Small Wars Journal

Village Stability Operations and the Future of the American Way of War

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 7:53pm

Village Stability Operations and the Future of the American Way of War

SWJ Book Discussion with Linda Robinson on “One Hundred Victories. Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare” (Public Affairs, 2013).

Octavian Manea

Linda Robinson is a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. Robinson's areas of expertise include national security strategy, international affairs, U.S. foreign policy, security force assistance, joint force development, special operations forces, irregular warfare and stability operations. She has worked in South Asia, Iraq, the Middle East, and Latin America. She was senior adviser to the AFPAK Center at USCENTCOM (2010-11) and author of a Council on Foreign Relations special report on the future of special operations forces (2013). She is also the author of Tell Me How This Ends (2008), Masters of Chaos (2004), and Intervention or Neglect (1991).

To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. - Sun Tzu

SWJ: Why did you choose to write a book about Village Stability Operations?

Linda Robinson: Village Stability Operations/Afghan Local Police is definitely the heart of the book. I looked at that in depth because I think it represents special operations forces going back to their roots and rescuing some of the skill-sets for working with indigenous populations that to some were lost and submerged in the last decade of heavy focus on combat and direct action. I also looked to how those initiatives worked together in Afghanistan including the development of the Afghan Special Forces and the Afghan commandos and the entire Afghan special ops structure that was a very important second mission going on at the same time. Also there was ISAF SOF --I.E., NATO and other partners-- conducting a very intensive parallel effort to train and operate alongside the various police forces growing 17 different Province Response Companies, as well as the high-end Minister of Interior counter-terrorist and counter-narcotics forces. Finally the last few chapters are focused on the evolution of the US special ops command and control structure which is a little bit of an inside baseball story, but very important because for the first time, all the special ops tribes, all those stove-piped units were put together under one command. I tried to touch on all of these things that were going on and look at what the operators brought from their operational experience elsewhere and project forward where these things may be used in the future.

SWJ: Being there, on the ground and observing what the special ops were doing, how influent was the classical image of T.E. Lawrence for the operational philosophy at the core of the VSO/ALP initiatives?

Linda Robinson: Every operator, as well as the vast majority of US conventional forces sent out to these countries, have internalized, read and have been preached to about T.E. Lawrence. Of particular symbolism is the guidance about not doing so much with your own hands what they may do less perfectly with theirs. I think it is the actual insight to say that their hands are the critical hands. They in fact know their own country much better. All that the US can hope to do is to be the helping hand, the enabler. I think that is what the real T.E. Lawrence story was about: about him going over there and never pretending that he was the leader. He might be the translator back to the foreign capitals or a connector but never putting himself in the lead. That was where perhaps a wrong turn was taken in all the emphasis that developed almost unintentionally, when the US began seeing itself as the primary counterinsurgent. That is never going to be the case, never should be the case except if the US is confronted by an insurgency on its own soil. That is the optic really, to find out what it takes to operate successfully according to another countries’ standards. That is almost diametrically opposed to our process of building our own campaign plans and structuring our own approach because it has always come back to them, what they are willing to do and what they can do.

SWJ: You started the book with Sun Tzu and you ended the book with Sun Tzu. I think it is a symbolic choice especially today when we are talking so much about rebalancing. What is the broader message that you want to send by leveraging his influence including the title “One Hundred Victories”?

Linda Robinson: The key is not to win 100 victories in 100 battles, but to subdue the enemy without fighting. The interpretation or the spin that I put on without fighting means without the US taking the lead in the fighting. Of course there will likely be fighting in many of these cases, but the key is for them, the local actors, to do the fighting and for the US to enable them.

SWJ: You interviewed extensively all the main participants in the VSO project. How would you describe village stability operations and the associated challenges, because as you point out in the book, they seem very different than Call of Duty or just the pure kinetic part that we’ve seen emphasized when we talk about special ops?

Linda Robinson: This is really the key thing to highlight what has changed in the US approach in Afghanistan over time and what is hopefully going to be applied in the future elsewhere. Village Stability Operations represented a real evolution in how special ops interacted with the indigenous population. Early on in the war they would, in their own words, round up some “indig” to go hit targets. So they were simply leveraging the indigenous population to better serve a kinetic direct action mission, of going, finding and hunting down the Taliban. The VSO is a totally different concept built on the task of engaging deeply with civilian populations in remote areas. The logic was that in order to find out if these villages are willing to defend themselves we have to find out why they are fighting to begin with, why they have been subjugated by the Taliban or have actively cast their lot with the Taliban. So SOF has to move within villages, get a hearing with the village elders and then begin to understand very complicated dynamics. All this provides a sounder basis for forming a defense force of Afghans - the Afghan Local Police. Once you’ve understood the village, you understand why they would be willing to stand up and protect themselves and you can form a defense group on a durable basis of village leadership.

But this is very difficult; it is very hard to reliably diagnose decades old conflicts. It is a long-term approach - and the US always has a hard time devoting sufficient time to operations in such places. But to the credit of commanders in Afghanistan there were instances where time was invested in order to develop a true understanding of the local situation. What was usually found was a mix of marginalized tribes being cut out of economic sources of power as well as other formal or informal sources of power. It was really a matter of trying to find a power sharing solution to conflict. This formula is very promising but it is time consuming and requires some skill-sets that may not be readily available. I also think it is very important to look at this formula as one that requires a partnership with other entities or individuals that have the necessary expertise. It is wrong to expect special operators to learn everything or acquire all required skills. But overall it was an important pivot away from the immersion in combat that became a feature of the decade following 9/11 for the SOF community. The special operators relearned the art of sitting with the elders to figure out the complicated web of rivalries, to understand the alliances between the individual villages, but also understanding how the villagers could be motivated to come together for a common purpose.

SWJ: You have emphasized that one important innovation at the core of projecting the VSO on a larger scale was the partnership developed between the SOF community and conventional infantry forces. Concerning the current debate about the utility of “strategic landpower” what should be institutionalized as a good practice from the Afghan experience as we move forward?

Linda Robinson: This is critically important given the small size of special operation forces. If one expects the US defense strategy to be implemented in order to build partner capacity around the world one has to realize the task is far beyond special ops capacity to do alone. An interesting experiment undertaken in Afghanistan was to assign two infantry battalions to the Special Ops Command and divide these infantry battalions to send a squad to each of 52 special ops teams that were spread across the country - and thus building a force multiplier by providing teams force protection and, in some cases, enlisting the squads in the core tasks of stability operations and building the local police. In order for this to be applied successfully several things need to happen as the Army is very reluctant to have specialized forces and this is the nub of the problem. Today to be the most effective at this kind of activity, units need to have repeat tours in the same place. It doesn’t mean that they are going to become PhDs in that area but familiarity would make them much more successful. Similarly, at an individual level, allowing some to specialize in a particular region would provide a leadership cadre for young soldiers sent out to do these tasks in conjunction with special ops. The final point that I would make is the importance of building a system that allows sufficient time to prepare. The Army can’t just plug these individuals or units into an unfamiliar country. What I found most impressive in Afghanistan was the intensive academic week-long program that trained those assigned to conduct VSO/ALP. It became so popular that conventional forces began requesting the program even if they were not going to conduct VSO/ALP. I think this is a model for what needs to be done and I hope that there will be enough funding for these types of programs; but more importantly, a bureaucratic mindset to support such efforts must be institutionalized, an understanding that this is how you enable success.

SWJ: Responding to an insurgency requires more than just a military component, a comprehensive approach is necessary. Should partnerships go beyond SOF and conventional forces, bringing in development, governance, and other experts?

Linda Robinson: In the last chapter on Kunar I describe what a post 2014 small footprint presence should look like and it includes CIA, State, USAID, as well as special ops. To some extent this is going back to what I saw in Central America in the 1980s - where it was routine to have those elements as part of a partnership. It was much easier ironically for civilians to get out then than it is now. Today regional security officers restrict to an incredibly degree the ability of civilians assigned to embassy country teams to get out in the field in risky situations to work with special ops or any indigenous element. I think this reluctance is even greater now after the Benghazi incident.

SWJ: What kind of a mindset, at the individual and institutional levels, is required in order to operate effectively and be able understand and craft an answer to political-military challenges?

Linda Robinson: On the military side, I think there is a need to ensure recruiting literature and the recruiting pitch includes and appeals to those with an interest in the world out there - working and living in other cultures. That is not to say that you don’t need or that you won’t recruit people that desire the direct action side of things but you need to make sure that you are getting those people that really want to get out there, drink tea and live with the villagers and work with the civilian counterparts.

On the civilian side there is a whole group of Foreign Service officers appointed as foreign policy advisers for the military commands, a program that was massively expanded over the past decade. These officers often don’t get considered for higher positions. I think the Foreign Service promotion system should really reward those who have an interagency mindset - those who are working best with other elements of the US government. The system should reward and require a tour in another agency because it provides powerful friendships, relationships and the knowledge of how another bureaucracy operates. Somewhere we got lost in talking about all the other agencies. Let’s be clear, State and USAID are the two key ones. We must get the three Ds (Defense, Diplomacy and Development,) lashed up and make use of all these people that have been out there in the field (whether it is in PRTs or whatever) over the last decade. We may not have any big wars going on, but if the US can get that talent and put them in these places in small teams and I think we will be very successful.

SWJ: What was the role of the ALP/VSO effort in the broader effort of the Afghan surge?

Linda Robinson: The ALP/VSO grew perhaps more quickly than they could effectively manage given the number of SOF teams augmented by conventional squads. Overall the ALP/VSO (a ground-up, elder validated defense force) should be the main effort because it is a rural insurgency and this is a low cost method of providing security in major belts of the rural insurgent zone. It was also a localized approach, because this is a very difficult country to move around. They are not going to have a large air-mobile capability for quite a while simply because it is very hard to train Afghan pilots. A more appropriate model for Afghanistan going forward is a smaller overall force that is sustainable - but also a force that includes and is based more on local defense initiatives that can start replicating themselves. We need to make sure they are being empowered with their own decision-making.

SWJ: How important were past indirect formative experiences like Colombia and Philippines?

Linda Robinson: This is very important because I found without exception that every special ops team I encountered directly referenced their experiences elsewhere and these were highly relevant. The two main groups that spent most of the time in Afghanistan were the 3rd and 7th Special Forces Groups. The 7th had time in Colombia - where they were entirely focused on supporting Colombia’s development of its own security to combat the FARC narco-terrorist insurgency. 3rd Special Forces Group also had Africa experience as did Navy SEALs in Colombia, Africa and the Philippines. A lot of people don’t realize how much time the SEALs have spent working to bolster other countries capabilities because they associate them with direct action missions. 1st Special Forces Group teams were entirely oriented on Asia by policy. Some of them had time in Iraq providing training to local SWAT teams but their primary mission in Asia was working with other countries’ military forces in a non-combat mode. They had a lot of experience, 10 years now, in the Philippines.

SWJ: It is fashionable to talk about El Salvador in the 1980s, and the Philippines and Colombia, post 9/11, as examples of effective small scale Foreign Internal Defense (FID) campaigns.  But history shows that counterinsurgency is a state-centric process requiring developing and investing in a massive state-building component. Is low cost FID possible when the expeditionary counterinsurgent doesn’t have a reasonable local state structure to leverage? In Colombia and Philippines we can talk about a successful low cost FID because behind the effort there were reasonable local institutional and administrative machineries.

Linda Robinson: You make a very good point and this is certainly the case with Colombia and the Philippines, although the state structures in the Colombian case absolutely did not reach out to the countryside. So the counterinsurgency effort led and formulated by Colombia has been very much one of projecting first state security and now state governance and fixing the economic disparity. But it is important to point out that the construct of VSO/ALP does aim to connect up the local people with a nascent formal governing structure. Nascent is the operative word here. Additionally, we have to fix our counterinsurgency model so that we are focusing first and foremost on police. The counterinsurgency model as we have practiced it has neglected police / law enforcement.

On the other side, it takes a lot of time to build any state structure so what VSO was really leveraging in the first instance was the desire of local people to defend themselves and the key elements of the local setting - tribes, elders, those grass root informal structures. The goal of the VSO program was community mobilization, by helping villages identify and address the problems that were creating conflict and instability in their area. This provides the formula to work while there is no sufficiently developed state structure and that model can be applied in places like Yemen (heavily tribal where the government does not reach outside the city limits) or Mali. I think it is very pertinent for many parts of the world to look at the tribal basis that doesn’t contradict eventually building state structures, but it is using what is there to defeat a threat for the near term.

SWJ: If the willingness of the local communities to mobilize against the Taliban was there why did it happen in 2009 and not earlier?

Linda Robinson: The reason it didn’t go spontaneously was due to the level of Taliban intimidation. No one was standing at that time because no one was reaching out to help these people stand up. The countryside was pretty much on its own. That psychological benefit of having someone out there gave many of these leaders the courage to come forward. I won’t underestimate that for many in these poor areas the prospect of pay, the prospect of a job helped. What it really took was a team being there that provided an umbrella of security.

SWJ: Do you see this model of working locally, with the grass root structures, as being sustainable when there is no broader institutional framework able to anchor these community defense initiatives?

Linda Robinson: It depends fundamentally on the quality and the ability of the local leadership. This is what I found in the microcosms that I focused on in the book. A strong, charismatic leadership able to use their tribal stature as a legitimizing force to galvanize villagers is going to be the key no matter what. I think also that the people’s will, that existential will to survive can be enough to sustain a local defense effort, even if there is no money coming down from government sources.

If our pipeline of aid to Afghanistan stops after 2014 some local defense initiatives will continue as a purely voluntary effort because it is in their interest to guard their homes, families and farms. I can see that happening at least in the couple of places that I focused on - Kunar and Paktika.

SWJ: How does this end?

Linda Robinson: For Afghanistan the most important determinant of success will be the US willingness to maintain a small but distributed presence. The emphasis is on distributed. If SOF are just sitting in Kabul or Bagram and only have as a core mission occasional CT strikes, I think they might as well come home. If they are willing to have a distributed special operations presence, perhaps augmented by conventional forces, and continue this for some time, I think the country will make it through and it will move forward. Ultimately, success really involves applying this model elsewhere. The special ops community is quite poised to apply all these four things that I have mentioned - using local forces, developing local SOF, using coalition SOF and combining these elements in a unified command. These are the hallmarks of any operation conducted in other parts of the world. This is the vision that Admiral McRaven is driving toward.  It is also one that has been embraced in part by the Administration, but the Administration also has voices that would prefer just stand-alone CT missions. This is a debate to have not only in policy circles but also in the public.

At the same time, I am quite concerned about Americans becoming very isolationist and unwilling to do anything to help countries in areas where we do have vital interests and failing to understand that a small commitment over a period of time can have a great effect at a much lower cost than waiting until a problem or a threat is so severe that we need to intervene unilaterally at a great cost and size. It is a problem of policy-makers driven by public opinion polls. The other problem is the US military may find it much easier to say that we can use a high tech approach to defeat the threat when in fact at the end of the day somebody has to be there on the ground knowing what is going on and probably helping those partners. I don’t think we can have a model where we can outsource our security entirely to other countries.

SWJ: A key word, and in the end mindset of the VSO practitioners is that of presenting themselves as “teachers”. Do we have here a symbolic center of gravity shifting from the combat SOF to the task of empowering partners and becoming teachers?

Linda Robinson: To teach, to facilitate, to listen---all these verbs come in to play here. I was very impressed by the team leaders that seemed to grasp the skills that were required to work in a foreign culture with people many years older, able to gain their respect, but still in the end also prepared to teach them. Often it will not be about overt teaching, but enabling and facilitating. Just as we underrate the teachers in our society this has been an underrated skill-set of the special operations forces. Their ability to do that rests on some internal institutional changes. The SOF leadership should reward those with these aptitudes and prepare the leaders able to orchestrate campaigns that are largely “by, through and with” others. They like to say they do it, but they’ve spent way too much time focused on the tactical level. This is where the US Special Ops Command is trying to reorient to do, but it requires shifting bodies and money to this. I am waiting to see more bodies and money shifted.

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


An outline re: Our "Back to the Future" American Way of War:

1. The American Way of War During the Cold War:

a. Many/most populations seem to desire a non-American way of life and a non-American way of governance.

b. This causes the United States to work by, with and through often odious and oppressive regimes; to hold down such populations.

c. Thus during the Cold War, and to achieve our desired ends, the necessarily oppressive/odious regimes -- rather than the populations -- are often seen as our way forward.

2. The American Way of War in the Mid-Post-Cold War Period:

a. Now the understanding is that many/most populations DO desire an American way of life and an American way of governance.

b. This causes the United States to work by, with and through the populations to achieve its (the United States') objectives. So now the US seeks to use the populations to overthrow and replace the odious/oppressive regimes -- which are now seen as an anachronism.

c. Thus during the mid-post-Cold War period, the populations -- rather than the oppressive/odious regimes -- are seen as our way forward.

3. The American Way of War Today:

a. Based on recent experiences, we have learned, much to our chagrin, that many populations still do not want an American way of life and an American way of governance.

b. This has caused the United States to re-adopt its Cold War approaches and, thus, again work by, with and through the often oppressive and odious regimes (to transform the populations, often against their will, more along modern western lines).

c. Thus again today -- as was the case during the Cold War -- we see (1) the populations as the problem and (2) the oppressive/odious regimes as the solution and, thus, as our proper way forward.

4. Summing up: As confirmation that the above analysis may be accurate, note that:

a. All our current approaches (Phase Zero Operations, small SOF footprint, by, with and through host-nation governments, building partner capacity, etc) relate to actions undertake via the regime and that:

b. None of these approaches suggest -- as we have done in the recent past -- that we seek to overthrow oppressive/odious regimes and/or liberate populations. (Such actions tending to -- re: our national interests -- produce unreliable and/or counterproductive results.)

c. Thus, and by our actions here, we officially declare as dead both (1) the idea of "universal values" and (2) the idea that (because of universal values) we might work by, with and through the populations to achieve our desired ends.

d. Henceforth, and as in Cold War days, things will again be seen as having to be achieved against the will of the population and, thus, as it were, via uphill -- rather than downhill -- battles.

Since several of you said that Linda Robinson was placing an "equals sign" between VSO and the future of the American way of war:
There is no such statement here, neither in the book (the interview title says: "VSO and the future..." rather than "VSO is the future...").

G Martin

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 2:25pm

<em>"I already asked this question G Martin but can you tell me if you were the top strategist who successfully toppled the TB regime and now the insurgency is growing (providing you are back in 2004-6), how would you solve the problem from the scratch?"</em>

Great phrasing- since I think the key question is "what is the problem"? If one perceives the problem as "how do we establish a stable government" or "how do we defeat or assist in defeating an insurgency"- then I think that is very different than the definition of what the problem was by most I talked to who were involved in the planning back then:

I think I'd just use the thinking of the "top strategists" that I talked to at that time (heavily caveating that term- I'm referring to a few in the TSOC who laid out some facts, questions and assumptions prior to 2004):

1- That in 2003 the center of gravity of the Bush admin was Iraq
2- That there was no American support for a long-term occupation of Afghanistan
3- That it was questionable that a focus on the Taliban was more important than continued efforts in the region especially with respect to possible negative implications in Pakistan and AQ presence in Pakistan and the region.
4- That the effort in Afghanistan was being overcome by the U.S. desire to build an aura of legitimacy to both increase NATO involvement in Afghanistan as well as increase allied support in Iraq (thus the perceived need to establish a central government and support it)

1- What are the U.S. strategic interests in the region?
2- What are the most likely scenarios if the U.S. stayed or left?
3- What logic should drive our involvement?
4- What can we afford?

1- U.S. strategic interests were to support a stable Pakistani regime that is friendly to the U.S.; to keep terrorists from having the capability to plan and prepare domestic U.S. actions; and to support increased NATO ownership of Afghanistan as well as world involvement in Iraq
2- If the U.S. pulled out there would most likely be a return to the pre-2002 civil war and areas of power vacuums, if the U.S. stayed there would most likely be an insurgency against the U.S.-backed government that would negatively affect U.S. interests in the region and in Pakistan particularly.
3- Our involvement should be limited to what we know we can do and what we know can be communicated to the world and region in simple terms that are easily understandable- regardless of how accurate they are.
4- We cannot afford a protracted effort that supports a government overtly- as it would build antibodies we would be unable to overcome.

Conclusion: That in the long-term (at that time) it would most likely have been more in our interests to leave Afghanistan largely to NATO and the Afghans (which would have meant mostly to the Afghans), concentrate on Iraq (at that point), communicate our intent to come back in if needed to Afghanistan if entities in Afghanistan threatened the U.S. again, and spent some effort getting Pakistani support to neutralize AQ in Pakistan. At that point, admittedly, our options were heavily influenced by our actions in Iraq.

Bill C.

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 11:48am

From COL Jones comment below:

"But we need to get smarter than our doctrine if we want to truly help Afghanistan become a more internally peaceful place."

Herein, I think, lies the problem.

Making Afghanistan -- or other outlying states and societies -- "more internally peaceful" is not our objective.

Transforming these outlying states and societies -- more along modern western political, economic and social lines and, thereby, making them less-problematic and more useful -- this is our objective.

A certain degree of conflict and resistance, coming mostly from conservative elements desirous of maintaining the status quo; this being more or less a "given" and a well-known "part and parcel" of these transformational processes.

An example: If by completely isolating themselves -- and outlawing international commerce and trade -- outlying states and societies could be made to be more internally peaceful we, absolutely and positively, would not allow this.

Our foreign policy is designed to achieve the exact opposite: To open-up the more-closed, more-isolated and, therefore, more-problematic/less-utilized states and societies.

In this endeavor, we accept that conflict, in one form or another, and to one degree or another is to be expected.

Bill C.

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 11:55pm

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.”

(Prologue from the movie "Gone With The Wind.")

This is what we hope to achieve in places such as Afghanistan and elsewhere where, much like the Old South, we find different ways of life, different ways of governance and different values, attitudes and beliefs which:

a. Give us trouble and which

b. Stand in the way of where we want to go and how we want to get there.

Thus the question becomes, can Village Stability Operations play an important role in causing the civilizations of these outlying states and societies to become, more or less, "gone with the wind?"

Stated in other ways:

a. Could special forces from the American North -- operating in communities in the American South for significant periods of time before the American Civil War -- have had any meaningful effect on destroying the way of life, etc., of the Antibellum South?

b. Could special forces from the American North, operating in communities in the American South over significant periods of time before the American Civil War, earlier, at less cost and before things got out of hand, have helped to ameliorate the underlying problems resident in the Antibellum South (to wit: its way of life, its way of governance and its underlying values, attitudes and beliefs)?

(Herein, for consistency, let us say that the American North, during this lengthy period of its special forces deployments in the American South, would be acting, somewhat, via all its non-military instruments of power -- this, so as to more-peacefully bring about the state and societal transformation that it desired in the American South.)

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 7:04am

In reply to by matkob

Interesting the comments on IEDs which in my eyes is just as much a failure as the term COIN is---somehow we got into the term IED and off what for years they actually were---mines, improvised mines, and booby traps---nothing more nothing less and yes even in VN they were just as effective as they were in Iraq and AFG.

The insurgencies in Iraq and AFG have used them as a cheap and effective way to counter/channel our movements and our long range weapons and in some ways the troops fear them more than the actual insurgents.

We have as well spent literally billions of dollars in trying to "defeat" them, created an amazingly large organization using over 4B a year called Joint IED Defeat,we have as shoulder patches CIED and hundreds of MRAPS that no one knows where they will go to after AFG, but still IEDs are exploding around our ears.

At the height of the Iraq violence there were as many as 1000 a week being exploded and or found---statistically seen in Iraq every third patrol was getting hit on a daily basis. In AFG the insurgents simply increased the size and can virtually defeat any vehicle that we use there on a daily basis.

Would be interesting to understand why we do not discuss this failure as we discuss say the failure of COIN.

In some aspects the failure to successfully counter the IED is a direct indicator of the failure of COIN.


Wed, 02/26/2014 - 5:29am

In reply to by Bill M.

Well, I do not have any "conventional definition of what is considered an appropriate military objective and domain" and I have no objections to what you are saying in terms of losing will to fight. On the other hand - "strong central government" was one thing we self-restricted ourselves in. Instead of analyzing and coming up with the best governance system we came up with western model of society which in turn can bring us to the result you described. The thing I am questioning is the relevance of such political system in country like Afghanistan in order to achieve whatever goals might we have.

Got your points regarding the IEDs. However, you never can end up with only defending the areas. Then you have several options: either you use the oil-spot strategy (more prudent) or you can use the strategic/operational offensive approach when you push your security forces for 24/7 presence to the enemy areas with only limited concentration on your areas. It does not have to work but it can (contains more risk but if successful, can be much faster). The philosophy is that if they are emplacing the IEDs in your "supposedly controlled" areas, they will be emplacing them the same way in their areas because that way you are taking strategic initiative from them. Is it going to have an influence on your logistic? Maybe not as much as one could think. Definitely it is worth of further analysis. Basically you take strategic initiative because they need to concentrate more on their areas and less on your areas which in turn can help controlling your areas with much less resources.

Regarding the irregulars - the basic philosophy is that you are using the same type of forces which fight in a similar way and have similar capabilities with the insurgents (consciously simplifying here). And as I said, if you chose a proper governance system, you do not even need strong central government with conventional military unless it is inherent to the country's mentality.

I am not mimicking the doctrine about popular support which is surely good to have but one way or the other, the insurgents are fighting for control over those people and since they stay for a long time, they need to have some voluntary or involuntary support(people do not have to like them but the insurgents live of them - even the foreign fighters and over-the-border networks or cells). Now, from the counterinsurgent's perspective it is still better if they cannot access the populace than if they can (regardless of how much support they have from abroad). Actually this was my argument with Robert C. Jones.

Talking about COIN doctrine probably you have in mind specific book (FM 3-24). When I am talking about COIN, I am talking in terms of any actions to defeat the insurgency and resolve core grievances (which is doctrinal definition, BTW) being it C-H-B (which I think is not), VSO, barbecuing, playing soccer or any actions which can contribute to cease the insurgency. I mean anything which is working in a specific situation.

I agree with your last paragraph, however, what type of ANSF will be more sustainable and will bring more operational benefit? There maybe comes into play more irregular approach, too.

I already asked this question G Martin but can you tell me if you were the top strategist who successfully toppled the TB regime and now the insurgency is growing (providing you are back in 2004-6), how would you solve the problem from the scratch?

Bill M.

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 3:41am

In reply to by matkob

Matt, if you want to argue doctrinal definitions of domains, then there is no human domain; however, I believe there is a human domain that is multi-dimensional, and one very key dimension is political opinion. It is naïve to think that the adversary doesn't consider our nation's politic opinion decisive. It may not fit your conventional definition of what is considered an appropriate military objective and domain, but it fits theirs and what they taught us in SF decades ago. It is actually quite simple, if our political leaders lose their will and are convinced to pull or greatly reduce support to Afghanistan it will permit the adversaries to focus their efforts on the Afghan security forces, and if they can defeat them the populace will follow the alpha dog. They have no requirement to win over the populace, simply to cow them into not supporting the government. Next they pressure the security forces and gradually separate them from the state, at that point is a matter of weeks before the government falls. In the end all power comes from the barrel of gun according to Mao. I personally hate the SOB, but he is right when he implies that hard power wins over soft power every time if the two methods are competing in the same domain, and if one is willing to be as brutal as necessary. I think it is fair to say our adversaries are quite willing to be as brutal as necessary. All the nation building we did will be for naught if it unfolds this way.

Back to IEDs, my point is they serve as an indicator that we don't control the human or land domain. If we were implementing the VSO program using the oil spot strategy (I know we never did, and never said we were, we had new clever ideas so we could ignore the old rules of war right?). However, if we did use the oil spot strategy that means we would control all the domains human, land, air, maritime within the core of the oil spot (the periphery would be contested), the fact that the adversary has considerable freedom of movement to employ IEDs on MSRs indicates we don't control squat. I have been advocating for the military to get off the roads for years (to include in Iraq), but at the end of the day we still need to deliver logistics via the road (the Afghans can't sustain logistical support via air after we leave). Logistics are important in any form of conflict, even ones that are so called populace centric. We haven't done our military job very effectively, much less win over the populace. IEDs serve a lot of purposes that are beyond the scope of this response, the point of my post is if the enemy is operating freely within areas that are supposed to be secure that indicates our military/security approach isn't working, so it should be a wake up call.

You said at the end of the day they want to dominate the human domain, which may be true, but they know to do that they have to defeat the government and its security forces. This is an aspect of fighting irregulars we dismiss in our doctrine and of course authors like Linda perpetuate the myth that ODAs conducting VSO is the future way of American War. It is simply a supporting effort, and a supporting effort that will fail if we also forget to take the fight to the enemy in a decisive way.

You repeatedly state that denying the population is only part of the overall effort, but my point is we're doing very little else to decisively defeat the adversaries. That isn't a dig on you, it is actually supportive of your point. If we were executing a comprehensive strategy directed at defeating the adversary then the VSO would be much more effective.

You are mimicking doctrine that insurgents need the support of the people to fight. The reality is that depends on the situation, and in Afghanistan Haqani, and other groups don't need the support of the people in Afghanistan to continue their fight. They get plenty of support from foreign supporters and population groups external to Afghanistan.

Where do we end up based on COIN doctrine? That is easy, right where we're at now and where Iraq is at now. We won't change anything at this point.

What is my solution? We can't rewrite history, so my recommended approach is water under the bridge now. For now, I think downsizing is appropriate at this point, but I hope we provide ample support to the Afghan Security Forces to hold the line, yet to be seen if we will or they will. We didn't have the will to be decisive based on our perceptions/concerns about Pakistan, so the Afghans will have the right balance between a military and political approach to bring the conflict to end or at least a steady, yet slow burn. For us the lessons we draw from this conflict will be most important. I'm afraid we'll either blindly embrace nation building in the pursuit of modernism, or reject the human aspect of conflict completely in hopes of pursuing our ends through ISR and long range strikes. What we need to learn are the basics, which first means gaining understanding of the situation and determining what is in our interests that we actually need to employ military force to achieve, and then appropriately scope the objectives.


Wed, 02/26/2014 - 2:48am

In reply to by Bill M.

My description of IEDs is based on what the asymmetry is in this environment. You said that "you can't deliver logistics to some areas within the periphery via ground vehicles due to the IED threat", which implies perception of using IEDs to deny our FoM (that is common perception on the ISAF side). That is our way of thinking in terms of physical terrain (and maneuver in terms of conventional forces).

Political opinion is not decisive terrain. The terrain is something you operate in (physical or abstract). You do not operate in political opinion, you can influence political opinion. In that case the terrain would be diplomatic field but only regarding their political LoE. At the end of the day, they want to dominate the human terrain to take over the power over it.

I don't know how many times I have said here that denying access to the population is only one of the means or conditions to defeat them, not the defeat itself. How is that belief giving them freedom of movement? They have it anyway, unless you deny them the access to the populace (which they use as the base for their support), which is not their defeat but can lead to their defeat unless you want to defeat them by killing them all. See the difference?

So, where exactly do we end up based on what doctrine? And what is your solution?

Bill M.

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 12:54pm

In reply to by matkob

Your description of I ED use is overly simplistic. I sure as beck didn't say anything about defensive I ED use. The decisive terrain for our adversaries at this time is political opinion in the West so they can isolate the gov from external support. They actually have a. Strategy and understand our that our belief we can defeat them by denying access to the local population gives them considerable freedom of movement to pursue their ends. When you build a strategy that is largely informed by flawed doctrine this is where you end up.


Tue, 02/25/2014 - 6:53am

In reply to by Bill M.

As I stated somewhere else, VSO needs to be understand as tactical means (a tool) to separate populace from the insurgents and control the populace. It is only one part of the insurgency. Yes, if the strategy fails, we are going to lose no matter what.

Regarding all the systems of thinking and planning you mentioned, that happens if some people confuse means with ends.

"Defensive IEDs" is another flaw of our conventional way of thinking. If you look at it from insurgents' perspective, there is rarely such a thing as defensive IEDs. The IEDs in their eyes are not minefield-type obstacle but rather a cheap means to kill some of us and break our moral that way. If you want to avoid an IED, go off-road, when possible. Defensive IEDs would be valid if the insurgents were thinkin from the perspective of "decisive terrain" which they rarely do. Decisive terrain for them is "human terrain". Thus it does not really matter whether you use oil-spot or another approach. But everytime it needs to be strategic offensive pushing where the insurgents are and operate (by taking human terrain).

Bill M.

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 4:59am

In reply to by matkob

BG Bolduc's approach isn't what I object to, though I do question its merits in a country with a long history of tribal warfare, what I object to is confusing it with a strategy to "defeat" the insurgency. As long as the insurgents have the will to continue to fighting we will fail to defeat them. We can fight them from the bottom up, and we can fight them from the top down, or using a combination of both, but that is irrelevant if our strategy won't take the wind out of our adversary's sails. I hate repeating the over used quote, but it is correct we can win every fight and still lose the war.

We seem to be stuck in a muck created by the philosophies associated with effects based operations, systemic operational design, modernization, and so forth, that instead of enlightening us and enabling critical thinking have blinded us to the simple realities on the far side of complexity. What hubris to believe we can inject our political and economic models and expect insurgents (and the numerous other adversary combatants) to simply lose the will to fight. It demonstrates we are blind to the actual historical narratives that motivate them to fight.

As for VSO, I am under the belief it must be used with as part of an oil spot approach where you start in a secure area and gradually push out village by village so you have a contiguous controlled zone, the only contested areas should be on the periphery of the oil spot. When you can't deliver logistics to some areas within the periphery via ground vehicles due to the IED threat then you really haven't accomplished much except creating an unnecessary logistics challenge with limited strategic value in return. Yes you're disrupting the adversary and you're fighting him, and we can do that for another 10 years, so what? Even if we executed the oil spot approach it won't be sufficient to undermine their will to fight as long as they enjoy external support and sanctuary (this isn't Malaya, the Philippines, or even Algeria).

I think we have done a great job of achieving tactical superiority over the adversary in both special and conventional operations in Vietnam, Iraq (JSOC evolved rapidly to do what was previously impossible), and Afghanistan, but in the end these are tactics executed by the best military forces in the world in my opinion, but they were tactics without strategy and as Sun Tzu reportedly wrote, "tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 11:10am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert---this sentence is interesting if one looks at the Arab Spring, to Syria, to Egypt, to Kiev, to the "stans", to White Russia and now even to Hong Kong.

"The important form of legitimacy is political, or popular, legitimacy. The recognition by the governed of the right of some system of governance to affect their lives."

"If there were effective legal recourse in the context of the culture of the people involved, there would most likely not be an insurgency in the first place."

The following comment reinforces the above sentences.

Basboosa and the American Dream

Tarek Bouazizi, known locally by the nickname Basboosa, was poor but he dreamed big. He believed in his own version American Dream. That simple, amazingly powerful idea that it was possible, through hard, honest work, to build a better life.

Unfortunately, Basboosa had a rough start. His father died when he was three and he had to start work at 10 to support his mother and his sisters.

Absent any other options, he got creative and built a small income by selling fruit and produce from his cart. A business he was successful enough at, he was able to send one of his sisters to the University — a classic American Dream story.

However, this pursuit of the Dream didn’t end well for Basboosa. Over the last couple of years of his short life, he ran afoul of local Kleptocrats. Corrupt government officials that had demanded steep bribes (disguised as a “permit fee” when none was needed) to sell produce from his cart.

Of course, Basboosa couldn’t always pay the bribe, and when he couldn’t, the police would confiscate some of his produce. On a morning in December it escalated. The police didn’t just confiscate all of his produce, they took his cart too.

Unable to pay back the $200 he had borrowed to buy the produce or replace the lost cart, Basboosa headed to the offices of the municipal authorities to protest. The government official he saw, summarily refused to return his cart. Not only that, she summoned the police to throw him out of the office and rough him up in the process.

Humiliated. His hope for his own version of the American Dream shredded, he took an extreme step. He burned himself to death (he died two weeks later with burns over 90% of his body) in front of the Town Hall in protest.

Basboosa’s death was tragic. He was also a casualty in a much bigger conflict. A conflict between those of us that want the opportunity to earn a better life through our own version of the American Dream, and those that want the opportunity to take it all, the people that have ascended to the throne of the kleptocracy. So, even though his story occurred in Tunisia, it’s a story that we’re going to see play out again and again, in nearly every country.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 9:21am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Finally someone called a spade a spade---Ahmen.

"We debate COIN, but first we must come to a more accurate understanding of what insurgency is truly all about if we hope to avoid or more effectively resolve such conflicts in the future."

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 5:19am

In reply to by matkob

There are two broad types of legitimacy, the one we fixate on is legal legitimacy, which is largely irrelevant in terms of understanding or resolving insurgency. The important form of legitimacy is political, or popular, legitimacy. The recognition by the governed of the right of some system of governance to affect their lives. US Governance and GIRoA governance both heavily impact the lives of people in Afghanistan. Both have legal legitimacy, but both equally are widely perceived as lacking political legitimacy. We cannot cure the de facto illegitimacy of GIRoA, this is a perception they must earn; but they are in a deep hole as the very way they came to power, who they are made up of, and how they are constituted to sustain their monopoly makes this a nearly impossibly illegitimate situation to cure.

So, in that light, all insurgencies possess political legitimacy in the perceptions of the population they are based within. Equally, all insurgencies are legally illegitimate under the law of the systems of governance being challenged. This is a primary reason why governments are generally so bad at resolving insurgency, as their primary response is typically to simply enforce the rule of law and counter the insurgent.

If there were effective legal recourse in the context of the culture of the people involved, there would most likely not be an insurgency in the first place. Which brings us to your second point. There are two types of insurgency in Afghanistan, and the first type is the revolutionary insurgency between those who had patronage under the Taliban and those who possess patronage under the Northern Alliance-based GIRoA elevated into power by the US. The revolutionary insurgency did not fairly begin until we allowed Karzai to railroad through the Loya Girga the current constitution of Afghanistan that turned traditional Afghan patronage into a centralized Ponzi scheme. Fixing the constitution would be far more effective than attempting to fix the people who rebel against the same.

The second aspect of the insurgency is a resistance insurgency against the US and newly formed centralized government and their efforts out amongst the largely apolitical people of Afghanistan to counter the revolution.

This is political warfare rooted in human nature. What we have attempted to accomplish has run counter to human nature and quite naturally triggered an insurgency effect among the people. Our COIN efforts snipe at the symptoms of one aspect of the insurgency in a manner that avoids the true problem and creates the causal energy behind the second aspect of the insurgency at the same time. Our bias, agenda and doctrine doom us to a long frustrating pursuit of suppressing and exacerbating symptoms in the same moves.

We debate COIN, but first we must come to a more accurate understanding of what insurgency is truly all about if we hope to avoid or more effectively resolve such conflicts in the future.


Thu, 02/27/2014 - 1:43am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Providing all insurgencies are legitimate. But they are not. And even legitimate governments need military power t keep the country secure. If you have an illegitimate insurgent group, you cannot just fight them with good words and intentions. Moreover, this is "one size fits all" approach but what if a strong central government (which is a cliche imposed by us on Afghanistan) is not what the country needs?


Robert C. Jones

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 7:42am

In reply to by matkob

What a government needs of it's constituency is support or acceptance, not control.

This requires an adaptive and learning government, not Army.

This requires a government that is able and willing to change in manning or even form as necessary to accommodate the needs of an evolving population.

This is why a COIN doctrine predicated on status quo of government, defeating insurgents and control of the population was ok for managing a colony or for denying Soviet influence; but is in way the path to natural stability and self determination of governance.


Robert C. Jones

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 7:44am

In reply to by matkob

Dbl post


Wed, 02/26/2014 - 2:52am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. So how do you call it? And what is the viable solution if that one is wrong?

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 12:54pm

In reply to by matkob

Just a couple of quick thoughts:

Better to think of "strategy" in terms of the depth of understanding achieved and applied; and in the nature and durability of the effects achieved - not the number of stars on one's boss's collar.

At the War College they told us in effect "congratulations, you are now strategic." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most officers with strategic aptitude had been weeded out long prior in the Darwinian process of producing an Army Colonel.

As to "control the populace" that is perhaps the worst false COIN cliche' of them all. When did you last wake up and prey for your government to control you more effectively? Control the other guy sure, but in that type of control lies the roots of insurgency.

Good discussion.



Tue, 02/25/2014 - 12:34pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

When I was in Afghanistan back in 2009, even bringing some idea resembling the program (or any irregular forces) was opposed and everybody was saying that it would not work. When the program started one year later, everybody was saying how bad it was and that it would not have any future. When I came back to Afghanistan 4 years later, there was one difference: the program was actually working (actually the legacy of VSO, which is ALP) regardless all the comments saying the program was ill-fated. The program has never been a priority. But it brought change. Despite all the mistakes and problems with the program, now I can say that it was one of the best things which coalition did. Despite problems during the execution and misunderstanding on every level. That is how the merits of the program are proven.

Before you blame somebody of using cliches you should make yourself sure that the person does not have reasoning behind the words which are being used.

Regarding the dynamics of the insurgency and terrorism, I have already posted this link:


this is really good study and explains a lot bringing more complexity to the matter.

If you do not like the phrase: "Separating the insurgent from the populace" reasoning that insurgents are part of the populace, then I can say "controlling the populace". If you do not like that one, how would you call permanent presence of special operations unit and their irregular counterparts between the populace 24/7? The final effect is that the insurgents cannot move freely between the populace (and are subject to counterinsurgents' actions). I never said that you do not have to deal with the governance system so the insurgency does not re-emerge.

One problem in this kind of environment is that borders between tactical, operational or strategic levels are very thin, sometimes non-existent. Thus tactical success/failure (and now I am going to use a cliche) can have strategic impact (BTW, aren't special operations forces a tactical element causing a strategic impact by design?). However, in counterinsurgency you can prevail only with strategic offensive/tactical offensive approach. Dominating human terrain in insurgent controlled areas is the strategic offensive. Conducting raids and other offensive tactical actions is tactical offensive. The only thing you really can do from the op-strat level is to make their "Cause" irrelevant.

I can completely agree with your last paragraph.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 8:58am

In reply to by matkob


Well, you use the same arguments made by leadership in selling the program, but that does not of itself give the program the merits claimed.

And, for one who is against mantras and cliche's, your arguments are well equipped with both. They are hard to avoid, as our COIN literature is littered with -nay, composed of, such phrases.

In my study and experience, for something to be an insurgency it must be four things: Internal; populace-based; Political in primary purpose; and illegal. Viewed in this light, the only difference between insurgency and democracy is legality.

When a handful of people want to simply sieze power, that by definition lacks a base of popular support, so is a coup rather than an insurgency and demands a wholly different (and much easier) solution set.

If that handful of people come from a significant and discrete segment of the population with the type of grievances I described in the previous post, then it is most likely an insurgency. I have yet to see a case where some group of internal or external actors were able to "create" an insurgency among some population where the perceptions of poor governance and conditions of insurgency did not already exist. But I am open to exploring in the Small Wars Council any situation where you believe that to be the case. There are always execptions, but they are exceptions because they are rare.

"Separating the insurgent from the populace" is one of the great false lessons of the Malayan Emergency. This is tactical, and something the British military did quite well in an effort that created time and space for the political leadership to give up on trying to restore the colony, to expand suffrage to the the previously excluded ethinc Indian and Chinese populations; to give up control of local governance through the Colonial office, and to posture a new nation of Malaysia to emerge as a soveregin and legitimate member of the Common Wealth.

The reality is, of course, that if one is truly dealing with an insurgency, the insurgent is PART OF THE POPULACE. If one "separates" or "defeats" the current team of active fighters, but does not resolve the underlying conditions of poor governance, it is typically a matter of 10-20 years before the insurgency goes active once again. Like throwing dirt on a campfire without dealing with the hot embers underneath...

And you are right, VSO is not designed to let governance evolve. That is why it is a tactical program by design, and is unlikely to produce other than tactical effects. And yes, the same is true of C-H-B as well.

This a major problem from us generally thinking of insurgency as "war." While a resistance insurgency is a continuation of war, revolutionary and separatist insurgency is better thought of as an internal, civil emergency. This is also the problem when we then task the military to "win" the war in order to allow the governance folks to then begin work on making government more "effective." While insurgency often looks like war, it is of a different genus; and while governments that are "poor" in there governance are also often ineffective as well (but not always, the KSA is very effective and very poor in equal parts with high conditions of suppressed insurgency as the result); we need to step back and rethink how we think about insurgency. Our mission is no longer to sustain a colony at acceptable costs, or to implement containment of the Sino-Soviet expansion of influence. We need to evolve and begin thinking about insurgency in a manner less encumbered by the bias of missions past.


Tue, 02/25/2014 - 7:13am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Insurgency does not have to start as dissatisfaction of the populace. It can be one group of people who want to achieve political goals through violent means. If they seek the support or at least neutrality of the populace, then it becomes insurgency. What you are describing is popular uprising which can but does not have to become an insurgency.

And believe me, I am the first to oppose various mantras and cliches if there is no common sense reasoning behind them. At least you are talking about governance system and not about "strong central government".

I would not compare "clear-hold-build" to VSO because the first one is conventional flaw or trying to fight asymmetry by symmetric means while the second one is based on some historical experience (CIDG). Why can be VSO type program successful I explained lower. The program is not designed to let the governance evolve but to separate the insurgents from local populace thus creating conditions to deal with the insurgency in any desirable way. You are right that it cannot "cure" insurgency. You need some following steps and if you wish, some governance development as well if the "insurgency defeat" is to be permanent. The program has strategic merit in the sense of strategically (or tactically) shaping environment. Definitely it is not a "silver bullet" to resolve the insurgency and never meant to be.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 6:06am

In reply to by matkob

What I meant by the statement of "insurgency does not begin from the bottom up" is that insurgency is a populace-based response to governance that is perceived as "poor." In this "chicken or egg" debate I believe that one must have a system of governance that is perceived as having no right to govern, and/or that governs in a matter out of step with the culture of the governed, and/or treats some segment of the population with official discrimination; and/or treats some segment of the population with injustice under the law; and/or offers no trusted, certain and legal means for said population to address such grievances when they occur.

Yes, it may be a single farmer who first throws his hoe down in disgust and says "no more" and an insurgent movement forms behind him - but the insurgency itself begins with governance as it negatively impacts some segment of the population that perceives itself to have no effective legal recourse.

So, do I believe insurgency can be "cured from the bottom-up"? No.

COIN is a discipline rife with "old soldier's tales" and false narratives/promises of those who are sent out tasked with defending the status quo of governance in the face of such conditions. Another such flawed mantra is "it takes a network to defeat a network." I see little foundation in history or understanding of insurgency to support either proposition.

But soldiers have no authority to address poor governance, soldiers can only go out and attempt to bribe, cajole or beat the segment of the population daring to act out against poor governance into submission. It is a delaying tactic of politicians unable or unwilling to take on the changes of governance necessary to actually begin long, slow, difficult process of developing and implementing a system of governance tolerable by all.

VSO is a program born of this situation and based upon an old soldier's tale of false narrative/promise. The same is true of "Clear-Hold-Build" or "development." These are operator programs designed to preserve the current system. These activities can perhaps buy time and space for governance to evolve, but that will only work if the evolution of governance is indeed one's main effort (as was the strategic case in Malaya, btw). But they cannot of themselves "cure" insurgency.

This does not mean that all insurgents are noble, but it does mean that insurgency is a natural condition that comes to some population when certain conditions of governance exist. Who steps forward, what ideology they employ, or what strategy or tactics they employ are all choices a population makes in response.

This is in no way a criticism or condemnation of leaders like MG Miller or BG Bolduc. I have served with both in Afghanistan and have tremendous respect for their abilities and service there. They had and have no authority to go after the true problems that drive insurgency and must work within their given lane and address the symptoms of insurgency instead. VSO was seen as the best option within that narrowly defined box they were given, and I can't argue with that. I only quibble when we overly sell the program as having strategic merit or the ability to cure insurgency. I see personally and professionally see no basis for such a promise.


Tue, 02/25/2014 - 1:36am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

You said that the insurgency does not begin bottom-up and cannot be cured bottom-up either. I said that insurgency can start top-down or bottom-up which is in contradiction with the first part of your premise. Moreover, it does not matter where it starts but how it is conducted (in decentralized manner - until it turns to general uprising resembling major combat operations). So, yes, one can indeed use bottom-up approach (community defense tactics) as a part of his strategy (COIN). Based on what are you stating that the insurgency cannot be cured bottom-up?

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 9:40pm

In reply to by matkob

I said one can't do COIN from the bottom up, not insurgency. Very different things.


Mon, 02/24/2014 - 2:36pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Bottom-up approach is Maoist, top-down approach is Che-Guevaristic, so you can have both models of insurgency actually. More on that in this paper: http:…

Does not matter where the insurgency start but what the character is - decentralized, thus decentralized bottom-up approach for setting conditions to deal with insurgency is relevant.

Success is not just promoted by the "COIN doctrine" but de-facto by basic principles and common sense which is not dependent on any doctrine. If by application of community based defense you separate the insurgent movement from local populace as I described lower, you are creating conditions for dealing with the insurgency (that is based on Mao and Che and not on FM 3-24).

Unconventional warfare is trying to do the same, we only do not call it insurgency but freedom fighters, G-force etc.

What I think we are dealing here with is the improper form of promoted governance...

Outlaw 09

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 1:20pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert---find these sentences and your past comments on governance actually apply nicely to the recent Kiev events in the Ukraine.

"Insurgency requires four components: Internal, Populace-based, illegal, political challenge. All must be there or it is something else.
Without a popular base, it is a coup, not insurgency.
Without being internal it is unconventional warfare, and not insurgency.
Without being political in primary purpose it is some other form of crime, and not insurgency."

And without being illegal it is not insurgency at all, but is DEMOCRACY.

If one watched intently the constant flow of pictures/interviews/to the killing of civilians by snipers from Independence Square through to the EU all night negotiations to the population actually taking control of parliament and deposing a dictator --all the while fighting for that often used/misused word "freedom" in their own terms ie Ukrainian defined---not what the European advisor to the President defined as the solution in her intercepted cell conversation-------

You are so right with the following sentence----

"Once the US is willing to relinquish control over what we think the final answer of governnace should look like; and once we are willing on facilitating true self-determination of governance across the entire population;"

This is in fact what the EU negotiators did in order to defuse what was rapidly becoming a de factor civil war and potential Russian use of their military to annex a portion of the Ukraine. Many times when a population is rising up against governance they cannot articulate their demands as it is new to them so they tend to get lost in the heat of the moment---all the Germany FM did was to articulate them, give a common way forward that made sense to all parties and then allowed the population to decide.

They set about to cobble a compromise (as viewed by both sides) in a series of trust building steps that allowed the population to actually see a form of progress in their demands as well as cobbling a way to a peaceful transition of governance. THEN they took it to the those that had spent the last three months fighting/getting killed in the Square for their approval-(try that in the US)--so that the population felt that had been indeed heard.

All the while the EU negotiators still had the US's view of them ringing in their ears----F... the EU. And that from the EU advisor to the President.

Then the EU gets a New York Times editorial today indicating they need to financially engage in the Ukraine (which is close to financial collapse)with Germany leading BUT then they hear the US state they would also support financially as well.

To sum up the current German political view from a high level German Conservative Party member---"we are simply tired of hearing the US talk and talk-anyone can talk--let's see action and money".

We as a country truly need to often step back and allow the population to make their own decisions---they will often make mistakes but at least they own it good or bad---we saw this in the Arab Spring in say Egypt vs Tunisia---we have now seen it in Kiev and in some ways Syria is a reflection of this ongoing population decision process.

After 13 years of war, over 8K KIA, over 200K wounded at a cost of 4T USDs to the taxpayer---there has got to be another way forward that reflects reality.

Not so sure senior American political leaders get it though.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 6:16pm

In reply to by RantCorp

I stand by my assessment. Roles flip as fortunes reverse. The Russians were the UW force supporting a revolution until they gained that initial success; then they became the FID force and the former revolutionaries were immediately the COIN force.

Those dispossessed of power became the new revolution against the new Afghan government, joined by a broader resistance against the Russians. Pak and US conducted UW in support of both.


Thu, 02/27/2014 - 5:24pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

RCJ wrote;

'..we and Pakistan conducted UW in support of a resistance and revolutionary movement ..'

It appears to me that you are attempting to rewrite history to boost your argument.

The Saurist Revolution was the revolutionary movement and the Muj was the resistance movement. As we are often reminded when attempting to understand the nature of these problems recognizing the differences between a revolutionary movement and a resistance movement is important.

The Saurist revolutionaries overthrew the 200 year old Durrani dynasty ( a benign monarchy loosely supported by an informal network of respected tribal elders) and attempted to impose a centralized communist regime …. and the people resisted. The Revolution abolished the official religion of 1300 years standing and declared atheism the state ideology…. and the people resisted. They attempted to collectivize farmland that had been worked by the same tribes/families as far back as the Bronze Age…. and the people resisted. The revolution attempted to shove communist inspired societal change down the population’s throat…..and the people resisted.

I see no revolution by any of our allies in the above. I only see resistance.

When the resistance appeared likely to overwhelm the Saurists the Soviets invaded. They decided the best way to support the Revolution was to exterminate the rural population and destroy the fragile rural infrastructure …..and the people resisted. The resistance formed a seven party alliance that became known as the Mujahedeen. The Muj alliance’s objective was not to revolutionize anything. What they wanted was their country to return to what it was before the communists embarked on a strategy to ‘revolutionize’ it.

RCJ wrote:

'Much of GIRoA and the ANA are the same segment of the population who supported the Soviets.'

This is not correct. The resistance against the communists first began in a non-Pashtun region of Afghanistan. The resistance’s most effective fighters opposing the Soviets were non-Pathans. The few regions of Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation that were no-go areas for the Red Army (after incurring heavy losses in Search and Destroy sweeps) were all inhabited by non-Pathans.

You claim we are the ones who have flipped and it is the Pak Army who have stayed true to the original cause. I could not disagree more. IMO there are many examples that contradict this view but the most telling is the use of Pak Army supplied IEDs to attack the civilian population. To me this tactic bears all the hallmarks of the Soviet tactic of dropping millions of anti-personnel PFM-1s and laying of hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel PPP mines in the midst of the civilian population.

Despite COIN’s many shortcomings I fail to understand the argument that building schools, mosques, roads, hospitals etc. in all the ethnic regions of Afghanistan has a commonality with the Saurist and Soviet forces scattering HE amongst the civilian population. Equally puzzling is your assertion that the Taliban IED driven UW campaign is a sign of the Pak Army keeping faith with our original alliance. Furthermore your suggestion that the ethnically diverse ANA, ANP and ALP/VSO created by the ISAF is somehow akin to General Dostum’s pro-Soviet, exclusively Uzbek militia is a logic I fail to grasp.

IMO our efforts ( whether misguided or not ) to establish a Islamic Republic elected by universal suffrage thru a free and democratic election is a clear indication that we are maintaining the faith that inspired us to support the anti-communist resistance in the 1970 & 80s. Unlike yourself I personally see more commonality between the disastrous Marxist ideal of governance espoused by the Saurists and the Soviets and the illiterate dogma-barking anarchists the Pak Army unleashed upon an already deeply traumatized Afghan populace.

Some folks may insist that the brand of ideology the Taliban espouse is what Afghan know and understand. This is a complete myth. The traditional Afghan take on Islam was of a benign approach that incorporated many Sufi characteristics and even borrows from Buddhism and paganism. This Afghan attitude to Islam explains the sentiment expressed by those journeying on the hippie trial of the 1960s & 70s that Afghanistan was the ‘hippest’ country on the road from London to Bombay.

IMO the societal strait-jacket enforced by the Taliban’s night letters, night courts and latte wielding goons is as alien to the Afghan sense of societal normality as was the ‘worker’s paradise’ trumpeted by the Saurist Revolution and their ‘inspirational’ Soviet comrades.

Feeling Groovy,



Tue, 02/25/2014 - 2:54am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C Jones:

You said we should have just done a punitive raid and gone home. That is very easy to say 13 years removed but what would have been the target of the punitive raid, or rather what would have been a target that would have mattered? Would we have gone after Osama? We couldn't find him. Gone after Mullah Omar? We couldn't find him either. Still can't. Would we have wrecked their infrastructure? They didn't have any. Any Body we would have 'punitived' we either could not have found or they were hiding behind the skirts of the Pak Army/ISI and there weren't any Things to punitive. It would have been an empty feel good gesture that would not have fooled the Americans as they stood looking at the smoking hole in the ground and NYPD guys did conveyor belt duty to pick out small bits murdered Americans from amid the collected debris.

Glib talk about a punitive strike is just nostalgia searching for an easy way out.

And by the way, color me completely unsympathetic to the poor old much to be pitied Pak Army/ISI.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 6:17am

In reply to by matkob

The only two sides I believe to exist in Afghanistan are those who have patronage power and opportunity and those who do not.

These are teams that have been flipped like pancakes several times over the past 40 years.

We now work to enforce/secure the latest flip of the pancake effected by our action to punish the Taliban for their role in 9/11. I do not think "winning" in Afghanistan comes from enforcing any such flip of fortunes favoring one half of society over the other, regardless of who is on the top or bottom. Rather success comes when Afghanistan evolves to where such all or nothing approaches to power and opportunity become obsolete. That is not a condition apt to occur anytime soon, and certainly not at our urging or action.

The "F" in FID stands for foreign, not "fix." We need to never lose sight that we are strangers in a foreign land, and in no way empowered to fix the societies we encounter we embark on that particular mission.


Tue, 02/25/2014 - 1:58am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

"Much of GIRoA and the ANA are the same segment of the population who supported the Soviets".

Situation is much more complex because there is a lot of factions who are anti-TB and did not support the Soviets (I can say majority). In 2001 entire Northern Coalition was anti-TB and nobody can blame them from supporting Soviets.
GIRoA and ANA are not the population (there is also something called ANP). Much of the ANA (or ANSF) are too young (MAM who were born after Soviets had left are 25-26 right now and most of the the MAM who were born when the Soviets came are around 35 right now being 10 yrs old when the Soviets were leaving).
Moreover, stating that in Afghanistan there are 2 sides - Pro-GIRoA supported by CF vs. Insurgency supported by PAK is over-simplification. Much of the populace just does not care about some GIRoA but that does not make them supporters of the insurgency (actually many of them actively fight the insurgency).

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 9:34pm

In reply to by RantCorp


we were not part of the resistance, we and Pakistan conducted UW in support of a resistance and revolutionary movement based in what is largely the same segment of the population that the current resistance and revolutionary movement against the US and GIRoA is based in.

Much of GIRoA and the ANA are the same segment of the population who supported the Soviets.

So yeah, Pakistan stayed true to their interests and the US flipped to the other side of this competition for patronage power in Afghanistan. We thought that would serve our interests as we have come to define them - but so far that really isn't working out for us.

Coercing Pakistan to commit to working against their interests to support our current approach has created a terribly disruptive conflict of interests for them as well, as they attempt to support the US and their own interests at the same time.

We should have just done a punitive raid and gone home, but we've read this one wrong from the outset.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 9:36pm

In reply to by RantCorp



Mon, 02/24/2014 - 5:49pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

RCJ wrote,

We do well to remember that we are the ones who changed sides, not them.

Respectfully must disagree with that point.

We were part of a Resistance to a invasion of a Soviet Army that considered the countryside a free-fire zone and attacked the rural population with genocidal intent. Atheism was declared the State religion and all private land was to be collectivized. The ISAF and COIN has many shortcomings but to imply we have switched to the Soviet approach I find difficult to understand.

As early as 1984 the Paks realized the Soviets were not coming further and as such had no more use for us nor the Muj. It is they who then switched sides. They basically abandoned the Resistance and began training vast numbers of children to become a UW force which they intended to lay waste to the country. In the fullness of time they flooded the country with poppies and a moronic interpretation of Islam that was as alien to Pakistan as it was Afghanistan or anywhere else on the planet.

You are absolutely correct in saying we have failed to address their existential fears but much of their sense of insecurity is a direct result of the fact that military spending has kept the Pakistan government bankrupt and the average Pakistani trapped in grinding poverty.



Mon, 02/24/2014 - 1:06pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C Jones:

You say not long ago we were working with the Pak Army/ISI because our interests aligned with theirs. Then our interests changed and now we are frustrated because we changed sides, not them. Now you say it would be best if we subordinate our interests to those of Iran and Pakistan. Well in that case why should we bother with a sovereign government? We should just have liaison offices in the repressive police states that make use of terrorists so they can tell us what they want us to do. Defeat may not be "optimal" but it is simple.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 12:22pm

In reply to by carl


Of course Pakistan conducts UW to leverage the insurgent energy in Afghanistan - it is in their most vital of national interests to do so. Not so long ago we shared that interest with Pakistan and we worked together to cause problems for the Soviets. We see that operation as a success.

In more recent years we decided our intersts were best served by working at cross purposes with Pakistan in Afghanistan. We see that operation as a frustration and levy blame against the Pakistanis.

We do well to remember that we are the ones who changed sides, not them.

The US will be most successful in Afghanistan when we adopt positions and approaches that the Iranians and Pakistanis see as being in their interests as well. This might not be what we see as the best solution for us, but we probably would have been home long ago if we would have selected a less "optimal" solution...


Mon, 02/24/2014 - 11:55am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C Jones:

"Without being internal it is unconventional warfare, and not an insurgency."

Exactly! Unconventional warfare waged against Afghanistan and us by the Pak Army/ISI.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 11:00am

In reply to by matkob

Our current COIN doctrine is a guide on how to sustain in power a government that is de facto illegitimate in the minds of a significant segment of the population it is intended to serve, by some stronger, external power who believes their own interests are best advanced through that same government.

This is an obsolete recipe, that began failing more often than it succeeded, over 100 years ago. In the current strategic environment the costs exceed the benefits - and even if a temporary period of suppressed insurgent action can be achieved, it is unlikely to be natural or sustainable once the energy required to enforce that stasis is reduced or removed.

GIRoA has legal legitmacy; a true fact that is completely irrelevant to the type of political/popular legitmacy necessary to resolve conditions of insurgency. BG Bolduc is tactically spot on. We do not need GIRoA to take on the insurgents and create the type of success promoted by our COIN doctrine. But we need to get smarter than our doctrine if we want to truly help Afghanistan become a more internally peaceful place.

Insurgency does not begin from the bottom up, and it cannot be cured from the bottom up either. That is a highly flawed arguement we have been making in the SOF community since we began pushing the VSO concept several years ago. Until we get to a less biased, a more holistic, understanding of what insurgency is we are hardly likely to get to a more effective way of resolving the same.

Insurgency requires four components: Internal, Populace-based, illegal, political challenge. All must be there or it is something else.
Without a popular base, it is a coup, not insurgency.
Without being internal it is unconventional warfare, and not insurgency.
Without being political in primary purpose it is some other form of crime, and not insurgency.

And without being illegal it is not insurgency at all, but is DEMOCRACY.

Once the US is willing to relinquish control over what we think the final answer of governnace should look like; and once we are willing on facilitating true self-determination of governance across the entire population; only then will we truly be working to resolve insurgency in Afghanistan, or any other place we should decide to intervene.

Currently we show little inclination to accept the risks associated with such a pardigm shift in thought or action.


Mon, 02/24/2014 - 1:22am

In reply to by G Martin

Got all your points.
The thing with GIRoA - doctrinally no, but since that assumption is based much more on ideology (let's call it Westernism) and not on practical implication, my point is that you can fight insurgency even without a strong central government (basically I come from the same standpoint as BG Bolduc who was objected by Bill M.).

G Martin

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 5:35pm

In reply to by matkob

I should have clarified- Wedemeyer was given the problem- how many tanks do we need (or something like that) to win against Germany? In order to figure that out, however, he had to make a lot of assumptions- and basically wrote the Victory Plan for the war in order to answer the question. Thus, I used a similar industrial question to get me to fill in the blanks of all the other stuff I'd need to answer in order to figure out the micro question on the drones... As I think there are just as many gaps now as then, if not more, I thought the anecdote was apt.

As for my last paragraph- the only reason I mentioned GIRoA is that our current COIN doctrine states that one counters insurgents by building up a government- thus, as GIRoA is the legitimate government for all intents and purposes- we're kind of stuck assisting them fight off threats to their governance. If we don't do that- then we're really not trying to defeat an insurgency... are we?

Thanks for the answer.

After I read your entire comment I figured out why you started with drones but at the beginning it seemed to me that you had started your thought process with the drones (from the wrong end instead of the end state).
Then I would re-shuffle your points like this: 3,2,1 and then 4.
3. I would start with this one because it is framing your problem. Then you narrowed it down to Afghanistan – Pakistan which for the purpose of this discussion is ok, I think. My thought process would further go like this (you can blame me that I am linear :D): Specifically concerning Afghanistan, the US do not want any terrorist threats coming from Afghanistan which can occur if the insurgent groups prevail and provide safe havens to terrorist who can in turn attack the US soil or interests. That means you need to do something #1 with the insurgency which you define in #2.
2. I would only add that those groups are already opposing your forces (since you have your troops on the ground) and any governance system you are trying to establish/protect (not necessarily a strong central government – needs to be based on some level of analysis). If they take control of the country either after they defeat you or you leave, they are no more insurgency by definition – An organized movement (or movements?) aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government (can be an occupation power) through use of subversion and armed conflict.

1. Now we need to define, what we are going to do to prevent those groups in providing terrorist safe havens (unless we only want to prevent their terrorist proxies in case the insurgents stay in control to attack US soil/interests – needs comparative analysis). First I would look in the manuals if there are definitions of what you can do to an enemy. It can be something from deny or prevent (which are pretty vague and would possible require much more resources and effort from a long term perspective) to destroy (which is practically impossible, but very well defined) – since JP 1-02 does not define a lot of them but refers to them, we would need to help ourselves with ADRP 1-02 (or as a NATO guy I will look in some of NATO definitions to give me more options). Only after none of those terms does reflect what we want to achieve, we can define something else (not very desirable because subsequently requires rewriting the doctrine again). If you compare costs and benefits for all of those (needs to support an end state (what) which you defined under “defeat insurgency” – rather you would have possible “defeat the insurgency” as one of objectives supporting that end state (how)). Defeat means - "an enemy force has temporarily or permanently lost the physical means or the will to fight. The defeated force’s commander is unwilling or unable to pursue his adopted course of action, thereby yielding to the friendly commander’s will, and can no longer interfere to a significant degree with the actions of friendly forces. Defeat can result from the use of force or the threat of its use." However, your option can be viable too or their combination, or… Needs analysis.

4. Then we start to generate possible ways how to do it and then to generate the force (and means) necessary. With that we can even use drones in accordance with your guidance and restrictions.

Monitoring and interdicting the enemy activities is a viable but rather minimalistic option. As I said, all the options need some comparative analysis. Maybe we would find out that defeating those groups plus some other lines of effort would be more beneficial from a long term perspective than only monitoring and interdicting enemy activity (which you can do forever). And maybe not.
Regarding your last paragraph, The first thing I would take out of the equation is the GIRoA (do I really need only this type of political system to defeat those groups or not?). And then, your objectives regarding insurgency can be something like this: The insurgent groups degraded to criminal gangs (transition to policing instead of counterinsurgency) or lost potential to be an effective threat to local governance systems (which can be different for each local governance system) – that way you would need to define what is effective threat. That means you do not need to take out every insurgent or make him surrender (some flee, some disperse, some give up, some are killed or captured). The point is that if you only can do it on a micro-level (regarding planning and execution, providing that you have clearly defined strategic and operational end-state and objectives), you do it there. If only on a makro-level (GIRoA), you do it there.

G Martin

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 12:00am

In reply to by Bill C.

Although I am attracted to the theory (seed scale) and complexity theory in general- I do not think they are sufficient for all social change in all times and places for a few reasons.

1- it is, as I understand it, mainly used as a tool for economic development
2- it is a physics metaphor ("energy")- which I have an intellectual problem with describing all human activity as energy (cooperation, creativity, monitoring, learning, etc.) It might <em>take</em> energy, but I don't think it <em>is</em> energy. Fine for a metaphor, but one must take metaphors with grains of salt IMO
3- it promises to tell how to implement social change and how to analyze it
4- I personally think the concept (seed scale) has borrowed just enough from complexity theory and emergence theory to sound esoteric/cutting edge- but also seems to mix in some deterministic philosophy with them. So, for instance, acknowledging the concept of emergence, but then assuming that an external force can "redirect how people apply their energies". I would prefer Eric Beinhocker's concept of applying an Evolutionary Biological Change Mechanistic Theory to economic development as opposed to this theory.

At the end of the day the issue with social change is that it is value laden- both the values of the external force in our case and the internal entity we are attempting to change. Values, however, are entirely subjective, dynamic, and context-dependent- thus our actions appear at times to be paradoxical. They aren't really paradoxical, they are based on the values we have at the time- which many times are complex, unconscious (systemically-caused), and/or not acknowledged publicly. Thus, attempting any kind of assessment (analysis) is virtually impossible: our assessments don't exist in a vacuum, they are influenced by our changing values as well, we can't measure values like we can "targets hit"- if we can measure them at all, and there is no control group- so trying to find cause and effect relationships is impossible (not to mention that the causes are often tied up in emergent, multiple-entity, and constantly changing contexts anyway- so even with a control (assuming that would mean anything over time) the analysis would be flawed.

I would instead advocate a multi-paradigm and reflexive approach a la Chris Paparone:…

Bill C.

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 9:13pm

In reply to by G Martin

The following helped me (I hope) understand what G. Martin (I think) is talking about. Note that even here, it appears, there are some evaluation tools:

"SEED-SCALE describes a comprehensive theory of social change sometimes also categorized as 'social development theory.' SEED-SCALE can be used both to tell how to implement change and/or it can be used to analyze social change. SEED-SCALE’s distinguishing feature is its focus on human energy as the primary currency that causes people to change behaviors."

"SEED-SCALE resides within the larger field of Emergence which resides within the larger field of Complexity Theory. The thesis being that social change occurs within the complex intersection of people’s values, economic dynamics, and environmental conditions (the socio-econo-biosphere), and that to either understand or to act in that complex world, answers do not directly follow from actions; they “emerge” out of interacting relationships in almost incomprehensible ways, obvious perhaps after the fact but impossible to predict ahead of time."

"Deep fundamental change happens because of what people do (not what they are given, not what is done to them). When people learn to make use of what they have, where they are, today — then people are moving forward to a future that they can shape according to their priorities."

"The Revolution of Rising Aspirations. A feedback loop, a revolution of rising aspirations, gets started — where people’s hopes cause them to work, then that work produces returns, those returns prompt further work, and this circle calls more people in working with their aspirations. As actions get fulfilled and cause new aspirations, what unfolds is society using what it has, for what it wants, and now calling in resources and action from outside."

"Four Key Principles:

a. Build from Success — Don’t try to fix failures.

b. 3-way Partnership (Top Bottom Outside) — Not direct from one.

c. Decide from Evidence — Power Money Dogma not reliable answers.

d. Behavior Change is Goal — Prescribed outputs can be faked."

"Five Criteria for Evaluation:

1. EQUITY = Are more community members involved this time?

2. SUSTAINABILITY = Three types exist: environmental, economic, values/culture.

3. HOLISM = Is life improving in a balanced way?

4. INTERDEPENDENCE = What is balance in community between inflows and outflows?

5. ITERATION = Get job done, next time do it better."

( Extracted from this article: )

G Martin

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 3:48pm

In reply to by 101st Ranger

Agree- although I think it is only part of the problem. The larger problem is assuming that an analytical, deterministic, and deliberate approach to social change is the most effective.

101st Ranger

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 3:09pm


Please continue with the discussion. It is valuable and appreciated. I would like to add that any data collected by DOD, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not evaluated by a disinterested third party, is very suspect. Reporting is edited by every level of command as it passes to up the chain to policy makers. The reporting is tailored to fit the desired effect. This makes MOE/MOP very difficult to integrate into plans, monitoring, or evaluation. I think that we can all agree on this?

G Martin

Sun, 02/23/2014 - 5:18pm

In reply to by carl

Great points!


Thu, 02/20/2014 - 9:39pm

In reply to by G Martin

G Martin:

Your comments about 'the system' reminds me of something Abu Muqawama said a few years ago. The question at hand was 'Were the Americans good at COIN and if not why not etc.' He observed that perhaps that wasn't the right question, perhaps the question should actually be 'Are the Americans good at war, period?' It seems to me from my forever a civilian standpoint, that 'the system' as it exists will always insure we will lose, no matter the type of war. We can afford it, so far, given the small wars we have been in; but things will go very hard for us if we can't destroy 'the system' before the next big one starts.

For the divinely inclined, maybe the Almighty has shown us the danger 'the system' poses before it has a chance to do grave harm. Now we have to do something about it...or else.

G Martin

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 1:09pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill- thanks, and agree that VSO has been "sickened by the curse of McNamara"- although I'd expand that to the entire DoD has been sickened by it. Rumsfeld's (and Gates' and Hagels') expansion upon McNamara's philosophy: that one can apply reductive analytics to social phenomena (war being a social phenomenon in my mind) has turned us more systematic, not less. The systems demand metrics- and thus every CBA I'm involved in concludes we need more IT systems platforms to better aggregate the data for us- because if only our data systems gave us more simplification of the complexity out there... we'd be golden...

Her argument seems to match SOCOM statements as of late- I often wonder why we trust people who echo what we already believe. Would like some more critical alternative commentators on what we think within the community...