Counterinsurgency: Focus on the Population or the Enemy?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

In The British Approach to Counterinsurgency we weighed in on the British Kajaki dam project (for readers unfamiliar with this project visit the links provided).  While brave and effective operations were necessary to deliver large turbines to the dam for electricity generation, we observed that this front in counterinsurgency was merely one, an important one also being that of focus on the enemy.

The point is that in order for infrastructure to work, the enemies of that infrastructure must be targeted. The dam won’t long operate if its operators are all killed, or if other replacement parts have to undergo such intensive operations in order to be deployed at the plant. Infrastructure is good, as is good governance. But for these softer tactics in counterinsurgency to be successful, the Taliban must be engaged and killed.

Soon after this “defense analysts” also weighed in with similar concerns.

… electricity supplies are likely to face disruption from Taliban attacks unless the region is cleared of militants, analysts said.

The area is not densely populated, so the power lines must cover many miles of hostile land to reach the remote villages that are due to be linked up to the dam. British troops in Helmand control an area of only a few miles radius beyond the Kajaki dam, so pylons and substations will have to cross what is now a stronghold for militants operating in the region.

“The power lines coming out of Kajaki are going to be extremely vulnerable to attack,” said Matthew Clements, Eurasia analyst at Jane’s Defence. “The arrival of the extra turbine is a major blow to the Taliban, so they are going to be keen to make sure the project fails.”

“In Iraq we’ve seen that overhead power lines are extremely difficult to protect, and there’s no point generating electricity if you can’t distribute it,” said Paul Smyth, head of operational studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies.

The point about electricity is also similar to our observations on the grid in Iraq as well as irrigation and water supply systems.  So whatever happened to the dam?  Were our warnings prescient or merely an overreaction?  More on the dam shortly.

Thematically similar operations are being waged in Afghanistan by the Texas National Guard.

Fifty-two Texas National Guard men and women are planning an attack on a Taliban stronghold near here that other Army units estimate would take thousands of U.S. and Afghan soldiers to capture.

The Texans plan to win the battle of Khajanoor Farms without firing a shot …

A Texas National Guard Agribusiness Development Team plans to defeat the Taliban’s hold on the big wheat-seed farm at Khajanoor by building a larger, quality seed farm in the high mountain plains of Ghazni province.

If approved – and if the climate at 10,000 feet can be mastered – the Nawur Farm could free Ghazni’s wheat farmers from Taliban-approved suppliers and lousy products imported from Pakistan.

“It could also save lives,” said Col. Stan Poe of Houston, commander of the Texas agribusiness team …

“For seven years, we’ve been chasing the Taliban. They literally just come back,” said Illinois National Guard Col. David Matakas. “We can go in and kill a lot of people and do no good. It’s more important that we push forward with training the Afghan forces and focus on turning a district, a tribe or a village away from the Taliban, one at a time” …

Khajanoor Farms is in the code-red Andar District. A large force of Taliban fighters controls the 2,500 acres of wheat fields and subsistence plots from caves in mountains overlooking the farm.

Khajanoor was built in 1975 as a government farm to supply wheat seeds to five provinces. There are 96 farm buildings on the site, two wells and a crude irrigation system. The farm’s flour mill is a shambles.

Satellite photos show sharecropper farmers are still cultivating wheat for seeds, but much of the farm is broken down.

U.S. forces say the seed produced at Khajanoor is sold under Taliban control to farmers loyal to the Taliban cause.

The Texans had visited wheat farms in the far north Nawur district, an area populated by descendants of Genghis Khan known as Hazaris. Some of the Hazari farms were at elevations of 10,000 feet. Trees were growing at elevations 1,500 feet higher than you’d find in North America or Europe.

The Ghazni provincial government owns vast tracts of land in Nawur.

There’s plenty of water stored in a vast snowmelt playa called Daste Nawur.

Martin and James thought this offered a way to defeat the Taliban at Khajanoor Farms. They designed a giant, 20,000-acre wheat seed farm north of Daste Nawur that could provide seeds for most of Afghanistan’s wheat farmers.

The Hazaris were eager to help the Texans and willing to learn how to run a large farm …

Lt. Col. Al Perez of San Antonio is the agribusiness team’s market specialist. He’s been in the military for 23 years, both in the regular Army and the Texas National Guard.

“This is way much better than pulling the trigger,” he said. “Way, way better.”

So the plan is to compete with the inefficient Taliban-sponsored operation and send the local population on its way to independence from the thugs.

It’s a nice idea, and along with better language training, The Captain’s Journal supports such tactics.  We have applauded similar efforts by the Department of Agriculture.  So the proof of our support for the nonkinetic part of counterinsurgency is on the books.

But there is a subtle although important problem with this account.  Notice that kinetic operations and population-centric operations are placed in juxtaposition for purposes of contrast rather than complement.  This is a far better way, says Lt. Col. Perez.  Indeed it is, if it works without any focus on finding and killing the Taliban.

But the Taliban have proved resilient and adaptive.  To assume that they can be beaten by developing better seed assumes that they won’t take over “protection” of the new production operation.  Not so, for Taliban operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban have made a significant amount of money in operations ranging from taxation of various local businesses, to “protection” for larger industrial operations, to kidnapping and extortion of cell phone providers.  With the Taliban unmolested in this region there is no assurance that they won’t strong-arm the operations for cash.  Mere operation of businesses has not proven to be enough incentive yet for the population to revert to armed resistance against the Taliban.

As for the status of the Kajaki dam?

Afghan workers have kept the power station running throughout the past 30 years of war and upheaval, and even now have negotiated with the Taliban so they can travel to work from their villages …

The Taliban hold sway in the countryside around the dam and even charge people for electricity, so they can be persuaded to let the workers keep the power plant running, the workers said.

“We do not have a problem with anyone,” Mr. Rasoul said. “We tell them we are working and producing electricity for everyone in the villages and towns.”

In the case of the dam, it hasn’t exactly been a nail in the coffin of the insurgency.  In fact, they are making money off of it.  It’s advisable to see soft operations such as this agricultural expedition as part of a whole rather than an alternative to targeting the enemy.  This was our argument in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN.

The Texas National Guard deserves credit for innovative tactics in the counterinsurgency campaign.  It is apparently a long term program and it will be self-evident if successful.  But the program should not be seen as a replacement for other lines of effort, including targeting the enemy so that he doesn’t use his criminal enterprise to flip yet another soft counterinsurgency program to his favor.


Financing the Taliban

Kidnapping: The Taliban’s New Source of Income

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Does COIN

The British Approach to Counterinsurgency

Defense Analysts Echo The Captain’s Journal Concerning Kajaki Dam

The Role of Electricity in State Stabilization

Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On March 13, 2013 at 12:47 am, Joe said:

    This is rather amusing. There was relatively little opium production under The Taliban. Since the invasion, it has increased every year. If we simply say we’re there for the War on Drugs instead of the War on Terror, we can occupy forever, or until we run out of money. But if we do run short of cash, there’s always the opium to sell.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You are currently reading "Counterinsurgency: Focus on the Population or the Enemy?", entry #2097 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Agriculture in COIN,Counterinsurgency,Featured,Taliban and was published February 8th, 2009 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 (704)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (40)
Air Power (10)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (22)
Ammunition (247)
Animals (225)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (354)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (84)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (28)
Australian Army (7)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (181)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (18)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (3)
Blogs (24)
Body Armor (23)
Books (3)
Border War (17)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (38)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (17)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (16)
Christmas (14)
CIA (30)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (3)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (218)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (204)
Department of Homeland Security (26)
Disaster Preparedness (5)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (12)
Donald Trump (27)
Drone Campaign (4)
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 (2)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (36)
Featured (188)
Federal Firearms Laws (18)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (1,691)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (15)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (44)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (9)
Georgia (19)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (1,548)
Guns (2,221)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (8)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (16)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (3)
Horses (2)
Humor (69)
Hunting (20)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (101)
India (10)
Infantry (4)
Information Warfare (4)
Infrastructure (4)
Intelligence (23)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (171)
Iraq (379)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (64)
Islamists (97)
Israel (19)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (3)
Jihadists (81)
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 (5)
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 (6)
Lawfare (13)
Leadership (6)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (50)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (277)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
Media (66)
Medical (145)
Memorial Day (6)
Mexican Cartels (39)
Mexico (58)
Michael Yon (6)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (5)
Military Equipment (25)
Militia (9)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (25)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (25)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (89)
NATO (15)
Navy (30)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (3)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (3)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (62)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (221)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (7)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (72)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (4)
Pizzagate (21)
Police (615)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (963)
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 (459)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (75)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (37)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (595)
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 (28)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (23)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (38)
Survival (167)
SWAT Raids (57)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (25)
Tactical Gear (13)
Taliban (168)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (21)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (95)
Thanksgiving (12)
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 (24)
TSA Ineptitude (13)
TTPs (4)
U.S. Border Patrol (5)
U.S. Border Security (17)
U.S. Sovereignty (21)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (10)
Uncategorized (95)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (3)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (409)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (4)
War Reporting (21)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (78)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (21)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

May 2023
April 2023
March 2023
February 2023
January 2023
December 2022
November 2022
October 2022
September 2022
August 2022
July 2022
June 2022
May 2022
April 2022
March 2022
February 2022
January 2022
December 2021
November 2021
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
July 2021
June 2021
May 2021
April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
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 © 2006-2023 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.