How to Win in Afghanistan - Brigadier Justin Kelly, Quadrant Magazine.
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six
Military activity is never directed against material force alone; it is always aimed simultaneously at the moral forces which give it life, and the two cannot be separated.
General Sir Gerald Templar's admonition during the Malayan Emergency that "the answer [to the insurgency] lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and the minds of the people" has echoed through the ensuing half-century and has become the basic precept on which counter-insurgency campaigns are - or apparently should be - designed. Nowadays, hardly a day passes in which some journalist or general is not reminding us that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. Echoing this proposition, in January 2009, the Secretary General of NATO argued that good governance "would suck the oxygen out of the insurgency". Similar statements were made about the war in Iraq; to argue against Bush's 2007 "surge" of troops and to emphasise that here lay a "quagmire" - dreaded by all in the US Congress and the New York Times - from which immediate withdrawal was the only solution.
This essay argues that aspects of the above propositions may be true - but they are irrelevant. That, in reality, there is no military solution to any war; that "hearts and minds" might hold the solution but they are beyond our immediate reach; that good governance (and its corollaries of law and order and national infrastructure meeting the physical needs of the community) might suck the oxygen out of an insurgency but is at best a secondary factor unattainable for many years; and that we are, in our timeless way, attempting to fit square Malayan pegs into round Middle Eastern holes. The essay concludes that until there is security there be no real progress and, as a result, we should be doing more fighting and fewer good deeds.
It is not clear from where our present woolly thinking emerged. It is a characteristic trait of humans that we try to understand events and decide on actions by the application of metaphor: "this situation looks like the one last week, Action A worked then, I'll try Action A again today". In many situations this works perfectly well, in some it does not. The present application of the "British Model" of counter-insurgency to quite different contexts may be an example of this approach to problem solving. Certainly, the media, the public and politicians find it easier to argue for the benefits of reconstruction, education, political reform - hearts and minds - than they do for the remorseless hunting down and destruction of insurgents.
Equally, perhaps, part of our problem may be that, because of some its specific attributes, the military has tended to conceptually separate counter-insurgency from the rest of its understanding of war, giving it a level of uniqueness which it does not warrant and perhaps clouding our understanding of it. Although in both Iraq and Afghanistan, on the balance of probabilities, we will eventually muddle through and bring the war to some kind of acceptable conclusion, it would be better if we understood what it was that we were about...
Much more at Quadrant.
Bonus - Brigadier Justin Kelly on How to Win in Afghanistan - Quandrant videos - six parts: