Small Wars Journal

How the U.S. military fell in love with 'Three Cups of Tea'

How the U.S. military fell in love with 'Three Cups of Tea' by Greg Jaffe, Washington Post. BLUF: "... the scandal's most far-reaching impact could be on the U.S. military, which was quick to embrace Mortenson's message that one American could help change the lives of Afghans and bring light and learning to a troubled part of the world."

Comments

libertariansoldier

Thu, 04/28/2011 - 4:27pm

I vote for Gulliver, not because I agree with him, but to reflect my embarrassment that an O6 (even if he studied at Berkeley) insists on addressing people he disagrees with as "dude".

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 04/28/2011 - 4:11pm

Dave, Gian...

... drinking cups of tea with the locals and building schools in the hinterland... (smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo) is all well and good.

I can't help but draw parallels between the effects of pop-centric COIN in Iraq and Astan and public housing in America's inner city...

Come to think of it.. our pop-centric efforts in both Iraq and Astan has done for both places what public housing has done for the inner city... On the other hand, it keeps many a bureaucrat and contractor working and off the streets :-)

Sarcastically (or ironically) yours,

MAC

Bob,

I actually agree with most of your points, but where I think we may diverge is in the so-what of our views. I suspect in most countries where there are insurgencies based on my genetic make up and personal values if I was a local I would probably be an insurgent, so I don't simply view the conflict through a U.S. centric lens. I also don't think I would give two cents about the enemy's CMO efforts to win my affections, because that doesn't address the reason I'm fighting. Do we really think our forefathers during the American Revolution would have quit fighting if the British built schools and medical clinics in the colonies? Our COIN philosophy assumes people are shallow and easily bribed/persuaded, and yet we're always surprised to find that isn't the case.

However, moving ahead to our fight, as an American Soldier my (and our) job is to struggle to accomplish our stated objectives (regardless of whether or not I think they're realistic or not), and I think your proposals fail to nest with our objectives.

Jonathon asked a great question, and my personal view at this time is 5/2 did the right thing by conducting effective counterguerrilla operations and suppressing the Taliban. Unfortunately the Afghan officals failed to effectively exploit the opportunity created by the Inf Bde, so while the counterguerrilla operations were effective (and I wish more units were as aggressive), but in the end their effective had limited duration because nothing followed. It is systematic of the larger problem, and that is we're not organized correctly as a coalition with the host nation in the lead to achieve durable results. We cop out when we revert to a bottom up approach and ask young NCOs and officers to conduct the strategic level political work and "hope" it ties into some larger strategy, while generals get over involved in tactical level operations. Enable the infantry to effectively conduct counterguerrilla operations, and have then follow closely with civil governance officials to establish good governance that is clearly linked to the national government (since that is our strategy). Right now we're executing a strategy of hope. We hope the Afghans will like us, we hope they'll support the national government, we hope they'll reject Al Qaeda from returning (but our occupation for years has probably made this more likely), etc., and we don't have an effective strategy to achieve any of this. 5/2 did their job, their higher HQs failed to do theirs.

Bob's World

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 11:53am

Jonathan,

A very popular mantra these days is that insurgency must be resolved from the bottom up. This is the "strategy of tactics."

As you describe, our soldiers are performing admirably in harsh conditions against a smart and resiliant foe, and to what effect?

The bitter pill that no one wants to swallow is that in fact, insurgency starts at the top and radiates down, and in turn, must be resolved at the top as well. Our embarrassing problem in Afghanistan is that we cannot escape the fact that we both created, and now protect, that problem. Insurgency is politics, and far more often than not the primary source of radicalizaion is that very form, nature, policies and implementation of policies by the very governments we dedicate ourselves to protect.

We carry a huge rock in our rucksacks, and that rock is our Western historical perspective on insurgency and COIN. Pop-centric are just new tactics to employ the old strategy. We need a new strategy.

Jonathan Pan (not verified)

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 11:41am

Re: Robert C Jones

Defeated as in militarily suppressed, yes. The suppression allowed the nascent local government to form and try to deliver services. I can't argue that the people had Stability with a capital S, but folks were going to the district center to get water as it had the only functioning well after combat operations.

Note that there was a lot of press coverage on governance successes in the Arghandab very close to the battle space change to the 82nd. And frankly, I think a lot of it was warranted.

Nevertheless, soldiers continued to die as the Taliban regrouped after their military suppression.

The conundrum is as you said beyond the local level but our forces operate at the local level. So frankly I don't know what the options are, maximum force protection and wait? Conduct pop-centric coin activities? Conduct counter-guerilla activities?

A smart COIN campaign that combines necessary elements from all of those courses of actions would need to be dictated above the brigade combat team level.

Bob's World

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 11:07am

Bill and Jonathan.

Harry sat in my office at KAF and loudly proclaimed that he had "defeated the Taliban in the Arghandab!!" I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now.

I like Harry, and he ran a great counter-guerrilla campaign in the Arghandab, but the Taliban was not defeated there then or now. Counterguerrilla operations can suppress an insurgency in an area for a period of time. But that is not victory for the government, defeat for the insurgent, nor stability for the populace.

The insurgency in the Arghandab is a resistance movement. The very presence of the Coalition there, and the very suppression of the Taliban fighters by Harry's BDE quite likely made the insurgency worse. Such is the nature of resistance. The harder one presses their boot upon the neck of the people, the harder the people press back.

Now, can one go into that same valley and hand out cookies and electricity and win the populace over with "pop-centric" approaches? No, particularly when it is coming from the same guys who came here dealing death a few months earlier.

The revolutionary insurgency in Afghanistan will begin to resolve once the causal factors radiating outward from the Karzai/Northern Alliance government are resolved. The resistance insurgency in Afghanistan will begin to resolve once the overt foreign presence that this there to protect that same Karzai/Northern Alliance government is reduced as well.

This does not mean there is no place for security operations or even counter guerrilla operations in a smart COIN campaign. But first we need to have a smart COIN campaign.

Jonathan Pan (not verified)

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 9:53am

Bill M.
<i>I'm not as anti-population centric COIN as Gian, because addressing the populace is important, but it doesn't replace fighting the insurgents, rather allows you to do it more intelligently</i>

I concur, nothing is black and white. And sometimes we even have to drink tea.

Bob's World

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 9:36am

South, Middle, and North I believe; but the French unified them as one colony and Ho's goal was to bring that unified state under Vietnamese, rather than foreign, control.

We don't need to talk about how many separate states were pulled together to form the US, or Germany, or any number of other modern countries do we?? True facts, but not facts material to discussions of insurgencies within those "new" combined states.

I think you focus on the wrong facts and look at them with the wrong perspective, but yours is one that is both reasonable and widely held.

I think when we step back and look at things through lens less clouded by our western perspective on insurgency and less skewed by our US perspective (and US military perspective) one gets closer to the realities of the situation.

Bob's World

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 9:36am

South, Middle, and North I believe; but the French unified them as one colony and Ho's goal was to bring that unified state under Vietnamese, rather than foreign, control.

We don't need to talk about how many separate states were pulled together to form the US, or Germany, or any number of other modern countries do we?? True facts, but not facts material to discussions of insurgencies within those "new" combined states.

I think you focus on the wrong facts and look at them with the wrong perspective, but yours is one that is both reasonable and widely held.

I think when we step back and look at things through lens less clouded by our western perspective on insurgency and less skewed by our US perspective (and US military perspective) one gets closer to the realities of the situation.

Bob wrote,

""If one only watches the middle of a foreign film lacking sub-titles, it is little wonder one walks away with an understanding overly shaped by ones own perceptions of the meanings of what it is they saw.""

I agree with this comment and of course Vietnam's history didn't begin during WWII or even WWI, and they were divided into North and South Vietnam long before the French arrived on the scene. To claim that Ho "re"-united Vietnam is a bit of a stretch. Nationalist ideas started forming only after WWI.

Jonathon I know COL Tunnell too and agree with your assessment. He is one the Army's most innovative leaders, and fully prepared his BDE to conduct population centric in Iraq. Hell, I thought he was producing a SOF organization with all the language training, HUMINT, etc, but when they were in NTC doing their final FTX prior to deployment they receiveed notice at the 11th hour they were going to Afghanistan. Always professional he adapted with the remaining time he had left. In Afghanistan his unit moved into an AO where the former unit allowed Taliban almost complete freedom of action, and in in response the Taliban gave them a pass. When 5/2 Stryker rolled in they took the fight to the Taliban and of course the Taliban responded back and casualties mounted on both sides. Of course the population-centric COIN crowd lamented this was because 5/2 weren't doing population centric COIN. All too often history is horse crap, and personally I read historic accounts of our operations in northern Iraq that I participated in that were obviously false, but also obviously this falsified account appealed to someone. I'm not as anti-population centric COIN as Gian, because addressing the populace is important, but it doesn't replace fighting the insurgents, rather allows you to do it more intelligently. I applaud all who get outside the wire and intelligently take the fight to the enemy. That is what Soldiers should be doing.

RH (not verified)

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 3:27am

The Bush era sought to glamorize to some degree anything that appeared to be positive developments in Afghanistan. Whether is be true or un-true, the efforts to show progress was the objective of the political dimension between 2003 and 2008.

I worked as a direct hire for USAID..working Paktia and Khost Provinces most of 2003. Needless to say, the Iraq War took any momentum that was there in the first place..and placed Afghanistan on the "back burner" supported by stories like Three Cups of Tea.

Although my experience in 2003 is stark compared to today's efforts, my travels (and there were many) indicated to me..the people simply wanted to left alone. Sure, they would take what they could in terms of infrastructure..if it made their lives better..but, the prospect of western style democracy was absolutely out of the question.

The Bush people took every advantage to somehow "glamorize" our assistance to the Afghan people knowing full well Americans gravitate to issues of "helping others".

The "let's try everything to win public opinion" was exemplified by the Pat Tillman killing in Khost Province, April of 2004. The "establishment" absolutely lied and defrauded the American public on the facts of Tillman's death only for the purpose of maintain public positive momentum in Afghanistan while looking for "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.

Haiti/Bih/Afghanistan/Iraq/Sudan/Uganda

Jonathan Pan (not verified)

Wed, 04/27/2011 - 1:42am

Re: COL Gian Gentile
<i>Well for whatever it is worth, in the so called classic hearts and minds coin campaign of the British in Malaya it was exactly lots of glasses of your "counterguerilla ass kicking" that defeated the insurgents and won the war for them. No large glasses of tea did it for them.</i>

I proudly hang a Counter-Guerilla painting in my living room - Strykers in the Arghandab.

Re: Pop-coin lovers
Here is one anecdote which occurred less than a month after a unit occupied a particular district in Afghanistan: their guys were vaporized and their body parts were being carted around by the people whose hearts and minds they were trying to win. Does this sound like the type of people who would stop carting US soldier body parts around if they built them a school? Should they just conduct some shuras and see what the people REALLY want? You can throw 3-24 at them and Im pretty sure theyll still slit your throat if given the opportunity.

Dont get me wrong, I went into Afghanistan a total pop-coin loving type of guy. In fact, the supposedly evil COL Tunnell sent me to the University of Washington for 6 months to start my own company so that I could help Afghan entrepreneurs start small businesses. I can go on about all the other "kinetic" training we went through such as negotiation and mediation training. Mediation training was a fun 40 hours figuring out cases such as how to get estranged couples to talk to each other by writing down their mutual objectives.

Re: Gulliver
Im sorry that youve lost a friend in the Arghandab but you have no idea what happened in Arghandab unless you served there and if you served there please email me (jonpan83@gmail.com) your name so I can provide you with more information on what occurred at least during my deployment. Journalists dont really know either. That is due to the lack of information available to them, as well as to you. The result of that is only hearing anonymous frustrated responses from frustrated soldiers. I tried to balance things by publishing my own articles and trust me; I caught a lot of flak for doing so. But you must realize by now that nobody will write an article about the minor heroic acts that our soldiers do every day in the Washington Post.

Money follows eyeballs and provocative articles gets eyeballs. The main casualties are good men who spent their whole adult lives dedicated to protecting the Constitution and the Republic and getting smeared by the media and bloggers.

Therefore, I kindly ask you to stop the Tunnell-bashing unless you have all the facts and can accurately paint the picture. Going with a few articles online simply isnt going to cut it. This is a good point to mention that I am no longer in the U.S. Army so I have no professional benefits or liabilities for supporting anyone in the service. There is absolutely no personal benefit for me supporting him besides the fact that I consider the man a very capable leader. In fact, for the 24 months that I served under his command I did nothing but pop-coin stuff even when I personally realized that it did not work. By then I HAD to do it because NATO and ISAF was pushing pop-coin, with US tax-payer dollars, so hard you wouldnt even believe it.

I have been sitting on a minor history of Argandab operations in the 09-10 timeframe for a long time but the debate has gotten so angry, as Peter J Munson has mentioned earlier, I am afraid to add more fuel to the fire. However, I do really want to get the soldiers stories out. You would be surprised to see what they dealt with.

Perhaps I will submit it to SWJ in 2021 when things have calmed down and the whole coin question settled (hopefully).

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 04/26/2011 - 8:09pm

<b>Robert C. Jones:</b>While I broadly agree with your short tutorial there are two factors that pertain to the tale that you're aware of but that some often miss.<blockquote>"We could have avoided all of that by simply respecting the reasonable nationalist ambitions of the Vietnamese people in 1945, and honoring the commitments we had made to them during WWII."</blockquote>Quite true. It is interesting to wonder what might have happened had the staunch anti-colonialist Franklin Roosevelt not died. We'll never know.<br><br>
US Administrations change for expected and unexpected reasons and good policies often fall by the wayside. Anyone plotting strategies for the US should always bear that in mind...<blockquote>I won't re-write history, but I'll call it bovine excrement when I know it is a mix of lies, half-truths, and perspectives shaped by the concerns of era in which it was written, and biases of the people who wrote it. I've read Giap's account, he has plenty of bias of his own as well. Such bias is natural. As historians we need to look to the bigger picture and find the greater truth."</blockquote>I'm no historian but I agree with your point. It's incumbent upon all of us to filter biases -- our own as well as those of recorders -- and to always recall that history is shaped by the era in which it occurred, the era in which it was later chronicled and, perhaps even more so, by the era in which it is read. The history obviously doesn't actually change but perceptions do.

Many things that were obscured at the time are obvious when one looks back -- many also somehow now look a bit different in retrospect...

Bob,

I agree with your assessment of 1945 Vietnam, but that was not the same Vietnam when the South fell in 1975. I think our previous and perhaps current foreign policy of exculsion has failed us repeatedly. Yes, we should have stay engaged with Ho, even if he believed in communism. Funny we could embrace friendly dictators as friends, because he was a bastard, but our bastard, but we couldn't embrace a communist. Imagine if we actually divided the communist block by having pro-America communist countries? Cuba is more complicated, but having our foreign policy high jacked by right wing Cuban fanatics in Florida has done nothing to increase our security in the region. Besides they were thrown out of Cuba for a reason. We would have had much more leverage in Cuba if we didn't isolate them and allowed our businesses to invest in Cuba. We'll pay the price in the next decade or so when Cuba emerges from the dark ages into an economic power in its own right, and we won't have a seat at the table. The Europeans will be there (they're there now) and reap the benefits.

However, my argument still stands (Vietnam and other locations) that the insurgent group doesn't represent the people writ large, it represents a select group of people, and just because they are at odds with the government doesn't mean the government is bad, it may have everything to do with power, greed and fear on the insurgent group' side. Why do you assume the government is always the problem? Why should the government capitulate power everytime some radical and his group wants a change in government? Not all insurgencies are just and well meaning. One size doesn't fit all.

Bob's World

Tue, 04/26/2011 - 4:00pm

Bill M.

While I suspect my assessment of the history of Vietnam will stand the test of time; I also appreciate very much that most look at the conflict as beginning in 1965 with the arrival of major US combat forces and ending in 1972/3 with the suppression of the VietCong and the withdrawal of those same US Forces.

If one only watches the middle of a foreign film lacking sub-titles, it is little wonder one walks away with an understanding overly shaped by ones own perceptions of the meanings of what it is they saw.

I know you know Ho was our ally in WWII; I know you know we screwed him and his people to put the French back in control of Indochina. I know you realize we cancelled the national elections, convinced the Vietnamese to withdraw their forces north of the ceasefire line (they fairly held the entire country upon the defeat of France), coordinated the migration of thousands of Catholics to the South, and then designed and oversaw a newly tailored "south only" election where Diem was able to win 110% of the vote in Saigon, and (as I recall) some 90% across the south. I know we did this due to our experience in Korea and our overall concerns with Soviet-Sino advances in the height of the Cold War.

We made a conscious decision to subjugate the nationalist goals and aspriations of the Vietnamese people to our own nationalist interests in our Cold War struggle in that region. Major powers do such things. We could have avoided all of that by simply respecting the reasonable nationalist ambitions of the Vietnamese people in 1945, and honoring the commitments we had made to them during WWII. Making Ho an ally early and stinking with the people would have avoided many of the harsh extremes of communism that later were brought to bear in an effort to overcome our support to the regimes we created and protected in the south.

I won't re-write history, but I'll call it bovine excrement when I know it is a mix of lies, half-truths, and perspectives shaped by the concerns of era in which it was written, and biases of the people who wrote it. I've read Giap's account, he has plenty of bias of his own as well. Such bias is natural. As historians we need to look to the bigger picture and find the greater truth.

Bob's World

Tue, 04/26/2011 - 3:34pm

Douglas,

You have me at a disadvantage. My understanding is that Spartacus led a slave revolt, and that is a very different thing from an insurgency. I believe that insurgency is best defined as:

"Insurgency is an illegal political challenge to government, rising from a base of support within a significant and distinct segment of the populace, and can employ any mix of violent and non-violent tactics."

Reasonable minds can differ as to definitions, but I purposely focus on the illegal nature and political purpose; and steer away from the degree of violence in the tactics adopted.

Slaves were brought to Italy from across and outside the empire; so such a revolt is much more like prison riot to be put down, rather than an insurgency to be resolved. Certainly the Romans did not consider them citizens.

Secondly, building wells and schools is not really COIN, but rather are tactics adopted and promoted by the current COINdinista belief that a populace can be bribed by such trifles and trinkets into ignoring and submitting to the poor governance over them. Governance that is committed to not addressing real concerns of legitimacy, justice, respect, and the provision of trusted, legal and certain means of recourse to the populaces they serve. Certainly such bribes of development offered by the very external power that raises the greatest questions among the people as to who their government truly answers to (legitimacy) are unlikely to produce any enduring stability effect.

Our COIN doctrine in the US has always been heavily influenced by the lessons learned from the efforts of European Colonial efforts and our own. These operations were all about sustaining and protecting governments that had the sole purpose of serving the interests of the Colonial power, and that is not COIN. Following that mindset got us into the dark pit of protecting Diem and his successors in Vietnam; and similarly to protecting Karzai in Afghanistan.

Once we escape the inertia of our history of such interventions we will begin to shape, think about and execute such operations very differently than we have to date.

Douglas, I agree with you, I dont think there are many (if any) examples where insurgencies were defeated by addressing the grievance. On the other hand, many insurgencies have been defeated through the application of effective military tactics. Bob frequently argues that the civil rights movement in the 60s was an insurgency, and that the Civil Rights Act was COIN strategy. The Civil Rights Act was good governance, not COIN, because the legal movement pushing for civil rights was NOT an insurgency, anymore than gays pushing more rights today is an insurgency. It is simply part of our political process. However, while I dont buy Bobs one size fits all argument, in some cases addressing grievances is necessary and desirable, while in other cases it is not feasible. Bob appreciates the complexity and nuances involved in all insurgencies, so I dont know why he pushes "good governance" approach, or that bad government is always the cause for insurgency. History doesnt support this argument. If a relatively small population percentage of a moderate Muslim nation is pushing for Sharia law in a nation-state where the state is effective and most people are content, then the grievance of a few doesnt represent the interests of the majority, but if the few are anywhere around 10% of the nation they can be significant threat. Addressing the grievance would not have been effective, but rather it simply would have been capitulation dooming the majority of the populace to Sharia law that it didnt desire. He also frequently distorts the history of Vietnam by assuming that most S. Vietnamese wanted to be united with the N. Vietnam, yet the facts indicate otherwise. Their government didnt fall due to poor governance, they fell when N. Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. Our national leaders have bought into this good governance argument to the extreme and the related 3D approach without any evidence that it will work, and frankly Im not aware of any situation where it has worked. Maybe we can have a national security narrative based on hope, but when we commit to action we need to be more pragmatic.

Robert C. Jones said:

"All good COIN is executed by the Host Nation, and ultimately focuses on understanding and addressing the grievance. Everything else is noise. I have to chuckle at the very common position that Gian promotes (sorry, but I do) that governments can only make such changes after first waging a campaign against the populace that defeats the militant arm of the populace. I think that is a historically common approach due more to the military being given the lead and doing what they do best first, prior to the government finally making the concession that they need to evolve as well."

Robert, there are many historical examples where this is not the case. The Romans didn't build Spartacus any wells or schools. Hell, they didn't even give him freedom.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 04/24/2011 - 11:01am

I would suggest that we are still under the belief (or the illusion) that use of power ("soft," "hard," "smart," whatever) can and should be used to help to excellerate the pace of favorable change in -- and incorporation of -- the less-integrated world (our accepted 21st Century mission).

In this regard, we would only seem to have -- in the present crisis -- attempted to shift/ compliment our use of DoD assets by (1) enhancing/complementing these with new DoS, etc., attributes and capabilities and by (2) asking for greater participation from our allies.

Thus, I would suggest that we are still acting within this "we are intent upon bring about fundamental state and societal change -- sooner rather than later -- to the less-integrated world" construct and context. This would still seem to be what drives our conception of how United Statess instrument of power should be used in the present age.

And, accordingly, I would suggest that it still remains within the this construct/context that we should view such things as (1) how FM 3-24 came into recent being and was designed/developed as it was, (2) how, if and when FM 3-24 will be changed and (3) how the US military came to fall in love with such things as "Three Cups of Tea."

G Martin

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 9:19pm

Bill-

I don't think that is the overarching goal of the U.S. and its allies- at least not today. I think our overarching goal today is "change". I think that "change" means domestic issues have priority and foreign issues won't really have that much of a central playbook- we will be more pragmatic, less uniform (and thus more confusing), and less ideological (although we may at times sound like we are).

Therefore, I submit we don't need 3-24 for our current ops- although it will be used for STRATCOM purposes, we will selectively use its tactical precepts and defend its strategic concepts while only following them on the fringes. If it still looks like we are following 3-24's assumptions it will only be because of intellectual laziness and the complexity of trying to explain what we are really doing.

If Afghanistan's post-2014 narrative successfully spins that we won and that 3-24 was the reason, then we'll nation build the "next time" and prep for it to a degree until then- and 3-24 won't be re-written. It will be interesting to see- regardless of what really happens in Afghanistan- what the post-conflict narrative is.

If the post-2014 narrative is that we lost, then we might take the lesson that ops need to have limited objectives in the future- and if Libya is a "win"- then maybe that will be our template for success. Air power, no ground forces, and limited objectives. Sound familiar?

pjmunson

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 9:06pm

Bill C. (and COL G in the last paragraphs about 3-24 revision),
I believe that the idea was that we could knock out the regime, hold elections, and be gone. That assertion can be viciously attacked, but if I'm wrong, where was the planning, concept, etc that proves that there was a different strategic vision?

The idea was "the end of history." Once you hold elections and give license to the thymos and no one is a "slave," everyone will be happy and there won't be any wars or need to fly planes into towers. A gross oversimplification, yes, but this was the underlying idea. So, once we realized that quick application of democratic and economic liberalization wouldn't allow us to leave Afghanistan and Iraq better places, it became a muddle-through of constantly changing tactics and operational "art" (for lack of a better term). What is more, there was no strategy to tie these up and unify them. I think there are significant parallels to be drawn to... wait for it (Vietnam?)... World War I. No strategic vision leads to stalemate and tactical-operational muddle. Journalists make their name on calling out those that don't match the big name ideas, but in reality, every Bn is doing something different. There are some headline examples, but there are plenty of units that haven't made the press (at least as exceptions to the COIN rule) that have gone out on their own path with both excellent and tragic consequences.

Furthermore, when there's no strategic vision and no clear national interest at stake, it becomes a battle of battalions and below, with each commander trying to make his stones or grind his stone in his own way. Plus, in the environment of the military anymore, we all think the other guy is an idiot, so why listen to anyone else when they're all pushing an agenda that doesn't make sense? This sounds like an arrogant thing to say, but how many times have those of you in uniform heard something to the effect of "What the f- are they thinking?" That starts to sink in and eventually, why should we listen? This is not to say that we shouldn't listen, it is to say that the leadership needs to conserve its credibility, rather than wasting it on snow shovel training.

My train of thought wanders, but so does the operational guidance and the tactics. So, how do you capture that in a revised 3-24? And how the heck do you read that if you're also told to read Three Cups of Owen Wilson Wearing Afghan Garb and do a hundred modules of computer-based training, including going to Janie's office to figure out what you should do when you get an email about porn from Brazil (if you are in DoD, you know what I'm saying, if you're not, trust me that this isn't crazy talk)? And even if you are able to do all that reading and your job, then how do you change the doctrine, especially if you aren't on a staff totally disconnected from reality. And on those staffs with enough time to come up with good ideas, they're talking about how to make joint professional security education for the Afghan forces, not COIN. Seriously? Maybe I come across as a nut, but at my level, the amount of anger is incredibly and unhealthily high over stuff like this. Maybe if more audience was given to the guys at the pointy end of the spear than to aggrandizing nuts like Mortensen, we'd have revised already.

pjmunson

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 8:37pm

ADTS,
Rank is not important to me as a marker of respect, so no caveat required. I know that Peters is capable of intelligent analysis, but he's the worst kind of telephone tough guy and constantly changes his position on things. In a conversation in Monterey once, a student much like him was talking tough about killing people as a policy solution. Another student said something to the effect of saying to the intel officer, that's just mouse clicks and powerpoint slides to you. In other words, big talk with little to back it up. I'm not a shooter myself, but I instantly cringe when non-shooters talk tough with little rigor to back it up: telephone tough guys.

And his prevarication negates the quality of any good analysis he may have done.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 7:28pm

Addendum: Thus, was it within this requirement to achieve significant and fundamental state and societal change context that the US military came to fall in love with Three Cups of Tea?

Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 7:20pm

If the overarching goal of the United States and its allies, re: less-integrated states, is to fundamentally transform these states and societies (politically, economically and socially); this so as to provide that they might become better alligned with our system and, thereby, be able to better meet the needs of our citizens,

Then, considered within this context, does FM 3-24 -- as presently written and implemented -- work best, considering our various strengths and weakness, to achieve this goal?

If not:

a. Then why not and

b. What changes should be made to FM 3-24 -- so as to better align doctrine with our overarching goals and interests?

(Thus, following the maxim that, if the goal is to achieve political [and/or other] change, then all military action must be considered secondary and subordinate to this aim; a means to an end.)

ADTS (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 5:59pm

COL Gentile (et al):

Apologies if this second post constitutes a "hogging" of the board, and I assure you it will be the last such post, but I Googled "Katagiri" and "Malaya" a second time, and came up with an actual article (as opposed to a website offering a one-page-at-a-time version of a paper delivered at a convention):

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a934325290~db=all~jump…

Regards
ADTS

ADTS (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 5:54pm

Peter Munson (apologies, and no disrespect intended, for not addressing you by your rank):

I know it's not "military affairs" strictly construed, and I don't claim any comprehensive familiarity with Peters's work, but I thought the piece Peters did on Indonesia for USMC/CETO (or however one would properly abbreviate it) was fairly solid. It's actually fairly interesting reading, if you get the chance:

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/usmc/ceto/indonesia_report_march_31…

COL Gentile:

You might want to connect with Nori Katagiri at Air War College. I don't know him, nor do I know his work from Adam, but I think it might be of interest to you. You can see an abstract here:

http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/2/5/2/0/6/p…

Regards
ADTS

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 5:03pm

Tim:

thanks for the comments but look, FM 3-24 says that the Malayan insurgency holds "lessons" for "ANY" Counterinsurgency. (Caps as emphasis intentionally mine)

What does that tell you about Malaya as a case in FM 3-24? That it holds it up as a bright and shining example of how to do population centric Coin correctly. Hack's scholarship, specifically his excellent essay in Journal of Strategic Studies two summers ago makes a compelling argument that the back of the insurgency was broken primarily by the Briggs plan and that when Templer arrived in February 52 he capitalized on a framework that was already set to defeat the insurgency. But you see, what Nagl, Stubbs, Coates, Short, Ucko, and so many others have done is take the Templer years and argue that his "hearts and minds" approach (from 52 to 54)is what broke the insurgency by turning the local population away from the insurgents and to the side of the government. What I am arguing is that the insurgency was on the path to defeat before Templer even arrived, and it was set on that path by the two primary components of the Briggs Plan: forced resettlement of the Chinese Squatters and British Army field army operations that effectively severed the links between the resettled population and the insurgents. Chine Peng himself attests to this point.

Lastly Tim on your answer to my question as to why 3-24 hasn't been revised, well to counter your explanation that it just takes time to revise doctrine yes that may be true in peacetime. In wartime, however, history shows armies in the past revising very quickly: German and British armies in world war I took only two years to revise their tactical doctrine for trench warfare; the American Army in the hedgerows in World War II revised their doctrine in a matter of weeks; and the American Army in Vietnam revised their Coin doctrine in 67 after only two years of fighting.

No, I suspect, cynically, that are institutional reasons within the Army for it that have more to do with bureaucratic inertia and resistance to change by some general officers than simply a temporal problem. In this way the army has not gotten better since the 90s, but worse.

Finally, I agree with Michael, especially of his points of the narrow view of our criticisms of 3-24 and Coin.

gian

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 3:37pm

Maybe the Ralph Peters of late (<i>NY Post</i> Peters). In the mid-late-90's his articles in <i>Parameters</i> were quite good and got a lot of people thinking about the types of environments our forces would be operating in, before those environments were widely accepted as a possibility. <i>Our Soldiers, Their Cities</i> (1997), <i>Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States</i> (1998), and <i>Constant Conflict</i> (1997) are examples.

pjmunson

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 3:20pm

Am I out on a limb here, or should Ralph Peters never be named in a debate about military affairs except as a mortal insult to whoever you lump him in with?

Michael Cohen (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 3:15pm

Come on Gian, what are you complaining about - clearly you, me and Ralph Peters all share the same views on COIN and modern war-fighting.

But honestly, as is often the case, I dont understand Gulliver's argument - obv there are a different elements of success in a COIN operation (no COIN skeptic would argue otherwise). The very simple point on Malaya is the sequencing (which in the passage you clipped Hack makes clear) - Briggs plan (i.e. coercion of the population) came before Templar (civic action) and in fact was essential to the success of Templar. Nagl's book makes a different and wrong argument; namely that Templar is what led to COIN success in Malaya and downplays Briggs.

To try and cite Hack as a way of disproving GIan's underlying point about Malaya suggest to me that you haven't read Hack very closely or don;t understand his argument.

Also you continue to misunderstand and misrepresent our criticism of FM 3-24. By downplaying the role of coercive action in successful (and even unsuccessful) non-host country COIN efforts it is providing a one-sided and historically incorrect view of these types of conflicts. To read FM 3-24, to listen to COIN advocates and even more important to watch COIN-inspired efforts in Afghanistan in 09-10 is to imagine that coercion against civilian populations is not necessary and that the key to success is civic action, winning the trust of the local population, the provision of goods and services etc - this is of course deeply ahistorical, a point demonstrated by the Malayan insurgency. And as we've seen in Afghanistan has been spectacularly unsuccessful.

After all there is a reason Nagl and others downplay Briggs - and there is a reason that FM 3-24 consistently downplays the role of coercion in previous COIN fights like Vietnam, Algeria and Kenya. I would also add that this is a point made by dozens of people in criticizing FM 3-24.

What's particularly odd about your criticism is that you seem to be accusing us of cherry-picking historical data to criticize FM 3-24 when this is, in fact, precisely what FM 324 does - presenting a one-sided and historically inaccurate understanding of insurgent conflicts. And as we have seen at various points in Afghanistan this inaccurate understanding of how COIN fights are waged has had a direct impact on tactical decision-making.

Tim Mathews (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 2:51pm

I think Gulliver makes a sound defense of doctrine.
<blockquote><em>It distills best practices across a general type of activity (while allowing for circumstantial discretion). Doctrine almost necessarily will give the impression "that policies abstracted from one defining moment might be equally valid in qualitatively different circumstances"... except to those people who exercise discretion and intelligence and reason, those who make a good-faith effort to understand that doctrine is not a prescriptive template.</em></blockquote>
But, I think he is arguing against a proposition that has not been asserted. The criticism of our decision to pursue population-centric COIN, most notably by COL Gentile, was not that we were adhering to 3-24, so much as we were settling upon tactics and then attempting to mold strategy from those tactics. In that sense, doctrine was not prescriptive, but tactics were.

I think the debate has been muddled (by participants on all sides) because...
- advocating COIN is portrayed as blind adherence and misapplication of 3-24
- opposing the "tactics first, strategy second" approach is viewed as a rejection of COIN doctrine
- advocates of population-centric COIN in 2009 justified their support for that course of action by frequent appeal to 3-24, creating the perception that (paraphrase) "if you understand 3-24, then you understand we must pursue population-centric COIN in Afghanistan" and, by inference, "if you don't think population-centric COIN is the solution in Afghanistan, then you don't understand 3-24."

That final bullet point, in my opinion, caused many outside observers to actually believe one of those two perceptions. It seemed that many linked support for population-centric COIN with a fervent belief in a prophetic-like quality to 3-24 or linked opposition to population-centric COIN with a view of the publication as some kind of heresy. My view is that <em>both</em> views, with their overtones of faith, would cause Galula to spin in his grave, given his French nationality and, I therefore presume, his belief in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A2903663">laïcité</a>.

While I reiterate that I agree with Gulliver's defense of doctrine, I think he misses the mark with this assertion:
<blockquote><em>But then, that doesn't fit with the narrative that the U.S. military is trying to pull a snow job of kindler, gentler war on the American populace, so why bother making that good faith effort?</em></blockquote>
I'm not sure if that was the narrative, but there was certainly a set of perceptions being fostered that...
- all people yearn to be free, thus Afghans yearn to be free
- freedom means eliminating the Taliban and living with GIRoA governance
- the only things holding back the Afghans from enjoying freedom were Taliban threats and violence
- we would separate the people from the Taliban, thus allowing them to be free, by applying tactics (such as those emphasized by Kilcullen et al, consistent with 3-24)
- the GIRoA could then endure

The problem there is that the Afghans don't want to live under the Taliban <em>or</em> the GIRoA in its current form. They tend to succumb to Taliban coercion, but they also sometimes ally with Taliban to combat injustices perpetrated against them by the GIRoA, or acquiesce to Taliban rules as a lesser evil. Attempting to isolate the people from the Taliban through combat operations is very much like attempting to brew tea without water.

But COL Gentile's response also strikes me as not quite right. I have tended to agree with points that COL Gentile has written elsewhere, but I am not sure I follow what he is arguing here. I would need to again review COL Gentile's writing on this topic to be sure of what follows, but my impression from the above exchange is that he is debating the accuracy of claims that certain principles in 3-24 can be supported by historical examples from the Malayan insurgency. If that is the case, I suppose that the misapplication or misuse of history is vexing to a historian. But I wonder:
<blockquote>Is it an unsound principle because it is supported with a poor example?
Or,
Is it a sound principle that the authors have failed to support with a good example?</blockquote>
Lastly, COL Gentile asks,
<blockquote><em>"if American Coin doctrine was 'best distilled practices' then why ... has it not yet been revised after going on five years of experience at it and 'best practices'?"</em></blockquote>
I suspect the answer to that has to do with how slowly doctrine is revised (the 2006 document was touted for how quickly it was produced despite significant expense and effort, and it still took about 2 years). Also, FM 3-24.2 was published in 2009 - an update to the overall doctrine. Either way, timing issues or decisions over prioritization of effort in the school house do not seem to support or reject his "if, then" proposition, above.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 04/23/2011 - 8:39am

Mr Ink Spot:

If you read the scholarship of Hack he makes it very clear in multiple works that the back of the insurgency was broken during the phase 1950 to 1952 (which is a radical reformulation of the classic Stubbs-Coates-Nagl etc formulation which puts it happening squarely on the back of Templer from 52-54).

And if you read the wide body of Hack's work (which you seem to have not done), he argues that the critical phase which broke the back of the insurgency was the one above.

And dude, if you read what I wrote I didnt say that the Templer years were not important, because they were, but mainly in solidifying support he already had, and not as critical in the breaking of the insurgency. As Chin Peng the communist leader who fought the British acknowledged to Hack himself and other scholars in the late 90s it was not Templer but "Briggs" and his Briggs Plan that defeated his insurgency.

Hack aslo states explicitly in one of his essay's that Nagl's formulation is simply "WRONG".

And lastly dude, you appear to be quite naive, if American Coin doctrine was "best distilled practices" then why dear Gulliver has it not yet been revised after going on five years of experience at it and "best practices"?

Gulliver

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 2:16pm

And while we're on the subject, I'd just add one more thought: What Hack has identified as the "temporal fallacy" and "spatial fallacy" both serve to highlight just exactly why it is so simple for COL Gentile, Michael Cohen, Ralph Peters, and other critics to heap scorn on 3-24: doctrine is by its very nature NOT context-dependent. It distills best practices across a general type of activity (while allowing for circumstantial discretion). Doctrine almost necessarily will give the impression "that policies abstracted from one defining moment might be equally valid in qualitatively different circumstances"... except to those people who exercise discretion and intelligence and reason, those who make a good-faith effort to understand that doctrine is not a prescriptive template.

But then, that doesn't fit with the narrative that the U.S. military is trying to pull a snow job of kindler, gentler war on the American populace, so why bother making that good faith effort?

Gulliver

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 2:06pm

My favorite part of COL Gentile's consistent refrain is the way he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that population control, offensive operations, economic and infrastructure development, and good governance measures are phased, time-sequenced portions of an overall campaign. No less an authority than Karl Hack, COL G's very own imaginary COINtra prophet, made that very point <a href="http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2011/02/setting-the-record-straight-on… on SWJ several months ago</a>:

<em>That is a bit like asking, 'In making a cup of tea, which action is the game-changer: the heating of the water, the addition of the tea bag, or the correct amount of steeping? If you dont heat the water, or dont add the teabag, or under or over-steep, you dont get a drinkable cup of tea. In addition, if you do things in the wrong order, it may turn out disgusting. You cant just skip a stage and go to the one and single 'really important bit of tea-making.

The same goes for counterinsurgency. You cannot, for instance, go straight to a comprehensive approach for 'winning hearts and minds and expect it to work, if you have not first broken up the larger insurgent groups, disrupted their main bases, and achieved a modicum of spatial dominance and of security for the population in the area concerned. Local fence-sitters are, quite rightly in terms of family survival needs, likely to regard personal safety and avoiding 'collaboration with you as overriding concerns, especially after contractors and officials who help you are assassinated or tortured.

Yet for counterinsurgency, people do sometimes ask 'what is the one key ingredient? The answer is, menus do not work like that, and neither did the Malayan Emergency. There were distinct phases or stages. I would argue that many other insurgencies are also likely to have distinct stages, and indeed that within a single insurgency different provinces or regions may be at different stages at any one time. It is quite possible that Helmand and Herat, Kandahar and Nangarhar, could simultaneously be at very different stages, requiring very different policies.

The question above, therefore, encompasses what I would like to dub the 'temporal fallacy (that policies abstracted from one defining moment might be equally valid in qualitatively different phases), and the spatial fallacy (that different geographic regions will be in the same phase, so allowing a single strategy for a country no matter how fractured and diverse).

In Malaya, each stage was mastered by a particular set of responses. But in classical Marxist fashion, each set of counterinsurgency policies called forth an antithesis, which required yet another set of game-changing policies.</em>

The U.S. can, of course, determine in which phases of another country's counterinsurgency campaign it wants to be involved, and there's no imperative for American soldiers to stick around for the building-good-governance-institutions phase in every instance. But this doesn't change the simple reality that governance reform (or whatever you want to call the part of this that's bigger than offensive military operations) will in most cases be a required part of the <em>host nation's</em> efforts to sustainably quell an insurgency over the long term. To pretend otherwise is just fantasy.

But then, we're going somewhat off-topic.

APH (not verified)

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 12:26pm

It's pretty tragic if in 2009 we felt we had to go to an outsider to learn about Afghans. Especially since we'd been running embedded training teams for at least 3 years by then.

I also dispute the whole notion that Afghans are totally different than Iraqis. I was on an embedded transition team in Iraq and I'm an embedded mentor (as good a name as any) in Afghanistan. I didn't need to read a book to understand I should get to know them and listen to what they are telling me. Yeah, Afghan politics are complicated. So were Iraqi politics, and if people didn't know that I'd say they weren't paying good attention in Iraq.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 11:14am

Robert:

You refuse to decouple methods of countering an insurgency from state building and good governance. You sound more and more like Jack McCuen everyday.

Strategy may determine at some point that in some place in the world it is worth doing generatational state building by building good governance to deal with an insurgency. But that method of Coin should not be axiomatic every time we consider dealing with problems of insurgency and instability in the world. Until we do, until we can consider other operational methods of countering an insurgency other than one based on good governance our strategy will remain shackled by the principles and methods of state building coin.

In the specific case of Malaya, Robert, it is true that what defeated the insurgents was not better governance on the part of the Brits and native Malays that addressed their grievances and thus won them over but instead physical relocation of parts of the chinese population and military operations that severed the links between them and the insurgents. The political accomodations that Templer brought about certainly solidified the support of 60 percent of the Malayan population, but he already had them on his side anyway.

gian

Bob's World

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 10:51am

Just because one guy made up some stories does not invalidate a particular tactic any more than if the stories had been all true validated that same tactic in the first place.

Any effort overly focused on killing the insurgent element of one's populace; or providing development to the supportive element of one's populace (which is where it typically goes..Too dangerous to take it to the element of the pop. supporting the insurgents) is apt to fall short.

At the end of the day insurgencies are illegal political challenges to government emerging out of some segment of the populace that feels substantially aggrieved and that also feels it has no legal recourse to those grievances. No amount of physical punishment or bribery will cure that situation, but may in fact suppress it for some time.

All good COIN is executed by the Host Nation, and ultimately focuses on understanding and addressing the grievance. Everything else is noise. I have to chuckle at the very common position that Gian promotes (sorry, but I do) that governments can only make such changes after first waging a campaign against the populace that defeats the militant arm of the populace. I think that is a historically common approach due more to the military being given the lead and doing what they do best first, prior to the government finally making the concession that they need to evolve as well. The cases where the government made such changes first and either avoided the conflict, or resolved it short of great violence are far less sexy, typically not recorded in history as COIN, and far smarter operations.

Security operations are a critical component of a smart campaign, but are best kept from the very beginning as a supporting effort and narrowly tailored.

Intervention is not COIN

COIN is not war or warfare

COIN is government dealing with a situation, ofen violent, where a segment of the populace has opted for illegal means to effect political change. Just because the Pols tend to punt to the military, and the military tends to do what militaries do, does not somehow convert this to war. The long history of colonial and neo-colonial powers that are dedicated to preserving the political status quo in some far and troubled land severly clouds our thinking on this topic.

Bob's World

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 10:44am

Just because one guy made up some stories does not invalidate a particular tactic any more than if the stories had been all true validated that same tactic in the first place.

Any effort overly focused on killing the insurgent element of one's populace; or providing development to the supportive element of one's populace (which is where it typically goes..Too dangerous to take it to the element of the pop. supporting the insurgents) is apt to fall short.

At the end of the day insurgencies are illegal political challenges to government emerging out of some segment of the populace that feels substantially aggrieved and that also feels it has no legal recourse to those grievances. No amount of physical punishment or bribery will cure that situation, but may in fact suppress it for some time.

All good COIN is executed by the Host Nation, and ultimately focuses on understanding and addressing the grievance. Everything else is noise. I have to chuckle at the very common position that Gian promotes (sorry, but I do) that governments can only make such changes after first waging a campaign against the populace that defeats the militant arm of the populace. I think that is a historically common approach due more to the military being given the lead and doing what they do best first, prior to the government finally making the concession that they need to evolve as well. The cases where the government made such changes first and either avoided the conflict, or resolved it short of great violence are far less sexy, typically not recorded in history as COIN, and far smarter operations.

Security operations are a critical component of a smart campaign, but are best kept from the very beginning as a supporting effort and narrowly tailored.

Intervention is not COIN

COIN is not war or warfare

COIN is government dealing with a situation, ofen violent, where a segment of the populace has opted for illegal means to effect political change. Just because the Pols tend to punt to the military, and the military tends to do what militaries do, does not somehow convert this to war. The long history of colonial and neo-colonial powers that are dedicated to preserving the political status quo in some far and troubled land severly clouds our thinking on this topic.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 10:36am

If you want a most current example, take a look at the Charlie Rose transcript of his most recent interview with Under Secretary for Defense Michele Flournoy (aired last night). Quite interesting.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 10:34am

Why are we being so hard on the Army in particular? I've never been in the military but it seems to me that the book is simply emblematic of much of Western development theory, which our political class thinks key to overseas security.

We will change cultural attitudes and strategic priorities via "development," whether it be USAID money to NGOs or large aid and debt relief packages.

Look at the non-stop tweeting by the "State" department over on the twitterati feed. The Sec. of State has an opinion on everything under the sun, it appears.

There are many worthy individual programs but the link between individual programs and long term strategic aims is weak. Building governance capacities is hard when targeted assasinations of the educated classes is the strategy of others. Keeps Afghanistan weak and its neighbors strong in relation.

I saw the following article linked here via the SWJ twitterati feed (Christain Bleur, perhaps?). An excerpt:

<blockquote>US governments since 1953 have always accorded priority to Pakistan, as the indispensable geopolitical ally, over Afghanistan, regarded by Washington more often than not as a political nuisance lying within Pakistans proper sphere of concern and influence. The Dulles accords with Pakistan in 1953 considered as primordial the strategic importance of Pakistans geography along the Indus, stretching from the highest summits
in Central Asia to the northern shore of the Gulf. Under the wing of its American alliance, Pakistan since at least 1975 (and really since 1947) has pursued fixed Afghan goals perceived as vital to its own national security, goals which it never renounces and from which Pakistani generals can be scarcely deflected, even to the risk of global war, irrespective of outward and usually cosmetic alternating changes in Pakistans governing personnel, civilian or military.</blockquote>

http://www.princeton.edu/~lisd/publications/afgh_barry2011.pdf

What is the saying? About history never repeating but rhyming?

Oh no. It repeats itself, too. South Asia is my personal hobby horse, but the theories apply to Africa, Eastern Europe, and so on. Taking an intellectual history of our own institutions might be interesting. Client states of various sorts are infinitely appealing to our governing classes.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 8:15am

Gulliver:

The title of your cross post is this:

"Three cups of WHAT? How about a nice tall glass of FM 90-8 COUNTERGUERRILLA ASS-KICKING?"

Well for whatever it is worth, in the so called classic hearts and minds coin campaign of the British in Malaya it was exactly lots of glasses of your "counterguerilla ass kicking" that defeated the insurgents and won the war for them. No large glasses of tea did it for them.

Actually I think this whole Mortenson affair should not be kicked under the table by coindinistas like Exum and others. Instead it should be a wake up call to the American Army to the fact that pop centric coin does not work. The only way a personalized version of it worked in Mortenson's book was for him to lie about it, and the only way for it to work in a militarized form through pop centric coin is to create the perception--or actually myth--that it does. But it does not, and the sooner we accept this point the sooner we can establish the possibility of having a functional strategy in Afghanistan.

gian

G Martin

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 11:42pm

For some reason I never bought or read that book. Prior to deploying I read:

- <EM>The Bookseller of Kabul</EM>
- <EM>The Places in Between</EM>
- <EM>The Kite Runner</EM>
- <EM>Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics</EM>
- <EM>Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda</EM>
- <EM>Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban</EM>
- <EM>The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan</EM>

Agree with you, Bill- the USAID guy hit the nail on the head.

Whether we are building schools for them or supplying police with ammunition- that kind of charity work hasn't helped any African nations rise up into self-sustaining nations that no longer need charity. If anyone at the "tactical" level isn't able to articulate- including this group- their "transition" plan in detail and how it turns over a larger percentage every month to the Afghans- then I'd say they need to pack up and leave.

At the operational and higher levels that's a little harder- as Miklaucic notes: it is our war.

COL M: agree with you too- I found that most IAs never heard of the book and the Afghans I talked to weren't too impressed with it. I'll never forget a Navy officer saying to an Afghan businessman when first meeting him, "Oh, I have read Two Cups of Tea!"

The businessman corrected the title and went on to describe for 10 min. how he did not like the book.

COL G: agree with you too- I think a lot of units did get that pushed onto them.

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 11:17pm

<blockquote>"The war in Afghanistan isnt about persuasion or tea. It is about power."</blockquote>

Always is...

I really enjoyed the last paragraph, I think he hit the nail on the head, but it is truth we continue to ignore. Our war isn't their war, and while definitely shouldn't act like jerks, neither should we assume we can bribe people to fight our war with acts of kindness.

"No amount of tea with Afghans will persuade them that we are like them, that our war is their war or that our interests are their interests," said Michael Miklaucic, a longtime official with the U.S. Agency for International Development who is currently serving at the Pentagons National Defense University. "The war in Afghanistan isnt about persuasion or tea. It is about power."

gian p gentile (not verified)

Thu, 04/21/2011 - 9:27pm

Dave:

good points.

But at least within the field American Army he had become something of all the rage. Many, many battalions and brigades had him visit their units prior to deployments to Afghanistan. In a sense, Mortenson became almost like Galula's text did for the Army when FM 3-24 first came out. Both it seems, and in agreement with you, appeared to be the "silver bullet" in the form of texts that offered the key to success by program and procedure in Afghanistan.

But as you have also argued correctly before in war there are no silver bullets or oracles in the form of historical or current texts, only ourselves and our understanding of the complexity of war and our ability to act rightly and creatively within it. In its own way Mortenson's book and the consumption with it in the American army helped prevent that from happening. It proved to be a gloss over the reality of war in Afghanistan; the gloss was the idea that people could be won over and turned away from the enemy by building girl's schools.

gian

This should probably more accurately say how SOME in the US military fell in love with "Three Cups of Tea." Not everyone did. And as I have said previously there are many across the military, USAID, and State Department who knew as much about this kind of work as Mortenson and did not need to be told about "the don't be a jerk school of counterinsurgency." But then there are many of us who continue to search for the silver bullet or holy grail of COIN, but I guess Mortenson has turned out to be a false prophet.