Lessons in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 2 months ago

It’s a hateful thing to have to learn lessons the hard way more than once.  From Iraq we have learned many hard lessons, including but not limited to: (1) there must be enough forces to avoid “whack-a-mole” counterinsurgency, with insurgents slipping out of the pressure points and finding safe haven elsewhere, (2) learning the indigenous language is a force multiplier.  The Captain’s Journal is incorrigibly an advocate of the large footprint model and an opponent of the small force projection model for counterinsurgency – and it forever will be that way.

From Afghanistan comes a report that confirms the idea that we (i.e., the current administration) may be learning the lessons of Iraq all over again.

As the US sends more troops to Afghanistan to try to reverse the growing violence, they are relying on the “clear, hold, build” model of counterinsurgency. The US hopes a surge of soldiers will help them clear areas of Taliban insurgents, maintain a lasting presence in those areas to keep militants from returning, and then bring development to attract popular support.

But soldiers in Wardak Province say that the model has been difficult to implement in here. In particular, they say they are caught in a vicious circle: To win over the locals, the troops must bring development, security, and economic prospects. To do this, they have to diminish the presence of the insurgency. But this, in turn, requires that the troops win support of the population.

US forces have already made some progress in the first phase of the strategy. The stretch of the Kabul-Kandahar highway that runs through Wardak, once a magnet for insurgents, has been free of Taliban checkpoints for months. The guerrilla presence along the route had gotten so bad that fuel convoys suffered almost daily attacks …

“How is traffic? Have cars been coming through here and bringing business?” a soldier on a typical patrol asks one merchant, who says business is “OK.”

“Have you seen any bad guys here?” the soldier continues.

“No sir. The bad people stay in the mountains,” the merchant says, pointing to the purple peaks in the distance.

“That’s good. Is there any way we can help you?” the soldier asks.

“Your helicopters fly overhead all night,” the merchant says. “No one in our village can sleep. Please stop this – it is causing major problems.”

The soldier promises to tell his superiors.

Securing the population is good, and relations with the locals must gradually improve.  But if the man has told us where the Taliban are – “the bad people stay in the mountains” – then why aren’t we allocating some troops to go chase them in the mountains?  This isn’t an EITHER-OR option, it’s a BOTH-AND choice.  We especially like it when the enemy separates himself from the population so that we can kill him unimpeded.  Or at least, we should.

Earlier, this vicious circle being discussed is the symptom of too few troops.  Continuing with the report:

Despite such patrols, the troops generally don’t have enough contact with the locals to convince them that they are here for their good, says Habibullah Rafeh, policy analyst with the Kabul Academy of Sciences. Most of the troops live in small, heavily fortified outposts near urban centers. Most Afghans, however, live in rural areas – only 0.5 percent of Wardak’s population is urban, for example.

“The local village people view the Americans as occupiers, not as allies,” Mr. Rafeh says. “Many don’t have direct contact with the Americans, but almost everyone in those areas feel the Taliban presence.”

To meet such challenges, the new commander of US forces in the country, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is pushing for an approach that has troops living among the communities they are meant to protect. Soldiers will live in smaller outposts, embedded amid the local population — a tactic that some credit with helping improve the situation in Iraq.

But some warn that extreme caution is needed for such a strategy to succeed. In a culture that prizes privacy, troops have to be careful not to inflame local sensitivities by their presence, says Dr. Wardak. “The people in my district complained to me after the Americans set up a base near their houses,” she says, “because they were worried that the soldiers will look into their homes or that they will be caught in a crossfire.”

Even when the guerrillas are pushed out of one area, abandoning it to the Americans, they usually reassemble in an adjacent area, US military officials here say. Insurgents have been largely dislodged from Jalrez District, for instance, but some have regrouped in neighboring areas.

In other cases, the US has enough forces to capture only a district center. In Jaghatu District, Taliban forces had run the area as a fiefdom, complete with a court and administrative apparatus. The district government had fled, leaving a cluster of four ramshackle buildings that makes up the capital, called the district “center.”

In mid-May, American forces entered and occupied the district center, displacing the insurgents. They set up a makeshift camp among the devastated buildings – one pockmarked structure, ravaged by frequent mortar fire, is an abandoned school, while another is an empty office. A small contingent of Afghan police and Army took up residence in the other buildings.

Together, this combined force is able to maintain control of the district center, but the Taliban still enjoy sovereignty in the surrounding countryside, according to residents. When an American patrol visits these areas, the insurgents melt into the surroundings, sometimes waiting to ambush the soldiers, other times waiting to fight another day.

Is there any clearer way to say it?  Whack-a-mole counterinsurgency.  We press here, the insurgency expands over there where we have no troops.  We press there, it expands over here.  Also, unrelated to this report but still a salient point, notice how all of the naysayers of increased force projection decry an increase in forces to something on the order of 400,000, or 500,000, or 600,000 – and I have even seen 700,000 troops.  This is the amount, they say, necessary to get the job done.  But this objection is a straw man, and no one is requesting half a million troops.  And not one of the objectors has given compelling reason to believe that 150,000 troops cannot accomplish the mission.  Continuing with the report:

Military officials here say they are still in the process of clearing most areas of insurgents.

“Creating a lasting presence in Sayadabad is going to be hard,” says an American intelligence officer associated with the forces here, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Maybe Jalrez is the only district that we can hold and build by the end of our deployment,” which is scheduled for the end of this year, she says.

In Sayadabad and other areas, fighting is growing more intense as the summer months arrive. “It’s going to get nastier before it gets better,” she says.

Mortar fire regularly hits Sayadabad’s Combat Outpost Carwile, which sits close to Jaghatu District. Improvised explosive devices, such as roadside bombs, go off almost daily on the main highways here. In May, the unit suffered its first losses – a Taliban ambush killed two soldiers as they were on a foot patrol.

Civilians have been feeling the toll of war as well. In the midst of a recent firefight with insurgents, troops mistakenly shot a vehicle full of civilians, killing one and wounding others. Earlier this year, the Taliban abducted two interpreters who worked for the troops. There have also been some demonstrations against the troop presence .

The troops admit there are no easy solutions. In the meantime, some soldiers are finding their own ways to win hearts and minds.

Pfc. Joshua Lipori has decided to learn Pashto, the prevalent language here. While standing on guard duty one day at a combat outpost in Sayadabad, he practices his fledgling Pashto with some passing locals.

“Tsenga Ye?” or “How are you?” he asks. “Jore Ye?” – “Are you doing OK?”

The Afghans stare in wide-eyed astonishment at the foreign soldier speaking their tongue. They whisper to each other in Pashto.

“See,” one says to the other, “there are some good Americans.”

Everyone cannot be trained in language skills.  But after Boot Camp, SOI or MCT, Marines (and Soldiers) can be selected for more advanced language training as a force multiplier.  There is enough time and resources to train in fast roping, squad rushes, room clearing, infantry tactics, and all of the other things infantry needs to know, without starving language.  The only limit to this qualification would be language trainers.  Both the Army and Marines should increase the financial incentive for language qualifications.  It’s that important.


Lousy Excuses Against Language Training for Counterinsurgency

The Enemy of My Enemy

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You are currently reading "Lessons in Counterinsurgency", entry #3330 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Language in COIN and was published July 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 (260)
Animals (256)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (362)
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 (202)
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 (206)
Department of Homeland Security (26)
Disaster Preparedness (5)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (15)
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 (39)
Featured (188)
Federal Firearms Laws (18)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (1,728)
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 (1,582)
Guns (2,267)
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 (71)
Hunting (24)
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 (7)
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 (67)
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 (90)
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 (633)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (966)
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 (476)
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 (624)
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 (43)
Survival (177)
SWAT Raids (57)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (38)
Tactical Gear (14)
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 (22)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (10)
Uncategorized (97)
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 (411)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (4)
War Reporting (21)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (79)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (21)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

September 2023
August 2023
July 2023
June 2023
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.