Afghanistan: The Importance of Political Maneuver in COIN Operations

Afghanistan: The Importance of Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency Operations

by Captain John A. Kendall

Download the full article: Afghanistan: The Importance of Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency Operations

Any commander operating in a counterinsurgency (COIN) environment is besieged by the constant need to make numerous and varied decisions critical to the successful execution of a COIN campaign. While all military and political campaigns are challenging due to the "fog of war", COIN campaigns can prove particularly difficult for military personnel due to a military culture that does not understand how to politically maneuver in semi to non-permissive environments. This paper demonstrates the need for military organizations to gain a better understanding of their operational environment before executing political maneuver in a full spectrum COIN campaign.

Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 7311 did not originally intend to conduct a full spectrum counterinsurgency(COIN) operation; instead it originally chose to expand Ghazni's Foreign Internal Defense (FID) efforts as part of a larger joint COIN campaign. The Detachment inherited the Afghan National Police Special Response Team (ANP SRT); a small yet well trained platoon of 19 ethnic Hazarans. While seeking to expand the ANP SRT's size and capabilities, the Detachment planned to simultaneously execute surgical strike operations against high ranking and mid level Taliban commanders as a means of validating the ANP SRT's capabilities. An emphasis on Foreign Internal Defense combined with Direct Action was a typical Detachment strategy during 2008 that has gradually shifted to FID and population security with the advent of Village Stability Operations (VSO).

The Detachment's elation over the successful capture of Taliban commander Mullah Faizoni in late July would transition to frustration over its inability to capture/kill Taliban Intelligence Chief Sher Agha. To reacquire the target, the Detachment conducted limited engagement of Espandi Village in order to generate additional atmospherics. It assessed that a larger COIN operation should be left to the conventional forces and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) as the battle space owner was the final approving authority for all kinetic operations. Yet, when its limited engagement produced no results, the Detachment realized that in order to obtain long term effects as codified by the SOF imperatives, it needed to conduct a combined political maneuver.

Download the full article: Afghanistan: The Importance of Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency Operations

About the Detachment: ODA 7311 has deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedoms VIII, XII, XIV and is set to return for OEF XVI. It was my privilege to have served with them during OEF XII as their Detachment Commander. This article was written in their honor and is especially dedicated to SFC Bradley S. Bohle, SFC Shawn P. McCloskey and SSG Joshua M. Mills who were KIA on 15 September, 2009 while conducting combat operations in Nimruz Province, Afghanistan.

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Not sure after this comment from Karzi where the fight is to be?

Sounds like there is not further room for political manuever.

The war on terrorism should not be won in the villages of Afghanistan, there should be a strategic review of the method of fighting terrorism," it said, adding they also discussed the parliamentary election on September 18 and efforts to combat corruption.

Cpt Kendall

No worries. I did not feel disrespected one bit. I have never been parachuting but I would imagine that the first time you leap out of a plane its a "here we go" moment but you get for confident and improve your technique as you do more.

Part of the problem is that the leaders of insurgencies have trouble controlling all members of their group. Even if the top commander has gauranteed your safety if his lower order members or disgruntled members are uncontrollable then the environment becomes even more uncertain.

That is perhaps one of the constant challenges in any negotiation with insurgencies - Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland etc even more radicalised splinters break off and continue the violence.

Your thinking is spot on when you say:

"I leaned toward a more limited target in first securing a village that was 3km from the FOB and then gradually pushing into Andar - which is a strategically important district as it harbors Taliban who attack Hwy 1 and Rte FL."

The other end or Andar has the Sardeh Dam, a major part of Ghazni's irrigation system built by the Russians in 1967. Whoever controlled this could virtually controll food security and stability in Ghazni. We spent a lot of time trying to sort out the controll of this vital piece of infrastructure with the Governor doing everything he could to stop us.

Thanks

Jason

Jason,

Meant no disrespect on your ability to negotiate directly with the Taliban. It probably needs to be done on a more consistent basis as many of these leaders are the de-facto traditional leaders of their communities that we have labeled as TB. After we took out Mullah Faizoni I wondered if it had been the right move politically since he was a strong and respected local leader. Yet, he still had coalition blood on his hands and got what he deserved, but was he reconcilable? The danger is that as we take out senior and mid-level leaders, we are definitely reducing their competency but are we also taking out certain moderates that might be open to reconciliation and negotiation? The Israelis saw this happen as they eliminated moderate Hamas and Hezbollah leaders and instead found themselves dealing with the young radicals that replaced them.
Still, while an ongoing dialogue is important, real negotiations that might lead to reconciliation must be done from a position of strength. ie: you have to kill a significant amount of irreconcilables so that the rest lose the will to fight. The trick is killing the irreconcilables. We saw these effects in the fall of 08 after joint coalition operations cleaned out 75% of the TB leadership, but kinetic strikes only buy you a short window, it doesnt take long before the TB regenerates.
Pashtun-wali is still alive and well in certain areas but it will always be a shadowy system that is constantly shifting to meet their own ends. I still remember the Guam National Guard (who were attached to the US conventional Battalion) conducting a meeting in Andar. Everything went well during the meeting but as soon as they left the village they came under attack by the very same people they had just talked to!
The Afghans are probably the best judges of character you could ever find. They dont have TV or other distractions. I completely agree with you in that they can instantly size you up and determine whether or not you are genuine or full of BS. Their political calculations are usually excellent because they are constantly playing for the stakes of survival. They are also quick to realize monetary opportunities due to the scarcity of resources.

Abraham,

The inter-agency piece is crucial to our future success. I imagine this piece has improved since my time there in 08 but again it often comes down to competency and personalities. I completely agree that my role in trying to facilitate PM was not traditional. The reason why I decided to step in was due to timing. At the time of my trying to conduct this PM, FOB Ghazni was in the middle of a significant RIP between the US conventional Bn and the incoming Polish Battle Group. At the same time the PRT was in the middle of their RIP. My goal was to serve as a bridge, create and set an example of success with Espandi, Andar tribal engagement, and then hand it all over to the Polish and PRT as the ODA was leaving. Didnt work out as well I would have liked but we gave it a shot.
The original State rep was originally very stand-offish and did not want to share his political continuity files with me. Very intelligent guy but I think he was more interested in getting a position in the embassy in Kabul. The second State rep was awesome. We worked well together and his past experience working in the US embassy in Poland proved vital to smoothing the transition with the Poles. But he was new to the environment so I took a lead since I had a more trusted relationship with the Governor and other players. The new PRT commander was also excellent and often confronted the Governor on his corrupt practices (such as asking contractors who were trying to repair Hwy #1 for bribes).
The PRT (and all of the civilian reps) and ADT were very supportive. They were there for the MEDCAP. They were there during the installment of the combat outpost handing out HA. If its one thing we did not necessarily agree on was how we should focus our efforts. They believed in a more broad based strategy surrounded around the idea of strategically reinforcing the Hazarans in Western Ghazni in hopes of creating a disparity of resources between the Hazarans and the Pashtuns. I leaned toward a more limited target in first securing a village that was 3km from the FOB and then gradually pushing into Andar - which is a strategically important district as it harbors Taliban who attack Hwy 1 and Rte FL.
Yes there are roles and responsibilities and the BSO has traditionally been more involved in PM. Probably due to the fact that they are the dominant personality and that Afghans respect their significant power and status as a warrior. Conversely, the PRT and ODA commanders are also very influential. The PRT because they have the money. The ODA because they have the information. These three key players must continually synch and support their operational plans. But in the end the one who "executes" PM in my opinion can be anyone. It should be the guy/gal who can build good relationships and has a knack for politics.
When I was in Ghazni there was a Captain who spoke fluent Dari. He was working as the JCC mentor. Did a great job but I think his talents were wasted. This guy should have been executing PM. His BC should have given him guidance and let him run all the meetings with the Governor, tribes and villagers. The only issue I saw is that he did not completely understand the operational environment (neither did we at the time). The ODA and PRT should have supported him by giving him timely political intel in order to better focus the PM (I agree with your point of the ODA supporting PM). If the State rep is consistently qualified to execute PM, so be it, but if he/she is not then we should not be afraid to choose someone else. We shouldnt necessarily limit ourselves by roles and responsibilities. We should vote and choose the best qualified person to run and coordinate PM at the operational level. It could be the ODA commander, the BSO, an Afghan Hand or the USAID rep, etc.
Lastly, the one thing that still blows my mind that in order to facilitate inter-agency activities we do not have truly joint TOCs. We have Joint Coordination Centers or JCCs where we try to bring everything together but why dont we just combine everyones headquarters into one? And I mean truly Joint, no LNOs. The Governor, ANP, ANA, ISAF/PRT and SOF all go to work under one roof (of course certain operational aspects would remain compartmentalized). Probably unrealistic and it raises force protection issues but if we could at least merge the ISAF and ANSF together - that would be a huge step forward.
Best of luck down South and good to hear that you have a good working relationship with the ODA.

-best

John

Very Cool Article.

Im currently a District Support Team (DST) Team Leader in one of the districts in Kandahar Province and I am very engaged in the VSO program here in my district, working with the ODA. The sum and substance of my following questions and observations: SOF Imperative #3, Facilitate interagency activities.

What I found a bit striking about your article is what seemed to be a lack of involvement from the PRT concerning "political maneuver." Was that the case? If so, why was that? You were dealing directly with Provincial Governor Usmani; what role did the PRT play in these KLEs?

The term "political maneuver" in your articles title definitely drew my attention. It is something that definitely needs to be properly managed considering the number of coalition actors that lay claim to being the lead on PM. When I read your article I had the sense of you "getting it done!" But, I question the role and responsibility of our Military in these types of engagements when civilian agencies are present. This is more apparent to me as "Afghan Hands" officers try to figure out their role in all of this while Army/Marine Corps Civil affairs Officers try to keep ownership of the governance battle space.

Ive been building and/or training to build "governance in bad places" for years now and Im always struck by the level of involvement many battle space owners keep themselves concerning governance, reconstruction, and development when they have an energized DST. They should be knee-deep in internal defense, civil security, civil control, and combat operations to neutralize known enemy threats: creating a safe and secure environment for governance to take root. Not to mention the host-nation security force mentoring and knowledge transfer required to get the host-nation to do security for themselves. I say this even though I know managing CERP keeps them involved. But, one would think that theyd turn that over to civilians so that they could focus more on their core competencies.

There is an entire civilian cadre of "combat diplomats" growing (with many of those personnel already on the ground) who I believe are mandated to be in the lead of what youve described in your article. Do you see ODAs accepting a supporting role as these diplomats go on the same foot patrols and do engagements at the village level? Or, do you see more conflict? My relationship with the ODA here has been great mainly because of personalities - my military background helps. But, it still doesnt speak to roles and responsibilities.

I really liked your response concerning Special Operations Development Units. What Jason is describing is something a DST should already be doing. As long as it has the right mix of people... as you said.

In short, where were the civilians or other government agencies when you were doing this? It seemed like they provided very little support.

Cpt Kendall

Superb reply. Thanks for the indepth analysis.

We could talk about the Taliban meeting if you like. Drop me an email: jason@jasonthomas.net.au

By that stage I had learnt many hard lessons from negotiating with provincial and local leaders. I also wanted to confront them on grounds that they knew damn well I would not give into them. It was also a ploy to get 340 fighting aged men off the battlefield in an area that this had not been done before. In other words I challenged them on those basic tribal instincts. The same approach worked in Sri Lanka with Tamil Tiger Commanders.

I used to do be a doorman and big student pub to help fund my University studies. I learnt to make neutralise the "bad-asses" in town so they would leave us alone.

This makes sense if for nothing else because both the Middle East and Afghanistan socio-cultural ecosystem is tribal. For example, despite having one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world Afghans are adept at watching for subtle emotional cues. They responded to what some may call traditional characteristics of bravery, courage, honour and were very polite, even though tomorrow they may kill you. These are very tribal factors that will grow your respect with them more than any form or written contract or promise of improving community infrastructure.

It is always best to win and retain the support of the most important person in the village. As you know Afghans respond to leadership that is strong and brave. Everyone who contributes to SWJ knows tribal leaders are more influential than any government representative from Kabul.

Im getting off the original topic now - but thanks for the guidance.

Jason

Jason,

Sorry for the delay but I'm in the middle of a move:

MAJ K already hit a lot of the same points but to elaborate on the five points you made plus Ill hit on your recent post about I/O:

1) To put it simply - I agree although I must admit the topic is a bit beyond my scope. That is truly P4s role but honestly I do not know the extent of his powers... ie: can he fire ISAF RC commanders? If P4 and Ambassador Eikenberry (plus our ISAF liaisons) can convince our ISAF partners to execute VSO like operations... that will be a victory on par with capturing 100 high level Taliban commanders. I do agree that varied operational ROEs are not helping our cause but I also refer to my first post. How far can we push our allies to shed more blood and treasure? The Dutch left this week, the Canadians are pulling out next year... whos next?
More importantly your point raises the issue of unity of effort. We should ideally have one commander who has overarching authority of all units at the operational level (this may have already changed but I havent been in country for 9 months now so Im already losing SA on our organizational structure). Yes, it is the duty of strategic commanders (P4, General Rodriguez, RC commanders) to ensure that their operational commanders are executing the "strategy". But as you say in point 2, they should be moving forward but I think COIN is more like a rugby game (sorry, I couldnt resist). Progress will always be varied as conditions constantly change on the ground and the players make their moves and counter-moves.
More importantly, operational commanders shouldnt even have to wait for guidance. An audacious and competent commander will know what to do for their particular area (A big assumption). Every plan will be different because Afghanistan is not homogenous. And if they dont or arent on point, then they should be given assistance in formulating a coordinated campaign plan. If they cant execute that plan... then they should be publicly relieved for incompetence. Lives are at stake - both Afghan and coalition.

2) We still have vested interests in having coalition forces in RC-N and RC-W. Drugs flow through the North in exchange for money and weapons. Iran is West of Afghanistan. Perhaps a drawdown of forces? I dont know - again thats a strategic question and a bit out of my league since I dont have all the info.

3) Special Operation Development Units. Never heard of that idea! Interesting! Although SF teams are capable of executing the tasks that you mentioned, I do not think that you were specifically referring to SF teams. I think the PRT could accomplish those tasks if you had the right mix of people. USDA, Texas ADT, PRT security platoon, and the Afghan equivalents. I understand building the DC was critical to establishing some visible government presence but anything above and beyond that should be handled by Afghans... even if it takes a little longer and maybe costs a little more (within limits). Were not there to rebuild the country for them. Were trying to teach them how to fish... although the corruption is at times paralyzing - were there to be the honest brokers - if that means moving the proper levers to make the GIRoA work then so be it.

4) I can sense the frustration you had at these meetings. It is the same frustration every coalition commander experiences. Although the jirgas or security meetings are the typical vehicle of communication between government/security forces and the population it is not necessarily effective. We always get more done during the breaks or during the meeting after the meeting. Why? Because no one wants to lose face, be fingered by the Taliban as being a leader or agreeing with the coalition beyond what the Taliban has already told them to agree to. That is why we need to enlist Afghan intermediaries through which we can securely and honestly communicate to the people. More importantly we need to set the conditions of the meeting by coordinating individually with all the players and gain assurances before the meeting. Think of it like going out on a date... you do your homework so that you can have an agreeable outcome.
I admire your courage in meeting with Taliban commanders but I fear the only reason they didnt kidnap you for ransom at best, cut your head off at worst, is that you brought potential projects (money) to their area. Why go through that risk? Sorry, Im just curious! ;-)

5) 0 tolerance areas: Its what I was trying to establish in Espandi. I agree with MAJ K. What are we going to hold with? VSO (Marines are executing a similar strategy on a larger scale in some areas) is the program that is trying to establish these 0 tolerance areas which are also known as "small victories", "early victories" or the beginning of an "oil blot strategy". Again... the "Hold" is always a b*&^#! Even if we train local defense forces... who says they wont fold once coalition/Afghan security forces leave? How much are we going to pay them? How long? Will our economic development projects tie them to a larger economic chain to keep the program alive? Will the GIRoA actually feel safe enough or care enough to resolve their disputes? These are all questions that SF teams and other coalition forces are trying to solve. I do agree with MAJ K that there is no linear formula for success. Whether its governance, security or economic development - all should be happening simultaneously, but will advance in accordance with the amount effort dedicated to each, balanced by the effects of the local environment - its the coordination between these different variables while understanding the environment that is vital.

6) Your 3rd Post: I/O - I/O campaign is critical and it is sorely missing in many areas.

a. What is the GIRoAs message to the Afghan people? What is the national I/O message? Is there one? I havent been watching Afghan TV in a while so Im clueless. Why is the GIRoA better than the Taliban? What are the advantages of GIRoA rule? These must be reinforced in those areas that are being targeted by GIRoA/coalition.
b. PSYOP and I/O authority should be pushed down to the Company/ODA level while coordination is maintained by the Bn commanders. This would allow operational commanders to tailor their message to the local population. Counter-propaganda should also be heavily encouraged. We need to hire our own Afghan news reporters and cultural advisors so that we can properly tailor these messages.
c. Moderate Mullahs must be hired to illuminate the lies that the Taliban Mullahs are spreading about their own religion. Spread the message over radio, TV and leaflet drops.
d. Should already be in place but every Joint Coordination Center (JCC)/FOB/government residence should have a HOT LINE for tactical tips, complaints, etc.

MAJ Gant: Thanks for the shout out! God speed brother.

Gian: IW/COIN, etc. takes a long time because we as foreigners do not understand the operational environment (the politics, culture, human terrain, language... etc.). This type of warfare is a dramatic shift from what our armies have habitually trained for during the past 30 years, which is linear and kinetically dominated warfare. We are learning but as the legendary Taliban phrase goes (paraphrased). "You Americans have all the watches... but we have all the time." Yes it may be too late... but the referees havent called the game yet. And the half measures weve used for the past 9 years havent exactly been working due partially to a lack of resources. We need to give the surge and the new strategy, operational plans, and tactics time to work. Yes, give war a chance. Please share an alternative plan, Im not being facetious... Im asking because we may need one.

Captain Kendall's article was extremely interesting as was the discussion. This civilian felt almost as if he were a fly on the wall in the novel "The Centurions" while Raspeguy's officers were figuring what to do. Thank you gentlemen.

I have read things that suggest it would be better for the Special Forces to get away from direct action and do more of getting in amongst the population so to speak. I wonder if this article is an example of that?

Gian: Your quote

"Even in irregular war why do we seem to always want to default to the assumption that by nature they take a very long time and require presence and persistence to carry out? What if it is not in our vital interests to be there for a long time or the policy objectives set out equally do not demand such an approach?

We are trapped in a box by a very certain theory of irregular war that has become an immutable rule to the point that it dictates strategy and policy."

That almost sounds to me as if you are saying the theory is proscriptive-irregular wars will take a long time and you gotta be there, rather than descriptive-irregular wars have taken a long time and you had better be there, expect that. The usual suspects among the books and authors, Galula, Thompson, The Small Wars Manual: all those were derived from experience. They seemed to say it will take a long time and require presence because it always has.

Sir (gian p gentile),

None of us pick the wars we fight. Others do that for us.

I, for one, believe we "won" in Afghanistan around Decemeber of 01.

However, "we" have decided that "success" in Afghanistan means more than toppling the Taliban.

Therefore, if we are going to meet the current mission statement here, I stand by "Consistency, Continuity, Commitment, Presence, Patience, Persistance."

I also vote for "strike from a distance, speed, withdrawal" when asked to do so or given a vote.

STRENGTH AND HONOR

Jim Gant

Major K

Great response. You have slit my underbelly of optimism - a weakness of mine.

Could I suggest adding the following to Cpt Kendall's list of SOF Imperatives:

1) Intensify the effort of political maneuver during winter when the foreign Taliban have gone back to Pakistan. I found that was when the local Taliban were more vulnerable.

2) Implement an IO campaign to as many households and villages as possible informing the population with the names of local Taliban who are preventing projects, therefore, employment from starting. (The Taliban did not like this in Andar - when I told them 400 laborers would be told who was stopping them being paid!)

3) Drive a wedge between local Taliban who are competing for their own turf and recognition in the community.

4) Support the leader/s who are going to deliver stability and security not who necessarily has designated authority from Kabul - even though we are supposed to be upholding GiRoA, the Governor Usmani had a bounty on my head!

5) Establish KPIs for CMDRs that include the mandatory and premanent presence in villages that are cleared.

One of my local staff said to me "there are good theives and bad thieves in AFG; the bad thieves are those who dont steal enough for who they are stealing for - those are the ones who get arrested or disappear."

Jason

Jim Gant applied these words to underpin, I imagine, what he thinks are the qualities to succeed in Afghanistan, and possibly other wars like it that United States might become involved in the future. The words Jim uses are completely in line with terms like "the long war" and the "age of persistent conflict."

Here are the words that Jim applied in this post:

"Consistency, Continuity, Commitment, Presence, Patience, Persistance."

Just as a matter of speculation why can't the watchwords for the US in the present war in Afghanistan and future irregular conflicts be

"strike from a distance, speed, withdrawal?"

Oh but that is right, I forgot, as Rupert Smith tells us modern wars are always to be fought amongst the people and for their allegiance which requires the attributes of "presence, persistence, patience" for a foreign occupying force in a troubled land.

Sun Tzu wrote that "speed is the essence of war." Even in irregular war why do we seem to always want to default to the assumption that by nature they take a very long time and require presence and persistence to carry out? What if it is not in our vital interests to be there for a long time or the policy objectives set out equally do not demand such an approach?

We are trapped in a box by a very certain theory of irregular war that has become an immutable rule to the point that it dictates strategy and policy.

Lawrence smiles in his grave.

gian

Captain Kendall,

Great job putting pen to paper. It is not easy. I know the lessons learned here were paid for with blood. That makes them all the more important. Great article. Great information. For those who are currenlty doing VSO - it is a must read.

Keep up the good work.

"Consistency, Continuity, Commitment"

"Presence, Patience, Persistance" plus one: Passion

STRENGTH AND HONOR

Jim Gant

Jason, a few observances on your comments:

There is no doubt that each soldier in Afghanistan is a well trained dedicated professional hamstrung by their political masters.

You dont need to go that far up the chain to see whats hamstringing our soldiers in the field. You have no further to look than big fat bases in Kabul.

Perhaps the NATO and ISAF obligations and rules of commitment by member countries need to be upgraded in a manner that reflects the unique environment in Afghanistan. Suggestions such as:
- All other nations must submit to the rules of engagement and strategy, providing sufficient resources to their troops and be given freedom to operate as the local socio-political atmospherics dictate.

In a NATO environment, this might happen before the 2014 transition date. ;o)

- Hand control for RC-W and RC-N to ANA and shift the NATO partners into RC-East and RC- South where the fight is hottest. That is the sort of political shot in the arm the US, UK and Australia require to keep the public on board.

Thats along the lines of the written Transition Plan anyway... conditions-based transfer of security to ANSF. GIRoA and NATO will jointly assess areas that are stable enough to transition Province by Province.

- assemble special operation development units. They would be special force military engineers, builders and irrigation experts who are embedded in the local community, live in the key tribal areas and work outwards from the main villages where important development projects were taking place.

Seems like a waste of SOF assets. We have the trained, experienced, and available troops to do this, but, back to your hamstringing point, the right people arent allowed to do the right jobs for the right effect.

- Implement a New York Style Zero tolerance areas.

Good idea but I think its too simplistic. We do Clear ok but we do Hold really crappy. Weve been going into places for the past nine yrs and saying 'were here to protect you and the villagers stare blankly back because they know how far they can trust that.

In conclusion, one can see COIN being blamed for the situation in Afghanistan. We say that we are conducting COIN there and generally we are, but it is the AFG version of COIN. The troops know what they have to do. They will generally succeed as long as our political leaders give them the resources, including time.

But were not conducting COIN. Were conducting different types of operations all over the country under disparate sets of Commanders Intents. Some commanders are afraid to even let their troops off the base. I think its a stretch to say that were conducting the "afghan" version of COIN: in RC-S/SW, were conducting the USMC version; in RC-Capital, were not conducting any COIN, in RC-N and W, were just hoping the status quo stays in our favor while we focus elsewhere. To paint 'COIN as a universal operation or theory in Afghanistan, no matter what M4 or P4 said, is, unfortunately, a falsehood. And that points to a lack of strategy, local commanders buy-in, and a mentality of just treading water and buying time until a specific rotation ends. We cant even align our campaign plan with what the Afghans know they need to stabilize their country. Ask any afghan, or better yet, read the Communiqué from the Kabul Conference, and theyll say 'we need good governance and development first. Security will follow. We on the other hand, think that were creating "strategic breathing space" (by focusing on security first) for the ANSF to grow and allow good governance and development to follow along in some mythical, linear A+B+C=D formula. It doesnt work like that and it hasnt worked like that in 9 years of this war. What was that definition of 'crazy I heard once - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time?

My $.02.

Cpt Kendall

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

There is no doubt that each soldier in Afghanistan is a well trained dedicated professional hamstrung by their political masters. In Ghazni the Polish GUAM (I think that is how you spell it) walked off the FOB to deal with the endless rockets from nearby. The Polish soldier's commitment is unquestionable.

Perhaps the NATO and ISAF obligations and rules of commitment by member countries need to be upgraded in a manner that reflects the unique environment in Afghanistan. Suggestions such as:

1) The three biggest participating nations should have oversight under an overall CMDR

2) All other nations must submit to the rules of engagement and strategy, providing sufficient resources to their troops and be given freedom to operate as the local socio-political atmospherics dictate. BUT they must always be moving forward. That is of the reasons I like American Football no one goes backwards so it forces the players to be more aggressive.

3) Hand control for RC-W and RC-N to ANA and shift the NATO partners into RC-East and RC- South where the fight is hottest. That is the sort of political shot in the arm the US, UK and Australia require to keep the public on board.

4) assemble special operation development units. They would be special force military engineers, builders and irrigation experts who are embedded in the local community, live in the key tribal areas and work outwards from the main villages where important development projects were taking place. The Special Operations Development units would also directly take care of the labourers and population who are benefiting from the development projects. For example, I got so sick of going to Giro FB to listen to another well meaning meeting to build the DC but no one would commit. I suggested to the PRT CMDR that we assemble 12 guys to drop in and build the DC in 48 hours with a security cordon for locals to pick up wheat seed, meet the Sub-Gov (who is one of the more reasonable sub-Govs in Ghazni) The CMDR's eyes lit up of course but it didnt happen.

5) Implement a New York Style Zero tolerance areas. There are villages that even the donkeys know are Taliban hide-outs. I drove through many villages with my local staff in my white corolla. I met with the Senior Taliban Commanders in at least two villagers one of which housed visitors from the Middle East. The US/ISAF forces should adopt a New York style zero tolerance for Taliban - where a village is known to hold Taliban the Coalition forces could move into that village and get the message to the residents they are there to protect them and to eliminate the Taliban from the village. The Taliban take this approach - why cant we? They have zero tolerance for village residents being sympathetic to coalition or working on aid projects. Espandi is a classic place where we could camp out and own it until the insurgents, shape up or ship out. No different to gang-turf warfare.

These suggestions may be naive and some may say "but they already happen", well I never saw it happening.

In conclusion, one can see COIN being blamed for the situation in Afghanistan. We say that we are conducting COIN there and generally we are, but it is the AFG version of COIN. The troops know what they have to do. They will generally succeed as long as our political leaders give them the resources, including time.

Jason

Jason,

I have heard the same thing about Espandi and Ghazni in general. Things will continue to get worse until a coordinated operational strategy is implemented. It doesn't help that Ghazni is one of the larger provinces and is separated by three ethnic groups (maybe 4 if you count the Kuchi).
You bring up some good points. There were many concerns from all involved on what would be the way forward once the current BSO took over. Our partners bring certain advantages and disadvantages to the fight. You must remember that they are severely hampered by their national caveats and that the commanders may have their hands tied.
I remember the commander at the time I was there spoke to his MOD on a daily basis. I believe he was under a tremendous amount of stress in trying to balance being successful (in their terms) while at the same time not rocking the boat (civilian casualties, high coalition casualties). To be honest, I did not envy his position but tried to help him as best I could.
I believe you are correct that our higher levels of command face a constant political fight to first gain international support and then find a way to effectively employ that support. But remember that any support is better than no support.
For example our NATO allies have at minimum maintained operational and logistical LOCs in both RC-W and RC-N for several years now. Without their support we would not have been able to expand as rapidly as we have in those areas during the latest surge.
I have also met coalition commanders who were very aggressive and ordered operations that no US commander would authorize. At the same time our coalition partners do take casualties and we must respect those sacrifices.
In the end it comes down to personalities and the willingness of individual commanders to listen to the local experts (whether they be US, ISAF, or Afghan) and then funnel their experience into a locally effective operational strategy.
The current CAT teams and Afghan hands are seeking to help with this although no matter how much someone "gets it" they still need to be able to communicate that effectively (gain rapport) to operational commanders who are subsequently humble enough to listen to individuals who are sometimes junior in rank.
Finally, the point you raise also applies to certain US forces. Our recent turn around in Iraq and the lessons we've learned there have not necessarily transferred to Afghanistan. Why? Tactical and operational Leaders have switched out and the environment is different. No surprise to anyone here...Afghanistan is 10x harder than Iraq.

-best

John

John,

Excellent article. You seamlessly combine the theory with your practice. Moreover, your contribution extends the conversation into the art of the political advisor something that is sorely missing from the current literature although well documented in past small wars.

Well done.

Mike

Cpt Kendall

This is a refreshing analysis because it provides a detailed, on the ground case study.

I have just returned from Ghanzi and as one of the few who lived in Ghazni town, unfortunately Espandi has got worse. Ghazni was one of the three Provinces in my AO.

SWJ makes a brilliant contribution to advancing the understanding of COIN. The challenge for Gen. Petraeus is that his Coalition partners are shocking at implementers at COIN. As with politics you can have the best theories and strategy but fall down on the implementation.

The Battlespace owners in Ghazni are a case in point. I dont mean to start an diplomatic incident. But the one of the core principles of COIN is protecting the population. Whether it be Espandi, or down in Gelan, the population are isolated from security and therefore remain passive or intimidated supporters of the insurgents.

The USMC, US SFs and other elements of US forces has invested significantly in upskilling its servicemen and women on COIN. How much is being done to ensure the same investment is being made in other Coalition partners?

Until as much pressure is put on other Coalition partners as on the Karzai Government, progress will continue to remain limp sustainable security unattainable.

I admit my obvious bias but I do think this paper is worthy of study as it provides insights into the evolution of local level engagement that has resulted in the village stability operations we see today. At the risk of sounding trite, this paper does illustrate one of TE Lawrences more famous quotes (and one of my all time personal favorites): "Irregular Warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge." I recommend pondering the thoughts and ideas in this paper fully recognizing and asking everyone to remember that there are no cookie cutter solutions, no formulas and notactical checklists that apply to "guarantee" success in irregular warfare." Presence, patience, persistence.