics traffickers, discredit NATO, invite Iranian and Russian adventurism, and sully self-government and civil liberties in the Muslim world.  We must rebuild Afghanistan to prevent these catastrophic outcomes.

Miller makes a good case for the campaign in Afghanistan, one I have made here many times before.  Furthermore, I have advocated against seeing this or any other campaign as merely out to spread benevolence, good cheer and harmony.  This includes democracy programs.  The U.S. doesn’t have the necessary wealth to take on every possible democracy project on earth.  There must be an inherent self interest for the campaign to be worthy, and in Afghanistan, there is inherent self interest.

I’m with Miller until the last sentence.  Actually, I might take issue with the notion of a legitimate government if it is seen as a central government.  The republic envisioned by John and Abigail Adams cannot be installed in Afghanistan.  It doesn’t have the cultural and religions foundation for such a republic.  But I’ll leave the stylistic issues to Christian Bleuer and Joshua Foust.  They know more about that than me.

Now to the last sentence of Miller’s advocacy for nation building.  The value is in the nuance.  Notice that Miller has said that in order to “prevent” these catastrophic outcomes we must nation-build.  Must we prevent these outcomes, or simply respond to them?

In Fallujah 2007, the Marines had a very high bar for performance of the Iraqi Police, and they left such a strong force to protect Fallujah that I claimed to Tom Ricks that al Qaeda would never return.  The only reasons that I tired of Operation Iraqi Freedom were the ridiculous Status of Forces Agreement and the lies to the Sons of Iraq told by the weasel Nouri al-Maliki.  Or maybe I just tired of Nouri al-Maliki.

Marines with whom I talked after three years in Anbar were all of the same opinion.  The Marines were finished in Anbar.  They (the Anbaris) had been given a start.  If they screwed it up and Anbar became a safe haven again for Islamic globalists, the Marines could do the job again in five years, or ten years, or twenty years.

The difference is profound.  The difference envelopes cost in American lives, cost in American wealth, the quantity and quality of American support for the mission, the training, purpose and organizational framework for the U.S. armed forces, and whether a specific people, religion, culture and locale can support a self-sustaining constitutional republic.  The American experiment cannot be exactly duplicated anywhere on earth.  It’s wasteful of lives and wealth to pretend otherwise.

But that doesn’t mean that we should retreat to within the boundaries of the U.S. and wait for the insurgency to cross our own borders.  It just means that we have to maintain a modest appraisal of the possible outcomes of our international involvement, and if necessary, do it again, and again, and again.

Pop-Centric COIN Revisited

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 5 months ago

In Marines do not bleed I stated my opposition to the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency (as discussed in FM 3-24).  Not that I oppose engagement of the population, or reconstruction efforts, or jirgas with elders.  In fact, you won’t find any more robust advocacy for speaking the indigenous language and the necessity for pre-deployment and even long term language training than from me.  The conversation is more nuanced and complicated that simply buying into FM 3-24 or not.  The nuance can be seen in my opposition to withdrawal from the Pech Valley because of leaving safe haven for the insurgents.

But it occurs to me that it’s always good to remind the readers of prose that’s just so plain, clear and straightforward that it leaves you nodding whether you agree with it or not (and I happen to agree with what I am about to quote).  The best thing about the quote is that it doesn’t come from me, but from an Army field grade officer.

One thing that I think many people forget about Iraq (or maybe it wasn’t reported?) is that in 2007 and 2008 we were killing and capturing lots of people on a nightly basis. Protecting the populace was A priority. When speaking to the folks back home, in order to sell the war, perhaps we said that it was the priority. But on the ground, I do not recall a single Commander’s Update Brief spending any time at all discussing what we had done to protect anyone. We were focused on punching al-Qaeda in the nuts at every opportunity and dismantling their networks. The reconcilables got the message loud and clear that they could take money and jobs in return for cooperation, or they would die a swift death when we came knocking down their doors in the middle of the night. The rest of the populace made it clear to them that they should take the offer. The only protection that the population got from us was good fire discipline so that we did not kill non-combatants. We made it clear that the government intended to win this thing and we did not send that message by delivering governance or digging wells. We shot motherf******s in the face.  Pop-COIN blasphemers, your scripture is false teaching.

And that’s what I advocate for Afghanistan.


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