Small Wars Journal

Reading Galula in Afghanistan

Reading Galula in Afghanistan by John Ford, War on the Rocks

This spring marks five years since the troop surge in Afghanistan began. President Obama authorized a plan to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December 2009 and in early March 2010 the first elements of the surge began arriving in-country. This decision was based on the view, advocated by military leaders, that the counterinsurgency approach that had reduced violence in Iraq could do the same in Afghanistan.

Five years after the Afghan Surge began the situation looks quite different. The surge is long over. U.S. troop levels are now down from a peak of nearly 100,000 in 2011 to just 10,000 today, and are scheduled to drop to 5,000 by next year (although Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said this schedule may shift). Two things have not changed since the spring of 2010: the Taliban have not been defeated; and they continue to threaten Afghanistan’s stability. The failure of the Afghan Surge has led some to suggest that counterinsurgency theory never had any merit and should be abandoned as a part of American military doctrine. After all, if COIN did not lead to victory over Afghanistan’s insurgents then it must not be a valid doctrine…

Read on.

Comments

Bill C.

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 1:45pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

If insurgency, as you say, is primarily about governance.

(For example: About the very common -- and very contemporary -- problem of dissatisfaction, by important segments of the population, with government policies designed to transform states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. This such "modernizing" agenda being considered, however unpopular, absolutely necessary to the continued integrity and national security of various nations.)

And if COIN is, as you say, equally about governance.

(For example, about dealing with the rejection/resistance/revolt problems which result from such unpopular -- but absolutely necessary -- government policies and agenda.)

Then, given these amazingly common and, indeed, amazingly current circumstances, what are the governments to do?

How do the governments (and the foreign powers that back same) address these matters "strategically?"

(While the military, as you suggest, simply creates the time and space, mitigates the high end violence and supplements the overtaxed and/or inadequate civil capabilities.)

Note:

a. If the government capitulates to -- or accommodates generally -- the desires of those important segments of the population (those who oppose "modernization"), then "modernization" fails and (along these lines of thought) so do these nations.

b. If, on the other hand, the governments continue to pursue their "modernization" policies and agenda -- in the face of such rejection/resistance/rebellion as we have seen in the past and again see today -- then, likewise, all may be lost.

Thus, to consider "hearts and minds" as the manner by which the local governments -- and the foreign powers backing same -- might get at these "modernization" matters more "strategically?"

(This, providing that these modernization "wars" might be "won" without -- or with much less -- "fighting?")

Problems with this strategic approach:

a. In the interim, the "hearts and minds" of these populations might be won by others (for example: by the communists back-in-the-day or by the Islamists today); this, providing that the inevitable "fight" might be much more costly and much less likely to result in a victory by our side.

b. Given the problems presented by our current times (suicidal/irrational opponents; suitcase bombs; etc.), the time needed to achieve a "hearts and minds" victory is simply not available.

Given these old and enduring problems -- and these contemporary/unique problems -- how does Galula help us here?

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 8:04am

In reply to by MeMeMe

This is delusional and ahistorical.

And for what it's worth, Malaya (now Malaysia) is as much a part of the Asian continent as China or India are. Yes, it has island components, but the Malaya insurgency was primarily about the Malay peninsula.

Military analysts of insurgency and COIN need to stop fixating on what the military does, because insurgency is primarily about governance, and COIN is equally about governance. The military role is indeed limited to creating time and space, mitigating the high end of violence, and supplementing civil capacities where overtaxed or inadequate. The gun fight is largely moot, as is terrain captured or lost, leaders killed, wells drilled, soldiers trained, etc. All of those things have objective tactical effects; but their strategic effects are the subjective way in which they shape how the rebelling segment of the population feel about the domestic and foreign governance that is affecting their lives.

Galula's greatest shortfall in my opinion is that while he recognized the causal and curative role of governance - he put that wholly upon the illegitimate and ineffective governments that France put into power in their colonies. Much like Mr. MeMeMe does above in regards to Iraq. Nice to have someone to blame. Galula thought of France's role as all positive. We in the US suffer from this some blind spot. It does not matter how well intended foreign occupation and manipulation of governance is, those activities will always be de facto illegitimate in nature and historically a proven driver of resistance insurgency.

As to Bill's comment about the military needing to focus on the military role I have to non concur. This is a governance problem and requires a holistic effort to repair governance and return a society to inclusive stability. To simply ignore the fact that policy makers are designing infeasible governance solutions up front designed to serve US interests over the interests of the people we claim to be helping is high order malpractice.

I do not regard Iraq as being a loss. While I still am against us going there in the first place, we created the necessary 'white space' for Maliki to have success. He did not do what he promised or should have done and he generally f---kep it up and ISIS is the result. And in terms of Afghanistan, the real problem was our allies. Their risk adverse recipe led to their 10s of thousands of contributors being useless in the long run. Combined with the ineffective Afghan Central Govt led to failure there. Malaya is a dumb example. I mean, it is an island, the govt was dominated by the Brits, concentration camps were used, it involved a hated and it a very minority of the demographic of the population. The Brits were generally credited with this huge counter-insurgency 'successes'. They were also given Basra and Musa Qala and in both locations failed miserably and required US intervention. No criticism of UK military, their political govt issues betrayed them.

thedrosophil

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 9:13am

In reply to by Bill M.

<BLOCKQUOTE>"As Bob stated below we had unrealistic political aims. Putting that to the side for a moment, since the military doesn't have the final word on those policies, did the military's approach to COIN work in Afghanistan? Did it work in Iraq? I would argue they did what they were designed to do, but they didn't achieve the policy ends. Furthermore, there is much more going on in Afghanistan than an insurgency, so attempting to limit the the problem to an insurgency has guided us to an ineffective operational approach. The first thing we have to do is gain understanding and actually define the actual problem correctly. I think we failed to do that, so an argument could be made that COIN doctrine isn't failing, but that insurgency isn't the principle issue."</BLOCKQUOTE>

I'm largely in agreement with you, Bill. This paragraph was rather poignant to me, as I'm currently reading "Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force" by Robert M. Farley, and the passage I was reading last night discussed the Air Force's affinity for quantitative analysis and its expectation that air power can achieve decisive effects when coupled with unprecedented (and ultimately untenable) intelligence collection and analysis. I'm reminded of the high expectations loaded onto the shoulders of "Shock and Awe"/EBO in 2003, and how that drove the OIF campaign plan for far too long. While this is largely an Air Force hurdle, it's one that has had a fundamental and problematic impact on the joint force, as evidenced by the description of General McChrystal's approach to Afghanistan in <A HREF="http://warontherocks.com/2015/01/military-command-in-the-21st-century-t… recent WOTR article</A>. This is essentially consistent with your observation that "they did what they were designed to do, but they didn't achieve the policy ends". Even when the campaign shifted from a combined arms maneuver model to a a more COIN-based model, the same fixation on metrics and intelligence driving kinetic operations to the detriment of "thinking", as you rightly put it, was obvious. As you rightly note, the same problem has manifested itself in Afghanistan.

Bill M.

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 12:00pm

The article simply posited several commonsense factors that are well known to most except U.S. policy makers. These points neither supported nor refuted COIN theory or U.S. COIN doctrine (the two are not the same). As one commenter suggested, we don't apply the doctrine evenly, so it is impossible to assess with confidence whether it works or not.

Ford pointed out some geographic factors that are important, but perhaps overstated. For example, mountainous terrain does provide the various armed groups in Afghanistan some advantage over conventional ground maneuver forces, that advantage has been compressed due to technological advancements in ISR, drones, rotary wing aircraft, etc. Moreover, if the insurgency stronghold is in the south around Kandahar, that region is not excessively mountainous. Perhaps the major geographic difference relative to Iraq is Afghanistan's size, it almost a 100,000 sq miles larger.

Ford's point about insurgent safe havens across borders has always been critical, and it is certainly critical in the current conflict. Petreaus lost a lot of credibility with me when he said we could win the war in Afghanistan without addressing the safe havens in Pakistan. This is a good example of an exceptionally intelligent and aggressive officer who forced the military to adapt to the reality in Iraq, but his adaption turned into a model that he thought he could transfer in its same form to Afghanistan.

People are people, we're all deeply flawed regardless of how intelligent some our leaders may be. I don't think we can remove the issue of human error, but perhaps one way to reduce it is to reduce our COIN doctrine by 2/3s, and focus it on understanding insurgency and counterinsurgency theory, and then provide a model to help facilitate learning and adapting. Bottom line it shouldn't provide answers (it can't), it should provide a framework for thinking. Just like recipes say add water, the doctrine should state "add thinking."

As Bob stated below we had unrealistic political aims. Putting that to the side for a moment, since the military doesn't have the final word on those policies, did the military's approach to COIN work in Afghanistan? Did it work in Iraq? I would argue they did what they were designed to do, but they didn't achieve the policy ends. Furthermore, there is much more going on in Afghanistan than an insurgency, so attempting to limit the the problem to an insurgency has guided us to an ineffective operational approach. The first thing we have to do is gain understanding and actually define the actual problem correctly. I think we failed to do that, so an argument could be made that COIN doctrine isn't failing, but that insurgency isn't the principle issue.

By no means does that last sentence mean I'm supporting the COINdistas who argue that America needs to tie hundreds of thousands of forces down in a particular country for 20 years, while letting the rest of the world crumble. Even if that approach could work (it is debatable), we can't afford it. There is much more going on in the world, so while COIN will always be important we really need to relook how we go about it.

thedrosophil

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 9:17am

This obviously reflects the massive rant-fest we all participated in back in December and January. Since 2004/'05, and particularly in '06/'07, American and allied officers cherry-picked from a handful of case studies and legacy literature (Galula included), produced a sort of Frankenstein's monster of a counterinsurgency doctrine, and then applied it inconsistently or not at all in theater, then conjured up the conclusion that the entire doctrine was flawed. With that in mind, Ford's "not so fast" discussion on Galula is a breath of fresh air.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 2:50pm

There is a great deal of goodness in Galula's work - unfortunately the US always attempts to apply it haphazardly to the infeasible and illegitimate political solutions we craft for the countries we choose to invade and occupy. We love to argue tactics, but it is our unwillingness to evolve strategically that dooms our efforts.

The strategic lesson not learned from the British experience in Malaya is that to make one's tactics work, one needs to first be willing to dump the infeasible strategic goals one began with, and adopt feasible ones in their stead.

We insist upon setting political conditions that we think will be best for us, and then dedicate ourselves to making those conditions stick. So far we are 0-2 in Vietnam and Iraq, and Afghanistan will undoubtedly make that a clean sweep of 0-3. Creating governments that lack self-determination, that are perceived as completely lacking in political legitimacy by large segments of society, and that exclude by design large segments of those same populations from fair participation in those societies does not magically become "legitimate" or "democracy" simply because we label it as such, help right constitutions, and oversee elections.

To lay that record at the feet of Galula is both unfair and to set ourselves up for an 0-4 record as we carry forward our highly polished tactical lessons learned into our next foreign adventure, and once again leaves most strategic thought ignored and unmolested.

Some day the US will gain the courage to allow for others the same rights of self-determination we demand for ourselves - but until that day, even the good LTC Galula cannot save us from our sins.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:17am

The subtitle of this piece reminds me of this quote:

"No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." Albert Einstein