Small Wars Journal

National Security Decision-Making and Small Wars

Fri, 01/27/2012 - 7:45pm

I enter the COIN argument to say that the debate is misplaced in an article at Foreign Policy's Af-Pak Channel.

Before arguing about counterinsurgency as a tactic or a strategy, we must first acknowledge a key point: America did not enter any of these wars (going back to Vietnam) as a counterinsurgent or a nation-builder. America entered these wars with ill-defined strategic goals, the result of lowest common denominator bureaucratic negotiations. These goals were not sufficiently thought out, clearly stated, or properly subscribed to by the government writ large, resulting in nearly immediate drift. This fact should point us toward the true roots of the problem.



Move Forward

Tue, 01/31/2012 - 8:13am

In reply to by TM

While it is diplomatically difficult to say/admit that security in both Kandahar and Helmand provinces has advanced signficantly since the U.S. surge, that reality is undeniable.

I find it ironic that the same folks who argue that the Brits and Canadians succeeded with fewer troops (and uparmored trucks) and airpower (helicopters), are those who would argue that we should emulate the British and Marine policy of using generic CASEVAC aircraft instead of dedicated MEDEVAC aircraft. Countries and politicians who lack the resources and will to do the mission correctly, conveniently fall back on the argument that fewer resources are preferred.

The sole realistic strategy that we never attempted in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was occupation and division along ethnic lines prior to holding elections. If each sector of the country had greater autonomy, than many of the corruption and governance concerns of the population would have been assuaged.

Perhaps in a region where the first part of the names of many countries aligns with an ethnicity, and the last part ends in "stan," we might see that as a potential solution to preventing civil war. After all, Pashtuns are only divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the pre-1900 Durrand Line.


Mon, 01/30/2012 - 11:47pm

In reply to by Move Forward

<blockquote>"If our approach there had been resourced to a greater degree from the start, the Taliban resurgence may never have occurred."</blockquote>
This is a belief that needs to be supported or needs to die.
<p>The idea that the Taliban resurgence is due to inadequate resources is a claim that arose not as the product of research and objective analysis, but as political rhetoric. The rhetoric arose during highly polarized campaigns, at a time when our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan were highly controversial. Public frustration with Iraq was high due to a belief that we should not have been there. Public frustration with Afghanistan was high due to a belief that the war was just, but bungled. The most effective political argument, therefore, was to claim that Afghanistan suffered not from poor strategy, lack of capability, or poor execution, but rather a lack of resources - politicians not giving our glorified military what it needed. Only politicians depriving our armed forces of what tools they needed could explain our infallible military somehow failing. Blaming our failures in Afghanistan upon a diversion of attention or resources to Iraq was a convenient narrative to both explain away our military's lack of competency and capability, as well as to assign blame against the sitting President and his party.</p>
<p>Resources are only as useful as the organization's potential to leverage them. What is the evidence that, if we had more resources in Afghanistan, that there would be no - or a lesser - Taliban resurgence?</p>
<p>Let's look at the drivers of support for the insurgency:<br />
- corruption of public officials<br />
- abuse at the hands of ANP, ANA, and ALP<br />
- lack of jobs and public services</p>
<p>How do more resources, of the type dedicated to Iraq, address those issues in a timely manner, so that the Taliban is not able to exploit those grievances? Does an extra 50K troops make public officials less corrupt? Does it make ANP change their views about whether the public should be abused versus protected? Does it create jobs? (And don't use Kabul as evidence that it does - that example doesn't work in the largely rural countryside)</p>
<p>Let's look at grievances held by both the public-at-large, and the insurgent who filled the governance gaps and dissatisfactions above:<br />
- no say in the Constitutional Loya Jirga<br />
- no voice in the new government<br />
- lack of transitional justice</p>
<p>Again, how does the addition of more troops address this? How does more money address this? These are shortcomings of strategy - failure to identify realistic ends; failure to adequately assess our means of achieving those ends or others; failure to plot out ways; resultant inability to operationalize anything rationally related to objectives that advance our national interests; and then a strategic reassessment 8 years later where we essentially decided that we didn't really know what the problem was, but we were sure that COIN was the solution.</p>
This isn't just a rant reacting to one comment that happens to be a pet peeve. This issue is part of a larger problem. When we base our understandings of the past on poorly thought out conventional wisdom, like the "lack of resources" argument, then we are bound to learn the wrong lessons. That leads to the question that some are now asking:
<blockquote>How do you convince administrations (and allies) that a more decisive initial operation will be less costly in blood and treasure than a prolonged conflict with less assets[?]</blockquote>
Throwing more resources at a problem has little to no utility unless there is organizational competency to leverage those resources. Poor strategy, in part due to, and in part exacerbated by, our inadequate understanding of Afghanistan, and our resultant inadequate capability to leverage resources of any quantity in pursuit of that strategy, led to a mess that is ten years old and withering quickly.

Move Forward

Mon, 01/30/2012 - 11:07am

Peter, you did a great job of describing the problem. But your solution appears less clear other than "think about it." The "thinking" behind Iraq was probably less clear, but Afghanistan was going to happen due to 9/11. If our approach there had been resourced to a greater degree from the start, the Taliban resurgence may never have occurred.

You mention General Shinseki's advice that we needed more troops initially, and that seemed to play out during the Iraq surge even if other factors were involved. The Afghanistan surge similarly overcame inadequacies created by the Brits and Canadians trying to do too much with too little for years in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

How do you convince administrations (and allies) that a more decisive initial operation will be less costly in blood and treasure than a prolonged conflict with less assets. After all, 4 years at $100 billion annually and 400 lost lives each year is less costly than 8 years at $60 billion with 300 lost lives annually.

Given what happened in Libya, I'm afraid future administrations will learn the wrong lessons and assume that an air/sea campaign alone will be sufficient to deal with Iran and the South China Sea. When that band-aid just postpones the solution, we will have a series of Groundhog Day wars and threats by Iran and China that will drive up oil prices...hurting our economy far more than a 4 year war.