Small Wars Journal

Killing Your Way to Control

Killing Your Way to Control

by William F. Owen

British Army Review, Spring 2011

Download the Full Article: Killing Your Way to Control

The population is not the prize. The population are the spectators to armed conflict. The prize is the control the government gains when the enemy is dead and gone. Control only exists when it is being applied, and it exists via the rule of law. The population will obey whoever exercises the power of law over them. Power creates support. Support does not create power. This is the source

of great confusion.

The Soviets exercised near-genocidal levels of violence against the Afghan population, as did the Nazis in occupied Russia. Neither was attempting to create an environment where the rule of law prevailed. Control was sought via threat of harm to the civilian population. No one supports people who seek to harm them. Law as in control and stability,is where crime (including terrorism) is punished and justice functions effectively enough, to enable people to live safe and productive lives. Creating and sustaining that condition requires someone to have monopoly of the use of lethal force. People will support who ever has the power to effectively enforce the rule of law. Gaining the monopoly on lethal force requires the destruction of the competition. Merely being present is not enough. In violent competitions, power gains support and not vice-versa.

Download the Full Article: Killing Your Way to Control


JMA (not verified)

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 5:46pm

Bob, what is being said here (by me) is that if you deploy soldiers to some far off exotic land where there is an insurgency on the go at least utilise them in a role and with a mission for which they are trained.

To deal with an insurgency one needs a set of options (like clubs in a bag of golf clubs) that you can select for best effect as the moment dictates. The blunt force of those options are the infantry and supporting arms.

If the "commander" gets cute with the role and mission of the (blunt instruments) infantry (I was one) then there should be no tears when it falls apart.

Former Soviet General Aushev said or their time in Afghanistan:
"Our mission was never to win. The Soviet Army was sent in to prop up a corrupt regime and the AFG leadership was all too happy to stand back, stay in the safety of their guarded compounds in Kabul, and let the Russians do the fighting for them."

If the US were honest is the situation not the same?

There may well be some fancy footwork that can/could have been done to win this thing without a shot being fired. I don't know. Don't much care either. Personally I would just divide the place up on an ethnic basis and tell them straight out, "no AQ and no poppies or we come back with the B52s, capice?" (That's the language they understand)

From "Irregular Adversaries Hybrid Threats, An Assessment-2011":

"Given Al Qaedas need to operate from sanctuaries and in the shadows of the societies it targets, the organizations capabilities have always been difficult to assess accurately. It is believed that 10,000-20,000 extremists were trained in Al Qaedas camps in Afghanistan between 1996 and September
11, 2001. Yet, as few as 200 core fighters may have comprised the heart of the network. Several hundred "free-agent" foreigners, mostly Arabs and Uzbeks."


"After the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, U.S. forces discovered evidence that Al Qaeda had conducted grisly experiments on dogs that were injected or gassed with cyanide--possibly a prelude to the use of the deadly agent against American targets."


Speaking of al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies that killed 224 on August 7, 1998:

"Al Qaeda's responsibility for the attacks was determined quickly. The United States retaliated on August 20, when U.S. Navy destroyers fired 75 missiles, each costing about $750,000, at Al Qaedas training camps in Zawhar Kili, Afghanistan. The attack, code-named Operation Infinite Reach, killed at least 21 Pakistani jihadist volunteers and wounded dozens more. The operation did not deter or inhibit Al Qaeda, however. On October 12, 2000, two Arabs piloted a skiff toward a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, which was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden."

Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 12:21pm

Certain influencial people (CNAS?) seem to look at the world through the following lense:

Significant SOCIETAL DISRUPTIONS are presently occuring and/or are expected on the immediate horizon. (Occasioned by such potentially interrelated things as the fall of former Soviet Union, the assent of new and rising powers [China et al], population explosions, urbanization, globalization, technological advancements, increased resource demands and religious fundamentalism).

Based on this premise, they believe and propose that "NATION-BUILDING," to wit: the transforming/modernizing of "deficient" political, economic and social orders [essentially, non-"Western" ones] is the way to deal with this "power keg" situation and the current "crisis" period of history.

Problem: Others (1) disagree with this assessement and/or (2) or have their own ideas as to how to proceed (often, within their own more-familiar culture and system).

Is this the context by which we should be considering such things as "KILLING OUR WAY TO CONTROL?"

To review:

a. The 21st Century "problem" is considered as: A new and enormous surge in societal disruptions.

b. The 21st Century "solution" is suggested as various forms of "nation-building" ("Western" -- and others).

c. Thus, having sufficient and properly capable forces to be able to "kill our way to control," in this new and presumably much more chaotic environment, being a very important consideration indeed?

Bob's World

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 8:23am


I do look at these things from a high level. For one, that is what I get paid to do, but more importantly there are thousands of Junior officers and enlisted who can provide far better input on tactical concerns. The tactical issues are real, but they are not the problem that we don't seem able to address.

Our problem is that we convince ourselves we must be in places to force some change on others in the name of our own security; and then we convince ourselves that we cannot leave until we have forced a set of conditions of our own defining onto that place and the people who live there. Guys like "Move Forward" are out there in spades stirring up irrational fears, and that does not help at all.

What I find interesting is that when one looks back at these situations after the dust has settled, invariable the fears of the intervening power that were leveraged to justify their actions turn out to look exaggerated or even silly in retrospect. Similarly, the grievance for action on the part of the insurgent become much more reasonable.

Most of the guys who post on this thread would be Taliban and fighting the Coalition if we were born Pastu in southern Afghanistan or Western Pakistan. (Or at least the half who were not a member of a tribe or family with patronage connections to the new government).

When one looks back at the American west, do you admire and empathize more with those who rode with Crazy Horse, or those who submitted and donned American clothing and religion to live on the reservation and eat government beef?

Will you respect more those who join a VSO program, accepting foreign money to patrol their own homes and clean their own irrigation ditches by a foreign occupier, or those who take to the hills and dare to challenge the most powerful military on earth that seeks to impose upon them a government and way of life they do not recognize and did not ask for?

Do such efforts really make Americans more safe? On 9/11 no Pashtu of the AFPAK region had any reason to work with AQ to bring acts of terror against Western targets. That is certainly not true today.

The intel guys got this one wrong (again). So did the policy guys, the generals, etc, etc. I don't know how many times governments have to keep going to the school of hard knocks to learn this lesson, but school isn't getting any easier.

"Control" comes at a cost, and the modern information age has elevated that cost considerably. We have a control-based strategy in containment, and it is unraveling because the rationale for it is long gone, and because those who are no longer willing to be controlled are also more empowered to do something about it. We need to shift to some form of "influence-based" strategy. We will find far more success when we are either largely neutral or helping people to get where they want to be than when we are actively acting to put or keep them where we want them to be.

Yes, the military can kill to control. Is that really the nation we strive to be? Does that create the world we want to live in?


Move Forward,

It is exactly those type of fantasies you mentioned that our Defense Contracting Complex loves, it justifies forever wars and defense massive spending, and we can continue to justify the lack of success by claiming that our crystal ball tells us it will be much worse if we don't continue to piss away billions of dollars in pursuit of a permanent solution (which is social, economic and political transformation) in Afghanistan. Makes a great fiction article for conspiracy theorists. I also love how downsizing is described as quitting from those who have interests there (that are not our national interests).

Of course we pulled out Somalia, Vietnam, and Lebanon due to casualties, it had nothing to do with our leadership coming to the realization that there was no military solution on the horizon, so it wasn't worth wasting more treasure and blood. No it must of been simply our tolerance level for casualties, yet I haven't heard a single legitimate complaint yet about our casualty numbers in Afghanistan. Of course, we all mourn them, but the real issue is a lack of a feasible strategy, and continuing to do more of the same that hasn't been working probably won't sell well to national leaders who have a much more pressing crisis with the budget crisis. None the less CNAS would love your logic, they'll use it to insist we continue to drain our armed forces in an effort to nation build. If we just try a little harder, spend a lot more money, and stay a couple more decades we really can transform the Flintstones into the Jetsons.

You could spin your story another way since you enjoy conspiracy theories. My conspiracy theory, the Pakistanis want us to stay involved in Afghanistan, so they are supporting the insurgents there and spreading rumors about terrible things happening if we downsize that some buy into. In the meantime we pump billions of dollars in Pakistan to maintain our MSRs, and Pakistan diverts a significant portion of those dollars to enhance their nuclear arsenal. Um?

Did not mean to make it seem like we were nuking India...rather Pakistan would.

"The US was forced to withdraw from Vietnam, the Lebanon,and Somalia because the collective political will to maintain combat operations evaporated when casualties become politically unsustainable."

58,000 dead Americans and nearly a million live ones tried to "mow the grass" for a decade in Vietnam...a conceptual failure never successfully refuted in the article. If search and destroy robbed us of so many young lives and failed so miserably, why would we advocate a return engagement?

Evaluate how effective raiding was in Mogadishu, Somalia. How effective were cruise missiles in Sudan and Afghanistan? How did holding up in high-rise FOBs work out in Lebanon? Did these problem areas go away by packing up and leaving at first problem or lobbing a few cruise missiles?

I can see it now. It's 2012 and because we prematurely bail from Afghanistan (because we did not surge there until far too late and then pulled the plug) leaving only SOF raids and airpower at Kandahar and Bagram. President Karzai gets irritated by a night raid and/or errant bomb and tells us to bail from those two bases. There is no airspace left for drone or joint manned flights. Pakistan increases cross-border shelling and Gulbuddin Hekmatyr starts his own from the outskirts of Kabul aided by the ISI.

The ANA retreat north to guard the northern alliance provinces, foreign fighters/Taliban/disguised Pakistani military mount a successful attack on Kabul and Kandahar. We can't bomb because it would cause civilian casualties. Game over, except for the civil war that spills over into the stans to the north.

Terrorist camps return on both sides of the border and in the stans. A chemical attack in Israel sparks retaliatory attacks against Pakistan. Israel attacks Pakistani nuclear installations with conventional Jericho missiles and F-35 strikes. Pakistan tries to nuke Tel Aviv but fortunately TBM-defenses limit the damage. Israel responds anyway. We are sucked in. Limited nuclear exchanges ensue to include with India....all because we couldn't be patient enough to handle 1600 dead Americans as we train to preclude 100,000 to a million stateside dead.

I actually agree with JMA, which is not common.

Let soldiers do what they are trained and equipped to do. If we need something else done, send people who are trained and equipped to do that. If we haven't got anyone trained and equipped to do what we want done, we should be asking whether we really want to get into a situation that demands capacity we haven't got.

I understand that the military didn't ask for the tasks of "building nations" and "installing democracies", and that people on the military side are grappling with the thorny problem of accomplishing tasks that never should have been given to them in the first place. I just hope somebody on the policy side will recognize, someday, that this is a very bad idea.

And of significant note, Ahmed Wali Karzai was just assassinated.

Much to do about the ensuing vacuum is being made right now on the news.

JMA (not verified)

Tue, 07/12/2011 - 11:02am

Bob, you are obviously looking at Afghanistan (and this issue in general) from a grand strategy point of view. The problems in all the wars of my knowledge were caused by idiot politicians trying to micro manage the military or military commanders who grew too big for their boots and tried to step into the realm of the political decision makers.

My point is simple and that is that what Wilf describes is how (proper) soldiers should be employed in a counterinsurgency role. If there is no one to kill or the politicians don't want anyone killed then don't deploy proper soldiers (who are trained according to the role of the infantry which is to close with and kill the enemy).

What the military needs to push back on is being given political missions to command and implement and the misuse of good fighting men in the role more suited to police or at best low grade militias.

Now how does the military respond to these insurgency situations where "everything is negotiable" from a political perspective? They feel good that they will not become involved in a no win situation or if push comes to shove refuse to deploy troops into such an environment (unless their mission can be accomplished somewhat along the lines of what Wilf lays out in his article).

At the level you wish to engage (being the political and grand strategy levels) I would say that given the incompetence displayed over the eons ex-military people can certainly add value. If you look at the shambles of the the Libyan intervention (not to mention Afghanistan itself) you can see just how bad the Obama foreign policy by committee is for the US and the world (and the great sadness in all this is that this Keystone Cops committee includes ex-servicemen and the Joint Chiefs). To be honest there is really no hope...

Bob's World

Tue, 07/12/2011 - 9:48am


Do not be "sad" if we come to realize that the military-heavy approaches to foreign insurgencies born of generations of foreign interventions for the purpose of securing the interests of that foreign power over any interests, governmental or popular, of the host leads us to smarter approaches.

The horse of insurgency is long out of the barn by the time such military efforts are required. By coming to a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of insurgency we are able to identify dangerous trends early and adopt small changes of civil governance or foreign policy at home, or encourage similar small changes with allied governments drifting into similar trouble where we have interests abroad.

The insights of Sun Tzu mesh in nicely with such approaches, as insurgency only becomes a conflict that looks anything like warfare when a civil govenrment has intentionally set upon a course that has pushed its populace into a corner where they feel they have no recourse but to fight.

By definition the military is sent into these situations with the mission of "beat the horse and put him back in the barn." The military needs to push back on that mission as iladvised and misinformed.

It is never too late to do the right thing. No amount of tactical "horse beating" by us, or a new corps of Afghan "horse beaters" in the form of the ANSF is going to stabilize Afghanistan or any other country. Plus, in this modern age "horses talk to each other." What we do in one country has major impliations in a dozen others.

This is not the time to double down on a bad bet.


JMA (not verified)

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 11:00pm

JT said: "Marjeh was 'cleared' in one of the biggest military operations to date in Afghanistan. However, the massive clear largely fizzled because the enemy went to ground or left the area."

How so? Is the first phase not to "clear"?

One wonders whether this was another operation which was advertised to clear but avoid combat which may result in collateral damage?

Whatever. Let us assume that the end result was indeed that "the enemy went to ground or left the area."

That is great. It allows the forces to pursue the insurgents who left the area and engage them where they moved to. (This presupposes that their line of flight was not anticipated or that there were no troops available to be positioned there as a welcoming committee).

As to those insurgents (presumably locals) who just cached their weapons the opportunity during the hold phase is to winkle them out through collection of intel and the use of informers whereby they be lifted and removed from the area.

The point about the "hold" phase is which force is to be used to secure the physical area which was cleared by the initial military operation. Where are the civil action forces (the type McCuen speaks of) and the Afghans themselves?

During the hold phase the military should continue to pursue the insurgents (including those who fled the cleared area) in the surrounding areas to prevent their return to the cleared area.

The confusion seems to begin when the fighting troops are told to throw the switch and change from being a fighting force and turn into a militia to guard/hold the area. This is much like the British approach of switching from hard hats to soft hats (except that instead of bringing in the "soft hats" they tried to apply their best fighting men to passive operations to just hold ground). Realistically how many in a given battalion are capable of switching between the role of fighting soldier and that of an effective civil action militia? Is this the most productive (or intelligent) use of a good fighting unit?

I suggest that Wilf gets the principle correct in that he defines the role of the fighting troops while acknowledging that political and other activities would (and indeed should) be carried out concurrently (by others). I can't see how the military operations of 3/5 Marines in Sangin (as per the Orbis Operations Sangin report) differs from Wilf's approach other than their mission probably had to extend beyond the military bounds due to non availability civil action forces and competence among the Afghan forces.

Sadly it appears that counterinsurgency for many soldiers has become to mean not fighting. In that case you don't need soldiers for counterinsurgency. Where there are armed people they need to be engaged and killed. Yes there is much other non military activity that needs to carry on concurrently but that should not (in the main) be a military function.

Wilf's article should become required reading for politicians. These are the people who screw up these wars and get thousands of soldiers killed in the process.

Bob's World

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 8:09pm

All of the following quotes apply to the perspective, the strategic perspective, that I have been attempting to convey. We must remember why we went to Afghanistan. It was not to defeat AQ, it was not to defeat the Taliban, and it sure as hell was not to build Afghanistan into a modern, democratic nation.

It was to make America safe by sending a clear message to the world that we will not turn the other cheek once provoked, and to exact a measure of revenge against the people who attacked us. Everything else has been mission creep, as intel bubba's worked up "threats" and plannners devised schemes to "win" and Commanders set out to "defeat the enemy", etc, etc.

This is serious business. This is not some boy's game or athletic event. Sure the instinct is to put one's head down and wade it with both fists, but we have to be smarter than that. We owe it to the nations we serve, the nations we serve in, to the servicemembers who serve under us, and to their loved ones who have entrusted their most prized possion to our care.

When its time to fight, fight hard and win. When its time to think, think hard and win much faster.

Listen to the words of Sun Tzu, and consider why once we didn't break contact and go home after the first round and allowed ourselves to become inveloped in a nationalist insurgency of another nation, why facilitating the reconciliation of the issues between the parties was the wise straegic move to take on....

(I'm not pointing fingers at any particular Generals or operational concepts for Afghanistan, but if the shoe fits, own it.)

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

"The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom."

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

"There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited."

"Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory."

"Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy."

"Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 7:15pm

Heh. Got that right, Jon. That's why no one in the Air Force should ever tell a Marine to "Secure that building..." ;>


As I browsed through a few pages of the Orbis Operations Sangin report, I came to realize that I might be driven to say, "Yes Wilf, we indeed have a problem."

When we frame the article against the context of future expeditions, then yes, I can see some of the relevance of the article.

I can also see that, as we often get hung up on splitting hairs at the Council when it comes to words and their meaning, the definition of "security" is really at the root of many of our subtle and slight disagreements.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 4:58pm

What we are witnessing, I believe, is an attempt at the "Opening of Afghanistan." (See, for example, GEN Petraeus and Pres. Karzai's endorsement of the "Modern Silk Road" concept for Afghanistan).

As in the 19th Century cases of the "Opening of China" and the "Opening of Japan," foreign military forces are often required to see such initiatives through.

Insurgencies are common with such "opening" projects, especially when:

a. The general population desires a more-closed and exclusive society and believes that the local government is acting on behalf of the foreign intervening power and its society rather than in their best interests and

b. Significant segments of the population are (as is common) alienated and disenfranchised via such "opening" processes.

Herein, I would suggest, is where the local government loses its legitimacy in the eyes of various significant and important segments of the population.

Likewise, pursuing these "opening" projects (because of the trauma, disruption and chaos that such initiatives can and do frequently bring); this can cause the foreign interevening powers to, also, to loose their legitimacy in the eyes of the people of the world.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 2:07pm

Grrfff. Timed out AGAIN. Sorry I'm such a slow typist; two old fingers don't work too well... :(

<b>Bill M.</b> got in ahead of me with a good comment. I'm the 1:01 PM Anonimouse.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 2:01pm


Totally agree with what you write Jon. However, I also agree with <b>Wilf Owens</b> article. Equally important are the comments of <b>Robert C. Jones</b>. Disparate views but all accurate.

The key point in balancing those views, I think, lies here:<blockquote>"We, as in the professional military fighting men and women inserted into the situation in Afghanistan, understand this, and we certainly wish we could do just as Wilf advises. The problem is that we can't, for the simple fact that the political apparatus of our governments, which one would expect are best organized and trained to do this sort of stuff...can't, won't, or don't do it quickly enough."</blockquote>Wilf can afford to deal with the theoretical, you and others on the ground could not, you had and have to deal with the reality that your Government put you there and needed -- <i>or thought it did</i> -- you to do that.

That's the real issue here. What governments want and / or <i>think</i> they need done.

That the armed forces must accept the missions given, have little power to truly influence civilian policy makers and must try to do their best at the assigned task is acknowledged. No question in my mind on any of that. What I do question are the concepts and policies that are deeply flawed. Most of this nation building and armed intervention activity is based on flawed premises and much of it was and is unnecessary, as Bob's comments accurately state. The fact that sizable Army and Marine forces are far from effective instruments in achieving change by influencing of civilians in other nations should be considered by the planners and the civilian policy makers in years head. The military policy makers should consider that also and add while such misuse of the force can have beneficial manpower, fiscal and other tangible benefits in the near term, the long term and intangible effects are often deleterious. Exceedingly deleterious, even inimical to the institutions...

It is too late to undo what is now occurring, I'm sure Wilf realizes that as do you and I. It is however, not too late to truly learn from and not forget this experience added to others from earlier times dictate that such interventions with large force, rapid turnover, lack of continuity and little forethought or true capability are very ill advised. We need to be better prepared for such missions but at the same time and -- far more importantly -- we should rigorously avoid except as a last resort such ineffective use of force and apply other alternatives which have always existed and will in the future. The 'easy' way is not always that...

The good news is that, in spite of the inherent errors of policy that put them there, <blockquote>" the tip of the spear, the boys are doing alright."</blockquote>

That fact and the truly admirable performance in spite of all the many impediments is laudable. Unfortunately, that factor can lead to faulty conclusions, i.e. "Well it wasnt great but the troops did make it work... " Sort of. Is "sort of" desirable? One could say Viet Nam sort of worked (and too many tried to do that with exceedingly bad results IMO...). What is missing in that construction applied to such interventions, indeed to very concept of 'nation building or any intrusion into another nations domestic politics with military force are the costs, current, future -- and hidden. As you also write:<blockquote>"I don't think anyone seeks to influence civilians as form of military action, and engage in the often confusing, frustrating and messy work because we like the challenge of engaging in development, but we are forced to participate in other "soft" activities because we just so happen to be the only guy on the block too many times."</blockquote>I submit that while we are indeed the only guy on the block, use in that capacity is inefficient and not as effective as one could wish. Thus it seems to me that a great concern should be whether to put those guys on the block is going to be truly beneficial or is actually a bad alternative likely to be expensive, ineffective at achieving the desired goals and likely to interfere adversely with other efforts. An equally great concern is the cost and a cost - benefit, tangibles and intangibles, analysis. <b><i>Those factors should be considered by the policy makers <u>in the future</u>.</i></b>

jcustis, we are largely in agreement based on your last post. My reference to safehaven is directed at Pakistan which is a policy issue, and it isn't a complete safehaven. We do occassionally engage with our flying lawnmowers (UAVs), but not enough to seriously disrupt their activities or break their will. I will not bust out a Bn Cdr my name, but I did run into a brick with one who recently arrived (but served in AFG previously) who didn't conduct effective combat operations in his AO for two reasons (which I'll talk around for security purposes). First he said his mission was to protect something, and if he conducted combat ops in his region he would draw more attacks from the insurgents, and two he didn't have the forces available to do both, so even when he had good intelligence on good targets in his AO he decided not to pursue them based on his understanding of the mission, so by default he created a safehaven in his AO. The Taliban were aware of it and used it as such. That wasn't a policy issue, a strategy issue, but a resource issue and a calculus that Cdr developed based on his understanding of the priorities given to him. I'm not faulting him, but I suspect we have other safehavens (especially in the non-U.S. zones) throughout the country.

Bob, again I agree with the general thrust of your ideas, especially that our presence is what largely drives the resistance; however, I also think your arguments as stated are incomplete.

First is your assumption that this outlier segment of the populace would pursue a political "compromise" if there was one offered? While neither you or I will never know, I don't think Castro or Mao would have accepted a compromise and then laid down their arms. Mao was definitely about power, and it seemed Castro migrated to that stance (assuming he didn't start out that way). I think underlying issues are obviously most effective if you can get to the left of the problem (before the armed insurgency starts), but once blood is spilt it changes the dynamic psychologically and sociologically and I think history indicates that the insurgents have to be convinced they can't win using force before they come to the table and talk. I definitely think that is true in Afghanistan. I also think we achieved that in Afghanistan, but the problem at this point is "we" achieved it, while the insurgents still suspect they can defeat the Afghan government when we leave, so that gives them enough hope to keep on fighting. Obviously that is conjecture and opinion, but I have read comments by the insurgents that basically said that.

As for our doctrine/dogma, we of course are a foreign power in a foreign land attempting to achieve objectives that are in our national interest, so that paragraphy sort of left me questioning what you meant?


Mon, 07/11/2011 - 12:40pm

Oh, and since I was typing and missed it, I think iot's important to note that COL Jones once again breaks it all down and describes some of the key problems we face when anyone sides wholly with dogma.

There are forces at work and resultant issues that are well beyond the scope of the military to address. At the operational and tactical level, I see commanders trying to achieve a sophisticated balance, while avoiding outliers of a village massacre, shootings of unarmed detainees down by the river bank, and the random killing of civilians just because we know a pair of insurgents disappeared into a clump of trees or compound.


Mon, 07/11/2011 - 12:31pm

Bill M: "we also have created safe zones for the enemy to operate in relatively freely." I'm curious where this is happening, from a genuine concern to see what I am somehow not seeing. Also, are these safe zones ones caused by issues with our policy, or the limitations it imposes on our strategy? The military can do very little when the policy does that. If you are referencing the Tactical Directive, then I would vehemently have to say no, it does not create safe zones. We can still get in and among the people, and capture/kill the insurgents when they present themselves.

"Point three, Wilf argued that the main role of the military is breaking the insurgent's will to fight, he didn't argue that underline causes shouldn't be addressed (although based on his previous writings he may)."

Part of my response here was based on the history of his writing and thought. The argument he presents here, and the lack of clarity over some points, allows his article to drift into the dangerous area of a strawman argument. Like you, I think he ignores a range of realities on the ground and the ensuing nuances, to this article's detriment.

I could not quote the text in my earlier post, but Wilf's argument falls even further short with this statement:

"As stated, armies exist to alter the behaviours of other armies, or armed factions. If they are seeking to influence civilians, then they are engaging in political activity on
behalf of the Government. Seeking to "influence" civilians is not something
armies should seek to do."

We, as in the professional military fighting men and women inserted into the situation in Afghanistan, understand this, and we certainly wish we could do just as Wilf advises. The problem is that we can't, for the simple fact that the political apparatus of our governments, which one would expect are best organized and trained to do this sort of stuff...can't, won't, or don't do it quickly enough.

I don't think anyone seeks to influence civilians as form of military action, and engage in the often confusing, frustrating and messy work because we like the challenge of engaging in development, but we are forced to participate in other "soft" activities because we just so happen to be the only guy on the block too many times.

If anyone could show me a quote from a battalion/brigade commander who stated that it was more important to him to influence the population through economic development, governance initiatives, and development of the security forces, and at the same time stated that killing active insurgents and uncovering the supporters did not get him closer to achieving his mission, then I would shut up and say "Yes Wilf, we indeed have a problem."

I could care less what Nagle and Kilcullen say. Where does it resonate? Right now this article doesn't prove that the military, British or otherwise (at the operational and tactical level), has a problem in this regard when it is presented with insurgents who can be found, fixed, and finished. There are a host of other issues that are beyond the scope of this comment area to highlight, so "we" are by no means absolved of any responsibility to reflect on our performance, but at the tip of the spear, the boys are doing alright.

Bob's World

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 7:13am


Conflict within a state is very different than conflict between two states; just as conflict within a family is very different than conflicts between members of different families. It is not the nature of the formations that matters; it is the nature of the relationships between the parties.

Bill M.,

There are two primary (and equally flawed) dogmas that prevail:

Dogma 1: Defeat the will of the insurgent through violence and one will break his will to fight, thereby ending the insurgency.

Dogma 2: Effectiveness of government is the problem, address this problem by building security force capacity, conducting development projects designed to bring greater services to the people, etc and one will address the drivers of discontent and thereby end the insurgency.

Or, I guess dogma 3: One must do both dogmas, with the military doing dogma 1, and then handing off to civil service and NGOs to implement dogma 2.

I disagree with all three. In my research and experience these dogmatic approaches are far too focused on the symptoms of insurgency rather than the root causation. These approaches were developed by colonial governments to return stability to some foreign land where those foreign powers were seeking to maintain their foreign influence/control over the government and people for some mix of economic and security interests. These same TTPs were then largely adopted by the US for the implementation of Cold War Containment strategies as well. What they miss are the issues of humanistic psychology that tend to always be woven into the human fabric where such conflicts/disputes emerge:

Perception 1: Some significant and distinct segment of the populace does not recognize the legitimacy of the government; i.e., its right to govern over them. This may be because it was form by some party or process that they believe has no such right to form government; or just as often because some set of factors has led a long standing government to drift away from its recognized base, often in ways that lead that government to act with impunity toward the people.

Perception 2. Some significant and distinct segment of the populace perceives that it is treated with less dignity and respect than other similarly situated people under the current government.

Perception 3. Some significant and distinct segment of the populace perceives that the rule of law as applied to them is less just than as applied to other similarly situated people under the current government.

Perception 4. Some significant and distinct segment of the populace perceives that they have no trusted, certain and legal recourse available to them to address government on such matters.

When we focus on violence and development we focus on symptoms. It is only through good luck that such efforts create enduring success.

In our current focus area of Afghanistan all four of these critical perceptions exist in spades and much of our current dogmatic approach serves to reinforce these perceptions far more than it serves to address them. We may well suppress the insurgent, but in so doing we are likely making the underlying insurgency worse.

Equally damning to our efforts in Afghanistan is our inability to identify the difference between the resistance insurgency and the revolution (recognizing that to some degree this always overlaps); and focusing our effort on the resistance while leaving the revolution to Karzai to address if he feels like it. Resistance cannot be resolved until the Revolution is addressed. Besides, as Former Amb Eikenberry's recent comments reflect, we see everything we do as goodness and light and vehemently refuse to acknowledge the dark side of our presence and activities as "occupiers" of Afghanistan. We fuel the resistance by our very presence to conduct the activities our dogmas tell us will resolve the insurgency....

This is the logic within the Jones Model that I admit I am singularly dogmatic about as well!



jcustis, I don't want to keep defending Wilf, because quite frankly I tire of the Clausewitz and conventional views and frequently disagree with Wilf, but if you read his article it is clearly focused on insurgencies, not conventional battles. Point two, the enemy does present himself in a targetable manner and while frequently we do target him when he does, we also have created safe zones for the enemy to operate in relatively freely. Point three, Wilf argued that the main role of the military is breaking the insurgent's will to fight, he didn't argue that underline causes shouldn't be addressed (although based on his previous writings he may).

My argument is largely phasing, there are locations where we initially limit combat operations where the insurgents are still strong and active and attempt to bribe them and populace with development. Development is not normally the underlying issue, and we have surrendered the upper hand willingly in pursuit of a belief based on dogma versus analysis. The dogma states that if there is economic development the insurgents will quit fighting. It isn't that simple, and it is just as faulty (if not more so) than the argument we can kill our way to control.

I know the right answer will vary in each location of each conflict based on a number variables that define the context, and I suspect that the right answer will never be one extreme, but also have witnessed the failure of our blind faith in using development to defeat an insurgency in various pockets of Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, all were unsuccessful if they were preceded by first obtaining the upper hand militarily.

It is well past time we move beyond using MOE based on how much money we spent, how many schools we built, how many miles of road we built, etc. to behavior changes.

jcustis (not verified)

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 3:57am

I guess that's what you get for trying to post a comment from a mobile device. (Sigh).

Sorry folks.

GRND, your comments are spot on!

What the article highlights is Wilf's tendency to apply Clausewitz to the situation and grind out a black and white answer. When the battl
efields were full of troops formed up in squares, these edicts held plenty of sway, but the approached required today have to be more nuanced. The whole argument falls short due to the failure to recognize that if the
enemy presented themselves in any sort of targetable body, in a manner that allowed us to apply our skill while minimizing the risk to civilians, we would be doing more than our share of killing. What's almost absurd is the thought that neutralizing a threat to stable society implies that the threat is a man standing with a gun, intent on resisting the government. The threats are more numerous than that, and are what are so often discussed as underlying causes.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 07/10/2011 - 10:53pm

For some time, the battle between:

a. Those who wish everyone to "paint their doors red" (the more-modern world; which wants to open-up, transform and incorporate outler states and societies; so as to receive fewer problems and more cooperation and more benefit instead).

b. And those who wish to "paint their doors green" (the others, who wish to remain more insular and to order and organize their states and societies to satisfy their own wants, needs and desires).

Has been on-going.

What has changed is that the "green door" states and societies no longer have a great power champion that they can turn to for assistance.

In the 21st Century, the "green door" states and societies are not only (1) on their own but (2) subject to assault from the great power champions that were previously their protectors.

This has:

a. Encouraged and emboldened the now flush "red door" states who -- thinking they have converted their former great power rivals into somewhat modern/somewhat allies -- now think that they can "take the gloves off" re: the "green door" states and populations and

b. (Quite understandably) terrororized, motivated and radicalized certain "green door" peoples and groups; who now understand that they must stand and fight/win or lose on their own. and via the very few methods available to them.

The problem:

Effective weapons available to the "green door" people (such as would be adequate to deter the "red door" folks and their ambitions) are exceedingly few -- and exceedingly horrible.

Thus, the "control" that the "red door" states seek to obtain (by killing or some other method) can:

a. Because the "red door" states are now, post-the Cold War, more-emboldened and less-restrained and

b. Because the "green door" peoples are now more-desparate and exceedingly limited as to their defense mechanisms,

Come at a very high and potentially catastrophic price indeed.

JT (not verified)

Sun, 07/10/2011 - 9:50pm

Marjeh was 'cleared' in one of the biggest military operations to date in Afghanistan. However, the massive clear largely fizzled because the enemy went to ground or left the area. It was not until well within the 'framework' portion of the operation (6-7 months) that positive momentum really started to build and populace truly began to work with ISAF and ANSF to deny freedom of movement to the enemy who was cycling in and out of Marjeh. The credibility established by the Bn's on the security front absolutely made the engagement successful...not the other way around. However, the corner was not turned until the populace got on board and CERP/development/governance were definitely factors for leading to this result.

Bill M. raises fair points about the local leaders in Marjeh and elsewhere. The actions of these individuals are constantly assessed and re-assessed. A good indicator at the time was personal attacks against these leaders -- who were guys normally considered above this type of threat.


All good points and I don't discount the complexity and the truth behind the truth for a minute. I never assume I have the whole picture, and hopefully those on the ground don't either. To gain understanding you have to challenge your assumptions constantly and seek those out who disagree with you, etc.

On another note, you mentioned the IDPs, how many are there (approx?) and what is their significance? Who is leveraging them? Is GIROA addressing this problem? How many Afghanistan refugees are in Pakistan? Same questions...

Bob's World

Sun, 07/10/2011 - 7:58pm


Just a caution on "local leaders" supporting GIRoA. There is such a complex fabric of tribes and families and long-running conflicts at the local level, that this can be a misleading metric. One has to wonder if those who had sway in the region had to leave as the coalition Cleared, leaving control to previously supppressed party more than happy to sign on with GIRoA to gain the hand up. The large numbers of displaced persons (growing in recent years since we stepped up the Clearing operations) hints at this possiblility.

We know the Province and District Governors are hand picked by Karzai, and these men in turn will be looking to line up subordinate powerbrokers who will look to them for patronage to enact their will and collect their payments.

As I have said before, Afghanistan is arguably the easiest country in the world to conduct UW in, as there is always one half of the populace excluded by the current system already organized and ready to jump on board whatever bandwagon comes to town in an effort to reverse their fortunes.

We see what we want to see. I just urge caution as we are frequently misled by GIRoA officials on such matters.



Good post and the debate on whether I have overstating the value of elite forces targeting terrorists (specifically AQI) is of course debatable and I can and have argued it comfortably both ways. I actually argued against this view a few years ago, but based on my experience a few years later in Iraq, I witnessed the impact of effective targeting operations which significantly reduced the level of violence, and speaking with prisoners who admitted they couldn't win due to our aggressive combat operations, etc. They were happy to be captured, because they were living in fear. When the violence was reduced due to removing the bad guys from the street, then local businesses starting opening overnight even without our help. If read my comments carefully, I am not advocating that killing is decisive, but simply enabling. If we (the host nation government and coalition) don't effectively follow through with effective development (rarely large multimillion projects, but projects that get people employed in a sustainable manner) and political engagement then the military success will mean nothing.

Your success in Helmand if I recall "followed" a very aggressive operation to clear the insurgents from the region, correct? Do you think the development and politically engagement would have worked if the Taliban were not suppressed militarly first? I don't want to speak for Owens, but I really think that was the jist of his article. As for the population being important, that is a no brainer and this is where Owen generally loses his audience. The population is critical; however, I think the population will trend to supporting the side that in their eyes is winning, and the skilled application of violence will definitely help create that perception. I'm a believer in development and political engagement when it is phased correctly and done intelligently (and we don't have a good track record since 9/11 for either, so hopefully Helmand is one of the few exceptions). I do not see any evidence that you can defeat or convince insurgents (their are individual exceptions, because their heart wasn't in the fight to begin with) to quit through political engagement and development while NOT fighting.

What pleasantly surprised me about your comments is that local leaders are working with GIROA. That is the ultimate key to success in each region (still won't win the war, we still have to deal the problem set in Pakistan somehow). If that is happening across the board then you are truly trending towards an honorable exit of U.S. forces, but as we all understand Afghanistan is much larger than Helmand, so the question now is why is working in Helmand (and other locations), and failing in other locations? Is it the strategy or the local dynamics?

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/10/2011 - 2:15pm

<b>Anonymous at 10:15 AM:</b>

No dispute with anything you wrote and a major and real Attaboy to the folks in Helmand who are making that happen. Proves that good units get results no matter the challenges.

Your comment does raise some questions though...

How much time will even good units take to achieve results after the fashion you describe?

Are all units in the 'Stan equally competent and is there / will there be total continuity of effort?

How much control do or should we, the US have, if any, over the door painting effort?

What do we do if they paint the doors in dozens of different colors?

I agree with your comment on the importance of targeting and by whom in OIF (and that carries forward to OEF...).

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 07/10/2011 - 11:15am

Bill -

How would I defeat the Taliban? Well, my first urgent needs statement would be for a time machine! However, the basis for defeating the Taliban is COIN -- competent/aggressive military operations driven by a solid understanding of the operational environment supported by an engagement effort that brings GIRoA and the populace together at the LOCAL LEVEL while building local security forces to transition control. This is not to say that this is what we should be doing with our national blood and treasure and some will say this is easier said than done BUT this is happening in Helmand as we blog. Contrary to WILF paper, the populace is making the difference. Take Marjeh (or the key terrain districts south of Marjeh), security is drastically improved because of a mix of things (to include military violence) that has led key local leaders to get involved and mobilize the populace to support GIRoA and the security effort. The role that CERP/development/political engagement played in bringing this to fruitition cannot be understated. Yes, there is a PRT in Helmand with some very capable people but the military is still carrying the water...and could do better without PRT (my 2cents). The real question and challenge is how will GIRoA parlay these local successes to something meaningful and sustainable above the District and Provincial level? For this, I do not see any workable answer without another national level Loya Jirga to allow Afghans to 'paint their door green vs red'.

On another note, I think you overstate the importance of the 'elite' military forces' targeting activity in OIF.

Dayuhan, it runs counter to our military culture to say we can't or shouldn't. Of course we can do development (poorly), of course we can help stand up local governments (poorly), etc., so if that is the given mission we will tackle it. I suspect change will have to be driven by civilian leadership, and we need certain Senators to stop complaining that the President isn't listening to military leaders in the field. He is, but hopefully he is listening to more than just the military when he makes these decisions, and understands that our can do attitude doesn't always result in effectiveness in the field. Can do should be changed to can try, but I don't think that will fly :-).

JT, I suspect at least half of us on this forum have been to Afghanistan and many other locations beyond Afghanistan, and some of us still disagree with you. We had similiar debates in Iraq, and heard the same arguments that we couldn't kill our way out, but we did exactly that. Were there other factors involved? Of course there were, but the elite military forces were focused on a military task and it worked good enough to provide a decent interval for the withdrawal of most our troops. The Iraqis (not us) have serious issues to contend with, and while not the same our nation also had great challenges after the revolution (challenges that led to the Civil War). I'm not convinced a foreign force occupying our country would have prevented it (it may have delayed it).

Since you are convinced we can't defeat the Taliban with more controlled force, then what is your counter strategy? What is the military's role in that strategy? I remind you that before you start we have been trying the nation building approach for 10 years now, so if your proposed way ahead is more of the same, then tell us why it will work now.

In my opinion I think we can put the Taliban on the ropes with the application of more controlled force, but I don't think at this time (based on my dated knowledge) it is worth the cost if it will only result in a temporary victory. If the Afghanistan government isn't willing to rule and their security forces are not willing to fight then it will all be for nothing.


Sat, 07/09/2011 - 11:52pm

<i>This is not an issue of tactical failure. This is an issue of strategic ignorance.</i>

[rant]I'd take it one step beyond and call it an issue of stupid policy. The distinction is important because strategy is something the military devises, policy is not. If policy is stupid - if we choose to pursue goals we cannot achieve with instruments totally unsuited to the goals - then strategy and tactics will be compromised from the start. What we're doing in Afghanistan is akin to asking an engineer to perform brain surgery on a patient with a heart defect. It doesn't take an abacus to conclude that the prognosis isn't good.

This is of course a difficult problem for the military to address, as they are charged with implementing policy, not making it. The necessary policy adjustments might be advanced, though, if people inside and outside of the military would make make it clear, as often and as bluntly as necessary, that the current policy places the military in an impossible situation and is not likely to work.[/rant]

JT (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 11:31pm

Gentlemen - I agree with your points about the misemployment of the military as a part of national strategy. However, when put into the situation that I detailed above, 'Killing Your Way to Control' is only done in the movies and espoused by people who have not been there. No doubt that people have to be killed but you can't kill your way to control.

Bob's World

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 8:22pm

The critical point is that we send in BCTs to execute the only thing they can do, without realizing that it contributes little to the ends we seek.

This is not an issue of tactical failure. This is an issue of strategic ignorance.

THAT is much more a war crime than any civcas incident by soldiers simply doing the best they can to preserve their force while executing the mission they've been told to do.


Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 7:39pm


Understand and agree with what you say. Where we differ is on just this aspect:<blockquote>Therefore, the military begging off of 'non-military missions' is a non-starter in my book and screams of the military seeing the world how they want to see it versus seeing the world how it is."</blockquote>It's not a question of the military begging off non-military missions; rather it's a national level question of what missions should be undertaken at all -- and I submit that the long standing US objection to serving under UN control and to the International Criminal Court (in both cases due principally to the fact that the US troops would become targets because no one likes the big rich guy and everyone thinks he needs to be humbled) offers hope that we can be smart enough to avoid such rarely necessary missions in the future. We need to be able to do those tasks but true success is achieved in <i>not</i> doing such jobs. That just take a little deftness -- though admittedly, we're not terribly deft...

I agree DoS is incapable as currently constituted and while the Albright - Bill Clinton destruction of US Aid has in part been corrected neither agency can do what is required. Neither DoS or USAid should be bulked up to do that task -- we should eschew it totally. It is costly, thankless and rarely as beneficial as many seem to think. I'm still waiting for anyone to give me an example where heavy troop commitment in such a role has been effective or of net benefit to the US. There simply are better ways to handle most situations that seem to call for interventions.

As <b>Bill C.</b> notes above what we want and what other nations might want often differ. A good percentage of our so-called national security objectives in today's world are flawed concepts that have far more to do with residual, outmoded strategies, the Congress, the budget process and delusions of grandeur than they do with true national interests and need. The color of doors is an apt simile -- in many cases, the 'issues' are really that irrelevant -- but they can be job security for many if properly played...

Nation building is emphatically not an armed forces mission and most people grasp that at some level. The Army tends to fall into such missions for a variety of reasons, notably having some discipline and organization as well as logistic capability. Those are merely abilities, the <i>reasons</i> OTOH for the Army (capital 'A') mostly involve institutional aggrandizement, the budget, spaces and such. For those same reasons DoD has achieved actual primacy in our foreign relations; the CoComs have more clout than does DoS -- that's dumb and wrong. While it has been in large part alomost accidental and an unintended consequence of Goldwater-Nichols among other things, it's become thoroughly embedded and will be hard to change.

However, my playing and watching this stuff consistently go downhill for a long, long time convinces me we better change it. Having Satraps around the world who by unfortunate design have a vested interest in expanding <i>their part</i> of the empire at the expense of the center is not a new phenomenon in history. For you and your kid's and my Great Grandson's sake I hope we get smarter and do change it. Changing the politics or door color of strangers is not the job of an army...

Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 5:29pm

JT said:

"If US policy makers are going to achieve national security objectives in today's world, they will require extensive participation from DoD."

Especially if:

a. What we want is for these states and societies to "paint their doors red" (re-order and re-configure their states and societies so that they might cause us and the modern world fewer problems and so that these states and societies might become, instead, more useful to us and the modern world).

b. And countries and populations of the world toward which these policy objectives are directed have no similar ambition (to paint their doors red) and have determined, instead, to "paint their doors green" (order and organize their state and society as it suits them rather than us).

JT (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 4:31pm

Ken - I understand what you and others are advocating. I just do not see it as realistic. If US policy makers are going to acheive national security objectives in today's world, they require extensive participation from DoD. Like most on these boards, I have been at tactical and operational levels overseas and have come to realize that DoS's ability to conduct state building is not quite as oversold as tulips in 17th century Holland but nowhere near to relieving DoD of this task where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Therefore, the military begging off of 'non-military missions' is a non-starter in my book and screams of the military seeing the world how they want to see it versus seeing the world how it is.


I think your summary of reality at the BCT level reflects reality at a much larger level and I agree with it, but we apparently have opposing views on what it means.

The urban, rural terrain, population numbers in relation to security forces are common problems in most counterinsurgencies, as is the host nation security forces being poorly equipped and led. I have seen the same conditions in Central America, South and SE Asia and Africa, but in many cases COIN forces managed to overcame these obstacles and effectively suppressed the insurgents.

As for having an effective or legitimate partner, I think the Government of Afghanistan could argue that the U.S. is not a legitimate or effective COIN partner, because we are pursuing pie in the sky objectives and failing to effectively suppress the Taliban. Furthermore, by taking the lead in nation building we're undermining the credibility of government we should be empowering. The real summary is our standards are too high, and this is a situation where perfect really is the enemy of good enough. Our real challenge in my view is to figure out what good enough is, and then adjust our strategy accordingly.

It isn't your BCT's job (or shouldn't be) to re-engineer the political and social norms in your AO. The military's role is to defeat the insurgents (not the insurgency as Bob repeatedly points out, just the insurgents, because ultimately the insurgency will have to be defeated with political action which is not your job). This must be done before other measures can be implemented by the host nation government.

In my opinion you made a case for why political action won't work, because quite simply it doesn't exist and any political action your BCT facilitates will only have a temporary (if that) effect and is largely illegitimate. Distracting yourselves from the fight in pursuit of a political solution is a fool's errand in this case. Of course based on your situational awareness you can provide expert testimony to those in diplomacy and political sectors that need to address these shortfalls, but they are not your problems to solve, and they are distracting you from pursuit of the enemy.

I don't think Owen was arguing that a military strategy was the complete answer, but simply pointing out the obvious that you have to break their will to fight. That creates conditions for other measures (that you address) to be implemented for longer term (good enough) solutions.

If you think we need to stay there in force until they meet our standards of policing, rule of law, effective governance, etc., then you are signing America and its partners up for a very long and expensive mission with limited hope of success. Use the surge to fight the Taliban, and then we maintain a much smaller presence for the long term in hopes of moving towards a sustainable transition state where the Afghan gov can rule good enough.

No one is trying to simplify the overall problem to a military mission, but simply point out what the military's role is in this contest of wills. That doesn't mean diplomacy, development, etc. aren't essential in the long run, they are.

I suspect I will hear the excuse that the military if the only element with enough gusto to do the diplomacy and development, which is only true if "we" are doing it. Let the host nation government do it good enough. After all it is there country.

Quite frankly, and as much as it hurts to write this, some situations aren't winnable, or are not worth the expense of doing so. National leaders have to make hard decisions in this regard, but I don't think it helps when the military simply disregards their job of defeating the insurgents. It simply feeds the perception that this can't be won (whether it is true or not).

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 12:08pm


I read you. Been there, done that (elsewhere, at another time...) and that is the point Wilf, I and many others make. That is, literally, a virtually impossible mission for a military force and most importantly <i>it is not a <u>military</u> mission</i>.

You are correct in that the mission you imply, not state, to bring 'stability' and government services of types not specified to the area and its people is NOT a <u>pure</u> military mission requiring the application of violence - yet,such application is the primary reason military forces exist.

That 'development mission is literally a whole of the governmental milieu and capability mission. Thus the BCT should not have been given <i>that</i> mission but should have had a use of force mission required to allow the other government elements the ability to operate in reasonable safety and perform those tasks required to implement those services. For a variety of reasons, that was not done and is not now possible (if it ever was which is another issue entirely...). The 'whole of government' capability for such applications simply does not exist; it has to be created, ad-hoc, then put to use.

We discovered all that about 40 years when we also learned that what the host Nation does is their business and while that may be a concern of ours, it should have been realized up front, prior to such a commitment, that the Nation might not be either fully capable of doing what <i>they</i> want to do or be interested in doing what the US would like in a way that is 'acceptable' to the US. We thus wisely determined it was best to avoid such missions or operations. We forgot that at some cost to ourselves. More correctly, our civilian masters ignored the lesson learned for a variety of reasons which have some rational basis that was overtaken by an excess of foolish humanistic concern and committed an unsuited force to a marginal mission with little chance of achieving its nominal aim. The reality is that we have given BCTs such missions and the guys and gals are coping as best they can -- and doing a better job than anyone really has a right to expect.

That's the real issue in the article and it's for the planners at US national level in the future - Afghanistan and Iraq are done deals, coping is the requirement but that it is required doesnt make it right. For that future, operational military forces should not have to cope with tasks for which they are not trained, equipped or suited. Military forces are adaptable enough to do that and achieve some successes but the use is not optimum or likely to be successful. If one cannot reliably expect well above and beyond performance in non mission centric tasks over a lengthy period and / or there is little likelihood of success then such a commitment of major military force is ill advised and should not be undertaken. That essentially is what many of us are saying - either do it right or dont do it.

That BCT has the 'mission you state due to a flawed strategy, a lack of true appreciation for what military force is and how it should be used and a deliberate attempt to get by as cheaply as possible (politically, in US domestic terms and not necessarily in <i>any</i> other sense) in an effort to achieve a dubious end that would have been far better attained by smarter diplomacy, better intelligence and effective use of sensible military <u>assistance</u> by small elements and / or Special Forces <u>before</u> the current set of crises developed. We can try to do that in the future - or we can reinvent this square wheel...

Bob's World

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 8:20am


Soft/smart/hard, etc; it makes little difference. When a foreign presence pushes against a populace unwilling to accept that univited presence, there will be resistance. The Northern Alliance is nearly as foreign, and perhaps more uninvited, than the Coalition. Point being, that for the resistance to go away the Government of Afghanistan must stop being a government of, by and for the Coalition/Northern Alliance and start being a government of, by and for the people of Afghanistan. ALL of the people of Afghanistan.

We must remember that there was little insurgency among the people for a couple of years following the fall of the Taliban. Afghan people don't expect much, or think much about government. The rural areas are largely what I call "self-governed." This was true of the Pashtun areas of Pakistan as well from what I have read. These populaces had nothing to "resist" against.

There was also little revolution among the exiled Taliban government. They were waiting to see what would happen, probably assuming that the US would soon pack up and leave, allowing the Afghan competition for political, economic, and patronage dominance to begin again. But we didn't go. Instead we enabled Karzai to rise to power in a sham of an election, we enable the Northern Alliance to establish themselves as a national government; and then, perhaps our biggest mistakes, we bought into the ideas of "centralized" goodness as being the cure to Afghanistan, enabling the development of the current constitution that fomalized the Northern Alliance Monopoly as the law of the land, and sought to disempower regional powerbrokers in favor of a centralized system of military and police with the sole function of helping this government exert its will onto the rest of the populace. (Thank you Amb. Eikenberry and LTG Barno...)

It was at this point that the Revolution began to ramp up its activities. In that capacity they sent junior leaders among the people to motivate, pay, and equip young men to help them prevent this tragedy for all not affiliated with the Northern Alliance. We responded by inceasing our efforts. We pushed against the resistance and the resistance pushed back. We pushed harder. It pushes harder. Meanwhile we left the Revolution alone, delegating that to GIRoA to resolve, and for Pakistan to address. Guess what? It was not in the interst of either of those two governments to either reconcile or arrest those revolutionary leaders and issues, so they did as little as possible, other than promise the US that they were getting right on it.

Meanwhile we were too busy focusing on the aspect of the insurgency we had defined as our mission, the resistance, continuing to inflame it by not understanding it for what it is, and by pitting more and more effort agaisnt it.

This is not rocket science, yet we brought rocket scientists to deal with it. This is "people science," for lack of a better term, but anyone offering such human insights has been shouted down, pillaried, or ignored.

As to "pleasing" the Taliban? Come on. You know you can't "please" your way to stability (Though more than anyone acknowledges, we have certainly bought a 'decent interval' or two over the past decade). No, this is about equity, respect and fair opportunity to compete legally. The nature of the politics of who prevails in such competition is no more my business as an American than is it the business of the nature of American party politics to any foreign party. How long would we tolerate a Chinese intervention to fix our financial system? Or a European intervention over the issue of pro-life/choice? Talk about insurgency...

We created a monopoly, we need to break the monopoly. That is all we need to do. What happens after that we can work with the victors to attempt to shape or influence to some acceptable degree, but largely not our call. The reistance will fade naturally when we stop providing them so much to resist against. Will this create a stable Afghanistan? Probably not, but stability through control and violence is no stability that I would want for my family to "enjoy."

As to AQ (the actual mission that we seem to keep forgetting)? They draw their sanctuary from the Taliban, and more importantly, the populace that the Taliban rises from and draws it support from. Quid Pro Quo. Evict or give us AQ, and we break the monopoly so that they can compete legally for opportunity in their own country. Seems fair. Better yet, what we are currently doing is failing and cost billions and lives. Trying my way is comparatively almost free. Worst case, it fails too, but does so in a way consistent with our professed principles as a nation and without putting our military in constant, senseless combat. They have bigger fish to get ready for.


JT (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 8:00am


Okay, here is reality. You are a 5,000 man BCT with a similiar sized host nation military force that suffers from poor leadership, lack of supplies and personnel, and generally poor morale. The population in your AO is a 600,000 and is a mix of rural and urban. You do not have an effective or legitimate host nation gov't partner. Fundamental functions such as policing and rule of law do not exist. From this, all other gov't services are woefully lacking or non-existant.

In my opinion, wishful thinking is someone believing they can simplify this problem to a pure military mission resulting in an attrition type fight against a thinking enemy.

JMA (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 1:52am

Ken responded to my question: "Does the "can't" in your question refer to the ability (or military capability) of the US to carry out such operations or whether to do so would be politically acceptable to voters and the populace at home (in the US)?"

Yes indeed a leading question ;)

The problem does not lie with the US military or the US voters and general populace... it lies with the US politicians.

The current Brit army problems arise from a balance between political influence on the General Staff and the attempt to appear politically aware/astute/savvy by the generals.

From afar it appears that this disease is also spreading into the upper echelons of the US military to a marked extent.

So perhaps the correct answer is that the problem does not lie with the US military (who as always are up for whatever is thrown their way) but there are increasing numbers of general staff who have their doubts.

The Brits are desperate for another Oliver Cromwell to appear and clean out their parliament (and political system). Who would the US equivalent be?

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 07/08/2011 - 8:13pm


Reality is always simple -- dreams and wishful thinking are the factors that add complexity...<blockquote>"Essentially we should "go to Afghanistan and apply overwhelming military power to our military enemies"."</blockquote>Hmm. I didn't see that or anything close to it in the article. I did see this:<br>

""<i>"Moreover it is not the Armys job to "influence the population." It is the Armys job to influence the enemy by telling them to give up or die violently. Influence is the power to alter beliefs and/or behaviour. As stated, armies exist to alter the behaviours of other armies, or armed factions. <b>If they are seeking to influence civilians, then they are engaging in political activity on behalf of the Government</b>. Seeking to "influence" civilians is not something armies should seek to do.""</i>(emphasis added /kw)

I happen to strongly agree with that and would even ask "which government?" thus my comment of 5 Jul, above: "Of course one can always misuse one's military. We in the US have offered examples of how to do that..."

He contends that if one is going to apply force, then one should do that properly and with a goal in mind that force can achieve. It seems to me that our effort in Afghanistan after early 2002 does not meet that parameter so by Owen's standard -- and mine -- we are misusing the force. While I'm aware of all the 'reasons' for that misuse, I do not happen to agree that many of those reasons are at all valid. We are IMO using elements of the Army and Marines, an armed force, largely in an effort which is poorly planned and for which the force is extremely ill suited. YMMV.

It is a credit to the men and women who before and currently constitute the force that it has done and is doing as well as it is in spite of the significant misapplication.


My question was directed at those who believe the recommendations in the article are 100 years too late. I know our military "can" do this, and if they can't they'll quickly reorganize, equip and train to do so. The obstacles to winning the way the author proposes are not that great in number, but they are significant obstacles. One is policy, although I don't believe in Afghanistan we are restricted by policy (could be wrong, but I think Congress and White House would be quite happy if the military was more aggressive). The American people in general would be happy with a more aggressive stance if we were not carelessly killing innocent civilians, but of course there would be some naysayers and since naysayers make more interesting media coverage than the majority they'll get excessive coverage, which may convince outsiders we don't have the stomach for this. We're a nation that likes winning, and are willing to do what is necessary if we think the cause is just. The other obstacle is our belief systems and the dogma created by the modern interpretation of hearts and minds doctrine, further reinforced by mindless statements like "we can't kill our way out of this", without really analyzying whether we can or can't. This is the obstacle that is restricting our action in my opinion.


I think the smart/soft power directed at the resistance has completely failed, but disagree it is totally focused on the resistance. My main disagreement with your argument is that you assume all men will use logic, and simply lay down their arms and join the legal process if there is effective governance. Humans don't behave that way in the real world, and you repeatedly side step my challenges when I address that issue. Exactly how should the Afghan government reach out to please the Taliban? If the Taliban desire once again to oppress women and enforce their mindless form of shari'a law, etc., and this is exactly what Pakistan wants, what exactly is the compromise? I would argue there is none, and if we are serious about winning (I'm not convinced we are) the Taliban and their sponsors need to be defeated militarily.

We're trying to win this war the same way we're trying to fix this economy, which is applying ideological fixes that have been proven throughout history to fail.

JT (not verified)

Fri, 07/08/2011 - 7:36pm

I am surprised to see the gushing approval this article is receiving? It is a gross simplification of reality. Essentially we should "go to Afghanistan and apply overwhelming military power to our military enemies". Put this guy in charge...he has it all figured out.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 07/08/2011 - 6:42pm

Gaack. Timed out again... 5:33 me.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 07/08/2011 - 6:33pm

<b>JMA:</b><blockquote>"Does the "can't" in your question refer to the ability (or military capability) of the US to carry out such operations or whether to do so would be politically acceptable to voters and the populace at home (in the US)?"</blockquote>That was addressed to <b>Bill M.</b> and he can provide his answer but I'll interject that the ability and military capability are possessed.

However, the issue in conduct of such operations is not acceptability to the US populace -- they're, on balance, a rather bloodthirsty lot and the vast majority, 60-85% or so is my guess, would not have a problem provided there was a fairly logical reason for the operation. That assertion is IMO a consistent fact pretty well proven by history.

Politicians are another matter and are rather more variable due to the vagaries of the electoral cycle as left and right rise or fall. In their case, the approval factor relies upon the balance between those two in the Congress and the incumbent party in the White House. Both Parties tend to do a pro forma object and dissent to the leader of the Administration not of their Party. However, just to keep the Rest of the World alert, that is not <i>always</i> true. Much depends on the provocation or lack thereof and the skill of the then current Administration plus events on the ground. Inconsistent but that's us...

What is consistent is that the majority of the US populace has no objection to violence provided there's some degree of perceived need. They do want the operation to be fairly speedy and, more importantly, to be effective. The Politicians (uniformed and not) do not read that very well and therefor often miscalculate based on their flawed reading creating a perception that the populace is or is growing queasy. That is generally not the case in my observation.