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The Battle for Helmand: Interviews with Professor Theo Farrell and MG Nick Carter

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The Battle for Helmand: Interviews with Professor Theo Farrell and MG Nick Carter

by Octavian Manea

Octavian Manea, Editor of FP Romania, the Romanian edition of Foreign Policy, continues his SWJ interview series. In this exclusive, Octavian asks Professor Theo Farrell and MG Nick Carter to describe their thoughts on the Battle for Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan.

Download The Full Article: The Battle for Helmand

Why was the Marjah Operation so difficult?

There were very high hopes for Marjah. General McChrystal was looking for a 'strategic accelerator', something dramatic that would restore momentum to the ISAF campaign. He was looking in Helmand to inflict a strategic defeat on the Taliban, and to demonstrate the virtue of his new approach to local and home audiences. This explains the ill-advised term that there would be "government in a box" for Marjah, implying that shortly after the Marines pushed in, you would have a government established almost immediately. The Marines were perfectly on board with the idea that they could achieve such quick progress.

When the ISAF pushed in Marjah, they discovered a very different picture. What they expected to find in Marjah was a relatively wealthy population of mostly land owners, many involved in drug trade, but confident people with pretty good economic resources. And as long as you got them on board by demonstrating the virtues of the Afghan governance, they would help keep the Taliban at bay. What ISAF discovered was that those working the land were not owners but down-trodden tenants. Also the local infrastructure was far worse than anticipated. Thus the problem was twofold: first, it was going to take some time to deliver governance and improve infrastructure; second, it was very easy for the Taliban to intimidate the locals. So whilst the Marines cleared Marjah quickly, the hold proved more troublesome. Hence, progress was far slower than hoped and advertised in advance! And if we compare it to what happened in Nad-e-Ali, which was cleared simultaneously with Marjah, British led operation, you find far more rapid progress in Nad-e-Ali: district governance was strengthened, freedom of movement for civilians within the district has dramatically improved; there was excellent local turnout for at the three election shuras for the District Community Council. Other key metrics -- the number of shops in the bazaar and the number of children attending school—also pointed to improvements in the local security.

Download The Full Article: The Battle for Helmand

Professor Theo Farrell is Professor of War in the Modern World in the Department of War Studies at King's College London. He has published numerous books including most recently, as co-editor, A Transatlantic Gap: American Innovations and European Military Change (Stanford University Press, 2010). He has previously conducted a performance review of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team for the UK Stabilisation Unit (Oct-Nov. 2009), of Operation Moshtarak for the British Army (May-June 2010), and a theatre-wide assessment of ISAF Joint Command (IJC) for COMIJC (Oct. 2010). He further acted as advisor to COMISAF's Strategic Advisory Group in Kabul (Jan. 2010).

Major General Nick Carter was ISAF Regional Commander South until November 2010. He assumed command of 6th United Kingdom Division in January 2009 and was responsible for the preparation and training of the Task Forces deploying on Operation Herrick. The Division then became a CJTF and assumed responsibility for RC-South in November 0f 2009. He commanded 20 Armoured Brigade, based in Germany, from January 2004 until December 2005, including a tour in Iraq in command of British Forces in Basra. After completing Term 1 of Royal College of Defence Studies, he assumed the appointment of Director of Army Resources and Plans in the Ministry of Defence. He was appointed a Member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1995, an Officer in 2000 and a Commander in 2003. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in March 2011.

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


Theo Farrell (not verified)

Mon, 04/25/2011 - 12:58pm

Hello folks,

I entirely take the point about the continuing challenge presented by the drug economy to governance and stability in Helmand. This is one area that has yet to be properly tackled. GIRoA's Poppy Eradication Force was a notable failure in this respect in Helmand in 2009. Mangal's own Governor Led Eradication was more successful in relative terms, but given the small scale of this prog it hasn't made much of a dent in the problem. The Brit-led PRT has a growing Alternative Livelihoods prog, but there is some evidence that distributed wheat seed has being re-sold rather than sown. Overall, poppy crop was down in 2010 but this was primarily due to crop disease. The essence of the problem the Brits have found is that going after poppy crop may undermine WHAM; thus, the Brit Task Force prefers to leave eradication to Afghan authorities. I believe the US Marines have been taking a more robust approach in their sectors but have seen no data on the success or effect or this.

If I may respond to Annonymous and jcustis:

Fair points about what counts as "under GIRoA control" for DCs. I concede that there is considerable variation in the extent and degree of control in the 11 districts that are classed by ISAF as under GIRoA control. However, my assessment of progress in Helmand is based on two independent assessments that I did in Helmand for the Brit govt (a) annual performance assessment of Helmand PRT in Oct-Nov 2009; (b) assessment of Operation Moshtarak for British Land Warfare Command in April-May 2010. The former involved district level assessment of progress. There was clear evidence of this in Nawa, Nad-e-Ali, Garmsir and Lashkar Gah, and modest progress in Musa Qala. Both studies involved visits to Nad-e-Ali district, and thus gave me an opportunity to compare progress in this key district between Oct 2009 and May 2010.

For more detailed analysis of the conduct of the British campaign, drawing extensively on a range of primary sources, I would invite readers to look at two papers that I've published:

"Improving in War: Military Adaptation and the British Military in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2006-2009," Journal of Strategic Studies 33 (2010). Publisher has made this available as a free download:

"Appraising Moshtarak: The Campaign in Nad-e-Ali District, Helmand," RUSI Briefing Paper (2010), 13pp. This is a declassified version of the report that I produced for the British Land Warfare Command:

Kind regards,


We absolutely must find a way to develop counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan that is focused and makes sense. I don't care who is in the lead, so long as someone is doing something about the money that funnels right into the heart of the insurgency's ability to sustain itself.

That is the key component that I think is missing from what we are doing in Helmand right now, and it is just another element of the waste, like Mangel's opium replacement strategy that offers subsidized wheat to farmers. The same farmers has zero incentive to grow the wheat while not planting opium - absolutely none. There are just as likely to sell the seed at market. And ANSF are sure to attempt to get their cut if they are at all involved in the distribution.

In the overall analysis, I have not seen statistics to support the notion that eradication creates more instability when aimed at the point of cultivation, as compared to attacking it post-cultivation. We have been at that game for a long time already, and have little to show for it, so it is time to look at the problem from a different angle.

The farmers in the river valleys just want to be able to feed their families, while not being taxed too heavily by the Taliban, and getting a decent price for their labor on the fields owned by an absentee landlord. I don't think they care which crop gets cut, so long as they can live off of it, and that's where the policy needs to mesh with the strategy on the ground. An effort that gets the right things lined up is going to cost the coalition huge sums, so unless we are ready to go that distance, we might as well achieve the decent interval and work towards leaving, because breaking the insurgency also involves addressing the drug nexus.

Demon Fox

Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:57am

I think your comparison of both being the same but only different in scale has merit.

I see the difference mainly from a standpoint of targeting. Although both an insurgency and a terrorist group may use "terrorist" tactics, an insurgency uses guerrilla action to target legitimate military or government targets. An insurgency puts great effort into winning the hearts and minds of the populace and avoids civilian casualties (CIVCAS) whenever possible lest they lose vital support.

An insurgent group normally exists for two prime reasons: they want to take over and change the current host government "for the better", or they want to oust a foreign presence. Both AQI/ISI and the Taliban have to rid their country of the foreign presence before they can take over and change the government. This cannot be done by small terror groups running around killing locals. They MUST steadily gain popular support in order to eventually win. They must be as cognizant to CIVCAS as we must be.

A terror group targets essentially ANYBODY who does not agree with them. Terror groups tend to kill more civilians than combatants - they are easier targets and make a bigger splash on the news page. Many terror groups don't necessarily attempt any long-term popular support. They may just go for enough media attention to accomplish a short-term goal through political pressure.

Of course, there is also the category of the narco-terrorist, who is only interested in narcotics profiteering. There is a WHOLE lot of that in Afghanistan. The Taliban is just a label they may use to inspire fear and get some external support. Aside from that, they're only interested in making money.

Groups like AQI/ISI are so radical in there methodology they practically ceased even TRYING to gain popular support. They just flat-out killed anyone who remotely disagreed with their way of thinking. Their goal is to create a new Sunni caliphate across the globe. Yes, that is certainly an insurgent goal, but their failure to focus on popular support dooms them to political failure. As a result, they become simply a terror group.

What's the difference between Bin Laden's AQ and the Taliban? The Taliban goal is limited to the take over of the Afghan government and establish a fundamentalist regime. AQ's goal is to oust infidel presence from the Holy Land (the Middle East) and perhaps create a great new Sunni caliphate world wide. Both are insurgent goals, but their targeting methodology makes them terrorist groups. About the only support either of these groups receive is either through coercion of locals or other radicals around the world willing to commit murder.

Now, with regards to AQ, I don't really view the attack on the USS Cole as a terrorist action. It was more of a "guerrilla action" due to the fact that the Cole is a legitimate military target. It's very similar to the type of attack a US SpecOps team might conduct against an enemy ship (minus the suicide part). Of course, ramming jets into New York was a terrorist act because it used and targeted civilians. The Pentagon attack I would classify as a guerrilla action if no civilians were on the plane. Anyone inside the Pentagon can be assumed to be a legitimate military target. Unfortunately, radical Islamists do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants when it comes to their jihad. Everyone not in Allah's army is a legitimate target.

I would not classify the situation in AF as a "localized insurgency". It is transnational. It is being run from across the Pakistani border, just like the Viet Cong and NVA used Cambodia as a safe haven.

Do they require the same tools to defeat? Good question. I say no. An insurgent can often be dealt with by satisfying their "relative perceived deprivation". The best way to deal with insurgents is reintegration back into normal society while resolving the reason they fought in the first place. Killing insurgents often results in producing more. This is one of the paradoxes of COIN.

Terrorists are so radical in their way of thinking that killing/capturing is generally the only method of defeating them. Big difference here is the local populace WANTS us to kill them! They are viewed as criminals - not defenders of the people.

I watched a good interview video of David Kilcullen yesterday and he made a good historical point: no successful COIN fight has ever taken less than ten years. Lesson here is we have to simply be patient and steadfast. Here is the link:



Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 04/20/2011 - 5:10am


At what point does a localized terrorist group become an insurgency and vice versa? I have heard the insurgency in Afghanistan described as a 'localised insurgency'; what happens if there are lots of 'localised terrorist groups'?

The situation in Northern Ireland or the Caucasus could be defined as an insurgency at the local level but a terrorist problem at the national level. Terrorists must have at least some degree of local aquiescence in order to continue to function.

This does not mean that I disagree with you when you say that it is not necessary to kill them all, but it seems to me that a terrorist problem is really an incipient insurgency problem and the issue is one of scale. The Government wants to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate sufficiently that it grows from terrorism to insurgency.

If the terrorism / insurgency dichotomy is one of scale then the tools used to deal with it should be the same?

Demon Fox

Tue, 04/19/2011 - 9:43am

All good points.

Grant: when I say "winning the population" I do not envision a land of chocolate rivers and gum drop smiles. The population may not like ISAF. How many cultures do you know that want foreign armies patrolling their streets?!? The goal is to get them to dislike the Taliban (or AQI/ISI) even more and be willing to take up arms against them when they roll into the village. This allows ISAF and even the ANA to patrol through their area LESS - which in turn keeps them from being irritated by our presence. But, ISAF, ANA, and ANP should respond quickly to any calls for help by the village security force.

As for the FID part - we can no longer afford to hold off training the C2 "until later". We've been here over 9 years. What are we waiting for? I witness the problem first hand in my current position.

Callum: an insurgent group without a popular support base is simply a localized terrorist group. This is what AQI/ISI became after the Awakening in 2006. It is essentially impossible to kill them all and not necessary to do so. In this COIN fight, neutralization of these groups is the same thing as victory. By turning the population against them, they have virtually nowhere they can go and be safe. Eventually, it withers on the vine - many will simply quit and reintegrate into society as they realize their political goals will never be met.

Pol-Mil FSO: I'm willing to bet Holbrooke viewed the counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan the same way as most view the same fight across the US-Mexican border. Most, I'm sure, see it as trying to stem the flow and the defilement of US citizens on heroin. My strategy is not to aim at stemming the flow of drugs - that's just a benefit. We instead aim at their financial center of gravity. Keep in mind, the primary end users of Afghan opium is Europe, Iran, and Russia - together consuming about 60% of the total product. Only a small sliver of it makes it into the US and Canada. This info I got from a DEA guy and a product from the Joint Narcotics Analysis Center.

Bob: good stuff top to bottom. I see you argue against the "colonial COIN" in several of these blogs. In AF, I don't believe we have to "control the populace" in the traditional sense you refer. As you say, let the population control the government. In the case of AF, this means let the village elders control their own destinies, and I believe we do this by empowering them to defend themselves and not have to rely on ISAF, ANA, and ANP on a day-to-day basis. The villagers know who is Taliban or no - let them deal with it on their own terms through Pashtunwali and local law. The end goal is to oust the "foreign" Taliban and reintegrate "local" Taliban back into village life.

I do agree that the civilian side must take a significant if not lead role in COIN with the military in close support.



Bob's World

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 11:27am

A bit more on "winning the populace." This will only defeat the insurgency if that win is one of government reforming itself to meet the needs of that dissatisfied segment of the populace.

ISAF, as a military-led organization, pointedly does not, and arguably should not, take on such reform as its main effort. This is why such interventions really should be a civilian-led structure, under which the military arm serves as a supporting component.

This goes to the old wive's tale that "one must control the populace" to win an insurgency.

That is a good, colonial intervention perspective, which is where it came from. The fact is that insurgencies do not happen when the government loses control of the populace, rather insurgencies happen when the populace loses (or never had) control of the government.

Do the elements of the Afghan populace that support the Taliban perceive that they have control of their government (in Afghan terms, not ours)? No. The bulk of the populace is farily apolitical, but they do appreciate that their District and Provincial governments are handed down to them in a box built by Karzai, directed by the Constitution, and guarded by ISAF. They understand that their traditional system of patronage is dirrupted and that a foreign military force is occupying their country to protect this government sent down to them from the Northern Alliance in Kabul.

So, ask yourself, are we helping the people of Afghanistan to regain, and even attain new levels of control over their government across the populace so as to bring new stability to this troubled land and people?? Or are we merely there to help force them to submit to the control of a government that has not intention of representing many of them, and that certainly does not draw its legitimacy from any source that they recognize?

Until we shake the flawed concepts of our current COIN doctrine that are so fundamentally corrupted by the colonial experiences that they were derived from, we will continue to struggle in such interventions. "Governmental Control", be it by the Host Nation over the people, or be it by the intervening powers over the Host Nation, is no longer the "COIN" of the realm.

We need to evolve.


G Martin

Mon, 04/18/2011 - 10:20am


Although I think that your conclusions come from similar experiences as I have had, I'm not sure about some of the logic/PC-ness. A few thoughts:

<EM>BLUF: Winning the population IS defeating the insurgency.</EM>

I guess it depends on what "winning the population" means. Your take on it isn't what ISAF is doing (so I'd argue it is "politically incorrect" and not feasible in the current political climate)- but it also presents its own issues: there are plenty of examples of us arming groups at the local levels that have later worked against us. Although I'd argue it is more the fault of our lack of savvy to mold a comprehensive and complex strategy into operations, it would seem to me that our screwed-up strategic objectives impede any commonsensical approach like what you speak of.

In other words, I totally agree with you that it should be a local solution, but where we are today precludes this as an option (other than doing it on the fringes with ALP, etc.). And even if we turned to that effort as our main one, it wouldn't get us to where ISAF says we need to be in order to transition (not that I agree with where ISAF says we need to be). Others have said it here better than me- but no amount of good operations and tactics will save a strategy based on incorrect assumptions and faulty logic.

<EM>although the one-for-one construct does work at the tactical (company and below) level, as you said it marginalizes their C2. This is not good FID, folks. Without developing their C2, we are dooming ourselves to more years of deployments.</EM>

I agree, but the ISAF reasoning is that we can do that later- that any focus that takes away from the key district fight will undermine the effort to buy the time to build their own capacity. The problem I see with that is we're just continuing to punt responsibility to the future and we're building a paper tiger in the meantime. So I agree with you, but it runs counter to current ISAF logic.

<EM>They see it as someones else's problem (read DEA) and subsequently miss out on targeting the Taliban's financial center of gravity.

Eradication is not only too difficult but creates more insurgents out of ticked off farmers. The money made from the opium crops is the key to feeding a farmer's family for the year. Some of the Afghan district governors have conducted eradication ops, but it is a fallacious strategy. If we're going to make eradication work, we (read USAID) has to be prepared to subsidize the farmers for the profits they are losing. We do it in the US all the time!! In the meantime, USAID replaces their crops with wheat, fruits, etc. while the farmer's family does not starve.</EM>

I just don't think that is sustainable. The economic model of Counter-drug ops just doesn't make sense. It would be like subsidizing American's use of energy by giving them free windmills and thinking that will stop oil companies from making money. And I don't think there's any political will to subsidize our own farmers much more- much less Afghan farmers...

I think the main issue is our strategy, as many on here have commented before. Spending tons of money, leading the Afghans (as opposed to supporting them being in the lead), and fighting the insurgents mainly unilaterally are flawed takes on what is in our national security interests, what it will take to keep AQ from being a threat to us, and what would happen if we draw-down and/or let GIRoA take the lead IMO.

"BLUF: Winning the population IS defeating the insurgency.

Without popular support, an insurgency is doomed. This is what happened to Al Qaeda in Iraq / Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 - 2008. "

I am not sure about that. Without popular support an insurgency is unlikely to be realise all its political aims and objectives, but that does not mean that it will be politically or militarily neutralised, let alone defeated. Case in point is Iraq which is still experiencing an insurgency.

Pol-Mil FSO

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 2:39pm

One comment on the narcotics issue:

The USG funded, equipped, and trained an Afghan paramilitary unit to conduct eradication operations, especially in southern Afghanistan. The unit's operations had mixed results, for a variety of reasons, and Richard Holbrooke cut off USG funding for the unit when he became SRAP, in line with his long-standing disagreement with USG counter narcotics policy in Afghanistan.

Demon Fox

Sun, 04/17/2011 - 1:18pm

This is a great discussion by all.

BLUF: Winning the population IS defeating the insurgency.

Without popular support, an insurgency is doomed. This is what happened to Al Qaeda in Iraq / Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 - 2008.

I've beat this issue to death in other posts - the answer is to empower the local villages/tribes to defend themselves. Think of it as Second Amendment - Afghan style. It worked in Iraq, and it's working in areas of Helmand, Kandahar, and other regions where SF or other units have implemented it. Train them, support them, equip them, make it legal and the insurgent is denied both population and physical terrain. The role of the ANA, ANP, and ISAF will be to conduct training, quality control, and QRF response.

Bob: although the one-for-one construct does work at the tactical (company and below) level, as you said it marginalizes their C2. This is not good FID, folks. Without developing their C2, we are dooming ourselves to more years of deployments.

The fight in Marjah in late 2010 caused what we consider a significant amount of casualties to the Marines there. That battalion suffered several times more casualties than battalions in adjacent sectors. This was due to various reasons, but COMISAF advisor probes into the situation determined it was NOT due to any negligence on the part of the battalion commander or his subordinate commanders - as some would like to think. It is unfortunate that commander still finds himself on thin ice with his career.

Richard: thank you for bringing up the narcotic dimension in Helmand Province. BLUF here: the command / intel community in Helmand (RC-SW) has essentially no interest in pursuing a counter-narcotic strategy. The intel community will / does not commit collection to that end. They see it as someones else's problem (read DEA) and subsequently miss out on targeting the Taliban's financial center of gravity.

Eradication is not only too difficult but creates more insurgents out of ticked off farmers. The money made from the opium crops is the key to feeding a farmer's family for the year. Some of the Afghan district governors have conducted eradication ops, but it is a fallacious strategy. If we're going to make eradication work, we (read USAID) has to be prepared to subsidize the farmers for the profits they are losing. We do it in the US all the time!! In the meantime, USAID replaces their crops with wheat, fruits, etc. while the farmer's family does not starve.

The goal of the counter-narcotic targeting should not be to eradicate or even stem the flow of opium across the globe. The goal should be to target opium production for the sake of targeting the Taliban's wallet. In this manner, the counter-narcotics raids do not need to be year-round. Instead, wait until the opium has been harvested and is consolidated in the production facilities and depots. This is generally the April - June time frame. Kill the stockpiles in the production facilities and we kill a significant source of enemy revenue. Believe me, they WILL feel the effects! For the rest of the year, simply focus on collection of where the next year's production facilities will be located. The farmers get to feed their families and are left alone in the process. Also note that narcotics convictions in the Afghan legal system are far more harsh than convictions for insurgent crimes.



Richard B. Scott (not verified)

Sat, 04/16/2011 - 7:49pm

The one and most key issue at least in central Helmand that was not mentioned was the opium trade and its influences on the local economy and politics. And it is an issue that we have not seriously addressed in our counter-narcotics/security programs. The local government and the local police are clearly involved in the narcotics traffic which we tend to ignore, a point not missed on the local population. You cannot have the local government involved in this trade and have the farmers' trust and respect.
While we have tried the policeman's approach to the opium poppy cultivation of eradication at harvest time, the worse time to eradicate, we have given up by saying, "The US government is not going to impose eradication. It has to be something led by the Afghan government." Mr.
Kerlikowske of the White House Office of Drug Policy. To date the attempts at eradication have been an open door for a system of police pay-offs by the farmers to protect their valuable crops...probably being repeated at the present time. There has been no attempt at a comprehensive farmer friendly program that combines major support for the traditional cash crops of the region (like cotton and peanuts) along with a well timed eradication effort for those farmers that don't listen...soon after germination, so other crops can be planted. We started up a briefly funded program in 2002 with the complete cooperation of the "corrupt governor" and the local police at the time and reduced opium cultivation by 85% in Nad-i-Ali, a district of some 30,000 acres of irrigated land. All of which has been outlined (and ignored) in my website over the past 10 years or
Without seriously addressing the narcotics issue, we are kidding ourselves about winning anything...especially the local farmers both landowners and sharecroppers.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 04/15/2011 - 3:01pm


I liked your last two paragraphs, well said.

By the way have you read John Mackinlay's "Insurgent Archipelago"?


Bob's World

Fri, 04/15/2011 - 12:22pm

I will read and comment when I have more time. I worked closely with "General Nick" during this period and appreciate the challenges he faced and how he approached them. I am a fan.

That said, one has to separate the "success" of an operation from one's assessment of how much such operations contribute to the overall accomplishment of the Ends laid out by President Obama for us Americans, and by NATO for ISAF as a whole.

Personally, I believe the Marjah operation was very successful, though with a tremendous assist from the Taliban decision to change their tactical approach from direct to a more indirect resistance after the first few days. Of particular success were the efforts of the ANA Kandak and the two ANA Commando Kandaks tasked with southern Marjah. Advised and assisted by a handful of SF soldiers those Afghan units performed superbly under their own command and control. Elsewhere Afghan units were folded in to Marine and British units in a one-for-one construct that essentially marginalized host nation C2, but did ensure that the Afghans were fully involved on the ground.

As to how well the very tactic of "Clear-Hold-Build," be it by highly kinetic or highly non-kinetic means, contributes to resolving insurgency or addressing the problem of AQ, I find highly questionable.

We need to make sure we debate the right issues. The debate should not be what best "defeats" the insurgent or what best "wins" the populace. The real issue for a government is what best resolves the insurgency, and that is indeed a political matter.

For an intervening party the question is different yet again, it is one of what best addresses the vital national interests of that party that they believe to be at stake. In the colonial model that is by establishing and sustaining a friendly government against all challengers, foreign or domestic. It is my position that in the current information age that is a model that has grown obsolete and that the practice of it is the primary contributing factor to acts of international terrorism directed at those intervening powers.




Fri, 04/15/2011 - 12:42am

Unfortunately, Professor Farrell's comments overstate everyone's "success", from the US side to the GiROA angle. I'm curious as to the metrics that define how much of a district GuiROA has established control. Is the district governor required to leave the walls of the DC, and spend more time in the district that he does at his home at Lash? Are the ANSF required to be on the job i strengths that approximate the tashkiel authorized for the area If so, then the metrics need to be reviewed with a bit more scrutiny, because GiROA doesn't hold what we think it holds.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 04/15/2011 - 12:23am

This reads more like a UK strategic communications document versus an accurate description of how the situation in Helmand has unfolded. I do not want to taint what has been a valiant effort by many UK servicemen but this paper overstates Brit success - especially in the COIN realm. For starters, the 'connector' between GIRoA and the populace in Helmand are the tribal elders and the Brits are just starting to get this 5 years into the campaign.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Thu, 04/14/2011 - 5:03pm

General Carter in the interview said this as a basic statement about counterinsurgency:

"Counterinsurgency is essentially a political issue. The most important lesson is to understand that if you are going to prevail in a counterinsurgency campaign it is about winning the argument for the minds of the population on behalf of the government, against the insurgency. In essence that means you have to understand that everything is there for that battle - for the minds of the people - which means essentially it is about influence..."

Here, in a tight explanation, is proof that American counterinsurgency is about winning the hearts and minds of the local population. Some analysts have vigorously argued that American coin is not about the winning of hearts and minds, but it is, and the General's explanation makes this quite clear.

So the idea in Afghanistan is to persuade--by gaining "influence"--the population to turn away from the Taliban and support the Afghan government.

Here is the problem; history shows however that this kind of method of counterinsurgency by a foreign occupying power does not work. Moreover there are contemporary analyses that convincingly show that this kind of counterinsurgency isnt working in Afghanistan either. Bing West in his new book "The Wrong War" argues this very point.

This is why our strategy in Afghanistan is broken since it deploys an operational framework that hasn't worked in the past and isnt working now. And it isn't that we havent been trying hard enough or doing it long enough since the interview with Professor Farrell shows that at least with the British they have been doing Coin by the book in Afghanistan since 2007 (read four years).

Here is the essential problem: what is the mechanism that forces a change to an operational framework in Afghanistan that isnt working but this very framework has been turned into hardened concrete by a military establishment that believes it has? The problem with General Dempseys formulation of "win, learn, focus, adapt, and win again," is that it assumes that we will win. Well what if in Afghanistan we are not winning but struggling in a war with a dysfunctional strategy that is employing an operational framework that is failing?