Small Wars Journal

Learning Painful Lessons From Afghanistan

Learning Painful Lessons From Afghanistan by Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv - UASWC War Room

When the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) finally closed shop in Afghanistan in 2014, many participating nations professed a weariness with complex, civil-military, out-of-area operations. These operations demanded close, often awkward, relationships of cooperation, co-existence, and confrontation between different civil and military actors, including local civilians. Amid the withdrawal, many militaries and their defense departments seemed to express a collective sigh of relief, talking about a ‘return’ to strictly military priorities and operations. The focus shifted to ‘near area’ operations and security concerns at home. However two related problems remain:

  1. It is very difficult to claim Afghanistan can be characterized as a success story as a functioning state for and with its people. Given the enormous effort, the outcome is nothing short of a disaster. We need more self-reflection as to why that is.
  2. The civilian role in conflict is still sorely neglected – a perilous oversight for both understanding what happened in past operations but also for future conflict scenarios. There is a lot to learn from the civil-military relationships in Afghanistan.

Conflicts, both in Afghanistan as well as at home, will continue to have both a complex civilian and military character. Understanding past, current and future civilian domains is more necessary than ever before.

 

Where to begin? ISAF, in combination with the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), consisted of the combined intervening American forces with their NATO and non-NATO allies into Afghanistan after the attacks on the US World Trade Centre in 2001. Today, a smaller mission, focusing on security-related training and support, persists in Afghanistan with considerably fewer troops under Operation Resolute Support

Read on.

Comments

Bottom Line Up Front: 

Such things as "civil-military operations" -- and likewise "the return to strictly military priorities and operations" -- these matters, today, are best understood in terms of whether U.S./Western governments, via their foreign and domestice policies, believed -- and/or still believe -- that the states, societies and civilizations of the world (to include our own) must be "transformed;" this, so as to better provide for, and so as to better benefit from, such things as globalism, globalization and the global economy.

Explanation:

BEGIN QUOTE FROM OUR ARTICLE ABOVE

When the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) finally closed shop in Afghanistan in 2014, many participating nations professed a weariness with complex, civil-military, out-of-area operations. These operations demanded close, often awkward, relationships of cooperation, co-existence, and confrontation between different civil and military actors, including local civilians. Amid the withdrawal, many militaries and their defense departments seemed to express a collective sigh of relief, talking about a ‘return’ to strictly military priorities and operations. ...  Conflicts, both in Afghanistan as well as at home, will continue to have both a complex civilian and military character.

END QUOTE 

Perhaps the very first thing that we should do here is to acknowledge the HOW and WHY of our conflicts overseas, for example, as relates to places such as the Greater Middle East -- and our conflicts here at home also -- for example, as relates to the Brexit and the election of President Trump -- HOW and WHY these: 

a.  Have (or ultimately could have here at home) a "complex civil-military" character and, likewise,

b.  Have a common cause. 

In this regard, one thing stands out like a sore thumb; this being that -- both our conflicts overseas in places such as the Greatet Middle East -- and our conflicts here at home and as exemplified by the Brexit and the election of President Trump -- both of these such conflicts appear to be directly related to:

a.  U.S./Western governments' efforts,

b.  To alter the way of life, the way of governance, the values, attitudes and beliefs of the world's populations (to include that of our own populations here at home); this,

c.  So as to better provide for and better benefit from such things as globalism, globalization and the global economy. 

Herein, to note that our nations' such foreign policies -- and indeed our nations' such domestic policies also of late -- these would now seem to have been soundly rejected:

a.  Both by populations overseas, for example, in places such as the Greater Middle East.  (Who, much like we ourselves, do not wish to see their states, societies and/or civilizations "modified," "altered," and/or "transformed;" this, so as to better provide for and better benefit from such things as globalism, globalization and the global economy?).  And:

b.  By our populations here at home also (see the Brexit and the election of President Trump) who, likewise,  do not wish to succumb to such political, economic, social and/or "change" demands as -- in the name of accommodating globalization, the global economy, etc. -- are being made by their governments. 

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

As I have described it above, the requirement for "complex civil-military operations" -- possibly both here at home (for example, as in the old days and as per the American Civil War?) -- and in places such as the Greater Middle East also -- this such requirement stems from the fact that both our governments' foreign, and indeed our governments' domestic policies of late -- BOTH OF THESE such policies have been focused on "transforming" the states and societies of the world (to include our own); this, so as to better provide for, and so as to better benefit from, such things as globalism, globalization and the global economy.

And, thus, I suggest that is in this exact such context that "complex civil-miltary operations" were:

a.  Considered necessary presidental administrations devoted to accomplishing political, economic, social and value "change" thoughout the world -- for example, the President George W. Bush administration -- and were:

b.  Soundly rejected (see "a return to strictly military priorities and operations" in my quoted item from our article above) -- for example, by President Donald J. Trump administration.