Small Wars Journal

How to Win in Afghanistan, One Village at a Time

How to Win in Afghanistan, One Village at a Time - Doug Stanton, Washington Post opinion.

In mid-October and early November 2001, about three dozen Army Special Forces soldiers landed in northern Afghanistan and, with the help of a handful of CIA officers, quickly routed a Taliban army whose estimated size ranged from 25,000 to 50,000 fighters. Allied with Afghan fighters, this incredibly small number of first-in soldiers achieved in about eight weeks what the Pentagon had thought would take two years. For the first time in US history, Army Special Forces were deployed as the lead element in a war. And then, just as quickly, the Americans went home, pulled away to fight in Iraq in 2003. The Taliban soldiers filled the emerging power vacuum, and you pretty much know the rest of the story: Gen. Stanley McChrystal's dire August report on deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan, and President Obama's speech Tuesday announcing an influx of 30,000 additional American troops - needed, the president said, because "the Taliban has gained momentum."

Obama's stated purposes - to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al-Qaeda, and to train an Afghan army and police force capable of providing for the nation's security - are sensible and even noble. Accomplishing them will go a ways toward creating a more stable country. But his new strategy is not enough, and it may prove a mistaken effort to replicate an Iraq-like approach in a situation that is vastly different. In Afghanistan, we are not facing a broad insurgency with popular grass-roots support. Estimates of Taliban strength run anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 fighters, and only a small portion of the Afghan population supports the Taliban, perhaps 5 percent to 10 percent (polls are sketchy). Yet it is unclear whether Obama's plan is anything more than Iraq-lite, a counterinsurgency approach focused on building up local forces...

More at The Washington Post.


I'm crushed reading your comment Jim. Thanks for your and your men's efforts, and all the best to you. I admire your ability to remain so reasonable in such unreasonable circumstances.

IntelTrooper (not verified)

Thu, 12/10/2009 - 4:56pm

I was crushed when I heard about SSG Vile and the Latvians (I didn't know the other American). I was in a funk for a couple days, like after CPT L and SGT B got injured in Khog. It really shook my confidence in the possibilities for the success of our mentoring mission.

IntelTrooper (not verified)

Thu, 12/10/2009 - 3:22pm

Jim --

6th Kandak, 201st?

Jim (not verified)

Thu, 12/10/2009 - 3:19pm

I recently returned from an assignment as an Infantry Kandak (Battalion) ETT Chief in RC-East, Afghanistan. So, I can verify there is reason for concern as it pertains to training the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the ANP (Afghan National Police), especially in areas where the enemy is willing to stay and fight. Beyond the obvious issues of a lack of aptitude for learning the complexities of administration, logistics, and combined arms operations planning, there is a true area of concern that centers around a complete lack of values and morals. Corruption is rampant within the ANA and ANP ranks, and neither group possesses a sense of loyalty to the people of Afghanistan. I lost five of my soldiers, and had two others wounded in an attack on OP Bari Alai(the ANA were complicit in both the planning and execution of this assault). I do not think it should have taken COP Wanat, OP Bari Alai, and finally COP Keating (all in the same area) to prove that using small and isolated combat outposts where coalition soldiers must depend on the loyalties and abilities of the ANA is a bad strategy for winning in Afghanistan. Any thoughts?

Marzouq the Re… (not verified)

Sun, 12/06/2009 - 3:33pm

Hopefully this will be how a large portion of the "Surge" troops will be utilized.

The paragraph about "Peace Corps that can shoot back" made my day! I have long been an advocate of this approach. It is the least expensive and most effective, IMHO. It also requires the special kind of soldier. Hence, Special Forces. Do we have enough of them? I hope so.

I wish them success in their efforts!

Salaam eleikum Y'all!

Eric Chen

Sun, 12/06/2009 - 9:05pm

Interesting that Mr Stanton takes the opposite tack of Senator Kerry's recent critique of OEF I, which opposed the SF approach and says we should have taken a heavier conventional approach.

SWJ, help! Who do we believe?

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 12/07/2009 - 2:34pm

Indeed a remarkable success, but which should be viewed with several caveats, such as our reaching-out to Russia, and receiving their assistance in providing us access to the Norther Alliance, which without prior arrangements our SF may not have enjoyed the support necessary.

Sammy (not verified)

Tue, 12/08/2009 - 5:11pm

Commander-on-the-Ground becomes Commander-on-the-Hill as Gen. Stanley McChrystal testifies before Congress today.

A few questions, just to break the ice:

Q: Sir, you wrote the following the folllowing in your initial Afghanistan assessment:

A more forceful and offensive StratCom approach must be devised whereby INS are exposed continually for their cultural and religious violations, anti-Islamic and indiscriminate use of violence and terror, and by concentrating on their vulnerabilities. These include their causing ofthe majority of civilian casualties, attacks on education, development projects, and government institutions, and flagrant contravention of the principles of the Koran. These vulnerabilities must be expressed in a manner that exploits the cultural and ideological separation of the INS from the vast majority of the Afghan population.

Could explain how you arrived at this statement, that any such such acts are in "flagrant contravention of the principles of the Koran"? What principles of the Koran are you referring to? What are the names of the scholars or individuals you consult on Islamic doctrine?

Or maybe this:

Q: Sir, you have repeatedly emphasized the need to shift to population protection at the expense of force protection. How do you look your men -- and their families -- in the eye?

Q: At what point do attacks on ISAF forces directly by Afghan forces, or likely caused by Afghan forces -- we have seen a disturbing number already, most recently the murders of five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman, and in August, the death of a Marine LCPL very possibly by an Afghan-tipped ambush -- cause you to revisit this policy, which also orders ISAF forces into close proximity and fighting conditions with Afghan forces?

Q: Following up, sir: Indeed, you have written also that ISAF forces have been "preoccupied with force protection," and must change this "manner that distances itself, both physically and psychologically, from the people they seek to protect" as a means of winning support from the Afghan people.
Where do we look in history for any victorious precedent for this strategy?

Q: How does the military maintain morale among troops asked to hold fire, or not call in fire, in dire circumstances?

Q: What progress has been made in the investigation into events at Gunjgal where three Marines and a Navy Corpsman were killed, according to reports, because they were not approved for supporting fire because they were too close to a village?

Q: If, after eight years of pouring men and materiel into Afghanistan, we have not yet won the "support" of the Afghan people, why will the addition of 30,000 troops will make the difference?

Q: Are you familiar with the Islamic doctrine of jihad, of taqqiyya? And, finally (DRUM ROLL): How can tell us that you are doing your duty in devising a military strategy that doesn't take into account the war-fighting doctrine (jihad) of the enemy?

IntelTrooper (not verified)

Tue, 12/08/2009 - 5:53pm

Sammy, do you know Sara? You two seem to think <em>a lot</em> alike.

Sarah (not verified)

Tue, 12/08/2009 - 10:42pm

Needless to say The general should be asked these questions, I'd love to see him get out of these q.