We know that we want to move the internal struggles inside a country away from violence (warfare) and into (or back into) the political realm. We’ve had a general look at what insurgencies consist of, why they start and what fuels them. We know that the existence of sanctuaries don’t ensure insurgent success, but are practically necessary for insurgents to have any hope of success. We know that the military/security line of operation is only one of three main lines of operation. We know that a well-developed insurgency is, at its roots, a competition to govern. So how do we resolve the insurgency without the collapse of the government and the complete take-over by insurgents?
Counterinsurgents cannot stand still and wait it out. They cannot simply continue upon their course without continuous movement and adjustment to conditions on the ground and in the population. They must choose actions and take them. Every counterinsurgent chooses actions and takes them, but a significant number of them (3 or 4 out of 10) are unsuccessful. Is there a pattern of behavior that counterinsurgents establish that is successful versus those that aren’t?
First, the counterinsurgent must understand the roots of the conflict. Usually, insurgencies don’t carry a head of steam where there is effective governance and plenty of it. The counterinsurgent must take a really good look at what the weaknesses are of the system he or she is trying to support. Sun Tzu pointed out that a combatant must understand not only his enemy, but also himself. A counterinsurgent must understand what his strengths and weaknesses are and he must be honest about it. The counterinsurgent must also understand the environment, both physical and societal, in which he operates. Finally, understanding insurgencies in general, he must understand the insurgency he faces.
While there are commonalities in insurgencies, every insurgency is obviously different. A counterinsurgent must understand the particulars of the conflict. In Afghanistan, for instance, we created a vacuum in government followed by the construction and installation of a government from, more or less, scratch. This was done in a nation where the society had been existing amidst conflict for decades. The previous “government” was scarcely a government at all. There was ongoing warfare from 1979 to the present. The only thing the previous government maintained was law and order, administering swift, often brutal justice for any offense. The economy was a shambles. Infrastructure that had once existed had largely crumbled. Electricity was scarce. Education was minimal for boys, nonexistent for girls. Communications were horrible. Local warlords still held sway in parts of the country. Remnants of the old regime still held out in isolated areas.
While Afghan society had enough coherence to hold its basic fabric together, it was often at the most basic levels of that fabric; the family. Traditional resiliencies, the influences that kept Afghan society flourishing, were severely damaged at each local level. At the national level, there was very little coherence. The fledgling government took years to push influence out into areas that had been, at least nominally, cleared in 2002 of the influence of the previous regime. In the meantime, those influences seeped back in or never completely left.
Being a politically-motivated internal war, the goal is political, and all politics is local. Therefore, insurgency is local. Counterinsurgency needs to be localized, and cannot be adequately performed at a national level in the absence of acceptable local governance. That is why we have so many problems measuring nation-wide progress. In order to measure things, we need to choose and analyze metrics.
National metrics are exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to choose and measure. Metrics indicating success in one discrete area may or may not indicate measurable progress or loss in another discrete area. Afghanistan is a patchwork of valleys and villages. This insurgency is more localized than most, not less. Leadership at the national level needs to look at each area and measure it by the metrics that are meaningful for that particular area. It is difficult to put the pieces together at the national level to create a mosaic that makes sense. There are various and sundry depictions of the conflict, many varying wildly from others. These are constructed by utilizing whatever metrics support the argument of the individual making the argument. It’s difficult to impossible to know which depictions to trust.
This difficulty in producing a coherent picture does not lend itself to centralized command and control. That is why COIN doctrine talks about something called, “Mission Command.” Mission Command means that the local commander, at the lowest level possible, has command over the decisions made at the local level. He is most likely to understand how the pieces of the puzzle are arrayed locally. He is most likely to understand the complex, three dimensional chess game being played against the influences of the insurgent.
We know that the local commander, given Mission Command, must come to understand himself (including his allies), the insurgency and the local dynamics (terrain and society) that set the situation he must deal with. This is a tremendous amount of information. In Afghanistan, we have seen a number of initiatives designed to help the commanders gather and analyze this information. The Human Terrain System, for instance, is an effort to bring the science of anthropology to bear on understanding the intricacies of local society. But a military commander has the largest number of information gathering assets of any of the counterinsurgents in the area; foreign counterinsurgents, anyway. Local Afghans will already possess most of the information that the rest of the counterinsurgents will find helpful, but they usually do not know what to do with it or don’t have the resources.
So, using every source of information available, the commander, at the lowest level possible, must develop a “picture” of the environment in which he operates. He gathers information, but there is so much of it that it is hard to separate out meaningful information from the white noise of the information flow. It’s like trying to paint a picture of the rocks under a waterfall just by the way the water is falling. That’s why the commander needs to take a methodical approach to not only gathering, but also in organizing and correlating the information he can gather to put together a comprehensive picture of the operational environment and its challenges. It’s a job never ends, because while the terrain will change little or not at all, the society will constantly change. People will gain and lose influence. People will die and others will take their places. With the societal aspect in constant flux, the commander must track the changes and adjust as necessary.
Keep in mind that this commander is only on the ground for about a year. When he leaves, his successor needs to have the same information. Military commanders are used to organizing tactical information in certain ways. For instance, tactical graphics on a map are consistent. If one walks up to a tactical map in nearly any area, he can understand the tactical information on that map because he knows what those map symbols mean. There is an entire book on Operational Graphics. When it comes to depicting the things that affect societies, there are no standard map symbols. Commanders have organized this information as they have seen fit, but that doesn’t mean that it is easily understandable to those who follow them. A standard method of organizing and correlating the information is necessary. This not only makes the information easier to understand, but a relatively standardized format means that the incoming unit will be able to easily understand it as well. It will be what they are expecting to see.
Our doctrine lays out specific elements of information that are recommended for counterinsurgents to understand in order to obtain this grasp on the local situation. The COIN Training Center – Afghanistan has taken the two recommended sets of information and cross-referenced them. This system has now been signed off on by COMISAF, COMCENTCOM and the SECDEF. This system takes the analysis of ASCOPE (Areas, Structures, Capabilities, People and Events) and crosses it with PMESII (Political, Military/Security, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information).
Each column is referenced against the other. So, when we are looking at Areas, for instance, we look at Political Areas, Military/Security Areas, Economic Areas, Social Areas, Infrastructure Areas and Information Areas. What does an Information Area mean? In Afghanistan, it may mean an area of radio station coverage. It also means areas of cell phone coverage. Those are just examples. The end result is that people have a consistent way of painting the picture that is consistently read by others who see it.
How does the commander collect this mass of information? He uses all of his assets. If he has HTS available, for example, he discovers what they are best at and tries to use the information that they can give him. However, he does not necessarily control the HTS or any of the other actors. He does control his own troops, and so he generates PIR’s (Priority Information Requirements), IR’s (Information Requirements), and FFIR’s (Friendly Forces Information Requirements) based on where he sees information gaps and then he relentlessly pushes those out and gathers the results. This focuses troops on actually being sensors. If the commander explains why he needs the information, the troops have a deeper sense of purpose and a more realistic sense of what they are actually trying to accomplish. Plus, understanding the commander’s intent gives young leaders the chance to find ways to contribute. They can act more appropriately in the absence of orders as well.
Noncommissioned officers can then reinforce the things that are important to counterinsurgents. Discipline has one purpose; to ensure discipline on the battlefield. In a counterinsurgency, the battlefield doesn’t always include combat, but every action or inaction is combat. Drill and ceremonies, that visual example of military discipline, was initially developed to use directly on the battlefield. It was training. Now it is an outward symbol of discipline, but marching formations are not used in combat. Uniformity and other regulations are made to instill the discipline that can be put to use in combat, the only place where it really, really matters. It is how soldiers can do unnatural things in stressful, dangerous situations. We usually think of this in relation to kinetic combat, but it also has meaning in non-kinetic counterinsurgency operations. NCO’s enforce standards, and when the commander is generating standards based on his needs in counterinsurgent combat, the NCO’s can understand and enforce those standards. The sidewalk discipline of garrison life must then morph into the battlefield discipline needed to be successful on the ground. The appearance of uniforms means nothing in the face of failure in the valleys and villages of Afghanistan. Commanders and senior NCO’s who understand and focus military discipline in Afghanistan gather and organize tons of information.
Masses of information need to be analyzed. The commander and NCO’s discussed above are at company level and below. The higher up the “food chain” you go, the more separated from the nitty gritty reality of the “eaches” you are. This is not how battalion and brigade commanders are trained to function. In maneuver warfare, the more information the higher level commanders possess, the better they can maneuver and influence the battlefield. We have developed magnificent tools for commanders to see exactly what is going on at the individual vehicle level. He can see where it is and he can check on what it is doing. He can control it if he wants to. In counterinsurgency, a battalion commander interjecting himself directly at the tactical level can be disastrous. At best, you have the least informed person in the chain making the tactical decision. The principle of Mission Command is critical. Violating this principle can have debilitating effects.
So what are higher headquarters good for in counterinsurgency? Platoons have nearly zero analytical horsepower. Companies have very little. Company level intelligence support teams (of various acronyms) were developed to help solve this problem. Battalions have more information crunching assets, and brigades have significant analytical capabilities. Lower echelons are awash in information, but creating a useful picture out of it is difficult at the lower level due to the lack of analytical capability. Higher echelons support lower echelons by providing the ability to analyze information and convert it to useful products for the lower echelons to make use of according to Mission Command. They help the lower level commander to visualize his operational area. The battalion and brigade commander need to be able to recognize poor counterinsurgency behavior when they see it and provide adjustments as necessary, but they should not be dictating the actions of subordinates in the same manner as they would in a maneuver fight.
Once a thorough understanding of the operational area is obtained, the counterinsurgent mission commander begins to decide upon his actions.
Simply stated, the main goal of the counterinsurgent is to bring conflict back into the political end of the spectrum and out of the realm of warfare. Political conflict through participation is the goal, even if there is a robust opposition movement. As long as violence is no longer a political tool, and the existing framework (government, constitution?) remains in place, the counterinsurgent is successful.
First of all, who are the counterinsurgents? Commonly, they are usually thought of as combat forces, but that is not true. They fall, simply, into one or more of three main lines of operation; Military/Security, Political (or Governance) and Development. Certainly the host nation government’s job is to counter the insurgency. We always think of the host nation military and other security forces, but what of the “line ministries?” We have already seen that it is a competition to govern, so they are to be included. What about foreign forces? We assume that the foreign military forces are counterinsurgents, but what of the other arms of foreign policy? What about IGO’s (International Government Organizations) like the UN? Government organizations (GO’s) such as the US State Department and USAID are counterinsurgents as well, but they may not see themselves as defined by this term, preferring the stability label. They often think of counterinsurgents with the combat label, too. Nonetheless, they are counterinsurgents. They are political and development counterinsurgents as opposed to those in the military/security fields.
Host nation government ministries and security forces are active counterinsurgents, or should be. Citizens who in their hearts want to support the government, or who want to see the government succeed, are unofficial, largely unmobilized counterinsurgents. Part of the job of the active counterinsurgents is to mobilize as many of these unmobilized counterinsurgents as possible. Trinquier wrote extensively about his concept of how to actively organize these unofficial counterinsurgents. Galula approached the subject more indirectly, discussing how the government needs to succeed in the competition to govern, bringing more active support from unofficial counterinsurgents by improving governance. Some have identified the tipping point in various counterinsurgencies as the “moment” when these unofficial counterinsurgents began to mobilize to action in significant numbers. “Action” does not necessarily mean picking up arms. It may mean the willingness to make a phone call, or to participate in or attend a local shura. It may mean letting their female children attend school. It may mean avoiding supporting the insurgents.
Members of the international community fall into two groups; counterinsurgents and unaligned humanitarian organizations. Unaligned organizations jealously guard their neutral status. They are NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) whose charters lead them to attempt to provide humanitarian services, such as medical services, in order to alleviate the suffering that populations are subject to in a war zone. They are unlikely to coordinate or share information with active counterinsurgents, but they are quite likely to consult frequently with insurgent leadership in order to gain access to populations held under insurgent sway or influence. They will not travel with counterinsurgents, but they will accept the protection of the insurgent. Counterinsurgents find this enormously frustrating, and it sometimes appears that the NGO’s are in bed with the insurgents. But counterinsurgents need to be realistic about it. Counterinsurgents will not, as a general rule, prevent access to NGO’s, whereas insurgents may not only prevent access but murder the NGO’s employees. The maintenance of neutrality, seemingly almost in favor of the insurgents, can be the difference between life and death.
NGO access is also often the extent to which insurgents are able to provide, or claim to sponsor, social services to the populations they “serve.” Again, the provision of social services has not been demonstrated to be a significant factor in the success of either insurgents or counterinsurgents, although counterinsurgents may put a lot of effort into providing social services in the (apparently mistaken) belief that this will sway populations. This is a common misinterpretation of the hated “hearts and minds” phrase.
The word, “victory,” is hard to define in an insurgency. Reading examinations by historians of various resolved insurgencies, it is remarkable how frequently the tipping point, or even the modality of how that tipping point was reached, is identified differently by different historians. Just take a look at the differing examinations of the Iraqi “surge narrative.” Even the defeat of the Malayan insurgency by the British has been subject to different historians reaching different, sometimes conflicting conclusions. In any case, insurgencies don’t end in obvious victory. There is no flag-raising. There is no triumphant moment when a platoon reports having reached the final objective, that resistance has ceased, and that the main follow-on forces are in sight, ready to consolidate their hold on the key terrain. None of that exists in a counterinsurgency operation. The word, “victory,” may only be used well in retrospect. The word, “success,” better describes what will be seen in the near to mid term.
When you set out on any endeavor where success and failure are possibilities, if you don’t have a goal in mind, it’s hard to even construct the plan. First, we must look at the causes and conditions that either gave rise to the insurgency or enabled it to develop. While instability does not always give rise to insurgency, instability will always be a feature of insurgency. We know that we have a domestic political situation which has entered the realm of warfare, and we know that conducting stability operations will be necessary. So you have an idea of what you’re there to do… or do you?
You have to understand what you’re in for.
There have been insurgencies against well-established governments, but the insurgency in Afghanistan is not one of those. There was no government after the Taliban vacated those offices. With the help of international assistance, whose individual national responsibilities were largely outlined in Bonn, a new government was constructed from the top down.
Remember, at the point of the Bonn Agreement no one, with the possible exception of the native Afghans involved in the process, whose numbers were limited, really knew what the internal problems in Afghanistan were/are. No one knew what the needs of the average Afghan were except in very broad human terms. Faced with the need to create an entire government from scratch, the western nations took a very western, top down approach. There appeared to be plenty of time to push governance out into the provinces, and it was assumed that there was no real competition to govern. The armed component appeared to be a counter-terror fight; stomping out brush fires of warlordism or Taliban leftovers, not a budding insurgency.
In retrospect, it could have been anticipated. However, the urge to lay blame for failures in the early stages shouldn’t be heeded. When we are too busy laying blame, we are not learning. This is about learning, not blaming. So, where we are is that we didn’t anticipate the emergence of an insurgency and tried to manage what appeared to be residual violence perpetuated by armed leftovers from the previous regime.
Having been established with the help of western democracies, the legitimacy of the government itself is in question. This is a consistent feature of insurgent IO (Information Operations, or their narrative); that the GIRoA is illegitimate, a puppet of the anti-Islamic west installed to subjugate the Afghan people to nefarious ends. Again, this doesn’t have to be true; just plausible in the minds of the receiving audience. In Afghanistan, this is plausible in the minds of enough people that this part of the insurgent narrative has not faded. It is also not diminished in the minds of those who have come into contact with corrupt elements of the Afghan government, whether it is ANP shaking them down for a few hundred Afghani at a checkpoint, a minor functionary demanding baksheesh for doing his job or a judge accepting a bribe to release a guilty man from the promise of justice.
All of this presents a significant challenge. How do the counterinsurgents bring the conflict back into the political end of the spectrum and out of the realm of warfare? Isn’t that the $64,000 question? It would seem if it were all that easy to define, we would have done it by now.
Much has been made of the provision of sanctuary to Afghan insurgencies by Pakistan. Whether it is completely voluntary on the part of Pakistan is open to debate, but there is no doubt that there is a certain amount of collusion on the part of, at a minimum, the ISI and the several insurgencies. Conventional wisdom states that an insurgency that has an external safe haven will win. Conventional wisdom is often roughly equal to pop-culture wisdom. It may have it right in general and still be deeply flawed.
It turns out that safe havens are certainly an enabler to insurgencies, but by no means a guarantee of success. In rural insurgencies such as those in Afghanistan, safe haven may be had one valley away from a relatively strong government presence. A more deciding factor in rural insurgencies is not whether there is a safe haven available, but if the government can actually assert its presence in these rural areas. In Afghanistan, it’s a combination of being present and being effective. Afghans love effective people. They refer to them as, “active.” If an Afghan says that a government official is “active,” he usually means that the official is effective, at least as far as that man is concerned. It’s effectiveness in a local context.
The failure to do this is more linked with failure for counterinsurgents than the ability of the insurgent to find safe haven.
We have been using data provided by Rand to explore why insurgencies end, and it turns out that they looked at the issue of safe havens as well. The Rand study examined 53 insurgencies that have been decided which included sanctuaries. Of these, 30 ended with government victories or mixed outcomes. That’s a 56% rate of a favorable or less than catastrophic ending with the existence of sanctuary. That’s opposed to 18 out of 21 when there was no sanctuary. What does this tell us?
This tells us that with the presence of a sanctuary, a successful or acceptable outcome resulted 8 percent less than two thirds of the time. This is a slight decrease from the overall outcomes discussed in the last post. But, in the absence of an insurgent sanctuary, the success rate of the counterinsurgents is much higher. The existence of sanctuary does not presage an insurgent victory.
Conventional wisdom busted.
The absence of sanctuary makes the counterinsurgent’s job much easier. So, lamenting the presence of sanctuaries in Pakistan is like crying because your car is the wrong color. It is what it is, but that does not mean that the insurgents will necessarily be successful. The presence and effectiveness of the government in rural areas is a much greater indicator of success or failure for counterinsurgents.
This does not mean that the Pakistanis should not be continuously pressured to step up. It means that safe havens are not a deal-killer. It also tells us where to focus our efforts. But, since we already know that insurgency is a competition to govern, it’s really no surprise that focusing on providing acceptable governance is really more of a key to success than whether or not the insurgents have a place to hide.
Insurgencies do not usually end with a bang. They usually end in a whimper. Statistically, according to Rand, out of 73 concluded insurgencies, 47 ended with either a government win or what Rand calls a “mixed outcome.” Rand considers a mixed outcome to be a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Government victories and negotiated endings are almost always whimpers. Insurgent success is usually with a bang. Almost exactly two thirds of insurgencies end in whimpers.
Galula described this effect, and described the political win as rendering the insurgent “irrelevant.” Galula pointed out that the goal of the counterinsurgent is to make the insurgent irrelevant and then the “true believers” are reduced to the level of violent criminals. When this happens, it is eventually a “win” for the government. But, I would consider a negotiated settlement a win as well.
Why would a negotiated settlement be a win? Let’s narrow down the bang and whimper thing. Insurgencies end with either the reintegration into the (non-violent) political process of the greater part of the insurgency, they end with a total changeover of the government (insurgent win), or they end up with the annihilation of the insurgent. Annihilation of the movements themselves are rare. The most recent example is the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan government. But there are few similarities and significant differences between the Tamil Tigers and Afghan insurgencies.
From what we see, nearly two thirds of insurgencies that have been decided ended either with reintegration of enough of the insurgency into the process to make further insurgency irrelevant or the total destruction of the insurgent. Let’s look at the first case, since the second is much rarer. Reintegration sometimes happened by the government responding to the legitimate concerns of the people and reducing the level of dissatisfaction (grievances) while simultaneously protecting both its own employees and the people themselves from insurgent influence. It sometimes happened through negotiating to bring the insurgents back into the political process. Either is acceptable, so long as the core values of the government are not breached. A combination would also work. The point is, when the political violence ends or ceases to be a serious threat to the government, the issues and contenders exit the realm of warfare and enter the realm of domestic politics. That is success, because the insurgency is effectively over, and it has not completely unseated the legitimate government.
The particulars of whether it is by reformation, negotiation or any mixture of both are irrelevant. The end result was the inclusion or re-inclusion of the formerly violent opposition into a civil political process, ending their participation in hostilities. That, truly is the goal of the counterinsurgent. Any other outcome is either indecisive or a loss for the counterinsurgent. Indecisive is when the fighting continues.
When the government wins, it is often not even apparent for some time. Governments usually win by a combination of factors that include some type of political reform. Either the government gets better, or it will likely lose. In a competition to govern, one path to success is to actually win in the area of governance. The violent component of insurgency can interfere with this to a great extent, so security is a key feature of success as well.
The most ideologically-driven insurgents will often “fight on” for years, but eventually become a criminal problem rather than a real political threat. Nonetheless, the apparent continuation of hostilities will often give the illusion of continued insurgency, but there is a point, which is very hard to describe or pinpoint, that insurgency degrades into a condition that looks more like Timothy McVeigh and less like Mao. That is the true tipping point, but it is often not clearly seen except in retrospect. That is a challenge for the government under threat of an insurgency, but it is even more of a challenge for the public support of international counterinsurgents; the home front.
National will is tested severely in counterinsurgencies. The will of the nation beset by an insurgency is severely tested, and the lives of its citizenry are at risk and often made miserable by the contest. The national will of nations assisting a counterinsurgency are also seriously tested, as we see in our own country. The significant delay in perception of when momentum actually shifts in a counterinsurgency is not a positive when it comes to maintaining public support for a course of action that includes active counterinsurgency by an international force.
The insurgency itself is also tested, and continuously so. Insurgents have natural strengths, such as the ability to remain largely difficult to detect. But they also have weaknesses or challenges to overcome, including morale, funding, recruitment, losses and sometimes even the basics like food and shelter. Weapons are not free, and neither is ammunition. In Afghanistan, it is remarkable that in many areas the insurgent can only afford to engage once every few days. This provides pressure on the insurgents to keep supplies coming. When governance improves and security is improved, local public support becomes harder to come by and information regarding the insurgents will begin to trickle in.
If things continue to improve, many pressures are put on the part-timers to quit showing up for ambushes. Finally, the local die-hards don’t quite quit at that point and probably never will. These long-term local engagements with insurgents are the real chess games in Afghanistan. They are like that weird 3-D game of chess on Star Trek, because each instance of the game will have three main components; military/security, governance and economic development. This game of 3-D chess is normally played out between locally savvy elder insurgents, generally one or more local GIRoA officials, and a series of Captains and Lieutenant Colonels who are on the ground for a year at a time. In the past couple of years, it has increasingly included USAID and State Department personnel. The insurgent competes in the military/security and governance lines and sometimes in the development line, although the insurgency itself provides little in the way of economic development.
By exception, in Afghanistan, poppy provides a significant example of how insurgents can provide development to serve their purposes. Of course, it’s not what we would like to see in long-term, sustainable development, but I submit that it is an example of insurgents manipulating the economy and providing employment opportunities. Insurgents may also control the access of humanitarian organizations to create the impression of providing services or development. However, there is no strong evidence that not providing social services has ever led to the failure of an insurgency. There is also no strong evidence that the provision of social services will result in a government win. Providing effective and acceptable governance, on the other hand, unarguably does often result in government wins. The provision of social services is a feel-good action that is not synonymous with good governance.
Statistically, the longer an insurgency is dragged out, the incidents of counterinsurgent wins actually increase slightly. But the loss or unreliability of foreign support has been a significant factor in a number of insurgent wins. Foreign forces engaged in counterinsurgencies are successful a little less than 50 percent of the time; if “government wins” is the measure of success as used by Rand. However, if we consider a success to include negotiated solutions that bring an end to insurgency, then the success rate of foreign active interventions is 12 of 17 or 70%.
As we’ve seen, about two thirds of insurgencies end with what could be termed success for the sitting government. While the outright collapse of insurgencies is included in that two thirds, more often it is by degrees and may include negotiated settlements. Quite often, it is months after the tipping point is reached before it is apparent that an insurgency is subsiding.
This describes how insurgencies have tended to work out, and a few examples of how these principles apply in Afghanistan. Obviously, we are trying to work this one into the two thirds of “successful” outcomes.
A success will sound more like a whimper than a bang. This doesn’t sit so well in a country that likes touchdowns, home runs and actually seeing someone win on “The Biggest Loser” or “American Idol.” Yet, that’s exactly what we are striving for. The next question is, “How do we fit Afghanistan into that successful, whimpering two thirds?”
This is a snippet made by Robert Jones over at Small Wars Journal.
We need to evolve. As I said, Pop-centric COIN was a half-measure evolution. A change of tactical focus without the requisite change of strategic perspective. The change of strategic perspective is that causation for insurgency radiates out from the government, and that in today’s world the interests of powerful external states are better met by helping populaces have the governance THEY want, rather than forcing them to submit to the governance that WE want.
I enjoy many of the comments that Robert C. Jones puts up over at SWJ. He’s one of the most considered and intelligent commenters who frequent the site. His thought above is very brief, but it encompasses a set of ideas that bears a tremendous amount of reflection. It is also something that we attempted to teach at the CTC-A. At least, some of us did.
While many critics of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan speak of strategy, their use of the term is an excuse for failure to visualize. It is all too often used as some sort of overarching trump card which then excuses the inability to resolve a difficult and complicated issue. Words like, “strategy,” and “national interest” are often used by many who want to put their own spin on what those things are, to provide their own interpretation. Over time, a chorus of voices saying these things can generate memes that mutate and replicate. This is especially true when such memes alleviate responsibility for truly appreciating complex issues that require more than a military response. Killing is easy. Building the capacity to govern is not. Building the capacity to govern in a locally acceptable way is even more difficult. Using such terms as “strategy” and “national interest” as exculpatory trump cards excusing intellectual laziness is unacceptable.
I don’t know if my thoughts on a “requisite change in strategic perspective” agrees with Mr. Jones’, although I do agree with his simple statement. I don’t agree with anyone who insists that “pop-centric COIN” has truly been adopted as the strategy employed in Afghanistan. I do think that there are units that are doing it fairly well, and those who simply cannot employ it due to a number of factors. To me, what we have is a strategic perspective that has significant static inertia facing a world that requires some movement of this perspective. While Mr. Jones’ statement appears to relate to strategic perspective as it applies to forcing a certain type of governance on any given population, I see it as larger than that. I also see the the issue of what is in our national interest as larger than what many critics seem to think.
Population-centric COIN has been described as a failure. It is a failure because we cannot perform this function, not because it is a flawed approach. I have seen it applied in discrete situations, and it has been effective when applied adequately; meaning that it does not have to be done perfectly. The failure occurs because we are demonstrating ourselves to be institutionally incapable of adaptation. Is this driven by strategic perspective? I would have to say, “Yes.”
This brings us to the second part of Mr. Jones’ statement; that the interests of powerful external states are better served by helping populaces have the governance THEY want, rather than forcing them to submit to the governance that WE want. This accepts the presumption that our interests are served by populations being governed. As we see in places like Yemen, ungoverned spaces and peoples provide dangerous breeding grounds for what we have come to call “terrorists.” We all agree that terrorism is a problem, and one that our approaches over the past 50 years have neither contained nor diminished. In fact, the problem has gotten worse. The old policies of military might and specialized anti-terror units attempting to contain terrorism has not brought good results. Afghanistan was a largely ungoverned space, and what government was provided was in sync with the leadership of groups who espoused the use of violence to attempt to influence our national policies. Ungoverned spaces and peoples are not good for us. But what to do about that?
The United States has long gone on about “self-determination of peoples.” I would submit that throughout the Cold War, we did not truly subscribe to our own theory. Direct interference led to such debacles as the installation of the Shah in Iran. It turned out that the Shah was a despot, and when he was eventually overthrown, we then concealed and protected the Shah from his own people who, as people who have suffered despotism are wont to do, wished to try him according to their laws and customs and probably put the ailing Shah to death. “What would our other allies think,” our politicians and state department officials wondered, “if we demonstrated that we do not ‘have their backs?'”
Well, it might have given them the idea that they were, indeed, subject to being accountable to their own people.
By protecting the Shah and providing him medical care during his battle with cancer, we earned the long-lasting hatred of the Iranian people. We proved our own talk of self-determination to be just noise. We betrayed our own national values. Our leaders at that time would say that they did it for a greater purpose; to contain the spread of Communism. It is not clear if installing the Shah in Iran hastened the fall of the Soviet Union. It is not clear if providing sanctuary to the Shah in exile hastened the fall of the Soviet Union. It is unlikely that evoking the everlasting ire of the Iranian nation and suffering the ignoble occupation of the US Embassy and the holding of over 50 Americans hostage for nearly two years hastened the fall of the Soviet Union. But it did leave a legacy which had nothing to do with the Soviet Union and follows us decades after the dissolution of that threatening specter.
During the Cold War there were numerous instances of such manipulations in the internal politics of other countries. We supported a number of questionable regimes simply because of their staunch anti-Communism. We trained and funded the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan and Pakistan because they were a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union, and when the Soviet Union fled Afghanistan, we fairly abandoned the Afghans to their fate. Whether our strategic perspectives contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union is open to debate. But the decisions that we made under that strategic perspective established many of the issues that plague us to this day. Yet we continue to view both the world and our approach to nations such as Afghanistan through lenses ground by the same optician. We set about to make the world safe for democracy, and in demanding that others wind up looking like ourselves, we shot ourselves in the foot.
Governance and well-governed people are good for the rest of the world, and insisting that they emulate our government and lifestyle does not necessarily help us to achieve that end.
The current situations in Tunisia and Egypt show us that the political situation in the Middle East is changeable. There are a number of potential turns this process may take that are positive… and it is just as likely that the changes will not be “positive” to our national interests as we understand them currently. If the government of Egypt falls, for instance, the most organized group that would be prepared to take advantage of the vacuum would be the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m not sure that they would be amenable towards the West in general. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage with them and seek opportunities to be of assistance with regards to building capacity. There is just a good a chance that Baradei will be successful in gathering a coalition and working to provide an Egyptian government that is dedicated to addressing the grievances of the Egyptian people while providing a moderate government. Either way, it is in our best interest that there is no civil war in Egypt. It is in our best interest for Egypt to be a governed space.
The same goes for Yemen. Do those nations have to be western-style democracies? I don’t think that our capacity-building efforts need to be predicated upon this. From what we have seen, even in fairly tightly-controlled regimes, as the population becomes educated and aware of the outside world, they want more freedoms. Witness Iran. Iran has a fairly strict government with an entrenched political leadership, and yet there is a thriving opposition movement. Every government has the opportunity to address the grievances of the people. Insurgencies are fueled by dissatisfaction and revolutions are based upon it. When a government works to address the grievances of the citizens, then insurgencies and revolutions are averted. We sometimes consider revolution a positive thing, but I question whether we are fueling further problems by trying to foment them when it is perceived to be in our interest. Perhaps it is best to work to build capacity and allow the natural development of people take its course. Education and the ability to reach out to the rest of the world through such means as the internet can do more to advance the desire for liberty more than any overt acts by the United States.
From an email from a friend, MP, seeking input on understanding Afghanistan:
I’m missing a narrative for the war in Afghanistan. That certainly needs to start at the very top of the civilian leadership, be reinforced by military leadership, and be lived by all involved.
I mean, if you ask most people what it’s about they might be able to say something about denying the enemy (AQ, Taliban) a safe haven from which to operate and hurt us at home.
And I think many people who read milblogs might be able to tell you a story or two about individual courage and sacrifice amongst our warriors.
But what is totally absent is the whole middle part. In Iraq, the Army didn’t do a great job with that either, but they did put out some stuff that the milblogs were able to amplify with their coverage.
For example, where are the Travis Patriquins of the war in Afg? The COL MacFarlands? They brought Petraeus back but where is he? Where are the stories that Roggio used to cover so well, talking about the Anbar Awakening before it was called that? Or giving context to operations like those which severed the “ratlines” from Syria?
The military doesn’t even seem to bother with dopey stories about opening schools or helping farmers anymore. That’s pretty bad! Because if they did even that, perhaps some bloggers would publish them with commentary that could stimulate thinking and conversation.
What MP is actually looking for is that mid- to low-level narrative that describes what our Soldiers and Marines are doing on the ground. Of course, my response is to go on about statements of national strategy. But that’s where the narrative begins. I will tell you that the mid- to low-level narrative is stronger on the ground in Afghanistan… at least in some circles… than it is here. There is such a tremendous disconnect between the national conversation regarding Afghanistan here in the US and what is actually being done on the ground over there. That disconnect has left gaping holes in the narrative here, and those gaping holes leave broad spaces where there is no ability to connect with what our Soldiers and Marines are actually doing there on a day-to-day basis. This is where MP senses the lack of narrative; it is the narrative that MP looks for and wishes to connect with. And, sadly, it’s missing. From my perspective, that comes from the top.
The missing narrative starts with the civilian leadership and extends from there. The civilian leadership doesn’t know how to clearly articulate its goals in a simple and accurate message. Obama states some fairly nebulous goals that appear to be disconnected from our actions on the ground. I mean, for the average citizen, what does rendering al Qaeda harmless have to do with “nation-building” in Afghanistan? Isn’t al Qaeda mostly in Pakistan now? What about Yemen? The narrative is broken from the top down, from that first sentence. It’s a failure in leadership, leaving a vacuum that is filled with a sea of voices all shouting to be heard. People try to interpret the narrative from that sentence on down, and the lack of clarity in instilling a visualization of what it’s supposed to look like juxtaposed with actions that don’t seem to entirely suit the scant high-level narrative leaves a lot of room for that cacophony to grow. The individual voices in that sea are influenced by their own standpoints and goals. Most just repeat buzzwords and really can’t envision the problem they are trying to solve with any clarity themselves. It’s outside of their frame of reference, which often gets more rigid with age and not more flexible.
In warfare in general, but counterinsurgency in particular, there are always at least three narratives, but they respond to each other and bounce off of each other. There is the official narrative, the unofficial narrative (the media), and then there is the enemy narrative, which is compared to and contrasted against the official narrative. The unofficial or popular (media) narrative is critical of the official narrative; it questions it, explores it and hammers it when it is in any way deficient, false or inconsistent. The enemy narrative is often delivered unfiltered and without substantive critique.
No one here in the US has a clear grasp of what is going on there, but oh so many cry out to be heard. With the “official” narrative weaker than water, it’s easy to lose reality in the sea of voices who shout down each other in competition to become the main narrative. Again, it’s a question of leadership, and at the upper levels, our leadership’s message is weak. The mid and lower level messages will stem from the overarching narrative, but that overarching narrative doesn’t seem to describe what we are actually doing on the ground, and so there is a disconnect. It cannot begin with GEN Petraeus’ narrative. His narrative must support and inform the national discourse. Without the underpinnings of a clear statement that his narrative dovetails with, it is cast adrift and easily derided as being somehow unsupported and unsupportable. The last general who tried to command the narrative, unsupported by the civilian leadership, is now in unscheduled retirement.
Disconnects leave a vacuum, and politics (the narratives are all about politics), like nature, abhors a vacuum. Communications abhors a vacuum as well, and competing interests will always vie for influence over the narrative… especially when the narrative has no central theme. Afghanistan is more confusing than Iraq in many ways, and so the narrative is difficult to begin with, but our national narrative is so scattered that it almost seems not to exist. MP is not the only one who misses it and looks for it. Everyone does in one way or another, and so the dominant narrative here is a disjointed argument over bullshit.
For me, what is most troubling about this disconnect are the memes that arise from the cacophony and eventually become accepted as truths. Folks, a lot of our “talking heads” are talking out of the other end, but they sound so sage while doing it that when they further a meme, you wouldn’t know it. And they’re paid to know what they’re talking about, right? Yeah, in a perfect world. There are only a couple of journalists out there who know COIN from a hole in the ground. It’s like chewing broken glass to listen to them flail away at the concept. It’s stunning that some of most educated observers who do understand it cannot enunciate it clearly, and when they do they are shouted down by the mass of voices competing to gain control of the narrative left adrift, often for their own reasons. There is no room for a consistent mid- or low-level narrative to emerge from this. Military commentators like COL Gentile and politically-driven think-tankers like Michael Cohen wouldn’t be able to propagate their memes if the successes that do exist were properly documented and narrated. They would be forced to think harder and be more rigorous in their criticisms. Cohen and Gentile’s personal narratives haven’t progressed in over three years because they haven’t needed to. They, and others, can criticize a weakly stated strategy easily with broad and unsupported strokes and reduce the narrative to a squabble over tactics that could be put to bed readily with an accurate tactical narrative that didn’t look like a kaleidoscope.
What would our narrative look like? I don’t think that “feel good” type stories of the type that we saw in the early days would do it for me. Building schools always looks good, but it may not be the best thing for a given community at a given time. Stories that give the background of why a decision has been made, that show the details of really excellent stabilization activities would really grab me. I would love to see a narrative about the successes that Community Development Councils have achieved while our Soldiers and Marines helped to provide the requisite bubble of security, working hand in hand with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). A narrative that shows our young men and women, both civilian and military, engaging in reestablishing local capacity to manage their own affairs in a mode higher than basic survival mode would be awesome; because this is happening in discrete local areas in Afghanistan. A narrative that shows that the shift is happening from a centralized government focus to building the solid footing of local governance would be great. A strong narrative would show that these traditional local structures have in the past and can now be linked in an Afghan way to a central government, that this cross-pollination of legitimacy at the local and national levels is an Afghan phenomenon and that we are learning to foster this. A great narrative would put to rest the exotification of Afghans, showing them for the human beings that are more similar to our great grandparents than we are. A great narrative would show the progress that our Soldiers and Marines are risking life and limb to enable, and the hard work being done by smart people from USAID and State to assist. A great narrative would show the heroism not only of these best and brightest that America has to offer, but would also highlight the heroism of our Afghan allies (which I know is there, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes). Now that would be a narrative.
It would also be a narrative that would engender truly thoughtful and incisive criticism which would lead to sharpening the edge rather than being mere oppositional horseshit. A true dialog would be a lot more helpful than a bunch of shrieking voices all in opposition to each other, almost none of which really know what they’re talking about.
Information dominance starts with strongly and clearly stating your objectives and then ensuring that all of your actions are in support of that clearly stated goal. When everyone knows what right is supposed to look like, then they can recognize what wrong looks like and offer truly constructive criticism. A real narrative would look more like a steady stream of consciousness instead of a cacophony of geese staking out nesting sites.
Yeah, MP, we are all missing that narrative.
There’s an interesting article posted over at Small Wars Journal that brings up some thoughts I have on the subject.
In my experience in Afghanistan as both an embedded adviser and with the COIN Center, I had many and various experiences from the military side of the house with civilians of many flavors. In 2007, there was a dearth of US civilians on the ground. In 2009-2010, I witnessed the “civilian surge” and its effects.
My overall impression of Afghan government officials is that they are, to a man, in over their heads. From Karzai on down to the district Sub-Governors, not a one has managed so much as a township-sized administration prior to be being thrown into their current position. Afghanistan had/has no “institutional memory.” If I were put in charge of my state’s Highway Department, although I am unskilled, there is enough institutional memory present to keep things from becoming a total disaster for at least a period of time. People raised within that system know how things are done, and things will get done to a greater or lesser extent. Over a longer period, my incompetence at running a highway department would eventually put a lot of drag on the organization. But in the short to medium term, things would run.
Afghanistan, and many other countries which we would seek to provide stability assistance to, has no institutional memory. Their administrators and managers have long since been run off or killed. COIN does not function as a self-standing strategy for resolving instability, it is a methodology for fighting against an active insurgency, but it does not resolve the causes and conditions that gave rise to the insurgency to begin with. Instability is an incubator for insurgency. The military role in the stability operations required to remove these underpinnings is the lesser of the three main lines of effort.
I have seen a lot of dedicated people doing really great things; things that never get trumpeted or even spoken about here stateside. But 350 is not nearly enough good people to really make the stability progress needed to remove the underpinnings of an insurgency. The Afghan National Army is one of the greater successes in Afghanistan to this point, and its successes have been due to mentoring; being present. Money is not the solution, although it costs money. But these Afghan civil servants with no prior experience and no institutional memory to support them truly need mentoring. Without it, they fall back on the types of behaviors that are spawned as survival mechanisms in “conflict ecosystems.” We use their incompetence as further proof that they do not deserve our “blood and treasure.”
I echo those first two commenters at SWJ who have seen greatly capable people disabled by archaic management. The military has struggled with the massive paradigm shift of COIN Operations with wildly varying degrees of success (and failures that are inappropriately rewarded because Afghanistan is not worth a single officer’s career unless it is an infraction of political correctness… and we can’t punish what we ourselves cannot define as failure, anyway). All the while, the military has dealt with infighting and malcontents who simply do not want to fight this kind of war and dicker endlessly about a doctrine that has never truly been applied across the spectrum. Any argument about FM 3-24 that includes reference to its having taken over the military culture is fatally flawed from the start. Noise and smoke do not a takeover make.
In short, no one is truly leading the way. Everyone is making excuses ranging from, “FM 3-24 simply doesn’t work, anyway,” to “It’s not critical to our national interests,” to the equivalent of, “Afghans are alien creatures incapable of governing themselves and undeserving of our best efforts.” The battle for modernity is not being fought in the villages of Afghanistan so much as it is within our own institutions, and those comments above illustrate this. It is our internal struggle to adapt to the changes that globalization have wrought upon our world. Old world views clash with the concepts that are inherent with the realization that the world has irrevocably changed. Apathy driven by the urge to endlessly examine one’s own navel in a poor economy, the lack of direct impact on the greatest mass of Americans and blaming foreign policy for poor responses to a changing world economy exacerbates this and makes for some strange political bedfellows.
The absence of an obviously existential threat means that no patriotism is required, right? We are all in this for the money and our careers and there is no need for discomfort and risk. Our own tactical commanders often illustrate the resulting risk aversion and zero-defect mentalities (see MAJ Jeremy Kotkin’s recent article at SWJ). If this view is prevalent in the military, then why should civil servants not follow suit? Where is the requirement to endanger oneself or even suffer discomfort; isn’t that what a professional military is for?
I’m not sure that a Civil Service draft is the answer, but this article is a strong statement about the fact that, in a three-pronged approach, we are not doing very well. IF we achieve some limited success in Afghanistan, it will be because there are a lot of smart, energetic people out there (including Afghans) who are doing the best they can, largely unsupported by cumbersome and archaic institutions, and getting some good things done. I do know that on the ground, “Afghan good” is good enough… but we struggle to get to even that standard.
Gian Gentile has not been silent in my absence, nor have his arguments progressed. In the July 2010 edition of Joint Force Quarterly, COL Gentile once again states his long-standing argument that COIN doctrine, now three and a half years old, was never properly vetted. He continues to compare it to Active Defense doctrine of the 1970’s, and he continues to compare his calls for reevaluation of the existing doctrine to the calls which eventually resulted in AirLand Battle doctrine (the doctrine of Desert Storm). There are subtle differences. Two years ago, COL Gentile asserted that FM 3-24 was designed to defeat Maoist insurgencies and that this made FM 3-24 woefully inadequate for the current usage. Then it became widely known that the Islamic insurgents are using Maoist doctrine adapted for Islamic insurgency in Abd Al-‘Aziz Al-Muqrin’s A Practical Course for Guerrilla War. We no longer hear COL Gentile pressing that particular button.
From the viewpoint of someone who is on the ground and engaged in the counterinsurgency, and who has a fairly broad view of what is occurring, the current incarnation of the Gentile Argument remains short on a couple of points. COL Gentile asserts that the theories upon which the current COIN doctrine are based have not been successfully used elsewhere. Students of the doctrine can easily see where these principles are not new. Many were, in fact, drawn from successful practice by the British in Malaya. There are, on the other hand, no clear examples of where a different approach has been successful. Witness the Germans in the Balkans. The question then becomes, if not this, then what?
Andrew Bacevich claims that just leaving would be entirely acceptable. Of course, this ignores one of our chief impediments in Afghanistan; our own history. We are easily and believably depicted by our enemies as quitters. This is easily believed by significant segments of the population who, being wooed by both sides, must make a choice as to which direction their future lies. Pakistan, too, is being asked to make a choice based on who is going to be present and helpful over the long term. Our history, which Mr. Bacevich would now have us add to, says loudly that it will not be us.
COL Gentile, who finds himself lumped in with Mr. Bacevich in many examinations of the issue, announces the failure of the doctrine without first having empirical evidence that it has been even adequately applied. A good idea, implemented poorly, looks like a bad idea. COL Gentile himself states that his unit, 8-10 CAV, 4ID was doing COIN in Baghdad in 2006. He goes on to prove this by giving us a measure of performance rather than a measure of effectiveness in COIN.
This is a common error amongst military officers who are ineffectually attempting COIN operations. His offering of a measure of output rather than any indication of what effect it actually had leads one to believe that the Colonel doesn’t actually understand COIN well enough to argue effectively about whether it is effective or not. It certainly does not indicate a level of understanding sufficient to declare the doctrine useless or failed. Excellent COIN practitioners know that measures of effectiveness are not universal, but that they cannot be denoted by the number of patrols conducted, the amount of Humanitarian Assistance dispensed or the number of Medical Engagements conducted. One must seek the effect that this had on the population’s perception of their own government as a result of these actions. This is particularly true when the population knows that the presence of the United States is transitory at best. We still see units on the ground in Afghanistan where commanders are struggling to arrive at measures of effectiveness rather than output.
To be sure, one must be able to measure one’s activities, but those activities must be aimed at an effect that is oriented on establishing a relationship between the people and their own government. Granted, COL Gentile’s quote was taken somewhat out of context, but it is consistent with lines of information briefed by units here in Afghanistan. One unit, conducting what amounts to a PR campaign to salvage its reputation after having been removed from its original operational area after failing to conduct effective COIN operations, literally produced a slick document in which it provided “proof” of its excellent COIN operations. The preponderance of information, provided in easy-to-read pie chart and bar chart format, was on how much money they spent. To a counterinsurgent, that could just as much be a damage estimate as a measure of effectiveness. We can do a lot of damage with our money. How did they spend that money? Did it help bring he people closer to their government? Did it add to a perception of GIRoA effectiveness? We don’t know. I doubt that they do, either. IF it was what was important to them, they would have briefed that information. If COL Gentile had had measures of effectiveness to discuss in his articles, he would have used them.
The Colonel also describes COIN doctrine as “prescriptive.” Again, this shows a lack of grasp of the doctrine, which is based on principles and methodologies that commanders then use to arrive at their own conclusions about how to conduct operations in their discrete areas. All politics is local, therefore all insurgency is local, therefore all counterinsurgency must be local. FM 3-24 recognizes this. In fact, it states it. In Armor terms, each area requires a tank-discrete CCF (Computer Correction Factor).* There is no fleet CCF for COIN. Just like the Tank Gunnery manual (doctrine), where there is a methodology for determining a discrete CCF for each tank when required. This is what FM 3-24 and FM 3-07 do for commanders. This is not prescriptive, it is a thought process laid out for a commander to use to adequately appreciate the area in which he is operating.
COL Gentile’s latest article is a re-hash of his old argument. But, it is consistent. One of the greatest areas of consistency is that it fails to offer a viable alternative. The Colonel also has a tendency to insist that what was being done prior to the publication of FM 3-24 was basically working. He points to successes by officers such as COL (now BG) H.R. McMaster which preceded the surge. BG McMaster was using lessons he learned from reading works by such men as Galula and applying them in the absence of doctrine. We see the results of his COIN effects. We know that 8-10 CAV did 3,500 patrols. Do we know what that accomplished as far as COIN effect? No. Is that an indictment of 8-10 CAV’s Soldiers or leadership? No more than when one Soldier is awarded a Silver Star and another a Bronze Star w/ “V” device. Which one sucked? Neither. One did his job very well and one did it extraordinarily well. We need to be able to divorce learning from blaming. This is not something that we are doing well.
Finally, before anyone argues that COIN has taken over the Army, it should at least be a true statement. COIN is just now making its way into the NCOES. A former instructor from the COIN Training Center – Afghanistan went straight to the Captain’s Career Course and was confronted with truly terribly COIN training. The institution has not quite caught up with the training. It is moving that way, and there are a lot of people who are doing the best that they can. But it’s not there yet. This is the war that we are in, and this is the one that we need to learn to win. It is possible that not a single soul who is currently in a uniform will still be wearing it when the next major peer-to-peer or near peer-to-peer conflict happens. Crying out about losing our warfighting edge is a bit premature at this point. Particularly when the only alternative being offered is to lose this one in favor of winning the one that may or may not happen in the unforeseeable future. For a pretty frank discussion of that side of the COIN (so to speak) see this post at Travels with Shiloh
* In the ballistic computer of an M1 tank, there is for each type of ammunition a mathematical CCF. This is the fleet CCF (the CCF for the fleet of vehicles). This tells the computer that, for instance, when HEAT is selected, the round will have certain characteristics in flight. This enables the computer to adjust for such variables as range, barometric pressure, crosswind and the temperature of the propellant before it is burned to adjust the position of the tank gun’s barrel relative to the target. Each tank, when boresighted, fires a round of each type of ammunition at a target. For various reasons, every once in a while a tank cannot hit with a fleet CCF. There is a procedure detailed in the Tank Gunnery manual for determining a tank-discrete CCF for that type of ammunition, which is then recorded on the 2404-8 for use in the future with that same type of ammunition on that tank.
A couple of commenters on the post “Trending Positive” deserve answers. I’m going to take them in logical instead of chronological order. So the first question is, “Is this (COIN) what we our troops should be doing?”.
Yes. The why of it requires an answer that spans a number of subjects ranging from the purpose of having armed forces to the dangers of foreign national/regional instability in the era of globalization. We have, in part, created this very situation with our own might. By that I don’t mean that our various “nefarious plots” are coming home to roost. I mean that we are too strong for others to take on toe-to-toe with any reasonable assurance of possible success.
Insurgents are not insurgents because they always aspired to be insurgents. They are insurgents out of weakness in the face of vastly superior physical strength. They dare not mass and present targets for overmatching firepower. In 2007, Afghan insurgents dared on several occasions to mass up to company-plus strength and attempt maneuver warfare. This led to mass casualties for the insurgents. One of the strengths of the insurgent is his ability to control his loss rate by controllong how much of his force he exposes to the risk of loss. This, however, sacrifices the ability to inflict more losses on the counterinsurgent… nothing ventured, nothing gained. We know that this insurgency actually thinks in this manner, as they have openly referred to their operations in terms of classic Maoist insurgent doctrinal terms such as “strategic defensive,” the phase they have achieved in much of the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.
All of that is enemy centric. Insurgency is a political problem with an armed and violent component, not a military problem with a political element. If you choose a method other than Counterinsurgency to fight an insurgency, such as counter-guerrilla warfare, you are doomed to fail; you are fighting a type of warfare other than that in which you are engaged. If you are not conducting Stability Operations, you are leaving in place the very problems that left room for an insurgency to gain traction. In analyzing the events in Afghanistan, it is chrystal clear that we are are engaged in countering an insurgency. Therefore, COIN and its parent, Stability Operations are the types of operations we must use to defeat it.
This is not impossible, nor is it an impenetrable mystery. It is less dangerous for the average American Soldier or Marine than nearly any other American conflict to date. It is not an unreasonable task to ask of the Armed Forces of the United States… unless we do not train them for or support them in the effort.
Yes, this what our forces should be doing. Now, it must be understood that the military/security aspect is only one leg of a three-legged stool that includes Governance and Reconstruction and Development as the other two legs. Military COIN Operations are useless without these concurrent efforts, and these efforts are not most effectively performed by military forces. They require such governmental organs as the State Department and USAID. That is part of supporting the troops in the field; not committing them to an effort that is half-baked from the start.
Appropriate delivery of Stabilization Operations can actually diffuse a latent insurgency and innoculate against the potential of having to engage in COIN Operations.
In order to buy in to the concept that our organs of foreign policy need to be engaged in Stability Operations in far-flung regions of the world, one must accept the events of 9/11, London, Madrid, and Mumbai as manifestations of the new reality of living in a globalized world. Non-state actors can now deliver violence on a scale that would previously have been available only to nation-states. The Soviet Union would have loved to have punched a hole in the Pentagon. The Third Reich would have have committed significant resources to knocking down the tallest buildings in New York if it had been feasible. Both would have found it delicious to do so without presenting a clear, easy target for retribution. Neither found it within their grasp to do so. Yet non-state groups, loosely confederated and working in a distributed manner, headquartered in a dark backwater of the world found the means to organize and execute such attacks employing effective methods, such as the largest cruise missiles ever launched, without presenting an obvious target for retaliation. The deterrent of our massive conventional capability and nuclear arsenal meant nothing. Welcome to the New World Order.
The second question had to do with the President’s “run away date.”. It’s not a run away date. It is a date that he hopes to start drawing down from the surge. This has caused some problems domestically, although the Democratic Party leadership is happy; it’s what they always demanded from President Bush. It has caused more problems in Afghanistan, because the message was misunderstood. Many, both here and abroad, heard, “run away date.” For Afghans, that could easily mean, “Time for me to figure out Plan B.” That is not what I need for my Afghan counterpart to be doing. We could really use a clarification from the President on what he really meant when he made the statement.
It was also a call to action for both the Coalition and the Afghans to show progress, the lack of which could spur abandonment of the mission. To be fair, the only ones who probably have a solid definition of the consequences for failing to show adequate progress are GEN McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry. The rest of us only have educate guesses at best.
That being said, GEN McChrystal has a more than solid grasp of both Stability and COIN Operations. His problem is not one of a lack of personal vision, but the challenge of getting a very diverse group of people of all levels of education to understand and to execute the intent that the vision generates. This challenge cannot be understated, but it is not insurmountable. GEN McChrystal has demonstrated not only a powerful vision, but the tactical patience to get the ship to begin turning despite counterforce and inertia. That is an achievement in its own right. I’m encouraged.
Those who disparage GEN McChrystal demonstrate a marked lack of knowledge of COIN and Stability Operations. When you don’t know what right looks like, there are many stones to be thrown. Unfortunately, some of those voices have developed the illusion of authority on the subject, but my observations lead me to sense a lack of any deep understanding other than a bunch of popular buzzwords. This is also indicated by praise for commanders who have been some of the worst practitioners of COIN ever to wear an American flag in Afghanistan while slamming the best commander that has yet served on the ground here.
None of these spurious calls for GEN McChrystal to be fired do anyone any favors. History will show these calls to be ill-advised. That’s a long time to wait. In the meantime, perhaps my current, firsthand knowledge of Afghanistan, fairly extensive travel within the country, and experience as a combat asdvisor in this theater, along with a strong enough knowledge of both COIN and Stability Operations to have taught them to the O-7 level, will suffice as my bona fides. Assuming that these qualifications are adequate, let me be clear that such wildly cast aspersions as to the abilities of COMISAF are not the works of an educated, well-considered opinion and are of no analytical value whatsoever. In fact, such unsupported yet vociferous noises are irresponsible and potentially dangerous. It would be, in my informed and considered opinion, wise to ignore such calls and understand that correspondents can be very skilled at description and capturing imagery while being dangerously ill-equipped for providing worthwhile analysis. To the reader at home it may be difficult to tell, so hopefully hearing it from a serving Soldier with a stromg enough knowledge of COIN to successfully teach it will be helpful in clarifying the issue.
Obviously, the posts this tour have been few and far between. There are a number of reasons for that, including the massive amount of information and knowledge that I’m exposed to. It’s hard to take it all and present it in a way that makes sense short of writing big papers about it. There are lots of complexities, interactions and initiatives. It’s difficult to gel them into concise pieces. There is also the factor of priorities. My ability to contribute and to influence events, meager though that ability may be, is more important than writing about what I see. The trust of my leadership in my discernment is more important than demonstrating or sharing what I have been exposed to, which is considerable.
I have been back in Afghanistan for about ten months now, and my perceptions have run the gamut during that time. There have been times that I have been so frustrated that I could spit. I have seen things from time to time that have just flat disgusted me. That being said, the overall trend is very positive.
I know that there are those who decry the changes in the Rules of Engagement that are nearly a year old now. Michael Yon has recently begun spreading what I can only describe as a meme about Soldiers patrolling around some corner of Afghanistan and being prevented by their command from chambering a round in their weapons. This is not and has never been the intent of COMISAF. If this is indeed true, which I have never seen or heard any evidence of, concealing the identity of the commander who has generated this type of directive is in itself a dangerous and irresponsible act. Personally, you would have to prove to me that anyone is actually doing that.
What I do see is more and more Soldiers and Marines doing their level best to apply creative solutions to complex tactical situations, both kinetic and non-kinetic. I see Soldiers and Marines, who could easily kill, sparing lives and leveraging local relationships by allowing communities to take a positive role in correcting their local citizens. A favorite example of GEN McChrystal, which I have personally heard him use, is the example of observing an individual emplacing an IED. In GEN McChrystal’s example, there is a choice; you can kill the individual, or since you already know where the IED is, you can arrest the man, neutralize the IED, and take the man to the village elders and offer them the opportunity to sort him out. It’s all about empowering the local authorities to make decisions and encouraging them to control their own populace. It’s also about the second and third order effects of the perceptions of that populace about their security when gunshots and explosions ring out in their neighborhoods.
Like you, gunshots and explosions in the neighborhood doesn’t make them feel safe.
Now, some may say that the live capture scenario would never work. The fact is that it’s been used and it has worked. Or, you can do like one Marine unit in Helmand did recently and send a simple, one-line report.
Observed one individual emplacing IED. Engaged with Hellfire.
The Hellfire option does work to resolve the initial issue. It kills reliably. It is also the knuckledragger’s first answer to the question. (This is not about Marines. The Marines are doing some really fine work in Helmand. Some units get it more than others, as is the case with the Army. It is about the action and the thought process, not the flavor of American servicemen involved in the incident.) Every action has second and third order effects. The knuckledragger will opt for the easy, pyrotechnic answer (“Ooooooh, sparkly!”). It takes much more thought and effort to use the other method. Now, granted, there is not always the opportunity to sort the man out while he still has all his pieces rather than just sorting the pieces of the man out later. But more and more often, units on the ground are making the harder call. That’s just the beginning.
Last year, I wrote that there are many things in Afghanistan that are not best addressed by the Army or Marines. Stability Operations, and their subset, COIN Operations, require actions that are not typically military. As I pointed out before, Afghanistan has governance and economic development issues that the Army is not best suited to addressing. Other organizations, such as the State Department and USAID, had not been leveraged in Afghanistan. Just as we needed a military “surge,” we needed a “civilian surge” as well.
The “civilian surge” has had some successes. A lot of bright, talented people have come into the country. Many came in with stars in their eyes and hearts full of noble purpose. Afghanistan quickly beats starry eyes out of a person. They either come to see reality or they quit. There are some self-evident examples of those who do not have the resilience, intelligence and courage to continually push against the seemingly Sisyphean rock, witness Matthew Hoh. Many of these bright, energetic people have come into the country with purpose and have integrated their spirit with the reality with very positive results. We need more of them, but the ones who have showed up are having some very positive effects. Using the District Stability Framework, they are doing systematic, logical program design instead of just going for the default answers typical of our earlier efforts; build a school, build a road, build a clinic.
These civilians brought capabilities that have expanded the capacity-building efforts necessary to heal Afghan society, the economy and establish governmental ability to provide basic services. Efforts at providing conflict resolution mechanisms that leverage traditional Afghan methods and structures are slowly chipping away at the primary service that Taliban shadow government has offered successfully in many areas; courts.
Are there still problems and misfires? Of course. But there are more instances of getting a 75% solution than there were several years ago. Is a 75% solution workable? Yes. You don’t have to be a perfect counterinsurgent. You don’t have to be faster than the bear. You just have to be faster than the next slowest guy. The insurgent in Afghanistan is not faster than the bear. The bear, in this case, is the populace. The populace, on the whole, doesn’t like the insurgent, therefore the insurgent is inherently slow. You just have to be faster than a guy who has hobbled himself and continues to hobble himself. So, this bear prefers to eat the other guy, but will eat you if you insist on being slower.
There is still considerable corruption in the Afghan government. This is a big problem which must be addressed. Is it being effectively addressed? Time will tell. It slows efforts to fix what is wrong, and fixing these wrongs, addressing those grievances, removes any traction other than intimidation that the insurgency has. There are numerous stories of successes and failures at the grassroots level. While they resent high-level corruption, which seriously dilutes redevelopment efforts, the Afghan people are most affected by failures at the grassroots level. The corrupt sub-governor is more of a threat, because of his direct influence on the perceptions of people at the district level, than the ministry level official who is skimming from contracting efforts at a national level. Both need to be addressed, but the most direct impact is made on the people by sorting out the district level actors. That doesn’t mean that both cannot be addressed simultaneously. There are signs of effort. Again, time will tell.
While there are examples of commanders who absolutely don’t get it, (such as a brigade-sized element who used old counter-guerrilla doctrine as their basis for training and were subsequently kicked out of their assigned operational area due to their overly kinetic focus and the resultant backlash from the local populace and insurgents) there are more units who are making an honest effort at conducting effective COIN operations. This is a very positive sign. The multinational operational environment makes for some serious challenges, the British and French in particular are making progress with using doctrine consistent with COMISAF’s intent. These are very positive indicators. I have had personal experiences with both and have worked directly with officers of the British and French armies both at the theater level schoolhouse and on the ground. I have generally positive experiences with them.
The best indicator of effort at the institutional level, as far as I’m concerned, is education and training. This is where many of the changes that are under way are first evidenced. Our own forces are the weather vane, but other nations are key as well. Institutional changes are very slow in coming. The Marines, with their smaller structure, find their ship easier to turn. The Army, on the other hand, is like turning a train where the tracks run straight. Very recent events are hugely encouraging. The Secretary of Defense just published a memo that puts in place a change mechanism to change the training model for units deploying to Afghanistan. I look for this to have a huge impact on the readiness of units deploying to the theater to conduct effective COIN operations by pushing the education to a point earlier in the deployment train-up cycle.
The effect of pushing the education piece earlier in the cycle is to inform training. Training is less effective without context. Putting the subsequent training into a context, a mindset if you will, educated in the principles that are to drive the behaviors will make the conduct more consistent. That’s not the extent of it. The actual tasks are about to change, including the methods. Folks, we are seeing the development of task, conditions, standards-based training for COIN. This is the way that military forces know how to train.
In reality, it’s the way that industry trains effectively as well. Industrial training methods are based on lessons learned from military training. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. The military had to figure out long ago how to quickly and effectively train groups of people to do tasks consistently.
I’ve had a number of opportunities to see units in action on the ground from the organizational level to the dusty boots level. I’ve been in a position to hear directly the experiences of others just like me who have been elsewhere simultaneously. I have seen and heard the amazing successes and the abject failures. I am encouraged. I am disheartened to hear some reporters whose depictions are clouded by an apparent lack of counterinsurgent understanding and, in some casees what appears to be petulant anger. I am disheartened because the American people are searching for answers. Many thirst for understanding of what is happening on the ground. More than just individual stories of sacrifice, endurance and courage, the American people want to know; is this working? Are we making progress? What they have gotten is often not a coherent answer, and it is at odds with my perceptions.
I am encouraged. As an NCO, I have no right whatsoever to evaluate such an officer, but someone who knows has to say something out loud; there is no doubt in my mind that I am being led by the the right man for the job. There is no doubt in my mind that the General “gets it.” There is no doubt in my mind that I can trust him. (I’m sure he will feel so much better to get my lowly endorsement.) There are many challenges to functioning effectively in such a joint, multinational environment, but there is progress. We are having positive effects on a much more consistent basis. Our training is about to take a quantum leap. There is improvement in the Afghan contribution to all three lines of operation; military/security, governance and development. It’s not just an “Afghan face,” it’s increasingly Afghan solutions implemented with assistance… and sometimes without. It is hard. This summer will look, at times, desperate. That’s because our enemy is feeling the pressure. Don’t let the activity fool you. Look beyond it, and look beyond the desperate reporting as well.
We’re not “there” yet, but we’re making progress, and there is reason for optimism.