06 January 2009

The Counterinsurgency Field Manual: Afghanistan Edition

Small Wars Journal posted a link to a great article in Foreign Policy Magazine regarding COIN theory in Afghanistan--a strategic situation far more complex than Iraq due to its rural population, vastly more complex ethnic demographics, and thriving opium trade.  Not to mention that Waziristan, a province in Pakistan, serves as what T.E. Lawrence would refer to as an "unassailable base" for the insurgency in that area.  We also have some interesting new developments, such as a split between insurgent groups, with the Taliban separating from Al-Qaeda and suing for peace.

The article features commentary from such high-profile names in strategic thought such as Lt. Col. (Ret) John Nagl and General David H. Petraeus.   It also brings up this gem of counter-insurgency thinking that I actually wrote about in Small Wars Journal back in October regarding risk aversion within the military and diplomatic corps, the design of embassies, and public diplomacy.

(PS--Hey Lt. Col/Dr. Nagl, can I take your place on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart?  That's always been my dream.)

Paradox 2: Sometimes the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.

2-1. The U.S. military, designed to inflict overwhelming and disproportionate losses on the enemy, tends to equate victory with very few body bags. So does the American public. The new counterinsurgency doctrine upends this perceived immunity from casualties by demanding that manpower replace firepower. Soldiers in Afghanistan must get out among the people, building and staffing joint security stations with Afghan security forces. That is the only way to disconnect the enemy from the civilians. Persistent presence—living among the population in small groups, staying in villages overnight for months at a time—is dangerous, and it will mean more casualties, but it’s the only way to protect the population effectively. And it will make U.S. troops more secure in the long run.

2-2. This imperative to get out among the people extends to U.S. civilians as well. U.S. Embassy staff are almost completely forbidden from moving around Kabul on their own. Diplomacy is, of course, about relationships, and rules that discourage relationships fundamentally limit the ability of American diplomats to do their jobs. The mission in Afghanistan is to stabilize the country, not to secure the embassy.

2-3. Counterinsurgency strategy suggests that victory requires 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 residents. Current troop strength in Afghanistan, including Afghan forces, are about a third of that level. The stark alternatives are to deploy more troops or to change the mission.

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