Small Wars Journal

Can Counterinsurgency Work in Afghanistan?

Can Counterinsurgency Work in Afghanistan?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 12:00 - 1:30 PM, at the Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan has been trying to follow best practice counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine since spring 2007. The theory is that if counterinsurgents deliver security and connect Afghans to their government, the population will deny support to the insurgents. The assumption is that the population's perception of the government and insurgency determines success, not body counts or capturing terrain. Our soldiers have been living in small combat outposts, patrolling on foot and at night, meeting with Afghan elders to learn their concerns and needs, and delivering public works projects in many areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan, yet security continues to deteriorate. Stepping back from Afghanistan, it is not clear COIN has worked in any conflict where the population did not support their government. Can it work in Afghanistan?

Please join Hudson Institute for a discussion featuring Visiting Fellow Ann Marlowe, who travels frequently to Afghanistan, reporting on the American counterinsurgency there as well as Afghanistan's economy, culture, and archeology. She completed her second embed in Zabul Province and her sixth overall in late April. Marlowe will discuss the merits and failures of a COIN strategy in Afghanistan on both practical and theoretic grounds.

Joining Marlowe will be Conrad Crane, Director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute of the Army War College. He was the lead author for the 2006 Army and Marine Corps Field Manual that embodies current American COIN doctrine. The discussion will be moderated by Hudson Institute Senior Vice President S. Enders Wimbush, and will be streamed live on Hudson's website.

Lunch will be served.

To RSVP, please email with "Afghanistan" in the subject line.

Betsy and Walter Stern Conference Center

Hudson Institute

1015 15th St, NW

6th Floor

Washington, DC 20005


Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/28/2010 - 12:18pm

Ann Marlowe asks, "Were Ethics Too Gucci?" The question is asked facetiously, but yes, the ethics are indeed too Gucci. These are the "ethics" that have led us to have ROEs that get our soldiers killed for the sake of those that harbor the enemy.

While Marlowe slams Gen McC on her blog, she fails to comment that Gen McC is himself too Gucci by his championing of these restrictive ROEs. Indeed, McC is from the same Harvard mold as Marlowe, he having studied there for a year in that castrating national securities program. Being Gucci is exactly why we do not prevail in these wars.

Marlowe goes on to state about Gen McC "...that McChrystal is indeed a Special Ops knuckledragger who talks COIN but doesnt have a clue about anything but killing..."

Yet Gen McC is the one putting forward these sissified ROEs, along Gen Gucci Petraeus.

She goes on to say, "...One common thread here is hubris, the arrogance of a golden boy from a cloistered background -- his father was a two-star general, he grew up on Army bases, then went to West Point..."

Sounds like she has quite a bit of disrespect for families that have a tradition of serving their country. And notice the slam on West Point. Yet someone upthread complained about my slam on Harvard. LMAO!

So for you military men that go to Harvard for your castration post-grad degrees, don't think you are accepted by the snob-a-razzi up there. Don't fool yourself. You are still a "...knuckledragger who doesnt have a clue about anything but killing..." Just ask Ms. Marlowe, as these excerpts are directly from her blog.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/28/2010 - 11:26am

"If we followed the standards suggested by anonymous, then the only people who could legitimately contribute to the debate would be military personnel and more specifically those who had never been affiliated with America's best universities."

The problem is that "the standards" are all dominated by Wilsonian types coming out of these universities. The issue is that this Wilsonian legacy has infected those in the fields of International Affairs/Relations (IR). IR types by their very nature want to meddle and shape the world with their grandiose plans that they think up at nice conferences in Paris, London, and D.C. All viewpoints from these Ivy League schools focus on the Hearts & Minds nonsense instead of the ugliness required to win wars. IR types today are victims of the fish analogy: A fish doesn't know it's all wet because it has never been out of water.

What has gotten worse about the IR types is their now total disregard for the principles laid forth by the Peace of Westphalia. We will be headed for deeper trouble if this disregard persists with regard to our war and foreign policies.

As for the Ivy League being the "best" universities. I don't think so. The fat lady has sung. These grads are all over the Wall Street, banking, mortgage, and insurance crises of today. Not to mention the government malaise that accomplishes nothing. If these are indeed the "best" universities, then we are hosed. Ya think?

Hannah Gurman (not verified)

Mon, 06/28/2010 - 11:01am

I find it unfortunate that Anonymous focuses on the qualifications of Malowe and others to participate in the debate rather than the actual issues of COIN in Afghanistan.

If we followed the standards suggested by anonymous, then the only people who could legitimately contribute to the debate would be military personnel and more specifically those who had never been affiliated with America's best universities.

In actuality, the "Ivy Leaguers" in themselves represent a wide spectrum of the policy debate--with ardent COINdinistas as well as sharp critics of COIN. The anti-intellectual angle thus does more to obscure the actual issues than to illuminate them.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 06/27/2010 - 11:36pm

Unfortunately the ego is self-protective. That's its job. Because of this, many who are vested in this process of Hearts & Minds actually believe they can change a culture that has formed over millennia.

I will reiterate. Go for the "redoubt" strategy.

Hrothgar (not verified)

Sun, 06/27/2010 - 4:11pm

....a hearty "Thank You!" to Anonymous for that "Redoubt" suggestion.

My military experience was as a USAF radar fighter intercept controller 1955-57. But I'm an amateur History buff and am convinced that we Americans have no business in Central and South Asia with an enormous manpower/materiel presence entailing regular trans-global logistics miracles on a daily basis.

We're delusional in thinking that these complicated, interlocking and localized "hearts and mindsets" going back centuries will be altered in any way by boatloads of our green dollars and good intentions, which serve only further feeding of massive graft and corruption at the trough of our Treasury.

Our containment of the Soviet empire is a good precedent.
Let's come home.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 06/26/2010 - 3:52pm

So here we go again. Another Ivy Leaguer espousing "theory" as to how to win a war. It appears we have all these counterinsurgency "experts" who have NEVER actually been an insurgent or a counterinsurgent WHERE THEY HAVE PREVAILED AS A VICTOR IN AN ACTUAL INSURGENCY OR COUNTERINSURGENCY. In fact many of the brass (as in generals like Petraeus) never even saw combat until the current set of wars. So how can these "experts" really have any expertise when they have not prevailed as a victor? I would think one could only become an expert once one has demonstrated unquestionable expertise with obvious success. So just what does Anne Marlow have to offer? Some nice thoughts maybe?

Wanna win in AFG? Then it is best to examine case studies where rural insurgents have been defeated. Recent history provides several examples, like Peru and Guatemala, which were both void of the US nice-guy approach. One will find that in recent cases where rural counterinsurgencies have been successful, the niceties subscribed to by the intellectual types coming out of Harvard are not applicable. Throw on top of that - a situation where it is Peruvian-on-Peruvian is vastly different from something like American-on-Peruvian. Even divided factions will unite against a foreigner, i.e., Angola vs. Portugal.

Endgame for success. Create a US redoubt in AFG and go into Israel mode. Short of that, might as well come home now.