Small Wars Journal

Bing West HASC Statement: "The Way Ahead in Afghanistan"

The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing "The Way Ahead in Afghanistan" featuring witnesses General John Keane USA (ret.), Lt General David W. Barno USA (ret.) and The Honorable Francis J. "Bing" West appearing before the committee for a hearing on "The Way Ahead in Afghanistan".

The Way Ahead in Afghanistan - Statement by The Honorable Francis J. "Bing" West


Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 5:21pm

To possibly state the problem from a different perspective:

If, at certain times of difficulty in our history (today?), certain foreign powers (ex: China) surmissed and suggested that the "root cause" of (a) all of our problems and (b) those that, due to us, imperiled the world at-large; that these were due to our fundamentally flawed concepts of "good governance" (to wit: those beliefs, institutions and practices that underpin our way-of-life),

(This, you may recognize, is our argument re: the problems that others have -- and those that we say they present to the rest of the world).

Then these foreign powers might then have suggested that the only way that they could (a) save us from ourselves and (b) save the world at-large was to intervene -- not to re-focus us re: our basic governing principles and fundamentals (the foreigners see these as the central problem) -- but, instead, to force us, in our present weakened and divided condition, to adopt what they believed to be proper governing concepts and practices (ex: state capitalism).

I wonder how that would go over?

In all likelihood, this would result in these foreign intervening powers having their _sses handed to them in a way that they never imagined; as we united to deal with this much more-critical and much more-pressing existential threat to our cherished way-of-life.

Herein, the effort by the foreigners to "transform our state and society" (or to even suggest that such needed to be done) would have backfired, as the United States became even more entrenched in its "good governance" viewpoint and as it became even more organized, vigilent and capable of protecting same.

This reaction (don't tread on me) being what should be expected from any state and society thus challenged by a foreign policy aimed at and devoted to "transforming" others.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 3:51pm

<b>Bill M.:</b><blockquote>"...then the debate needs to shift as you implied from the silly COIN/CT debate to a foreign policy debate."</blockquote>Which has been the issue that Bob doesn't want to address for years. ;)

In fairness, he correctly identifies it at the apex but unless it is fixed, everything else will continue to be chaotic.

Confused, political party conflicted policies cloud and affect everything he advocates. Foreign Policy, such as it is, is the operator. Most everything else is simply a collection of tools. That would include devices, TTP and such to include COIN, FID and CT -- each, alone, they need not, probably should not, often be synonymous or simultaneous.

That meaning as opposed to the tools who 'design' our policies...

Bob, CSIS's definitions for FID and COIN quite frankly are alarmingly stupid. Maybe we need to embrace (even if some of us don't morally support it as individuals)Bill C's argument that are real objective is political and society transformation, thus calling a spade a spade and honestly determining what we need to do to achieve this pie in the sky objective using our military. If we can't (based on international laws and our moral limitations), then the debate needs to shift as you implied from the silly COIN/CT debate to a foreign policy debate.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 12:48pm

In 1983, COL Charles M. Simpson III wrote the following in his book: Inside the Green Berets:

"From the position of the United States, the concept of counterinsurgency becomes even more difficult and complex. We are not faced with a major insurgency at home. The reason for any overseas involvement in counterinsurgency stems from a foreign policy objective: to foster the development of a community of free nations ..."

Herein, even today, lies the problem:

We do not seem to be involved in these matters simply to defeat the insurgency. If that were the case, then we might only need to make sure that "good governance" (as perceived, understood and cherished by the local populations) were re-instituted or re-installed.

Since, however, that (to strengten and reinvigorate the "old order") certainly is not our goal, yesterday or today, then our "counterinsurgency" effort comes to be seen as something illegitimate and bastardized; in that it tends to subject the population to forms of "good governance" that are often (1) completely alien to them and/or (2) completely opposed to their view of what "good governance" should look like and be.

Accordingly, should we simply say that:

a. What we are trying to do IS NOT counterinsurgency(ies) but, instead

b. State and societal transformation(s)?

(Herein, we are simply using the opportunity presented by the insurgency to get this job done).

Once this has been stated and understood, we might then be able to successfully move on to discussing what this -- the actual job we are trying to do (state and societal transformation -- not counterinsurgency) requires re: (a) our various instruments of power and their diverse capabilities and (b) how these might be employed (to successfully do state and societal transformations -- not the illusionary, confusing and incorrect(?) "counterinsurgency").


Mon, 08/01/2011 - 12:45pm

"I was having this conversation with Courtney Messerschmidt"

Famous last words.

Bob's World

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 11:52am


"The Whole" of what? We live in a political climate that defines our operations in Iraq and and Afghanistan as separate and distinct "Wars"; and also proclaim our nation to be conducting a "war against AQ," all in response to the attacks of 9/11.

But what is "the whole"? Clearly it is not just what we do in our efforts to deal with AQ; and even more clearly it is not what we do in any particular region where we have sent large military forces, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

As one peels back the onion of symptoms and problems one finds we are really discussing US policy as a whole; our foreign policy as a sub-set of that; and then our military component of how we implement that foreign policy as a sub-set of that. One is pretty deep into the weeds by the time they get to "Are we conducting COIN or CT?" Yet we focus on that "in the weeds" perspective as if it were the main thing and the key to success or failure. It isn't.

As an example of how recent operations have skewed our perspectives on what we do in the weeds to support our national policy, CSIS is looking at what type of Ground Forces we will need over the next 10 years. They propose a list of operational types that highlights our naval gazing on some of these terms. Here is what they lob up for FID and COIN (of note, they do not define or mention CT):

Foreign Internal Defense (FID). A FID mission involves the employment of Army, Marine, and/or special operations forces in direct support of a foreign partner combating serious internal conflict and instability.7 Forces conducting FID missions assist partner governments in generating, fielding, employing, and sustaining competent security forces in response to armed internal threats.8 In FID operations U.S. forces provide foreign partners with extensive in-country assistance in the areas of command, control, and communications; operational planning; civil affairs and civil-military operations; intelligence; military training, logistics; and mobility.9 FID operations are normally conducted by Special Forces, but the scale of the requirement in recent years has led to the significant migration of FID responsibilities to Army and Marine general purpose forces as well.
As FID missions, the rebuilding of Iraqi and Afghan security forces are somewhat anomalous in their scale. Other contemporary analogs for future FID demands include FID missions in El Salvador, Colombia, Georgia, or the Philippines. Over the next decade, there is an extremely high probability that the United States will face circumstances where FID responses would be appropriate.

Counterinsurgency (COIN). COIN operations are undertaken when substantial ground forces are committed to fight alongside a partner government to combat an active insurgency.13 In COIN, U.S. forces support a weakened but still officially-recognized partner government challenged by one or more armed sub-state contenders. This operational type is distinct from FID (outlined above) in that it presumes heavy U.S. involvement in most if not all aspects of the on-going COIN campaign, including direct participation in combat operations. In recent historical examples COIN has been one of multiple operational types within the context of larger operations, and include Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The probability that U.S. decision makers will confront conditions in the next decade where COIN might be required is moderate.14

8 HQDA, Field Manual 3-07.1: Security Force Assistance, 1 May 2009: p. 1-1, /jel/service_pubs/fm3_071.pdf, accessed 20 July 2011.
9 Ibid; and Joint Staff, Joint Publication 3-22: Foreign Internal Defense, 12 July 2010: p. X, doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_22.pdf, accessed 24 July 2011.
13 DoD Dictionary.
14 This judgment refers to the probability of a COIN operation on its own, i.e., an ongoing COIN campaign in another nation to which the US might choose to contribute. The probability of COIN operations arising as a result of other US actions is captured in the broader operational category of a comprehensive combat campaign.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 8:56am

I dont think it is silly at all. The problem is the "whole" yet the whole is always defined as Coin with CT being subordinate to it and again this is an essential problem for strategy.

But whatever Bill, thanks for the response


Bill M.

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 12:51am


I'm not sure how to respond to your comment on why it is necessary to differentiatee between a COIN and CT strategy, because as Bob stated the entire argument is silly.

I think your point is that with think tanks like CNAS pushing the unfounded argument that to defeat terrorism, we have to transform societies and any effort to forcefully transform societies will result in rebellion against such efforts (politely called nation building), so we'll have to do COIN. I think the argument is complete rubish, and it finally seems to be losing traction, because there is no historical or other evidence to back up their far left views.

To get beyond the silliness it may be helpful to make the problem bigger than CT and COIN, and if we have to define it (which is self limiting in itself) perhaps the mission should be defined as nation building, FID, stability operations, peace operations, etc. and within that framework "if it is appropriate" we engage in COIN and CT as needed. I think Bob made a good point about the importance of counterguerrilla operations (as part of the whole), and we have gotten in the habit of calling those CT. Killing UBL was CT, killing Taliban and Haqanni leaders are counterguerrilla operations, even if the killing is done by a CT force.

Defining the overall mission as COIN is foolish in my view, because if we are ever able to defeat the insurgents, we still won't achieve our objective in Afghanistan.

G Martin

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 11:43pm

Madhu- I think that's an important point you make about walling ourselves off from others. I'd include walling ourselves off from our people and politicians as well. Although I don't think we should attempt to make ourselves into some kind of lobby group that tries to actively support one position, I do think we have to be aware of what is going on- the debates, the trends, changes.

I recently talked to a key participant in the Mogadishu (Blackhawk Down) incident. I was stunned when he not only admitted he was unaware of the changing atmosphere in DC towards military action right before the raid, he said he didn't think that was his job.

I think we in the military need to start doing a better job of matching our action on the ground with where our people and politicians want to go. This attitude that we know better than everyone else or that we don't have to be aware of where our civilian masters are leaning concerns me.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 12:21pm

<strong>Peter J. Munson:</strong>

Good comment. I especially liked the following:

<em>Interventions are thus started indecisively and without a clear strategic vision, tend to change their tenor quickly once troops are committed, lack a coherent concept linking the means at hand and the end state desired as the scope is constantly in flux, and end based on domestic political timetables rather than conditions in the theater. Better outcomes can be imagined in the ideal world, but are unattainable in the real world."</em>

I was having this conversation with Courtney Messerschmidt (GSGF) over at Carl Prine's Line of Departure.

The world is not perfectable and it's better to operate from that standpoing. I'm not arguing for isolationism but saying some things are beyond our power to control.

A few minor quibbles, however:

"We" aren't leaving the broader region any time soon. Not if you count the plethora of post Cold War international and US institutions set up to order the world. We continue to be heavily involved just in different ways.

I suppose that's a distinction without a difference as you are talking about the military mission.

Yet, because of our tradition of military subordinance to civilians (a good thing!) we mentally wall ourselves off from the connections between institutions.

It is important to use clear language becuase it helps to underscore your very important points:

The world is not perfectable and attempts at reordering it will always be hard. No amount of jargon meant to throw smoke shall change that basic fact of human existence.


Sun, 07/31/2011 - 11:29am

CT, COIN, so what? We're leaving. I'm trying to work out a cogent statement of why we have and will continue to do this. Here's a first draft, which comes in the context of Vietnam, but is then turned toward the same processes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"To understand how such maddening policies continued for so long, one must look at how the interface between the military and the civilians played into the tragedy. While some bemoan civilian meddling and others military obduracy, these are like criticisms of a leopard for having spots. For all the fantastic tomes on decision-making and civil-military relations during the war, they generally miss the point. They seek to assign blame and uncover dysfunction with the implicit message that there are lessons to be learned and it could be done better in the future. Tragically, for all this scholarship, the civilian and military leadership performed little better in the wake of 9/11. When national interests do not clearly dictate overwhelming intervention, civilian and military leadership will work at cross-purposes to the exclusion of a coherent strategic vision. These cross-purposes ensure a suboptimal outcome and play to the weaknesses of our democratic system. The civilians drive to keep interventions small in these cases lowers the barriers to entry, allowing the country to enter wars with little democratic resistance. The military acquiesces, all the while posturing to up the ante rapidly if required, which it generally is. Once the commitment begins to balloon and drag on, the civilians, responding to the electorate, clamor for a quick end to the intervention, spelling disaster given the expanded scope and stakes of the project at this point. Interventions are thus started indecisively and without a clear strategic vision, tend to change their tenor quickly once troops are committed, lack a coherent concept linking the means at hand and the end state desired as the scope is constantly in flux, and end based on domestic political timetables rather than conditions in the theater. Better outcomes can be imagined in the ideal world, but are unattainable in the real world."

carl (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 11:14am

Madhu and Robert c. Jones:

The second last and last paragraphs of Madhu's 0854 post and the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of Robert C. Jones 0907 post when read taken together make a very, extremely important point that goes well beyond just small and not so small wars.

We are bollixing ourselves up because we have forgotten how to speak clearly and we don't trust the average guys smarts.


You said: "If we do not treat CT and Coin as two distinctive operational methods for strategy to employ, CT will always be treated as a part of but subordinate to Coin."


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 10:13am

correction to above: "....our own history <em>in the region.</em>"

On safe havens and sanctuary:

<blockquote>The dangers of sanctuary. According to Byman, "Israel's history shows that no factor is more important to the success of a terrorist group than sanctuary." This argument is supported by studies of insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. Israel has focused much of its historical efforts on eliminating these sanctuaries both within and outside its borders. However it is important to note that as one safe haven closed, inevitably another appeared, whether in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria or Gaza.</blockquote>

From Tom Rick's Best Defense site.

<em>This argument is supported by studies of insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well.</em>

Apparently, studies on Kashmir and the Punjabi insurgency support the above as well. Speaking of moving sanctuary around - let's talk about the concept of "forward strategic depth," soon to be employed more readily in Bangladesh as it once was in the Punjab, etc.

But who is interested in studying such conflicts when another measured tome on Malaya - or how many "Clausewitz-es" can fit on the head of a pin - are waiting to be studied?

Sorry. That's kinda mean. More coffee....

Bob's World

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 10:07am

"CT" that is a subset of COIN is Counterguerrilla Operations. CT is really little more than DA, or a raid, against a party that is suspected of having either a history or intentions of employing terrorism as a tactic to advance some agenda.

All good COIN must include a tailored, focused counterguerrilla component. CT typically just doesn't really apply and actually lends more confusion than clarity to the overall operational design. Personal opinion is that SOCOM is WAY off track in regards to CT in how they define and approach it; but then so is NCTC and the State Department (who bundle all manner of operations under CT as an umbrella term).

Bottom line is that as everyone piled onto the CT and then COIN bandwagons, there became such a jumbling of definitions, all sucked toward institutional poles of bias, that it really is all an incomprehensible mess today. A person can't have a conversation without either taking away a wrong meaning than that intended, or getting into a debate about what's what.

Often we got off track because leaders given a choice of two or three terms to define an operation by picked the one that sounded the coolest. FID never sounded Cool,or sounded to SOF unique, so got sidelined early.

What we are really dealing with is Foreign Policy and Foreign Internal Defense. Within that there are many sub operations that are situationally driven. If it all weren't so serious it would be damn silly.


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 9:54am

I noticed the hearing being partially live-tweeted on the SWJ feed and watched the video on the HASC website. (Why don't more Americans take advantage of such resources? Whenever I mention to others that I watch such hearings in areas of interest, they look at me like I've grown a second head. Maybe civics classes, after first being reinstated, should include a lesson on navigating government websites.)

At any rate, all three at the hearing summarized the issues well. It was nice to hear some plain speaking for a change.

When used by public officials, analysts, and think tank intellectuals, <em>counterterrorism</em> and <em>counterinsurgency</em> have become, effectively, "sound bites."

I'm not sure if the following is an appropriate quote for this website but it's in the novel I'm currently reading:

<blockquote>That is precisely the kind of pronouncement nowadays called a "sound bite." Policitians make long speeches in which they keep shamelessly repeating the same thing, knowing that is makes no difference whether they repeat themselves or not since the general public will never get to learn more than the few words journalists cite from the speeeches. In order to facilitate the journalists's work and to manipulate the approach a little, politicians insert into their ever more identical speeches one or two concise, witty phrases that they have never used before, and this in itself is so unexpected and astounding that the phrases immediately become famous.</blockquote>

<em>Milan Kundera, Immortality</em>

Our society, at all levels, is in love with bureaucratic jargon. This precludes thinking.

An everyday person (non-experts are human, too) can read a map. He or she can read up a bit on the history of the region (the best way to start, IMO, is to study our own history - it gives a mental framework). He or she can ask good solid questions based on what is read. Too much professional expert jargon (some is needed to facilitate work) makes the process harder. Citizens of a republic now need super-duper-extra-special interpreters of their own military, their own government - intepreters of the increasing bureaucratic complexity.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 8:51am

Bill M:

Nice points.

But let me differ a bit with you and others with regard to the argument about strategy not being discretely characterized as being either CT or Coin.

Here is the problem i have with that argument. If we do not treat CT and Coin as two distinctive operational methods for strategy to employ, CT will always be treated as a part of but subordinate to Coin. This then means that any Coin campaign we embark on in the future will be just that: Coin with the tactics of CT embedded within it.

This is not to say that strategy must choose between one or the other. One can imagine at some point in the future strategy doing that, or even strategy mixing the two as they are now in the coin campaign in Afghanistan.

But until we break the link between CT and Coin and the former being subordinate to the latter we will never break free of the grips of pop centric coin.


I made it 1:45 hours into the video tonight and will finish it tomorrow. Good discussion, sounds like our debates on SWJ, but more civil.

While I understand the need for four stars to be political, if they're not they won't be around long, but we all should be happy that Bing West was there to share "ground" truth with the committee, and it definitely helped when one of the Representatives pointed out that Bing was the only one in the room who wouldn't fit into a bureaucracy (and he met that as a compliment and counseled his peers to pay more attention to what Bing had to say).

GEN Keane made some excellent points regardng the requirement to address the safehavens in Pakistan and that our soft approach has not worked. He adds that GEN Kiani and others that we're buds with are clearly supporting the Taliban. Bravo, finally a senior representative (although retired) speaks the truth about Pakistan.

Perhaps most importantly Bing questioned the logic in the tendency to shape the discussion on strategy as either or CT or COIN, and when one of the Congress woman agreed with him, GEN Keane agreed they were poorly chosen terms to define the strategy.

Once again we can thank CNAS for proliferating this illogical view of strategy.