Small Wars Journal

Coalition sees highway as key to Afghan strategy

Coalition sees highway as key to Afghan strategy

by Carmen Gentile

Special for USA TODAY

The chief intelligence officer in this rustic town has reason to worry. Fareed, who like many Afghans goes by a single name, sat on the floor of his office and described the myriad armed gunmen operating in this part of Nangarhar province, an economically vital region of Afghanistan.

Nangarhar is home to a critical stretch of Highway 7, running between the town of Torkham on the Afghan-Pakistani border and the Afghan capital, Kabul. It serves as the main conduit for goods such as fuel and food from Pakistan to much of eastern Afghanistan and is the target for regular insurgent attacks.

U.S. forces and their Afghan allies are trying to keep the road open and secure.

Much more at USA TODAY


Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 07/19/2011 - 11:57am

Quoth <b>Charles:</b><blockquote>"As for the highway bit...seems to me it's not a wholly poor idea but if continue to clear by day, go back to the fob, clear by day, go back to the fob, and so on, we'll surely never win the support of the population and never accomplish defeat of the enemy. War is a 24hr endeavor, not shift work."</blockquote>Yes.

FOBs are not only expensive, they're stultifying to a fault in all aspects...


Tue, 07/19/2011 - 11:30am

I see a lot of what I would call banter...not just above, but from our leaders - uniformed and pinstriped.

So, how about our strategy?

Seems our only strategy is one of timed, phased, withdrawals. Not sure how that produces any sort of victory.

Does this lack of good decision-making in regard to poor strategy go into the toxic leadership category? Are we (the US) really this bad at strategy?

As for the highway bit...seems to me it's not a wholly poor idea but if continue to clear by day, go back to the fob, clear by day, go back to the fob, and so on, we'll surely never win the support of the population and never accomplish defeat of the enemy. War is a 24hr endeavor, not shift work.

duck (not verified)

Tue, 07/19/2011 - 12:35am

Gian baby,

My reason for selecting 1918 is as obvious as it is immaterial to my question.

You stated, "Controlling the key highways was an element of the Soviet's strategy too." Now, my interpretation of that statement, admittedly colored by my knowledge of your dogmatic stances, was that you were making a direct comparison between Soviet and U.S. strategies; the implication being that where the Soviets failed, so will the U.S.

Now I can admit when I'm wrong so if you were making the comparison to make the suggestion that the U.S. will win, then so be it and I withdrawl my statement.

G Martin

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 1:55pm

Bill M said: <em>"but why aren't we putting the Afghan security forces in the lead and our guys in support?"</em>

Prior to the President's recent drawdown statements we couldn't afford to put Afghans in charge due to the risk our metrics would take a turn for the worst in the short-term. Our military leaders thought for some reason that if they just showed enough progress in one year (JUN 2010 to JUL 2011) that they could talk the politicians into extending the "surge".

Unfortunately for them (and for our country), they assumed wrong- and thus the entire surge strategy for 2010 was based on invalid assumptions and ended up being a waste for everyone. Nothing long-term has been set in motion- contrary to the propaganda one reads out of ISAF, et al.

This may change, however. We have a Marine in charge and- usually (Pace notwithstanding?) Marines are known for more honesty/action and less bluster/words. The president has made in quite clear we will withdraw and keep on withdrawing. One would be safe to assume IMO that he is also intent on transitioning in 2014 as promised.

Time to wake up ISAF!! Start doing long-term, sustainable efforts and stop wasting your time equipping the Afghans with HMMWVs, UAVs, and M-4s. Stop giving them tons of money to buy their allegiance in the short-term (to show metric improvement). Stop propping up hated figureheads who won't last past our forces' presence.

If ISAF realizes the president isn't kidding when he talks, then maybe they'll start preparing for transition instead of continuing on their current pipedream lines of effort...

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 7:36am

Hey Duck Dude:

shoot, why do you begin with 1918 ("or so") with that over generalized statement about war and the controlling of highways? Why start it off in 1918? Why not in 1901 with the US Army controlling major roadways in the Philippines? Why not start in 1777 and the colonists sniping at Burgoyne's heels as he moved south along whatever roads were available toward Saratoga? We could pull hundreds of examples of the importance of controlling "highways" and transportation routes from history.

What is special about 1918 "or so"? Does it in your mind have something to do with the rise of the automobile and machine power over horsepower?




Mon, 07/18/2011 - 1:58am

So what? So, we're the strongest nation in the world, we've aimed to control the highways for a decade now, and we still don't. That's what. Oh, and we're scratching our heads because people are afraid to work with us because they get killed when we leave at night. Also, if I stick my hand in fire, it hurts.

duck (not verified)

Mon, 07/18/2011 - 12:00am

Hey Gian, "conrolling the highways" has been a key strategy of every war since 1918 or so. So what?

Gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 07/17/2011 - 3:51pm

So now I have been outed.

I should have added that I hope the PC police don't come after me for the comment above and vote me off the island! :-)

Dave Maxwell (not verified)

Sun, 07/17/2011 - 3:27pm

I was wondering when that would come up. I mean how many "gentiles" can there be out there? :-)


Sun, 07/17/2011 - 3:02pm

I'm spreading the completely spurious rumor that the Gannett reporter, Carmen Gentile, is the sister of Gian.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 07/17/2011 - 9:05am


You should not assume or take "exception" as you do based on a "one liner" point. But fair enough, it was a drive by point so let me offer some depth to it.

There are plenty of similarities with our current strategy in Afganistan to the Soviets. There are also many differences, especially tacticaly.

It is a fact though that the Soviets did try to rebuild infrastructure, they did try to energize the economy, they did try to build local security forces, and most importantly they were trying to build governance, both local and national, too. And of course they tried to establish security through military operations to kill and capture the Muj. It was in this tactical military effort that I think distinguishes the Soviets from us. To be sure their tactics were often indiscriminate toward the civilian population, and also even targeted the population as well.

So a qualitative difference in tactical approaches for sure.

But their strategy was very similar to ours, and in wars it is strategy that wins or loses them, not so much better tactics.

hope this helps


gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 07/16/2011 - 6:08pm

Controlling the key highways was an element of the Soviet's strategy too.

Anymouse (not verified)

Sat, 07/16/2011 - 9:22pm

Sure it was, as were a lot of other "elements". So I have to ask, did they control the key LOCs? If not why? Are we doing anything different then the Sov's in this regard? If not, why? What is different now in AF then the '80s? I only bring this up because you did a one liner drive by that some may take at face value as "ISAF is doing the same damn thing as the 40th Army and as such is doomed to fail for the same damned reason". We might fail and the picture ain't pretty right now, but I really take exception that our military is somehow equivalent to the Soviet army in Afghanistan. What say you Mr. History?

It looks like ISAF's normal approach, we push more U.S. (or other western) forces in, and the U.S. forces take the lead in engaging the locals (according to the article) with questions on development, security etc. At best this may result in a "temporary" reduction of violence. The question has been asked hundreds of times, but why aren't we putting the Afghan security forces in the lead and our guys in support? If you hope to effectively identify and eliminate the shadow government(s) you'll ultimately have to depend on locals. It takes a lot of courage and then patience to make the transition from lead action element to supporting role, but if we hope to realize our endstate then we need to start long before we downsize, because we'll have less flexibility to respond if and when things don't work out in some areas.


Sat, 07/16/2011 - 11:56am

This could be a problem: "The pervasiveness of insurgents in the region makes the U.S. effort to win the trust of locals a challenge. "The local populace is scared to give us information because there is a lot of retribution when we leave" at night, Corbett said."