Many Paths up the Mountain:
Population-Centric COIN in Afghanistan
by Major Nathan Springer
Download the full article: Population-Centric COIN in Afghanistan
The reality of how Troops implement and execute Population-Centric Counterinsurgency (COIN) in Afghanistan and the associated narrative spin in the Western COIN community of interest are at odds. A misguided and mistaken narrative surrounds ISAF's Population-Centric strategy in Afghanistan. I have listened to countless experts describe Population-Centric COIN as soft, focused on anything but the enemy, and extremely left leaning while Enemy-Centric COIN gets pegged the right-wing counter-terrorism approach, wholly focused on the enemy. This over-simplifies both schools of thought and fails to accurately describe either of them.
I have heard leaders voice strong concerns that the Population-Centric strategy will constrain them in Afghanistan while some contend Population--Centric COIN is glorified nation building. Others have adopted Population-Centric COIN whole-heartedly and without much question, as if it is the ultimate cure-all for any Area of Operation.
COIN experts have seemingly come out of the woodwork, each articulating their own COIN theory on Afghanistan. Population-Centric, Leader-Centric, Enemy- Centric, tribally motivated, religiously motivated, externally organized, internally organized, you name it. I have experienced a recurrent thought as I have traveled to various COIN venues over the past few months, scrutinizing the dialogues about these theories. A few days ago, at the COIN symposium, I decided to just get it out there.
Download the full article: Population-Centric COIN in Afghanistan
Major Nathan Springer is the Chief of Operations at the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center. The thoughts and opinions in this article are entirely his own and do not represent the position of the United States Army.
About the Author(s)
Regarding "Get out of the freaking FOBs and into the neighborhoods.", that was RamadiNights I was quoting. I imagine he meant to get off the FOBs and do joint security patrols with the Afghans.
I advocate a position of lets see what the Afghans do on their own approach, versus what we want to do in the region. I suspect we will find groups of Afghans that will want our help in what they are doing and that we will be comfortable in aiding them without any significant presence of our soldiers.
In the mean time we can quietly work on tracking down remaining Al Queda leadership that planned attacks on us.
I am a long ways from being convinced that it is necessary or worth the cost to do much more than this.
This is Ghostrider. I'm switching from strategic (Mike's World), which as I know that I can only opine as I learn more everyday and I'm anything but an expert, to Mike's World of tactical that I know intimately.
From Brother Brown,
"Its an order." Wow, thanks for the memo. I was wondering that shit back in 2002. LOL. That's why we blog. How do we execute?
From Brother Kdog,
"Get out of the freaking FOBs and into the neighborhoods."
Uh, okay, Get out of the FOB's and do what? It is so modern, cool, and indirect to state that I live outside the FOB. I feel so post-modern and neo-conservative that I can spell COIN.
Guess what, I've been deployed in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007 and I can't spell FOB. That's the magic place that I'd go once a month to get a haircut and grab some Green Beans.
Just some considerations to consider...
So let us consider less we narrow a commander's options...
-Build a patrol base. Basic FM 3-24 unless the peeps or people are highly xenephobic and the terrain is less than condusive. Unless of course, METT-TC directs otherwise: terrain is not condusive, people are not condusive.
-Partner or SFA in pseudo FID operations.
-Stay in the rear and train habitial state security forces.
- Go foward and negoitiate tribal engagement as Jim Gant offers. Build the local security force, don't work against it.
- Kill some Taliban and Al Qaeda fools.
- Switch to extended patrolling as Jon Custis suggest in SWC. 2-3 weeks onward with assembly areas, LZ/PZ's for logistics, and on-going resupply.
- Own the night and start with strategic patrolling for intelligence gathering.
- Clear the Enemy's safehavens without regard for boundaries.
This is the only the start of so many other options. I apologize for my snarkyness in advance. Just consider my words, the task, and METT-TC.
Forget the self-proclaimed experts. Instead, listen to the practisioners and thinkers to include COL Dave Maxwell,
"These thoughts of warfare cannot be constrained to one man; they are a lifetime of learning."
A work in progress for us all...
Of course it didn't, Tom. Like Gian Gentile, for the past year I've been immersed in the documents of the Vietnam War. I'm fascinated by those texts that illustrate cardinal moments in history, especially those written by relatively junior officers with a great deal of experience in the field, good or bad.
This might very well be one of those ur-documents. We should pause and admire it in all its inconsistencies, in all its heady assumptions, in its loops of logic and rhetoric.
Should it be a blimp, we could pivot about it, staring at all the features of its bloated immensity. It deserves that, but, alas, it's only a text, and one that must be placed into some context, usually by people like Gian and me.
And of course you weren't part of any consensus about it, Tom Frist, for you're not on the email chain. This is hardly an exclusive club, so we'll probably get to you soon enough for membership.
Carl - Your hilarious...You disagree for the sake of it.
Your conclusion on the article: the "final verdict seemed to be that it was struggling with itself to say something meaningful about the war as it now exists and likely shall emerge in the coming months."
Yet you've spent the last 3 days glued to it commenting 11 times...it didn't struggle to get your attention.
Last, YOU came to that conclusion, not me, and not a lot of us.
Some good points, some I agree with. Many of these sound similar to what General McCrystal advocates like:
"The people do not believe in the "insurgent" cause and never have."
"most basic thing we know works (namely, protect the people)"
"Get out of the freaking FOBs and into the neighborhoods."
I think these points you make and the ones made by General McCrystal make sense on many levels. I even think given right conditions this could work well, or even given mixed conditions we can make it work to a level we are satisfied with.
Here are a few of my problems with it:
It has a desired goal of winning something we have little control over; the will of the people. It assumes people are going to be receptive to this strategy. Perhaps the Afghan people don't want our protection. Maybe they can not get past certain issues such as we have become a big presence in their country; that, fact or fiction, we have killed innocent people; that we are promoting a new authority government on top of them; that they don't want our idea of progress; that they are not happy with our policies such as destroying the drug trade; that they know we might leave at any time. I can sympathize with many of these.
I have a problem with this strategy because it places a heavy burden on our military and our country, with questionable outcome, with questionable relevance to the security of our country. We have paid a big price; we will continue to pay more; will the gain be worth it? Compared to alternatives things we could do with our time, is there much value in doing this?
I have a problem with this strategy because it is complicated. There are language and cultural issues our soldiers must deal with on a daily basis. There are many opportunities for things to go wrong and for mistakes to be made. It involves many soldiers, with lots of orders, lots of reports, over a long time frame, with loose objectives, which makes the mission difficult to control and understand.
I have a problem with it because I do not think it should be our duty to protect the lives of a foreign population. It might be a honorable thing to do, but it is not what our country created the military for. We signed up as military soldiers defending our country; not a police force for another country.
I have a problem with it, because it is not using our capability in a smart way (see previous post).
I have a problem with it, because we seem to box ourselves into a position where we promise things or decide we have to win. It becomes about defending our reputation, versus doing the right thing.
I have a problem with it, because as we bog ourselves in such strategies, we are reluctant to pursue legitimate actions for fear of opening another can of worms. For example, strikes on legitimate terrorists in Pakistan or Iran.
I am concerned as we change our military's focus to being peace keepers, that we will hesitate to respond appropriately when bad countries begin to push our buttons. I am concerned we will be training our military for the wrong activities. They should focus on destroying terror threats around the world, as well as fighting in modern conventional wars. I don't see peace keeping as a focus we should have for our military.
"The only thing that is 'fundamentally flawed' with this article is how you interpreted who the target audience was."
Well, it's been a pretty wide audience that has reviewed it. I'm also part of a COIN reading circle, mostly of Army and Marine practitioners from O-5 to O-8, some retired.
They had different perspectives, but the final verdict seemed to be that it was struggling with itself to say something meaningful about the war as it now exists and likely shall emerge in the coming months.
But it wasn't universal.
Brown - First, you may want to change your name / email.
Hey - Appreciate the intent here but COL Gentile and Mike Few have it right! COL Gentile said "I have always found disagreement on SWJ a more enjoyable and fruitful thing than agreement."
Mike Few mentioned " Ultimately, it's not about being right. It's about us finding the best COA.:
That is the whole point to these great debates and a forum like SWJ. We all want the same thing here, lets keep it positive.
Have a great Memorial weekend!
Schmedlap just mentioned the most important point surrounding this article and the associated comments and Im surprised no one has picked up on it to this point. There is no debate on Pop-Centric COIN in Afghanistan, Its an order.
He obviously doesn't believe Pop-Centric COIN is the way ahead and that is fine...
" Yeah, the strategy sucks because it doesn't exist. But that, to me, seems like complaining about the weather. The decision has been made. It's being implemented. We can't undo that. What we can do is influence how it gets implemented."
When I read this article...and many of my peers, we concluded the same thing. I obviously cannot speak for you Nathan but it seems this article was written with that in mind. Influencing how the strategy is implemented within an environment (AF) that the strategy is decided upon and not debatable...at least from those of us that will lead formations in ISAF!
The debate on whether or not to do Pop-Centric COIN in AF is over so lets figure out how to do the best for our Soldiers, and make the most progress in our assigned areas, and work our tails off to achieve the Commander's intent.
It seems to me everyone gets that (its common sense) except for Carl who took this conversation to the stratosphere when it was intended for the tactical practitioner (like everything else I've ever read from Springer) within the conditions that Schmedlap pointed out...
Carl - Another point... you could implement any strategy under the sun and would still wind up with a constant dynamic. (That was mentioned in this article) Each leader would have to implement the strategy differently so it fit his area...and worked for his area. You can list 1,000,000 reasons this is dangerous but it doesn't matter..that will ALWAYS be a constant.
The only thing that is 'fundamentally flawed' with this article is how you interpreted who the target audience was.
Great article, Great conversation starter and It really made me think. Thanks!
<p>Yikes, I think theres been a communication breakdown. Either I did a poor job of articulating or you did a poor job of reading - probably my bad. I do not regard <em>"what we should do at the strategic level as being irrelevant."</em> Quite the contrary. You and I are in agreement. Heck, only four days ago I pointed out that I think were drawing very near to the day <em>"when we will pronounce that <strong>'we're all Gentiles now (even the Jews)</strong>."</em> (emphasis added) (see <a href=http://tachesdhuile.blogspot.com/2010/05/does-anyone-remember-us-having…;). Only two days ago, I mocked those who <em>"assumed that population-centric COIN is the way to go in Afghanistan and, from that assumption, have attempted to craft a strategy around it."</em> (see <a href=http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog/post.aspx?id=100526-3>here</a>). And just yesterday, I reiterated my belief that pop-COIN is a <em>"faith-based"</em> solution to Afghanistan (<a href=http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog/post.aspx?id=100527-1>here</a>).</p>
<p>Back when the "strategic reassessment" was being finalized, I was continually asking (and getting no response) the question: <em>"What options were considered, other than counter-terrorism and population-centric COIN?"</em> (<a href=http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/08/afghanistan-strategy-dial… 18</a>, <a href=http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2009/09/on-general-krulaks-email-to-ge… 11</a>, <a href=http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog/post.aspx?id=090915-1>Sep 15</a>, <a href=http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2009/09/praise-sobriety.html#comm… 21</a>, and <a href=http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2009/09/go-allin-or-fold/#c004651>Sep 27</a>). Incidentally, I never did get an answer. I later lamented, <em>"Now that we've determined that pop-COIN is the solution, let's devise a strategy to connect some objectives to the tactics."</em> (<a href=http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/05/political-blindspot-in-america…;) and expressed similar contempt for the neglect of strategy <a href=http://zenpundit.com/?p=3411#comment-17954>here</a>.</p>
<p>Okay, all the links and quotes were probably a bit much, but I just want to make it clear that we're on the same wavelength in terms of the importance of strategy and the startling lack of strategic planning that preceded the decision to go forth with pop-COIN. Our disagreement is on a very narrow issue.</p>
<blockquote><em>"The military does in fact have a critical role in the shaping of strategy to achieve policy ends. I wonder if what you really meant to say was that "policy" has been decided for us by the President, of which i fully agree. But then that leaves us back to the level of strategy and of determining the ways and means of war, of which one (BUT NOT THE ONLY ONE) is population centric coin. Why not as a matter of strategy discuss alternatives to it?"</em></blockquote>
Perhaps policy would have been a better word? I dont know. What I do know is that if we all come to a consensus that pop-COIN is not the correct method that should be used and it is an utter disaster waiting to happen, that will not change our approach in Afghanistan. The method has already been chosen. We are going to fight a population-centric COIN even if the enemy insists upon simply waging a guerrilla fight that makes the country ungovernable and, thus, unwinnable for counterinsurgents relying upon a nation-building, population-centric approach. Yeah, the strategy sucks because it doesn't exist. But that, to me, seems like complaining about the weather. The decision has been made. It's being implemented. We can't undo that. What we can do is influence <em>how</em> it gets implemented.
<p>Sorry for the long-winded post.</p>
Oh, and before this devolves ... my comment about "2 Marines and a platoon of IA" were only because in Ramadi, although we actually had a very small number of Marines (it had been an Army AO for a long time and was actually a National Guard AO in the period during which the tactics I mentioned were adopted and immediately leading up to the Awakening), it was Marines who ended up doing these missions with IA. I am in no way suggesting one branch is any better or worse or more or less suited to this mission!
You know ... I have made this point before and been roundly criticized but let's try again.
The fact is that there is no "insurgency" in Afghanistan, as such. An excellent point was made above about there being no government to be an insurgent against, and how we are trying to make this akin to Iraq because we had COIN success there.
The fact is that Afghanistan is much more similar to Mexico than it it is to Malaya, Mao or Iraq. And here's why:
1) The people do not believe in the "insurgent" cause and never have. They are not "going over" to the insurgent's side because of his narrative, and we all know the rest of the terms du jour that DoD has become blindly invested in. The population is held hostage by an enemy far more ruthless than the forces that are fighting him. We are asking the population for intelligence and not getting it, so obviously they are siding with the insurgents. Wrong. Or we're asking "the people" not to participate in "insurgent" activities for a financial motive but they are doing it anyway. Ostensibly because they have been infected by the "contagion." Wrong. That is not happening in Afghanistan. And despite the fact that this is precisely what we are fighting, there is a notable absence of anyone making the case that that John Q. Public is joining Taliban/AQ-related organizations for Maoist-style political reasons that he believes in. I don't think anyone who has spent any time here actually believes that.
2) This is a *criminal*, not a political insurgency. Siraj Haqqani, et al, do not want representation of the ideas in their manifesto in Parliament. Neither does he want to be prime minister. These are groups motivated by warlordism, despotism and most of all, drug money. They don't care if Afghanistan has a government or not. They want to be warlords in their own kingdoms so they can extort and steal and do whatever they want. This is why the notion that we are going to bring these guys to the negotiating table is beyond pointless. HIG is a *possible* exception at some level, but Gulbuddin is also the *least* trustworhty of them all in terms of a political partner, so the idea of negotiating with HIG is equally pointless.
I'll say it again: if we want to "win" here, one lesson from Iraq is applicable. Get out of the freaking FOBs and into the neighborhoods. In Ramadi, in advance of the Awakening, you'd send 2 Marines and a platoon of IA into the worst areas and they would change nearly overnight. Why? Because all sane people hate Al Qaeda/terror, and Afghans and Iraqis do, too. When the people became sure we could protect them, they told us every tiny detail of what was happening in their neighborhoods. Until we do that in Afghanistan, things will get worse, not better. Marjah is a joke.
I'm all for the president's strategy, but (as always in the modern history of warfare) political considerations are given too much sway. Send half a million troops and Marines over here and we'll fix it. The "war" will be over in a year. If we're not going to do the *one*, most basic thing we know works (namely, protect the people), let's just leave.
Even if you reject my idea completely, there's one inevitable truth: If we do not protect the people from the ruthless criminals, they *CANNOT* help us. It has nothing to do with their political motivations. No amount of GIRoA bullsh*t is going to change that. No amount of hand dug wells and retaining walls and school buildings is going to change that.
Afghans hate Talibs. They hate AQ. Give them the mere *ability* to help us and they will. But so far we have shown nearly a decade of fear and moronic incompetence and therefore they side with the guy who is willing to murder their entire family after we run and hide in our FOB at night. Every one of us would do the same thing.
Gian, to be fair to MAJ Springer, setting the strategy of OEF is outside his lane.
But above his rank, this isn't necessarily so. One of the things I admire about Dave D is that he pays homage on this site to the USMC's Small Wars Manual, one of the most fascinating documents our nation has ever produced and certainly a piece as well-reasoned and wise as Callwell's distillation of British best practices.
The Marine authors of the manual waited all of 11 pages before they began to talk about strategy.
"In small wars, either diplomacy has not been exhausted or the party that opposes the settlement of the political question cannot be
reached diplomatically. Small war situations are usually a phase of, or an operation taking place concurrently with, diplomatic effort. The political authorities do not relinquish active participation in the negotiations and they ordinarily continue to exert considerable influence on the military campaign. The military leader in such operations thus finds himself limited to certain lines of action as to the strategy and even as to the tactics of the campaign. This feature has been so marked in past operations, that marines have been referred to as State Department Troops in small wars. In certain cases of this kind the State Department has even dictated the size of the force to be sent to the theater of operations."
The manual goes on to discuss how Marines might be called upon to restore order, prop up a government, obtain redress, enforce treaty obligations, halt propagandists or quash revolutionary doctrines that indirectly could harm our own national security.
But principally, it was assumed, this would be guided by political experts for political ends.
In Afghanistan, however, we've ended up with outstanding operational experts (Springer certainly springs to mind) either untethered from the political ends (whatever they are) or toiling in a vacuum that doesn't fuss with this sort of mental dickering. The institutionally has forced them to default to a suite of tactics instead of understanding the larger political endpoints (whatever they are).
The goal apparently now seems to be "pacify your AO in whichever way works best but try to transition your efforts toward strangling the phased revolutionary stategy of your enemy." At least that is within Springer's lane because, obviously, other military operational gurus are working on Afghanization in the armed forces, rural economic development, border interdiction, theater intelligence, direct intervention and yada yada yada.
Or, one might suggest, a million years away from the prudence expressed by the Small Wars Manual, itself a compilation of hard-earned best practices in irregular wars overseas.
I contend that the word you and I hear from ground commanders in OEF expressing the problems limned above showcase just why Springer's essay is so fundamentally flawed. It doesn't take into account how US efforts might be at cross purposes to each other, how perhaps some assumptions about economic development/ hearts & minds might actually be kindling a larger rebellion and perhaps some erroneous underlying notions about the true prizes in this contest and how they might be achieved.
Even at Springer's operational level, these complaints from ground commanders are obvious. A cynical man might then say, "Well, they also know that they only have to suck it up for a year and then hand it off to someone else, or let Obama's timeline trickle out in its own measure, much as stormwater peters out of a ditch in the hot months to a meaningless trickle."
Some of that is true, but most of the commanders you and I know are searching for some understanding of how they might use all the tools in their kit to achieve pacification and, more important, when they shall know when what they're doing will appear successful or otherwise.
It doesn't help them to suggest certain other AOs have been a "success" when they contest that very appraisal. It doesn't help to tell them where they should be going when they doubt the mountain top to which the path travels will take them to the precipice of pacification.
How unfair, it seems to me, to leave these ground commanders in the dark, fumbling about the room, crashing into furniture, looking for the switch that will illuminate the bulb of Strategy.
For all the talk about "strategy" and all the Joint Strategic Assessment Teams (or whatever the beasts were called) prowling the Hindu Kush, nearly nine years into this war we still haven't really given them a "strategy" that appears obtainable or empirically operational, given the domestic and international political realities.
Most fundamentally flawed seems to be (as the USMC manual would put it) a psychological understanding of the "people" and the "enemy" and the host "nation" and their sectarian constituencies and how our operations might influence them one way or the other.
Indeed, it's our inability to understand their motivations (or a lack of empathy for them) that's led to some declaring Marjah a "success" when, well, the people there don't seem to frame it like that and haven't responded as we assumed that they would.
Neither, I suggest, have the "people" in this democracy nor especially those of our allies.
But these are outside of MAJ Springer's lane, and it's unfair to burden him with it.
I often agree with you and when I dont I always pay close attention to what you have to say about things.
But your statement of what we should do at the strategic level as being irrelevant is breathtaking to me. That in my view is the essential problem at hand, and by placing us back in our comfort zone of tactics and operations we bypass the most important issue of all.
With your statement Dave D should rename this blog to the SWJ of Coin Tactics.
The military does in fact have a critical role in the shaping of strategy to achieve policy ends. I wonder if what you really meant to say was that "policy" has been decided for us by the President, of which i fully agree. But then that leaves us back to the level of strategy and of determining the ways and means of war, of which one (BUT NOT THE ONLY ONE) is population centric coin. Why not as a matter of strategy discuss alternatives to it?
In regard to comments about "what we should do" at the strategic level - I think that is irrelevant. The civilian leadership has made its decisions on the general course that we are pursuing. I don't like the general course we're taking any more than anyone else does, but I think the manner in which ISAF goes about can span a wide spectrum from disastrous to not too bad. We are clearly making this up as we go along, so it is possible for those of us who are current and former practitioners to influence the thinking of how that is accomplished. That should be the focus of discussion, imo. We have no influence over the bigger decisions because they have already been decided and are now unfolding.
Last comment, and my apologies for hijacking the thread. Have a good Memorial Day all.
Just to be clear, Nate Springer and I do not disagree on applications of small wars for a ground commander to include 1. balancing love and hate (non-kinetic v/s kinetic), 2. the importance of developing and nuturing relationships with local leaders, military counterparts, and gov't officials, and 3. the complexities of war.
Our point of difference reflects my change in thinking over the last two years. He has faith and hope that we can control the environment. I do not. I think that's an illusion of control unless we desire to colonize A'stan. That's why I bang the FID drum. Ultimately, IMO, it's up to the Afghanis not us.
One reason I dislike the COIN approach is that it does not reflect well on our military as a whole. We have developed great capability to strike at our enemy, and yet we resort to this expensive, clumsy, risky way of operating. I can not help thinking we are taking some backward steps. Do we really need to fight this way? Might our approach also risk emboldening our enemies, given that we expose and over extend ourselves?
I agree with the military leaders that say technology and our capability is not enough for our defense, and it is necessary for our military to engage at a personal level. However I disagree that we must resort to using a brute force approach. Instead I favor well planned, focused, low profile, highly skilled, carefully justified operations.
Does anyone think the COIN, peace keeping, nation building approach is a good one? My understanding is most military leaders do not think this is a good approach, but have convinced themselves it is a necessary approach because of the risky times we live in. Or they believe the difficult work we do now will make for a much more peaceful future. Is this an accurate understanding?
I think we should give up on stability and winning anything in Afghanistan. Instead we seek allies that we can develop long term relationships with. No promises, no strings attached for either side. We get some eyes in the region, and maybe they get some weapons or something they need.
Maybe Afghanistan can be one of those places where a big government fails to take hold. Would that be so bad? Leave it to the Afghans to figure it out.
Good article!! Good discussion! The lack of a clear strategy to acknowledge much less deal with Islamic Jihad in its various guises is what is crippling our efforts at home and abroad. We can't "fix" Pakistan but, since it functions more to the benefit of the Taliban than Laos did to the NVA, we must deal with it. Can we do a better job of pushing the Pakistanis to control the madrassas and the tribal ares? Yes! But we must convince them it is in the interest of the Elites and Army to do so. We can't "fix" the corrupt Karzai government or the ANP but we can finesse improvements. Clearly Karzai and his brother need to go Switzerland..No "government in a box" following clearing ops is not necessarily a bad thing when you consider the current nature of the Afghan "government."
At least in many areas a bottom up approach using the local qawns might be an improvement.
Will the current culture of the Army allow for the flexibility Major Springer calls for?? Doubtful.
As I have previously argued, a good "population-centric" approach should be extremely lethal for the bad guys. It is important for field commanders to have a mix of more offensive risk-taking and a larger presence in the villages. I still think it can be done but I am doubtful it will be done.
Strength and Honor
It was a dangerous bit of mission creep when we converted from "defeat AQ" to "conduct population centric COIN and preserve Karzai's regime by developing Afghanistan while protecting the populace, etc, etc,..." phew!
I really don't think we want to expand that creep into "fixing" Pakistan and India as well; and I am quite sure none of the three feel they are particularly broken, and certainly don't want us to come "fix" them.
Ultimately, it's not about being right. It's about us finding the best COA. I hope LTG McChrystal and Nate Springer turn out to be right about Marjah. I'm just providing my assessment and recommendation.
Regardless, I'm glad that we're finally starting to have this debate. To Nate's end, good job for sparking it.
To add to Maj K's post, if we want to develop a comprehensive strategy, then it must include Pakistan and India.
Mike, it's interesting that you mention Nuristan.
In a previous SWJ essay, so did MAJ Springer.
What's so interesting is how eerily similar the most recent SWJ offering was in tone and concept to his after-action spiel on Northeastern Afghanistan, the place he claimed to have enterprised with COL Chris Kolenda "the successful implementation of population-centric counterinsurgency strategy" in 2008.
In the earlier work, he presented "a battlefield calculus in terms of the time, patience, and personal relationships required to immediately empower the traditional Afghan leadership and population, from the village and the tribal levels on up, and at the same time marginalize and isolate the insurgency."
No one wants to be unfair to either COL Kolenda or MAJ Springer, two of this nation's finest officers. But I don't know, honestly, how we can say that their AO became a "success" today.
Perhaps a key reason for the lack of success, counter-intuitively, is because of the economic development and other Hearts & Minds projects, the emphasis on pop-centric assumptions about the "people" and Afghan security forces and government agents who were considered illegitimate to those very "people."
Kamdesh, Kunar and other parts of NE Afghanistan (in many ways indistinguishable from NW Pakistan)have become obvious examples of failed American efforts to pacify recalcitrant peoples, despite many different efforts by quite cunning commanders.
Kamdesh and Kunar have this notoriety perhaps because they involved large, lethal attacks against US forces, but I suspect that this misses the mark. The attitudinal reality, the causative forces of rebellion, weren't necessarily created by these attacks so much as allowed them to flourish.
And they came to flourish during the time COL Kolenda and others were trying -- without sufficient resources, one might concede -- pop-centric experiments.
Sometimes, I fear we default to the operational side of the house without fully considering the strategic. There seems to be an assumption that a suite of tactics, unified operationally, will not only properly identify the nature of the war and the center of gravity to which a commander might apply his efforts, but solve them.
So we arrive at metaphors about chefs and paths and whatnot. But I don't need to tell practitioners who have more experience in this than I have that it's an inapt metaphor.
In these murky irregular wars, one often doesn't know for cultural reasons what these ingredients are. One might mix in the wrong ones and cause the pie to explode. One might not even be trying to make a pie, but a roast. Some of the herbs could turn out to be toxic, and others just nasty to the tongue. A dish might begin to smell great in the oven the whole time one was cooking it, but when it comes out it satisfies no one.
The diners arriving to feast on one's pie, however, tend to understand how long they need to eat, what sorts of flatware to bring to the table and often find themselves eating with spoons while we scratch away with knives.
I admire MAJ Springer for trying to write a terse essay that realizes the need to experiment, that each AO is quite different, and that commanders have orders to follow, eventually.
But I fear you, Schmedlap and Maj K are hitting closer to the mark.
You're spot on brother, on 2 points:
1- <i>"We are not chefs with all the appropriate ingredients necessary to make a dish. That's not our job. That's up to Karzai. It is outside of our control. We can merely advise, assist, coerce, poke, and prod.</i>
2- <i>"We transition from JSOC to SF command. Dont be fooled. McChrystal equals JSOC. Appoint a commander preferably from OEF-P that better understands the indirect method. Downgrade the military folks from 100,000 to 5,000 advisors. Advisors being a mixture of SF trained folks and Regular Army guys proficient at FID based off previous experience backed by one brigade of light airborne and an aviation brigade of Chinooks in support. We commit to a 20 year COIN endeavor.</i>
What you've highlighted here are several glaring inconsistencies with our current strategy. First, we want to have our cake and eat it too. Our GPF can't train a central security apparatus and gov't who answers to a strong sitting president and ministers while at the same time pursuing a bottom-up security strategy through CFSOCC-A and LDI. The central gov't will always look at this route as nibbling away from their span of control. On the one hand we're saying, '<i>yes, you need to monitor and defend your own villages and your traditional shuras are the mechanism.</i> From the bottom up, as it's always been done. On the other hand, we're nurturing and advising a central government who, beyond anything else, probably wants to maintain their seat in power. A heavy top-down solution to provide security and governance. While these two COAs will probably be fairly successful in the short-term, they will, at some point, meet and conflict. That will be the point in time that the Taliban can again exploit and stress due to foreign engineering away from a traditional system. That, again, will be a problem of our own making and one that will likely be another existential question Afghanistan will need to answer on its own before it ever moves forward.
Second, I agree that the GPF surge is the wrong way to go and in no way whatsoever benefits a COIN "strategy." The effects of 100K+ boots on the ground are counterintuitive to making the Afghans as self-sufficient in as short a time as possible. What we're doing is creating another welfare state. Advisors, Afghan Hands, or whomever need to remain at the Ministerial level and with the ANA to further groom training and doctrine. SF need to regain their position as the proponents for FID and in this country. This is largely an SF mission but the GPF, for want of funding, face-time, or general lack of mission, have been wedged into it. The DoD, and especially the GPF of the DoD, need to take a back seat and let State and UNAMA do what is largely a governance job. It shouldn't be Afghan Hands who are advising essentially civilian wings of government, it should be civilians trained in language and culture from State, etc, advising Afghan government civilians. But, if after 9 yrs of this war we are still trying to teach the MoI how to govern, <i>and they've got the same President throughout that time</i>, that dog might not be able to fight and that's not our problem.
What Afghanistan needs isn't another Shah Soojah. Whether Karzai can govern is not our concern nor should we ever think of replacing him. He's what they've got. What we can do and where we <i>can</i> have an effect is focusing on the bottom-up. Matching up local requirements with the district governors and larger MoI and Afghan national security strategy is where we can make our money to get out in the shortest time possible and leave the most stable "state" possible. We might need to reassess the way we advise the ANA/ANP and how they should be fielded and organized, but a hulking security apparatus designed to defend the central gov't isn't it.
Taken along with ADM Olson's comments on PC COIN yesterday, your COA, Mike, is the most feasible, suitable, and acceptable. PC COIN, however its defined or indoctrinated to the Services, isn't a replacement for good strategy. And what Afghanistan needs isn't a good military strategy; its a small military effort while the other Departments and int'l organizations pick up and do their job. If that takes temporarily slashing the DoD budget to fund State, Agriculture, etc, so be it. Let SF do what SF does to get the FID and CT ball rolling, and let selected *few* military advisors work some magic hand-in-hand with their missing US civilian partners in the larger Afghan gov't.
I wish it was debated further as well. This concept is not original to me.
"It is more of the same strategy we have been using the last 8 years and it has not worked."
That's not exactly accurate. SF turned over control to the Regular Army shortly after the Northern Alliance took down the Taliban during the initial invasion. If you recall, 3/82 ABN (my old BCT) got in some trouble in 2002 for overly harsh tactics with the locals.
As for your other counter-points, I'm not sure if any strategy offers any better outcome. Most of those are unknowns. As you may/may not know, I'm an Armor officer so I don't gain anything by suggesting that SF should take the lead. However, outside of my own operational experience in Iraq, I've closely studied small wars ranging from the Phillipines, Colombia,and even the drug cartel in Salinas, CA.
The biggest counter-argument is found in FM 3-24. It argues that when the host nation is incapable of governing and securing, then external forces (US, NATO, ISAF) should interdict and take charge temporarily. While that makes sense in theory, it does not bode well for a society that is highly xenophobic.
IMO, the State Lead with SF FID approach is our best option.
In general I agree with the strategy you described for many reasons. I would like to see it debated further.
When Obama and the military leadership debated the strategy last fall, I got the sense that they were deciding between the two extremes (COIN vs counter terrorist approach), and this strategy did not get consideration.
That said here are some counterpoints for debate:
It is more of the same strategy we have been using the last 8 years and it has not worked.
It gives us little control to prevent human rights abuses, genocide, and civil war.
The Afghan people can not or will not fight the Taliban because they are afraid, disorganized, or just tired of fighting.
This strategy does not force the war to an end.
This strategy does little for the bigger picture of giving angry muslims hope for a better future.
This strategy intervenes in the lives of Afghans and will stir up anger, and may fuel the next generation of terrorists, like when we tried this in the 1980s.
I vote for Nate Ficks. I liked his memoire.
Tomorrow, I'll email Dr. Nagl, ask him to read Nate's essay and our comments, and at least provide a quote if he doesn't have time to post a response and engage. I'd be interested in hearing his interpretation of the difference between Briggs and Templer in Malaya and his two cents on the use of violence in COIN.
<em>Unfortunately, as much as I admire and respect Dr. Nagl, we are unlikely to hear a reponse from CNAS or him defending the flaws in his dissertation or his stated positions on Afghanistan.</em>
I acknowledge that he's influential. That's as far as I'll go precisely because <em>"we are unlikely to hear a reponse from CNAS or him defending the flaws in his dissertation or his stated positions on Afghanistan"</em> here or anywhere else.
But I would be curious to know what resources MAJ Springer feels are lacking and then compare this to the hopeful argument from Nagl.
"This might be a topic for another thread, but I'd be curious to know what resources are lacking. John Nagl is quoted here stating that "The war in Afghanistan is winnable because for the first time the coalition fighting there has the right strategy and the resources to begin to implement it."
Unfortunately, as much as I admire and respect Dr. Nagl, we are unlikely to hear a reponse from CNAS or him defending the flaws in his dissertation or his stated positions on Afghanistan.
Moreover, we definitely will not hear from Andrew Exum. Last summer, after he bragged about advising LTG McChrystal, I asked him if they considered the SF indirect approach. He stated at the time that he needed to learn more about it.
The Father of the Resistance could not spell FID. It is only recently after speaking with Jim Gant has he began to comprehend the difference between a ten man team training and advising an indigenous force and an Army brigade occupying a battle space.
MAJ Springer typed: <em>"Completely agree with your larger point on not having all the resources we need in country and that the Afghan government has to make its own way."</em>
This might be a topic for another thread, but I'd be curious to know what resources are lacking. John Nagl is quoted <a href="http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/05/economist-debate-afghanistan/"…; stating that <em>"The war in Afghanistan is winnable because for the first time the coalition fighting there has the right strategy and the resources to begin to implement it."</em>
The two statements are not necessarily contradictory, but they suggest different viewpoints from two people with views generally worth considering (Nagl, because he's in the bubble; Springer, because he's not).
Steady boys steady. Were about to diverge greatly. Plus, were getting close to a 4 day weekend. Ill offer my answer to the dilemmas. It absolves any regular army commander from making decisions that he has no business making. Additionally, it offers a possible solution.
In Mike's World,
We transition from JSOC to SF command. Dont be fooled. McChrystal equals JSOC. Appoint a commander preferably from OEF-P that better understands the indirect method. Downgrade the military folks from 100,000 to 5,000 advisors. Advisors being a mixture of SF trained folks and Regular Army guys proficient at FID based off previous experience backed by one brigade of light airborne and an aviation brigade of Chinooks in support.
We commit to a 20 year COIN endeavor.
I will volunteer to lead a team.
Commit the head of mission to be State led with all US support to be 80/20 civilian to military support.
That's Mike's world.
Just waiting for at least one counter-point lest I tell my date Friday night that I'm gonna eat soup from a knife.
"The point you just made on the importance of Commanders analyzing their AOs and concluding one size does not fit all is EXACTLY THE POINT OF THE ARTICLE."
But it's a point that then is subsumed by other parts of the essay. It's an essay that is sparring against itself.
The Marjah paragraph is merely the grand irony in it. The essay posits the need to look beyond pop-centric COIN bromides and media-generated -- but likely simplistic -- narratives and then serves up your description of Marjah as a best case example of the real deal.
It's not that I can't look beyond that example, nor even concede that all your points about what made the planning and initial execution of the Marjah operations are about right. Rather, your Marjah description calls into question a great deal about how a commander understands the COIN battlefield before him.
The examples I later posed came from ground commanders -- USMC and USA -- in or recently out of OEF. Those are their vignettes, not mine.
They either perceive a quite different institutional reaction to their concerns (not so much "do it," I guess) or they concede that they have no ready means of measuring accurately the pacification efforts they're attempting to achieve.
This means that the straitjacket they're in is one of confusion: They don't know if what they're doing is working and fear that some of the best practices they're trying might actually be harming overall efforts. It's the stages toward pacification that don't seem to be coming.
Frankly, if a commander continues to clear and clear and clear and never transitions, it might be because assumptions about the pacification model aren't working.
But you know all of this or you wouldn't have written your essay, most of which I really enjoyed. It's an important piece, but one that seems to contradict itself at certain points.
I read it before my post then I just re-read it after your blunt post in response.
I stand by my first post and the chilling effect this will have on creativity because the underlying point to it all is that the only way to do ops in Afghanistan is by knowing culture, language, building emotional relationships, bla bla bla; or aka population centric coin.
Moreover you should have a look at what Admiral Olson just had to say about all of this Coin stuff calling Coin and "oxymoron." His point is that Coin, literally, should allow for counter insurgents but instead as it has come to be dogmatized and understood it means a hyper focus on the population and the hope of protecting them.
Nathan: it was a good article, lots of it I disagree with but i have always found disagreement on SWJ a more enjoyable and fruitful thing than agreement.
Carl - You obviously did not read my article...you read the part on Marjah, disagreed, and then have been blinded ever since. The point you just made on the importance of Commanders analyzing their AOs and concluding one size does not fit all is EXACTLY THE POINT OF THE ARTICLE. You must figure out what works for your area and DO IT. I contend your 'niggling feeling' is wrong and the solutions too many of the 'vignettes' you described above would be supported if the solutions improve the local situation. They were for me.
We still need a national strategy to unify and synchronize the efforts of ISAF (we've done that).
I've appreciated your positive feedback, whether I have agreed or disagreed, but have no use for sarcastic banter that does not contribute to the discussion or way ahead.
Again, thank you for your comments.
Dude, have you seen my car?
Everyone that has posted thus far has valid points and substantial blood, sweat, and years devoted to finding a solution.
So what do we do?
Maybe that's the real question.
In Mike's World,
We transition from JSOC to SF command. Appoint a commander preferably from OEF-P that better understands the indirect method. Downgrade the military folks from 100,000 to 5,000 advisors. Advisors being a mixture of SF trained folks and Regular Army guys proficient at FID based off previous experience backed by one brigade of light airborne and an aviation brigade of Chinooks in support.
We commit to a 20 year COIN endeavor.
I will volunteer to lead a team.
Commit the head of mission to be State led with all US support to be 80/20 civilian to military support.
That's Mike's world.
Mike, I'm not making the assumption that a battalion commander has read seriously beyond Nagl, much less Douglas Porch or the French masters.
Heck, I don't think most of them have read FM 3-24, even if they have absorbed much of the doctrinal assumptions through TRADOC fiat and institutional osmosis.
Rather, I'm pointing out a few commonsensical observations that they might make as they apprehend the COIN battlefield they've been assigned. Where did I get these nutty assumptions? By talking to many of them.
As a practitioner, I never got higher than E-4, so I moreover concede that the decisions likely to be made within an AO shall be by people quite different from me, their assumptions and chosen tactics conditioned by all sorts of career, institutional and cultural biases far removed from what also might determine their counter-responses -- the battlefield sitrep that presents itself.
The enemy, as one might say, tends to get a vote.
In order to convey a sense of empathy for these officers, however, I just typed out these words with a knife.
If I didn't, the terrorists would win.
Mike - It is our job to figure out what is going to work in our local area and implement the measures at our disposal required to make it happen. Completely agree with your larger point on not having all the resources we need in country and that the Afghan government has to make its own way.
This brings me to an important point that I think may have been lost in translation.
COL Gentile - Your presentation at the COIN symposium a couple weeks ago inspired much of this essay. This issue of Pop vs. Enemy Centric COIN (or POP-Centric vs. everything else) isn't as black and white as you make it out to be.
Your concerns that Commanders will be constrained with Population-Centric COIN or put in a 'COIN straight jacket' is not what I have witnessed in country.
The enemy has a vote and there are plenty of areas in Afghanistan where the only option you have is to fight every day and clear the enemy. The leader I worry about is the leader that clears the insurgency in his AO and then doesn't recognize that the environment has changed, so he continues to clear until his last day. Operation after Operation.
The same is true coming from the other prospective. The leader who finds himself in an environment that he is able to focus on the population and then his environment changes, a large insurgent group moves in, and he continues to act like everything is normal until the enemy forces him to react.
This leader is going to be in such a tight straight jacket that he will be denied or prevented from changing his strategy or posture to a more enemy focused approach? NO HE IS NOT! He will be expected to recognize when (if there is a when) he can transition back to his original strategy.
So, having population centric COIN as our mission in Afghanistan, as I said above, gives us unity of thought, purpose, and action. (Whether you agree with its principles or not) Everyone has a clear understanding of where we are headed, but the narrative doesn't stop us from dealing with the reality that we are faced with in our AOs.
If that reality is fighting the enemy every day, then that is what it is. The difference is having a clear understanding of the end game...and I think we all have that understanding now, like it or not.
I would only suggest that you consider most practisioners do not know the difference between Briggs and Templer in Malaya. They have spent their twenties and early thirties learning small wars through blunt trauma. They are articulating their lessons learned through the boys that they lost and times that they've perceived a bit of progress.
I would submit that you should respect where they are at in their thinking. They have earned that right. Contrastingly, the academics who proclaim that today's small wars are so much more complex fail to understand that every intra-state war and insurgency has external actors. In Malaya, it was the displaced Chinese. In the human dimension, there is no such thing as a closed system.
If they've read, then they've only read Nagl's one-sided interpretation on how to eat soup with a knife or FM 3-24. Has anyone ever turned down their spoon for a knife?
Try that for the dinner date. Your spouse/girlfriend/date will consider you stupid.
Of course you are right. Hope is not a method, but please articulate why. It does no good to come off pious with inferences that others do not know. Work with the tide brother.
Sorry for the rant, I'm just trying to balance the discussion.
Certainly, MAJ Springer, violence is seasonal and the warmer and longer the days become, the more likely we shall see rising rates of attacks, intimidation and whatnot. This as true in COIN and conventional warfare as it is in criminal policing.
Your follow-on disclaimer reads almost like one of those voiced over warnings on Viagra commercials -- all sorts of bad symptoms that might occur in pursuit of a good thing.
With Viagra, however, I probably could count soon enough on a stiffy. Here, I just get the hope for one someday, that ISAF hasn't exactly lost "the initiative" and, eventually, the "area will end up a success story. Time will tell."
Hope, as some of us once said, ain't a plan. It's not a "success." It might never be a "success," even if the local commanders do everything "right," even if we hope really hard for it to happen.
Part of the problem might be the fact that for all our bluster about applying pop-centric best practices, it really boils down, as Mike put it, to the proxies. Liddel Hart would term this the "indirect approach," but Captain Hart wasn't saddled with the Karzai kleptrocray and the gaggles of Afghan security forces. Should he had been told of their help, he might have invented a different term for the phenomenon.
So let's turn this around and follow the Springer advice for commanders. Let's ask why the golden model might or might not be working, and what you might do to make it so.
What if the commander in his AO comes to conclude that his economic development projects actually are leading to more guerrilla activity because the Taliban taxmen were skimming the aid to feed their own terror machine?
What if the commander in his AO comes to conclude that the feckless Karzai flunkies sent to expand government and "out govern" the bad guys are actually harming the pacification process, turning off the locals and spurring on the rebellion?
What if the commander in his AO comes to conclude that the single greatest hurdle to quashing violence is that locals consider his battalion to be an illegitimate occupier? That the chief causative force behind the insurrection against any central state authority is his very presence there, which also taints the government agents sent to rule?
What if his tracking of battlefield metrics show that there's no correlation between civilian casualties and pacification, but there is a link between increased guerrilla activity against him and the "people" and his own increasingly restrictive ROE to protect them?
What if the commander in his AO determines that the ANSF and ANPs attached to him tend to behave in ways that make them poor partners for pacification? That their very presence and mix of ethnicity conspire to harm his ability to pacify the area? That they've become completely dependent on his battalion, to the point that they aren't taking any initiative on their own? And that the people there are now MORE receptive to Taliban propaganda that says this is an illegitimate foreign occupation on behalf of ethnic rivals in a civil war?
I get the niggling feeling that should the commander come to these conclusions, he would not be allowed to carry out -- on his own -- commonsensical innovations as Lyautey did when he realized that his pacification assumptions weren't working.
I have a feeling that instead he shall be told "the protection of the population, enabling of ANSF, supporting the extension of governance and socio-economic development, a focus on reduced civilian casualties, and an effort to remove malign influences that hobble progress" are proven best practices that eventually will make a "success" of it all.
And if it doesn't work, well, he just didn't figure it out like they did in Marjah.
"For many of us - current and former practitioners - that is the sticking point."
Well said, Schmedlap. As I reread the essay and the subsequent comments, I find myself going back to Carl Prine's summarized initial quote, "So what, does it work?"
Nate Springer's rebuttal is sound. Taking the time to conduct deliberate shaping operations and planning is probably the best that we can offer our soldiers. It best prevents us from forcing the nasty population control measures or suppressing of the populace that goes against our intrinsic beliefs, values, and norms. In other words, we do not have the desire to suppress in the same manner that Saddam Hussein managed the Kurds or Shia. I would believe that every practisioner here has had at least one moment when they were faced with that dillema.
On the other hand, we have never applied all available resources from our country towards Afghanistan. I've yet to read about the Google or Apple enginneer or Bank of America executive that quit his/her job to serve in the fight.
Finally, I would suggest another critique to Nate's essay. We are not chefs with all the appropriate ingredients necessary to make a dish. That's not our job. That's up to Karzai. It is outside of our control. We can merely advise, assist, coerce, poke, and prod.
I'm not super critical of anything that you wrote, but I would just throw one more comment out there. Your praise for Moshtarak included that it...
<blockquote><em>... clearly displayed a fundamental shift in how we approached the enemy, the operating environment, and the planning process to address both.</em></blockquote>
<blockquote><em>... was planned much differently...</em></blockquote>
<blockquote><em>... used all of our available lines of effort to defeat the enemy...</em></blockquote>
<blockquote><em>... forced planners to think through the problem more thoroughly and utilize our lines of operation more effectively.</em></blockquote>
These are all indicators of how well it conforms to some doctrinal or TTP ideal, but not indicative of whether the operation will achieve any intended purpose. Whether conforming to that doctrine or TTP will translate into success seems to depend upon whether the doctrine/TTP are both sound and appropriate for the situation. That they are sound and appropriate seems to be assumed in this case. For many of us - current and former practitioners - that is the sticking point.
Mr. Prine and Schmedlap -
I stand by Operation Moshtarak in this article as a good example of a Population-Centric COIN operation...I'll first answer why it makes my point in the article, then I'll get to your immediate concern: the enduring success of the Operation.
Operation Moshtarak is the most well known and internationally reported upon Operation of the last half year. It clearly displayed a fundamental shift in how we approached the enemy, the operating environment, and the planning process to address both.
In the past, we have had a tendency to prioritize kinetics first and all other priorities and Lines of Operation second.
Operation Moshtarak was planned much differently (honestly, in reverse of the norm) with the protection of the population, enabling of ANSF, supporting the extension of governance and socio-economic development, a focus on reduced civilian casualties, and an effort to remove malign influences that hobble progress PRIOR to the Kinetic portion of the Operation.
So why use this Operation as my example in the article?
This was a Population-Centric operation that used all of our available lines of effort to defeat the enemy. It was not less lethal than the old way of doing business, rather, it forced planners to think through the problem more thoroughly and utilize our lines of operation more effectively. (In this case the lines of operation were better synchronized...in the past they have been sequential)
Your immediate concern: No, I am not wearing rose colored glasses when it comes to the immediate issues surrounding Marjah concerning governance and the increased violence. I don't concede; however, that ISAF has lost the initiative there and believe the area will end up a success story. Time will tell.
Be wary of the inevitable international reporting and associated conclusions that are to come of the deteriorating security situation in the region over the next few weeks. Much more a product of the changing environment and time of year than from results of previous operations.
Appreciate the feedback and keep it coming.
Well, I think we can agree that the heart (if not the mind) of MAJ Springer's essay is here, where he compares a commissioned officer to a chef and, mixing his metaphors like a tossed salad, the dish to a craggy path to someplace:
"You are a chef of sorts, with all the ingredients necessary to peace laid out before you. Your country may call upon one of you to whip up a strategy to counter a religiously motivated, externally organized insurgency, while a mere ten miles from your AO, another leader must skillfully blend a strategy to counter a tribally motivated, internally organizing insurgency, all with the ultimate aim of achieving a Population-Centric (a la) mode of daily operations. There is no brightly illuminated path to success here; rather, the path is muddy and convoluted and it is up to you to make your own way and your own success."
It all devolves, however, to pop-centric warfare, which preaches the centrality of the "people" as the prize that, upon seizing, pacification follows.
This most certainly is based on nothing but theory, especially in Afghanistan, and should be considered as little more than faith-based, but it's the pot o' gold apparently nestled under the Classic COIN rainbow in Kandahar.
The reason why I mentioned Porch was because he was writing about Lyautey's experiences in Morocco. In his public writings on the concept of irregular warfare, Lyautey posited a "colonial school" that fixated on the subject populations and how to cleave the guerrillas from their midst.
There were strong institutional reasons for Lyautey to discuss the promises of the "colonial school" and sell the pursuit of often expensive, dubiously profitable adventures overseas as part of a "sensible and humane approach," one that like pop-centric warfare decries the "destructiveness of war," and one that eventually leads to the prosperity all concerned.
The problem is that the French experiences rarely aligned all that well with the salesmanship. Lyautey, Gallieni and the rest ended up doing all sorts of nasty and brutal things that didn't square with the theory, and certainly not with their public writings on the issue, but nevertheless tended to work.
Now, I don't suppose that most of America's battalion commanders shall prove to be as supple or sophisticated in their operational arts as Lyautey. When Springer tells them to ask themselves, "What, specifically, is precluding me from executing the Population-Centric Strategy in my AO?," is he not really calling on them to get to the bottom of the causative forces shaping the rebellion in their AO and then attacking them?
Probably. Maybe. My beef is that he nevertheless seems to believe that these causative forces remain what Marjah and other efforts have sought to cure -- what in Classic COIN would be a lack of state governance. The solution, therefore, is spreading that state control to the population, who will slide off the fence to the government side once they're sated with all that great leadership, economic development and whatnot.
Therefore, he embeds within his essay what I think any sane person would conclude to be either inanity of high Panglossian myopia or an insincere attempt to paint a happy picture of Marjah that would make Gallieni and Lyautey smile broadly.
But the hard reality, beyond the press-punditry's "narrative," is that the clear-hold-build model for Marjah, albeit early in its unspooling, hasn't exactly, well, worked. So then one wonders if the larger pop-centric model also will work.
Which then should lead a commander in the field -- staring at perhaps a center of gravity and a nature of this war that are at odds with the official prescription -- to mull over his options: Do I continue to pay lip service to hearts & minds and the pop-centric nature of my work here? Or do I actually attend to the causative forces as I see them?
Springer seems to suggest both "paths," which should hardly satisfy anyone. His out seems to be for commanders to apply proper CYA protocols as they deduce some pop-centric measures to try and track, letting others that might not work or can't be measured or could be counter-productive fall into the TOC's round file for proper storage.
Of course, if the commander who fails to pacify his AO nevertheless can trot out some Springeresque line about how -- reality be damned! -- it's as great here as Marjah apparently is, no harm and no foul, right?
"On the surface, at least, 'Du role colonial de l'Armee' offers a sensible and humane approach to the problems of colonial conquest and development. Who could fail to applaud the functionary who castigated the idiocy of bureaucratic practice, the colonial soldier who decried the destructiveness of war, who envisaged a colonial world of happy and prosperous natives guided by enlighted colonial soldiers and administrators? However, the obvious question is, 'Did it work?' Was the 'role colonial' simply a vision of an ideal world, a piece of propaganda ... or was it a realistic description of French colonial methods abroad?"