McChrystal Releases Counterinsurgency Guidance and Requests More Troops

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 8 months ago

General McChrystal recently released counterinsurgency guidance for the ISAF.


From the very first executive summary statement, the mission(s) of protecting the people and destroying the enemy are set in juxtaposition with each other, as if contradictory or somehow mutually exclusive.  We have dealt with this before in Center of Gravity Versus Lines of Effort in COIN, so this issue will not be reiterated except to say that no one – no one, not the so-called COIN experts at CNAS, not military historians, no one – has demonstrated that for success in counterinsurgency we must focus away from killing the enemy.  Iraq was done the opposite way, with heavy kinetics and intelligence driven raids a huge part of the campaign from 2006 through 2008.

There is much with which to agree in the document, including what the Marines are doing in the Helmand Province to exemplify the guidance contained in this document – heavy interaction with the population.  Furthermore, it is obviously necessary to protect the population from killers and get the population involved in the fight against the insurgency.  But there are so many things with which to disagree it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Page 2: ” … an insurgency cannot be defeated by attrition; its supply of fighters, and even leadership, is effectively endless.”  Well, this simply isn’t true.  Turning to the most recent counterinsurgency campaign in our history, Operation Iraqi Freedom, I know something about how the Marines approached the campaign in the Anbar Province.  To claim that the U.S. Marines bifurcated and set in opposition the notions of protecting the population and killing the enemy is worse than just dense.  It’s dishonest.  Tens of thousands of insurgents were killed, Anbar was pacified before the balance of Iraq, and the supply of insurgents wasn’t endless.  I just don’t know how to be clearer.  This claim is simply false.

Next is this jaw unhinging claim on page 3: “We must think of offensive operations not simply as those that target militants, but ones that earn the trust and support of the people while denying influence and access to the insurgent.  Holding routine jirgas with community leaders that build trust and solve problems is an offensive operation.  So is using projects and work programs to bring communities together and meet their needs.  Missions primarily designed to disrupt militants are not.”

Now just to make sure that we are clear on this, jirgas are good.  Community projects are good.  But this statement goes so far down the path of the Western-trained PhD sociology student that it’s unclear why we aren’t reading that “flowers are beautiful, butterflies are too, and I love you!”  (Colonel Gian Gentile also warns against the notion of “weaponizing” cultural knowledge because it is an illusion).

Now.  Note the claim.  After outlining various things that could be considered offensive operations, it is stated that missions designed to disrupt militants is not offensive.  This is so gobsmackingly outlandish and juvenile that it really casts serious doubt as to whether we can grant any legitimacy whatsoever to this document.

After having to perform squad rushes against Taliban positions in Helmand recently, it’s doubtful that the Marines will have any use for this guidance.  This document seems to be the kind of thing that staff officers discuss with field grade officers who discretely roll their eyes, while the junior officers wouldn’t be caught telling their reports that their recent squad rush directly into Taliban fire wasn’t really an offensive operation.

The guidance has highly poignant and intelligent moments such as on page 4 when it recognizes that the insurgents will sometimes set themselves off from the population (such as with Now Zad where we have been begging for more Marines), and in such circumstances it is wise to engage in high intensity kinetics because of the opportunity presented to us.  But then the guidance devolves to the almost absurd, such as on page 5 where it is stated of the Afghan National Army that we should “Put them in the lead and support them, even before they think they are ready.  Coach them to excellence, and they will amaze you with how quickly they take charge.”

This sounds more like a football coach pep talk than a General advising his troops.  It will likely have little traction with U.S. forces who have watched the ANA engage in drug abuse, smoke hashish before patrols, collude with Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops, themselves claim that they cannot hold Helmand without Marines and fear being killed if they even go out into the streets, be relatively ineffective against Taliban fighters, sleep on their watch, and claim to be on vacation in the Helmand Province.

The incoherence of the document and perhaps mildly or moderately insulting and preachy manner will limit its usefulness in the field and even in the classroom.  Fortunately, while this document is being sent to leaders in Afghanistan, General McChrystal is quietly preparing to give the administration options, all of which include more troops (although not as many as we had recommended).

The general is leaning toward three major options — the “high risk strategy” is to add only 15,000 troops to the 68,000 that will be on the ground by the end of this year — as in, the highest risk of failure. The “medium risk strategy” is to add 25,000 troops, and the “low risk strategy” is 45,000, according to a senior defense adviser helping craft the plan.

Also fortunately, the enlisted Marines in Helmand won’t be reading this document.  They don’t have time, as they will be doing what the author of this document has not discussed.  They will be engaging in full orbed, comprehensive counterinsurgency in their area of operation, from jirgas to squad rushes.  Let’s hope that the balance of the forces will be doing the same thing in spite of the guidance.


  1. On August 27, 2009 at 6:32 am, TSAlfabet said:

    Whatever happened to General Petraeus?

    Would it be considered inappropriate for him to get involved in the preparation and publication of this foolish document? Is he not still the theater commander?

    Could it be that the Administration acquiesced in his appointment to CENTCOM with the aim of isolating him and keeping him out of any, real involvement in A-stan?

    If not, I cannot comprehend that the man who orchestrated the comeback in Iraq could buy into the b.s. in this document. What gives?

  2. On August 27, 2009 at 7:01 am, Warbucks said:

    This is a manual section drawn from your local state-side police departments for street presences referred to as “community policing.” The guy who wrote this has to be a policeman in his civilian life. It works great against graffiti gangs, barbershop bookie-betting pools, and curb-view soliciting by the local girls….. but fighting a war in the outbacks?

  3. On August 27, 2009 at 8:55 am, Herschel Smith said:

    I should reiterate that much of the guidance is worthy and makes good points, esp. about being connected with and engaging of the population. But there is significant nuance to these things. It is true that force protection involves engaging the population (a point made in the guidance), seemingly an antinomy (or so the sermonizing goes). But as I have discussed here:

    Engagement of the population doesn’t mean discarding or jettisoning the doctrine of force protection altogether or at all. It means doing the right things in the right location around the right people. Simple catch phrases just don’t do the complexity of this justice.

    And that’s the root of the problem with the guidance, as I see it. It is given to extreme hyper-exaggeration in places, and is thus not the sort of thinking man’s document that was really needed. Finally, the push to disengage from kinetics is certainly not what much of the ISAF needed (Dutch troops, German troops) who have a propensity for that anyway.

  4. On August 27, 2009 at 11:09 pm, DesertPete45 said:

    What the hell is this??? Is this guy a sociologist or a damn general?? No wonder our men in the Marines Corps in Helmand Province are frustrated as hell!! Who the hell is in charge; Gates, Mullens, Obama?? Surely not McChrystal!! If he is we are in deep s**t!! Our young Marines have become cannon fodder. What the hell are we following NATO ROE for anyway?? Give me a break, NATO!! It is the U.S. and the Brits. The rest of them are pantywastes. No wonder we can’t win a damn war, oh well, Obama said victory was not necessarily the objective! What?? It is time to fold up our tents and come home and if we get any grief from those hill bandits we should bomb them into the stone age.

  5. On August 28, 2009 at 8:18 pm, blkfoot_04 said:

    Problem is “DesertPete45” their already in the Stone-age, so bombing won’t do much of anything except re-arange the rocks a little.

    I propose a completely new tactic.

    Pull all our troops completely out of Afghanastan and then…

    Obama should decree all Churches in the United States, Canada, NATO and Austrailia adopt a Family of Afghans, flood them with food, books, clothing, cooking utilzels, bedding, furniture for exactly one full year.

    Then pull the hell out and say, “See, you could have still been getting all this…but ya just want to live like retards”…have fun in your mud huts, Eating your dirt, watching your dirt turn into more dirt. The West in done with you.

  6. On August 30, 2009 at 9:06 am, TSAlfabet said:

    OK, let’s just cut right to it.

    The heart of the problem is that the U.S. has been and continues to be unwilling to do what it says it is going to do to protect itself and that is why we are having problems in A-stan.

    To elaborate: the U.S. got hit on 9-11 and we declared, as a sort of Corollary #1, that we would retaliate against and pursue those responsible wherever they could be found.

    The U.S. did, in fact, go after AQ and the Taliban in Afghanistan and pretty much took care of the initial problem. The INITIAL problem. Predictably, however, AQ scattered like roaches. Some to Pakistan, some to Iran, some to Yemen, etc.. Rather quickly they found a more-or-less willing host in Pakistan where they could re-group, re-fit, re-form and re-commence their war against the U.S.

    Did the U.S. then employ Corollary #1 against Pakistan? No, we did not. And we still refuse to do so. Same for Iran who hosts AQ leadership and has been actively at war against the U.S. since 1979.

    I am sure that there are many cogent arguments as to why the U.S. cannot employ Corollary #1 against P-stan and Iran, but once the U.S. has surrendered the principle or otherwise limited its application, say, to only those countries that are too weak to defend themselves such as A-stan and Iraq, then we are in an untenable position.

    To close the circle, the reason that we are struggling in A-stan is because we refuse to eliminate the havens in P-stan where the enemy takes refuge. Same as the Soviets. Without that vital sanctuary, AQ and the Taliban collapse and become a primitive curiosity, dwelling in remote caves, a threat to no one except perhaps the local goat population.

    COIN is nice and good and McCrystal’s document is all nice talk, but it is not serious. We are willing to allow our military to die and suffer in A-stan because we will not go after the P-stan sanctuaries. (Sorry, little decapitation strikes with Predators do not count). In so doing, we violate a primary rule of counter-insurgency: cut off the insurgent’s base of supplies and support. If the Paks don’t like it, then they can pull some divisions off the Indian border and exercise the proper control over their own territory that a sovereign nation is obligated to do. Otherwise, the U.S. is coming in and wiping out every camp and stronghold. We are not staying to occupy, but we will ensure that AQ is going to spend all of their time re-building and re-constituting rather than attacking into A-stan (or New York, for that matter). As soon as our intel says there is a whiff of AQ in an area, we go back in and wipe them out again. It will become clear to the local population (and potential recruits) that enrolling in or supporting AQ and the Taliban is a death warrant and is the losing side. (If a villager knew that he would be paid well for reliable information on AQ whereabouts AND that the bad guys would promptly get whacked as a result, we might have more good intel than we could handle).

    Until such time as the U.S. goes after the enemy in its base of operations, we are just swimming in quicksand.

  7. On August 30, 2009 at 9:46 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    TCJ responds to TSAlfabet’s comment:

  8. On August 31, 2009 at 6:53 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    Here we go, Captain.

    Any bets on what the Organizer-In-Chief decides to do with McCrystal’s latest report?

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You are currently reading "McChrystal Releases Counterinsurgency Guidance and Requests More Troops", entry #3668 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghan National Army,Afghanistan,Col. Gian Gentile,Counterinsurgency,Featured,General McChrystal and was published August 26th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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