The Accidental Counterinsurgent?
Travel back with me a couple of decades to the Trident Room, the local watering hole at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. We could pay $3 to obtain a Trident Mug and drink unlimitedly with exceptional discounts. While we are there, we are looking for a young paratrooper on his way to earning a Masters degree in National Security Affairs. We spot him in a corner with some friends playing drinking games, which apparently he excels at because his name is still on a plaque at that bar today. So, we walk up to the young captain, and say, "Dude, guess what? One day you will be a three star general trying to build a military from scratch in Afghanistan." He'd probably think we were crazy.
Well, that "dude" in now Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell. Does he qualify as an Accidental Counterinsurgent? No, of course not, he is a professional military officer executing the mission given to him to the best of his ability. This experience is common throughout our military these days. We choose to serve, go where the nation tells us to go, and do what the nation tells us to do. We do not consider ourselves accidental.
I believe the same applies to those who rebel. Before you gasp and think that I'm dissenting against David Kilcullen, walk with me for a bit and let's see where it leads. Personally, I think Kilcullen has offered a lot to our understanding over the last decade, but I cannot quite resolve my direct observations with Kilcullen's theory of an Accidental Guerrilla.
Accidental implies Victimization
Whenever I would meet with representatives of the local resistance movements, whether it was the Madhi Militia, Badr Corps, AQI, ISI, or the 1920's Revolutionary Brigades, I would always start with developing a personal relationship, empathize with their views, and allow them to vent since they considered my men and I the occupying authority.
For the Sunnis in particular, I would take the time to admit that we had made mistakes at the outset of our intervention from outlawing the Ba'ath Party to disbanding the Iraqi Army. They felt extremely violated by these actions, and I wanted to make sure that they recognized that I understood their grievance. Additionally, we recognized their men as soldiers fighting against a government that they did not consider legitimate.
While I empathized with their views, I would reiterate that their feelings did not justify their behavior, and they must stop fighting and enter the political process. This realization would have to wait until my men proved that we were the biggest tribe, and that is another story for another day.
Why is this important? We earned the respect of our opponent because we gave them respect. We acknowledged that they were thinking, rational men acting over perceived grievances generated from either ideology or emotion. Unfortunately, we still had to fight it out for a bit until we exhausted the enemy, but we did not coddle, preach, or attempt to win their hearts, minds, or soul even when we disagreed with them. In fact, those actions were self-defeating and disrespectful to the insurgents in the Diyala River Valley.
As I type this entry two weeks after al Qaeda penetrated the Baqubah provisional government office and a day after the Taliban penetrated a luxury hotel in Kabul, I'm wondering if we really respect our enemy, or do we feel that he is just a confused, illiterate soul waiting to have his heart, mind, and soul converted by modernity?
By our own accord, free men have the right to choose. I cannot find evidence that a man deciding to blow himself up, behead his neighbor, or rebel against his government is accidental. He is not a victim of circumstance. He made a choice. Professional soldiers understand these choices. Tens years into Afghanistan, we might want to start respecting these choices.