Small Wars Journal

Fighting the Right War in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has three wars at once. Let's fight the right one - Washington Post op-ed by Douglas Ollivant. BLUF: "America's counterinsurgency strategy did not go poorly at first, and its supporters highlighted the progress made in Konar in 2006 and 2007. Even traditionalists appreciate some of modernity's advantages. What isolated chieftain doesn't like hard currency, and who doesn't prefer easier export of local products, whether food or gems or timber, to urban centers? But roads run in two directions, and the same vehicles that are welcome to leave full of local goods are more suspect when they arrive with artifacts such as CDs and printed T-shirts, let alone government agents or tax collectors."


Believe there are several unspoken needs to stay in Afghanistan until 2014,

Today's revelation that some in the ISI may have assisted Lashkar-e Taiba in the Mumbai raid should be no surprise since they also no doubt provide assistance against the Indians in Kashmir.

Add to that the long attack on the Pakistan Naval base, and we should be seriously concerned about both nuclear weapons security and the influence of Lashkar-e Taiba that potentially is an international terror group...unlike perhaps the Taliban.

Second, at some point we may complete our attempts to shift resupply efforts to the north avoiding Pakistan altogether. At that point we can take sides and favor the northern alliance ethnicities if the Pashtun don't want to play ball.

Still believe a Pashtunistan fits in their somewhere as a final solution to COL Jones often cited concern about sources of the insurgency,

Finally, if we eventually shift to more of a counterterror and strategic raiding/reinforcement of the ANA approach and give up on Pakistan basing and supply routes, we still need Afghanistan basing in northern provinces.

Also see value in having servicemember in a position to attract extremists so those same individuals don't travel to the U.S. and Europe to engage more vulnerable targets.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 8:09pm

COL Jones:

"The US is fighting, like all empires do, to sustain the status quo, not for change."

I am not so sure that this provides us with a proper understanding and characterization of the concept and behavior of empires generally and the ideas and actions of the United States specifically.

For example: The idea of empire is possibly more consistent and synonymous with the concept of an entity that -- via such things as the conquest, transformation, incorporation and utilization of lesser states and societies -- achieves "change" on the grandest scale imaginable (as per the ideas, beliefs, actions and behavior of major portions of the world).

Thus, empires would seem to be all about exploiting unique circumstances (ex: lack of a great power rival) to bring about change favorable to said empire (to wit: causing "outlier" states, societies and regions to become less of a problem and more of an asset).

Accordingly, when confronted by an entity bent upon such typical imperial behavior (various coercive and convincing techniques designed to bring about change in outlier states and societies), the populations of said states and societies consistently are divided between (1) those who would embrace such empire-initiated changes and (2) those who would oppose and fight back against such "reform" concepts.

This explanation, I believe (an empire bent on achieving change in outlier states and societies -- and populations therein divided between [1] those wishing to embrace these initiatives and [2] those determined to reject such efforts); this may be a better characterization of "empire," the tragedy that such empire-typical behavior brings with it(terrorism, insurgencies, civil wars, etc.) and our current circumstances.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 5:56pm

What status quo are we protecting in Afghanistan? We tossed the Taliban out, established a new form of government and now are trying to get the new government to stick. That isn't protecting the status quo, nor was our operation in Iraq. Vietnam was protecting the status quo.

Bob's World

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 5:20pm


The US is fighting, like all empires do, to sustain the status quo, not for "change."

It is people seeking change that provides the undercurrent of energy that fuels nationalist insurgencies and international non-state operations such as AQ.

We employ an ideology of "change" perhaps, but at the end of the day we are seeking to sustain the stability of the political relationships that we have nurtured over the decades. Just as AQ or the Taliban may employ an ideology of stepping back to simpler times when Islam was more "pure" and Muslims were not controlled by Western powers and Muslim leaders were not influenced by Western things to fuell change. A bit of Alice in Wonderland perhaps, but do not be lulled into thinking the US is waging war with the world to promote "change."

This all about far more fundamental human dynamics, such as "Liberty" "Justice" "Respect" "Legitimacy of government" and "Hope" for a better future. Any approach that co-opts the relationship between a people and their own government, and then offers these things underneath that perverted structure is not true liberty, nor is that government truly legitimate. That is almost like some form of "The Matrix" where it seems good and real, but if one really thinks about it they realize they are being mollified into not noticing that they are actually enslaved in some way.

AQ and the West are both making promises they don't really intend to keep for their own self-serving reasons. The governments in place over these populaces in places like Afghanistan and where Arab Spring is such a powerful force elsewhere are also disconnected from the people beneath them.

Ultimately the people will prevail. The best course for the US and the West is to devise an approach that correlates our interests in this region in line with the interests of the people of the region. THAT would be change.



AQ didn't fill a gap in Afghanistan, they never did. They initially formed in Pakistan, and were protected by Pakistan to some extent so they could wage war on the Soviets in Afghanistan. Later the senior leaders resided in Sudan under protection of the government (not exploiting a lawless place). After a few cruise missiles they were invited to leave, and they went to Afghanistan where they were provided safe haven by the then ruling Taliban. They do not seek lawless areas to base out of, because they have no protection there. Yes, they support UW operations in some of these areas, but we need to keep this in perspective. The COIN fight is not a counter AQ fight just because there is some limited AQ support for a few of the insurgents.

Bill C. you may be right, it is the same strategy we used after WWII. The Marshal Plan was designed to pull States into our sphere of influence. The SECSTATE at the time said it was critical we that we kept Germany, Italy and Japan in our sphere (others were a given) because they would enable us to counter the Soviet threat if need me. It was a pragmatic strategy then, because our approach was feasible. Our transformational approach in Afghanistan isn't as pragmatic, and the not the result of good statesmen, but rather the result of some half baked ideas that were not thought through before they were implemented and now we are sort of stuck in a mess of our own making. The question is how do we get Afghanistan in our sphere of influence? That advantages I suppose by providing us bases in a strategic location, potentially denies a future base for AQ, etc., but perhaps more importantly it pulls Afghanistan out of Pakistan's sphere of influence (and there for China's), which gives the U.S. and India the strategic advantage should we ever go to war with China. Of course Pakistan doesn't want that, and a portion of the billions we donate to Pakistan support the insurgents in Afghanistan, so like you said where does that leave us?

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 4:50pm

If we look at Dr. Ollivant's "Three Wars" from the perspective that I have offered above (conflict between "liberals" [those who desire the same changes we do] and "conservatives" [those more comfortable with the status quo or want even more extreme retrograde changes]), then:

a. War # 1: Al Qaeda v. Us - Al Qaeda absoultely does not want the changes/transformation that we desire; they want to go in the exact opposite direction.

b. War # 2: Taliban v. the Afghan Govt - Taliban absolutely does not want the changes/transformation that we desire. One might suggest that, astonishing as it may seem, neither does the Afghan government (thus, their resistance to doing things as per our directions).

c. War # 3: Urban Modernizers v. The Rest of the Population - whereas the former are in our corner, the more-numerous latter group would not seem to be.

Thus, in this conflict between liberal reformers and conservative (and/or radical) traditionalists, we would seem to have, indeed, very few "natural" and like-thinking allies.

I'll repeat what I said on Abu drowned out by neo-cons and conspiracies...

Let's get the facts straight, the difference between the levels of provincialism within the Daray Pech and its capillary valleys varies greatly. The Safi tribes that Mr. Olivant so describes as "waging a generations-old conflict with the Kabul-based modernizers" have in fact NOT been conducting such a campaign. When he says Pech, the Safi's (Gorbuz and Waders) what he is referring mistakingly refers to...I'm sure he knows a lot about COIN but there are some socio-geographic factors that one needs to study before commenting on such a subject. Deep in the valleys of Watapur, Shuriak, Waigal, Chowkay and Digal are chock full of locals that are content with their isolated status and they are the locals who do not associate themselves with AFG. The Tregami (somewhat nomadic tribe in the Watapur), Dagani (far-Western Pech people of Chapa Dara and Ghoselak), and of course the Korengali and Nuristani people are the trouble makers.

Second of all, great majority of the "100+" Fallen (rather, I believe the number to be closer to 60) did not lose their life upon the Pech River Valley. Rather, these casualties were, again, as a result of contingency operations and missions in these capillary valleys...this fact is really non-arguable.

My final point is okay, I get it...America is sick of war. Does that make realignment right? Does that make trashing years of experience a responsible transition out of Afghanistan? We spent time, blood and money shaping this problem to simply leave this region be as a distorted, twisted version of a history museum that was initially the gap in civilization that led to Al-Qaeda's opportunity to fill that gap. I only hope that I am wrong, and the economic shot in the arm and modernization of Asadabad one day flows through these capillaries.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 12:42pm

If we return to the (a) "what do we want to achieve in Afghanistan (and/or elsewhere) and (b) "why" questions, where does this lead us?

I think that, without a doubt, the answer to these questions are:

a. (What Do We Wish To Achieve?): To transform these states and societies (re-order, re-organize and re-configure them).

b. (Why?) So that they would give us less trouble and, instead, be more useful to us.

(Herein, one can see our fundamental premise: That countries and societies that are more like ours and more connected to our system (a) cause us fewer problems and (b) are much more likely to be useable re: our goals and endeavors.)

This giving us today's conflict paradigm, to wit: The conflict being between:

a. Those who would wish for and/or would allow the substantial and fundamental state and societal transformations that we require (we shall call these the "liberals" in that they embrace "change") and

b. Those who do not wish to be so transformed (we shall call these the "conservatives" in that they have much less use for and/or interest in change -- or at least not change in the direction that we desire).

The "liberals," in this scenerio, we consider to be our friends; the "conservatives" we take as our enemies.

With this explanation before us, how then do we proceed?

Bob's World

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 10:44am

Western Democracy was shaped by Western Insurgency. No government offered it to the people, it was the people who forced it upon the government.

Now, when I compare the Western experience 500 years ago to what is going on in the Middle East today, I hope that no one takes that too literally. The dynamic is the same, the issues are similar, human nature is common; but culture, history, values, etc are all very different. For Grant Martin, however, you need to review what really lead to the "de-radicalizing" of Protestants. If half that level of misery and violence desends upon the Middle East in the current globalized environment, the entire globe will suffer for generations.

I would never say we need to force Western values on anyone, and in fact, am a vocal advocate for the very opposite of that. I do, however, believe that we could benefit from a bit more empathy in regards to other people having no more tollerance for being subjugated under governmental structures that they have no say in and that are established and sustained by some powerful external force than we did. Some things are indeed universal. it is the triggers that vary.

I fear that history will not judge the US kindly for our current approaches. We proclaim too loudly the principles we demand for ourselves, that we are so quick to act to deny for others where we fear it might impact our interests. This is the Western model we inherited. I merely suggest that armed with our history and principles, we are the ones who can lead the West out of the era of Colonialism and control of others. It is an obsolete model, and we will either evolve from it, or be broken by it. That will be our choice.

To adopt "pop-centric" tactics over "threat-centric" tactics; while leaving one's boot firmly placed on the neck of the populace really misses the point of what was bad about the old apporach and what must change about new approaches. We argue tactics, and this is not a tactical problem.



Always love your thinking.

Isnt one of the key differences in Afghanistan is that it is not an organic insurgency trying to overthrow a government?

The insurgency in Afghanistan is being constantly feed from the outside by people who have no interest in Afghanistan, overthrowing a government or governing themselves.

To Gian point, we continue to come at this from a Western democratic mind set. We forget that Western democracy has been developed over a long period of history, numerous revolutions and civil wars that eventually resulted in founding principles cemented in documents such as the Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights of 1689, which followed the deposing of James II. And of course the oldest written constitution in the world, the United States of Americas Constitution 1787. Citizens in every local town in the United States have had over 220 years to recognise and respect their constitution within a free and open society.

Afghan tribes and villagers experienced democracy for the first time in 2004. Yet, this has not diminished the primacy of local power and authority in resolving disputes and negotiating local issues. It has not stopped the wave after wave of foreign insurgents. It could well be that because the introduction of democracy, constitution and rules of law to Afghanistan was through foreign intervention rather than an organic revolution; it will take even longer to cement a top down deontological approach to the rule of law.

The foreign Taliban demand adherence to no ethnicity, no nationality nor necessarily have the same reasons to fight.

In line with your paras. 5/6 the other difference is that there are views of the world that we fail to recognise should be left to their own self-determination.

"Americans [and other Western allies] tend to think that deep down we all have the same values. Americans believe that all these terrorists, if you scratch beneath the surface, are looking for religious equality and justice. That's complete and utter nonsense. Americans can't face the reality that different people have different values." (Ibn Warraq; Why I am Not a Muslim. 1995)

This doesn't mean another level of political correctness in how we fight and engage. It just means recognising that we will have only won over some of the hearts and minds until our money pump stops. Then there are others (China)eagerly waiting for the US to begin withdrawing aid to Pakistan.



gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 8:32am

You are right Bill M, there are times and places where a population centric approach can work. If, and it is a big if, a state is willing to spend a long, long time doing it. To be sure there are states that have successfully applied this approach; arguably Magsaysay did it in the Philippines, and also the current Columbian government is applying it as well.

What I am talking about is the notion that the United States as a foreign occupying power can carry it out relatively quickly in a place like Afghanistan. Oh sure we could make it work if we were willing to stay there for a generation if not more. But that is basically the point; that to stay there that long is simply not worth the cost. Moreover, it allows a tactical principle of coin to overcome good strategic thinking. This is the problem i had with the Ollivant piece; that it cleverly offered a variation of pop centric coin for Afghanistan (while repudiating another) which still seeks the solution in the realm of tactics instead of looking in the right place of strategy.

Bob Jones may be right about the root causes of insurgencies and the proper way to address them. I accept his view of it, but try to use it from the angle of American strategy and ask if then it is worth a committment to solving the insurgency and addressing the root problems and the concomitant costs for the US over the long term to do it.


G Martin

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 8:05am

Although I do think we label things simplistically and with an unhelpful cultural bias- the problem I have with comparing Enlightenment-era Christians and current Moslem extremists is that many will think we just need to approach them the same- that some of the same civilizing influences that ultimately pacified the radical early Protestants will pacify Moslem extremists. I don't think that is necessarily true.

While I do appreciate looking at things from different perspectives- especially the "official lines" that are politically correct and meant to avoid offending anyone- I don't think we can simply compare groups of today to groups of yesterday and gain any insightful advantages. The "extremists" and the average folk alike today have a very different background, culture, and historical tradition motivating their current actions (or inactivity). I agree they are both agents for change and will fight for what they believe in- but beyond that I'm not sure other comparisons are useful.

Bob's World

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 7:06am

US and Pakistan UW was a problem for the Soviets. I can't imagine how the US would react if we had several hundred aircraft shot down by Russian or Chinese weapons on top of our current situation.

For those who say that Pop Centric can't work and then point to Afghanistan as the example; I would just say if you want to see the same plan but with a heavy counterguerrilla / populace suppression arm, look to the Soviets.

Both worked and failed equally for the same reason: Both set out to establish and sustain a government of their chosing, and both therefore ignored resolving the revolutionary aspect of the insurgency and focused on attempting to suppress the resistance aspect. The problem is that the more one pushes against a resistance, the more it pushes back.

IMO the key is to recognize that there is a Revolution AND a Resistance; then to focus on resolving the Revolution first. This is largely political and demands that the US subjugate what we want for what the Afghan people want. But that means ALL Afghan people. We have an opportunity to get to something better than what we want if we are able to bring the Tajiks, Pashtuns, Hazara, Uzbeks, and various other groups together under a construct that allows them to learn to trust in a system where they cannot trust in each other; to be held in check by that system rather than by internal warfare. This is possible.

But first we need to stop the name calling. "Extremists" for the US today are the "Barbarians" for Rome. A label placed on those who dare to think and act differently than we do, and that are willing to fight back to challenge the place we have carved for them in the world. Certainly Christian Protestants were extremists when they were fighting for liberty from the oppression of the Catholic system of controls employed by the Holy Roman Empire. They calmed down to being the most boringly stable aspect of Western society today. "Extreme" forms of Islam are similarly amped up due to the mission they face far more than due to Islam itself or the people who are willing to fight for freedom from outside control/influence.

For American servicemen, we can look at each other and recognize that we are the 1% willing to shoulder any load, carry any burden, in order to keep our people free. The small % of Muslims we call "Extremists" are similarly that dedicated small slice of society willing to sacrafice for the whole.

Spartans can fight Spartans; or the politicans, diplomats and policy makers can recognize the flaws their approaches and address the root issues at work. This is not a matter of what tactics the Spartans apply, it is a matter of flaws of the political, diplomatic and policy positions the spartans are sent out to clash shields and trade spear thrusts over.

War is war and must be waged as such. What is going on in Afghanistan is a very different thing that we have opted to wage as war.


I need to review my history, but I am not currently convinced the Soviet strategy was in error, and the government they left in place held for quite a while. If Pakistan didn't provide massive aid and fighters it may have held indefinitely. The Soviets were our enemies so we didn't assess their strategy or tactics objectively, we only looked for shortfalls and blew those out of proportion to support our case that the USSR was bad (they were), but now since they're going maybe we can look at their strategy from an amoral and objective view and assess whether or not it would have worked if they could have put pressure on Pakistan to knock off the UW? The various tribes and villages didn't represent the masses anymore than the government. The organizing force appeared to be the ISI. Different thoughts? I also recall that Soviets asked us to help stablize Afghanistan after they withdrew to keep the extremists out because they realized it was threat to both the USSR and the West as a whole. The U.S. obviously was anti-communist focused at the time and we didn't see the coming Islamist threat coming.

Gian, I agree that certain key influencers should be held accountable (not sure what accountable means in this context, other than saying publically they got it wrong so those who blindly follow them can be freed from their addiction of the COIN dogma). I recently had a fairly senior intell officer (with no infantry background) tell me we can't shoot our way of this, and yet he couldn't explain why, he was just mimicking the typical politically correct verbiage of the day. I told him he may be right, but on the other hand he should be able to explain his views and not simply repeat popular quotes.

I agree we are in a dangerous position as a force, because critical thinking is frowned upon and conformity is the key to career success. On the other hand, I think you take it too far sometimes, because there are times and places where a population centric approach can and will work. So in your own way you are promoting a dogma that is the antithesis of the current COIN doctrine.

I am at loss to describe exactly what we're trying to accomplish in Afghanistan. Maybe one way to gain clarity is to wargame it this way. Let's assume we pulled out entirely, then we assess what we think will happen after we pull out, and what if anything is a threat to our national interests. Then we develop a strategy to prevent those threats to our national interests. Overly simplistic, but an approach along those lines may help us develop some clarity and realistic strategy that is tied to our national interests, not just our national pride.

Publius (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 9:06pm

I think that after almost ten years, the US military has proven that it cannot do counterinsurgency, at least not in Afghanistan, where it's clear that today's troops are traveling down the same path we followed in Vietnam and the Russians followed in this same inhospitable country. This COIN business turns out to be too damned tough for a nation such as ours--a nation where the leadership needs to be responsive to domestic voices--and I think we're fooling ourselves when we continue to pretend that we can somehow just stay there forever. Despite the fact that the generals seem willing to engage in a thirty-years-war, I guess they missed the memo about the US being a republic where leaders need to answer to the public. Generals don't answer to those below them, but politicians have to.

This is a lost cause, at least the way we've been playing it, and I think it is a damned shame that we will be paying for Veterans' Administration services to young people who should have never had their lives ruined.

I have no problems with neutralizing bad guys, but I have to wonder why it takes hundreds of thousands of troops to deal with hundreds of bad guys. I think our national strategy is seriously flawed and I think the generals, who aren't particularly impressive in their own areas, know it, but just go along for the ride. I think we need new generals. The current crop hasn't really done much. Let them go out to consulting and defense contracting gigs, where they can make the big bucks they think they deserve.

Three wars, eh? Where does the Charge of the Light Brigade come in?

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 6:58pm

The piece was an acknowledgment that population centric coin--again, defined per American army doctrine is to win the allegiance of a population over to the side of a supported government through the provision of security and programs of state building--can not work in certain places. But as 3-24 states, in "any" insurgency there "will" be a large part of the population that are fence sitters to be won over to the side of the government. Note the key words taken directly from the FM, "any" and "will."

After the Surge and the triumph narrative that was constructed around it there was the notion that pop centric coin could be made to work in Afghanistan, even in the east in the most violent and toughest parts. General McChyrstal's initial guidance was a catechism of the tenets of population centric coin. In fact in 2009 the so called success of the Surge was often cited to support the population centric strategy of General McChrystal.

Now Ollivant in this piece says that it in fact can't work in certain places, then goes on to profer what in effect was the Soviet's strategy when they were there.

I find the whole thing to be sad, and a testament to the strategic folly of trying to do any kind of population centric counterinsurgency in Afghanistan where the cost simply just isnt worth it. Yet folks continue to try to salvage the flawed tactics and methods of population centric coin in order to rescue a failed strategy. The right approach is to get the strategy right first, rather than continuing to burry ourselves in variations of the methods of pop centric coin.

This is not personal, but it is about understanding how we have gotten to this point.


Bob's World

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 4:01pm


You realize, of course, that what you describe was the basis of both the Soviet plan and the surge initiated under Gen McChrystal. Obviously both plans had some variations in terms of how they were applied, but the ops graphics and general concepts of the operation all match with what you propose.

Both had some hope of producing a "decent interval," but both also ignored the root problems driving the insurgency as a whole. No amount of foreign (Coalition and Northern Alliance) force effort against the Resistance movement within Afghanistan is likely to have much of an enduring effect so long as the overarching Revolutionary movement between the Northern Alliance government in Kabul and the Taliban government in exile in Pakistan is largely ignored and unaddressed.

While I agree with you in principle, until we are willing to recognize the dichotomy of this insurgency and the heirarchy of what must be addressed first, we are doomed to expend ourselves in pursuit of a temporary stalemate.

Likewise, those who argue "this is a rural insurgency" and want to put all of our energy into rural communities face the same problem that the "populace centers first" crowd face: Both are designed to ignore the overarching revolution and protect GIROA from her own populace.



I didn't detect an anti-COIN narrative in the article, but rather a do COIN where it makes sense to do COIN, and the author's point (right or wrong) is that Kunar is not the place. On the other hand he seems to be pushing a population centric strategy in other locations like Kabul. I can't find fault with that argument, and it falls in line with my previous arguments if you are going to do a pop centric strategy, then you must use the oil spot strategy, starting in areas that generally pro-government, and then "gradually" expand.

If the Afghan government effectively controls Kabul and Kandahar and the lines of communication between them, they control what is important. Progress in pushing out from these areas can be gradual (it can take years). Business will continue, deals will be made to allow transit along LOCs running to Pakistan to facilitate trade, etc. I was concerned that the author was going to recommend we ignore Kunar, which wouldn't work in regards to the other two fights, but he did state we need to continue direct action in Kunar against enemy targets to prevent it from becoming a safehaven, which is quite different than transforming the society there.

I think it is possible that if we focus on success in the major urban areas, that success will sell itself and the outliers will opt to join in time. First they need to see tangible benefits (more of a soft power approach). Our current approach of trying to force people to integrate with a government they do not trust will not succeed.

CLC Joe (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 1:37pm

I am not nearly as read into the thoughts and current theories espoused Nagl, Galula, and Ollivant as you are.
I do, however, believe that you are miss-reading what this OPED is saying. Doesn't this article state that population centric security efforts need to focus on key or relevant terrain within the context of the mission? Like all missions we have limited assets and resources to apply to solve problems...I think Dr. Ollivant is saying that we improperly applied assets in the Korengal and Wanat Valleys to solve the problems we are facing in Afghanistan; Destroying terrorist organizations, Supporting the Host Nation Government, and Expanding its influence within its borders. His argument appears to be saying that our efforts to expand host nation influence in the PECH are creating more problems and not effectively addressing the big three. I don't think this is an indictment of the population centric "oil spot" theory of COIN, I think he is questioning of our current methods to apply it operationally as we clear, hold, and build "strategic hamlets" within Afghanistan. I don't see this OPED as anything other than recognition of the fact that we have attempted to secure a population area before the proper ground work of building Host-Nation capacity had been met.
I hope our professional analysis of military theory, history, and doctrine could rise above personal criticisms and finger wagging. Otherwise our profession will be held in the same regard that politicians, journalists, and lawyers are currently held at.

I always enjoyed history and did well at it in high school and below. Only at West Point, did the history and "military art" become dry and overly verbose and "scholarly."

So forgive my simple man's slightly different interpretation of the same article:

* Contrary to COL Gentile's first paragraph rebuttal, there is no mention of "surge" in Olivant's article. I also note no rejection of pop-centric COIN: "Instead, weak states should limit their reach while increasing their capabilities in areas they already control. They should develop more integrated economies in core urban areas and improve the schools near the cities and on the roads between them. Or as I once heard it put, lets focus on those who want to join civilization and leave alone those who are in active rebellion against it."

* Also in COL Gentile's first paragraph rebuttal, my "sucked at West Point history" reading comprehension differs completely. Retired LTC Ollivant implied in his last Op-Ed paragraph that isolated people who want to be left alone are not those likely to fly airplanes into Manhattan skyscrapers. There is no mention of converting Pech Valley into Manhattan...or Kabul.

I will leave it to others to find other errors in COL Gentile's misinterpretation of Dr. Ollivant's Op-Ed. As I read it, his article reinforces a pop-centric strategy. He implies that COIN achieves better results in areas most likely to be receptive to those efforts.

If I might be so bold, believe Dr. Ollivant was saying:

* COIN is fought differently in different countries and cultures, and the associated terrain they "choose" to live in.

* COIN works better in population-centric areas that tend to be in flatter, more easily accessed areas that host nations can better influence and defend.

Within Afghanistan, the cultures are multiple, the terrain varies extensively, and the COIN is different in:

* Kandahar/Arghandab,
* Helmand River valley
* Central east mountains bordering Northern Waziristan
* Kabul and surrounding area
* Kunar valley area and nearby more-isolated mountainous areas on both sides
* Central Hindu Kush inhabited by Hazaras and other non-Pashtuns
* Far north where our allies are based and the Pashtuns/Taliban are the fewest.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 8:50am

So now many surgedinistas are turning away from population centric counterinsurgency: the military method designed to "win the allegiance" of local populations to a supported host government through programs of state building: Or as Dr Ollivant stated at the end of this piece trying to turn the "pech" in eastern Afghanistan into "Manhattan."

I agree that it has always been folly to try to use American military power at armed stated building; or as John Nagl has stated publicly to "change entire societies."

Yet these very Surgedinistas (like Nagl, and Kilcullen, and Ollivant, et al) are the ones who put this paradigm of coin into place. It is interesting, ironic, and deeply troubling too that many of them now are saying in so many words "no more pop centric coin." Kilucllen says coin should be thought of as a "nuke" weapon, to only be used in the rarest circumstances. Now Ollivant seems to say in this piece that pop centric coin is the wrong way to fight the war in Afghanistan.

Yet it is folks like Ollivant and Kilcullen and others who have contributed to bringing us to this point to where at least institutionally and in parts of the field force folks have come to believe that it works.

Kilcullen in his newest book "Counterinsurgency" argues that winning "hearts and minds" is at the center of Coin. Ollivant in 2006 wrote a glowing article in Miliary Review on how his battalion in a part of baghdad in 2005 did best practices of coin modeled on Galula. Doug just a few years ago wrote a review of FM 3-24 in a major political science journal where he heaped plenty of praise on it.

A better oped by Dr Ollivant would have been to acknowledge the folly from the start through the buildup of coin through the surge triumph narrative that it was a deeply flawed and flat out wrong doctrine to begin with.

It is time for folks to hold themselves accountable for their role in the rise of Coin and not just now jump on the anti coin bandwagon. If not then we only get one side of the story, and an incomplete one at that.