Success in Afghanistan hinges on the ability of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to establish close personal relationships with the local Afghan population we are chartered to protect. Please note I did not say only leaders should maintain these relationships. I said everyone. These relationships must be genuine, with actual emotional investment and trust extended on each side. It is not simple. It is tricky to befriend those we are unsure of.
Americans start out at a young age learning classic adages like "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Our time-honored golden rule has worked in every situation for me - until I got to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the rule should read, "Do unto the Afghans as the Afghans do unto each other." We should not expect them to embrace our approach simply because we believe we are efficient problem solvers. They see our approach as hasty and arrogant. We encroached on their culture so we must adapt and learn to collaborate in a more personal way. Our cultures are disparate but we can do this. My men and I have done it.
The Afghan men I encountered in rural Eastern Afghanistan weren't interested in our technology, desire to achieve quick results, attain immediate information, or solve their problems today. They were interested in what we were made of on the inside. They looked to see if we were for real or were just faking it, if we cared about them and could be trusted, and finally, why we were interested in them in the first place.
As I have studied Afghanistan through both my own experience and through extensive reading, I have identified a common theme. Gaining and maintaining personal relationships is the critical element necessary to be successful in a population-focused strategy ... The personal relationships we make and maintain with the Afghans we encounter in our Areas of Operation are directly related to our success or failure.
The question remains on how we leverage these relationships long term, beyond the 12 (or 7) month rotation of combat units. Comment over at the COIN Center site, which has been really provocative lately.