by SWJ Editors
The Role of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Counterinsurgency Operations
Khost Province, Afghanistan
by Ensign Robert J. Bebber, Ph.D., Small Wars Journal
The counterinsurgency (or COIN) in Khost province was supposed to represent the "crown jewel" in American COIN doctrine and tactics. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Khost a "provincial model of success," and former CENTCOM commander ADM William J. Fallon described it as "a wonderful example" for the entire country. (Armed Forces Press Service 2007) Anne Marlow (2008) wrote a glowing review of recent efforts in the province in 2008 for The Weekly Standard, suggesting that the forward positioning of small platoons at "Force Protection Facilities" or FPFs, which are located in the district centers of the province, along with the substantial increase in the number and scope of projects such as road, schools, wells and diversion dams through the provincial reconstruction team, had cracked the code for American counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. Within a couple months, as the security situation continued to deteriorate, she was backtracking on her assessment of why American counterinsurgency strategy was "successful" in Khost province by suggesting that that it had more to do with the "role of commanders' personalities may be larger than we want to acknowledge." The previous commanders were "brilliant and personable," leading one to conclude that the individuals who replaced them were less so.
If only it were that easy, then we could merely charm our way to victory. But any knowledgeable assessment of the counterinsurgency effort in Khost would not conclude that the war was going well. Hype and publicity cannot hide the fact that the situation was growing dire, both in Khost and throughout the country.