It Takes a Village to Raze an Insurgency by Daniel R. Green - Defense One
Over the last few years, the U.S. military’s special operations community has changed the way it approaches counterinsurgency. Along with direct action — think Navy SEALs helicoptering in to find Osama bin Laden or Army Green Berets clearing buildings of insurgents —Special Operations Forces are now much more prone to work with indigenous security forces, empowering them to fight on their own behalf. Instead of security being something done to local populations, it is increasingly something done with them.
This dramatic shift is largely an outgrowth of a rising view within the U.S. military that however effective unilateral U.S. combat operations may be against terrorist and insurgent groups, these “victories” will only be temporary absent a viable local partner who is motivated to fight. But this approach isn’t focused simply on raising local security forces, it also requires confronting an insurgency’s political strategy as well as participating in modest state-building efforts.
This turnabout in SOF strategy took place for many reasons, but a central factor was lessons learned in fighting the Taliban. After years of combat in Afghanistan, Special Operations Forces began to realize that relentless clearing operations were unsustainable; for security to endure, local communities had to be involved and participate in their own defense. Special Operations Forces also discovered that Afghan villagers were motivated by a variety of reasons to join the Taliban insurgency, many of which had nothing to do with the Islamist movement’s religious ideology. Some villagers joined due to tribal and village frictions, others because they were disappointed by the Karzai government, were intimidated into joining, or were simply seeking a steady paycheck. The Taliban itself continued to exist because the Afghan state was either too weak to defend local communities or too overbearing, preying on its own people and alienating many from their government. What was becoming clear to SOF was that the United States and the Afghan government had to confront the Taliban insurgency holistically, addressing its political, tribal, and economic aspects as well as its military wing while undertaking modest efforts to nurture the Afghan state and ensure that it governed justly. In a sense, the United States had to use the Taliban’s structure and strategy against it…