04 Jun 2010 @ 5:10 PM 

Trending Positive


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.

Tags Categories: Afghanistan, AfPak, analysis, COIN, COINiots, development, doctrine Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 04 Jun 2010 @ 05 10 PM


Responses to this post » (8 Total)

  1. Brent says:

    I hear you and believe you and thank for being a voice of reason at a time when everybody is screaming about this and that. I hope more people will look at the evidence and understand what our current situation calls for.

  2. membrain says:

    Blue, I know that you are very busy. Thanks so much for taking the time to put things in perspective.

  3. Patvann says:

    Thanks for the details.
    I, like you want more details about next year, but until it’s deemed politically expedient, he’ll say nothing more, no matter how much his troops and the population there needs to hear it, nor how badly in affects operations. The only thing that keeps me as supportive as I am (besides knowing many troops, and where their hearts lie) is because every thing this CIC says comes with it’s own expiration date.

    -Gitmo’s still closed, ain’t it. ;-)

    Keep up the good work.

  4. mudman says:

    Old Blue –

    I salute your efforts to re-frame the context of the situation in Afghanistan.

    Your posts, and those of a few other discerning participants/ observers, illustrate how dominant memes can change when confronted with strong opposing memes.

    Personally, I know nothing from nothing. But I watch the Afghan and Iraq operations from a distance, because history – and the lessons one learns from it – intrigues me, and I wonder how things might have turned out differently. (A perfectly wasteful exercise, but one that diverts and entertains me.)

    The course which is now being taken in Afghanistan will succeed or fail, but no one can doubt that lessons have been learned by some of the U.S. and NATO military forces.

    Joseph Tainter, in his “Collapse of Complex Societies”, points out the primary limitation that humans must work with in all endeavors: The maintenance and increase in levels of societal complexity requires energy. A reduction in available energy will force a reduction in levels of complexity.

    Put another way, one might use energy and money interchangeably, but the concept is sound.

    The problem, as I understand it, is that Afghanistan exists as a very low energy society, in terms of oil and money. At some point the military and civilian leaders will have to decide whether the continued pouring of scarce resources into a low energy society is worth the cost.

    Similar, if not exactly parallel, situations have occurred throughout history. One example can be found on the edge of what was once the Roman Empire. When resources proved inadequate to expand and maintain control over areas outside existing provinces, Rome was reduced to constructing walls and palisades in the north of England and along the Danube. In other words, Rome had about run out of steam in its quest for expansion, although variants of the Roman Empire existed for another thousand years.

    In most human endeavors, given enough time and resources, solutions are often arrived at. As a corollary, in many human endeavors, there is not enough time, not enough resources. Some endeavors, like King Canute’s command to hold back the tide, have no prospect of success.

    What remains to be seen, given the state of America’s “energy” reserves – meaning the wealth and oil which maintains American society and enables America to influence those parts of the world outside the nation’s borders – is whether there is enough time and enough energy to succeed in Afghanistan.

    Arthur Schlesinger once noted that the value in studying history, is that it forcefully demonstrates to us that “the future outwits all our certitudes.”

    To paraphrase Petraeus, I cannot pretend to have any idea how this will end. The adventure certainly seems to embody Cavafy’s poetic description of life in terms of Homer’s Odysseus, and his long journey home to Ithaca:

    “When you set out for Ithaka
    ask that your way be long,
    full of adventure, full of instruction….”

    http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/ithaca/ )

    Thanks for putting the time and effort into sharing your thoughts.

  5. matt says:

    I agree with your general premise, but the other variables include the Afghan government and its ability to enforce the rule of law; corruption, and the narco-state.

    We can do all the COIN we want, but as the joke goes, if the light bulb doesn’t want to change, it won’t.

    Lastly, today, the supposed COIN operators, the SF people, are now the shooters while the knuckle draggers are the COIN element. Too few resources is the last leg of the unstable table.

  6. Randy says:

    Just a note of appreciation from a taxpayer/citizen. It is refreshing to read the blogs posted by you and your fellow soldiers. It lets us civilians know that there is indeed some light at the end of the tunnel, and that at least the folks in charge of this thing probably have thier shit together.

    My only wish is that more civilians (especially the negatively opinionated ones) would read these blogs. Let the truth shine and God Bless.

    Happy Fourth of July!

  7. army boots says:

    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.

  8. Robert J says:

    I enjoy reading a post from real soldiers. Thanks and keep up the great work. God bless!

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