Small Wars Journal

Mobile Training Teams & COIN Shura: Helping to Minimize Civilian Casualties

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 3:30am

In December of 2009, President Barack Obama ordered the build-up of an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan in support of the 8-year-old war officially known as Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.  The primary objectives for this large troop surge were to reverse the Taliban momentum that had been gained throughout Afghanistan while simultaneously increasing the size and capability of the Afghanistan National Security Forces; consisting of military, police and intelligence forces.  As the surge technique had worked in Iraq under General David Petraeus, it was widely believed it could succeed equally as well under General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan.

“I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak,” said President Barack Obama, Afghanistan Build-Up Speech, Washington D.C., 2 December 2009.

As the build-up of U.S. forces matured and increased numbers of American Marines and Soldiers undertook the missions of patrolling the streets, markets, villages, highways and rural communities, lethal engagements and operations against the Taliban began to dramatically increase.  Almost instantaneously with these engagements and decisive operations, Afghanistan civilian casualties also began to mount.  It quickly became evident that these additional U.S. forces had come to Afghanistan a little too focused on lethal operations and with insufficient focus on non-lethal operations.  Even within the established U.S. military command headquarters in Afghanistan, it was perceived by many senior officers, civilians and staff non-commissioned officers that the additional forces were using too much “hard” power and not enough “soft” power; they were not using enough courageous restraint during their missions and patrols. 

After observing these troublesome trends and actions, Lieutenant General David Rodriquez, Commander ISAF Joint Command, ordered the immediate establishment and deployment of counter-insurgency (COIN) mobile training teams (MTTs) to all six ISAF Joint Command regional commands in order to share, discuss, understand and document local experiences, tactics, techniques, procedures, lessons learned and best practices from the current operations taking place on the battlefield. 

As a result of the MTT engagements with the regional commands and Afghanistan National Security Forces, it was decided that a COIN shura was needed to bring everyone together, including both military and civilian representatives, in order to openly discuss and exchange these critical observations, lessons learned and best practices. 

“Shura is an Arabic word for consultation and the Qur’an encourages Muslims to decide their affairs in consultation with those who will be affected by that decision.  Shuras are vitally important in the Afghanistan culture,” stated ISAF Commander General Stanley McCrystal Commanders Update Brief, ISAF Headquarters, Kabul, Afghanistan, May 2010.   

From 13-14 May 2010, the COIN shura took place in Kabul aboard Camp Julien, the COIN Academy in Afghanistan.  More than 100 representatives from all the ISAF Joint Command regional commands, ISAF Joint Command headquarters, ISAF headquarters, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan headquarters, provincial reconstruction teams, Afghanistan National Army and Afghanistan National Police participated in the COIN shura.  It was the first of its kind hosted by the ISAF Joint Command.   

We need to change the mindset of our troops to the COIN approach  of 'protecting the people.’  We need to make good decisions to help reduce civilian casualties.  The MTTs bring back many good lessons of restraint and good decision making from our young soldiers.  Approximately seventy-five (75) percent of civilian casualties have occurred when we are not partnered, so it's very important to work with our Afghan partners to solve this problem.  MTTs have proven successful at capturing these best practices and sharing them with other regional commands," said Commander ISAF Joint Command Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, ISAF Joint Command COIN Shura, Camp Julien, Kabul, Afghanistan, 13 May 2010.  

Discussions and recommendations at the COIN shura included more pre-deployment COIN-centric training, stressing the use of tactical directives and SOPs, and less focus on kinetics and more focus on non-kinetics.  Intra-theater training was also a big topic.  Leaders from all the ISAF Joint Command regional commands agreed that a better job needs to be done with passing information to units coming in to replace ones that have completed their tour, and everyone needs to learn as much as possible from the Afghanistan National Security Forces.

"COIN is about leadership down to the lowest level.  There has to be more importance put on training before forces arrive, and training after they're here.  We've all read the SOPs, but you have to believe in them, and that comes from leadership and training," stated Sergeant Major ISAF Joint Command Sergeant Major Darrin Bohn, ISAF Joint Command COIN Shura, Camp Julien, Kabul, Afghanistan, 13 May 2010.

Below are the critical “Top Ten” observations that were taken from the COIN shura.  As you can easily see, they apply equally as well to all operations that the Marine Corps is currently conducting, especially those missions in the range or spectrum of military operations from theater security cooperation to crisis response.   

- Number One mission in COIN is to protect the local (Afghan) people.

- You must always connect with the local people; get as close to them as you possibly can in order to gain their trust and respect.

- Do not engage insurgents when you cannot exploit the situation.

- Courageous restraint saves lives.  On many occasions, it has saved

numerous innocent civilian lives.

- Let local Afghans tell you what their needs are; don’t tell them what you think their needs are.  You must listen to the locals.

- Perception is everything in COIN; you must always respect the

Afghan people and treat them as equals.  If you trust and respect

them, they will trust and respect you.

- Conduct shuras with local leaders and elders at every opportunity.  When problems come up, most shuras can help resolve them.

- The best round in COIN is the one that is not fired.  If you are

obliged to fire, respect the golden rule of necessity and


- You cannot commute to work in COIN; you must live among the people

to gain their trust and confidence.  Get off the FOBs and into the COPs/PBs.   

- Always be first with the truth.  Admit your mistakes and

communicate your sorrows.

“We want to ensure that we are doing everything we can to reduce civilian casualties.  We need to change the mindset of our Marines and soldiers to the COIN approach of 'protecting the people,' and the best way to do that is by sharing best practices and improving overall COIN awareness,” said Deputy Chief of Staff for Joint Operations ISAF Joint Command Major General Michael Regner, ISAF Joint Command COIN Shura, Camp Julien, Kabul, Afghanistan, 14 May 2010.

These “Top Ten” COIN observations are absolutely essential in the conduct of small wars and should be trained to, educated and instilled in our Marines on a regular basis as we prepare for future and uncertain conflicts.  If one were to read and study the Marine Corps’ Small Wars Manual printed in 1940, they would immediately notice that these observations are consistently weaved throughout the manual.

About the Author(s)

Col Bradley E. Weisz was assigned as the Deputy CJ3, ISAF Joint Command in Kabul, Afghanistan supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM during this writing.  He participated in the MTT deployments to the ISAF Joint Command Regional Commands and Afghanistan National Security Forces Commands.  He is currently assigned as the Deputy Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group TWO, Little Creek, Virginia.  His background is aviation command and control. 


Robert C. Jones

Sun, 03/17/2013 - 12:42pm

In reply to by JasonT


Much to comment on in your post.

First, by everything I have read and heard, the GOSL waged a brutal campaign of annihilation against the LTTE and their base of popular support in the Tamil populace. Yes, the insurgents were crushed, but the roots of insurgency were driven even deeper into the soil of that troubled land. Such acts of suppression are increasingly more expensive, less durable, and with more national and international consequences. I don't know what the next chapter will read like, who will write it, or when it will be written - but if the GOSL does not dedicate itself to addressing the inequities of their governance toward the Tamils, it will be written.

Second, all governors at District and Provincial level in Afghanistan are legal (selected and emplaced in power IAW the constitution of the land), but few if any are also "legitimate." The only brand of legitimacy that matters in such conflicts is a recognition in those affected by some system of governance for the right of that system to govern them. Few of these governors are apt to have any such legitimacy, as they were chosen for their loyalty to Kabul and their ability to perform their duties under the patronage system they support. Good for ISAF to remember that we too are legal but lack this critical form of legitimacy. Look no farther than the ongoing drama over ISAF's refusal to leave Wardak or to turn over control over prisons to GIRoA.

Third. The Durand line border means something to us, but not much to anyone else. A person from one valley over is as much a foreigner in Afghanistan as is a person from the other side of that legal, but illegitimate, (same criteria) line. For the governments it is a line that is recognized when convenient, and ignored when not. For the people it is simply ignored. We should ignore it too for purposes of our mission, it means nothing.

Lastly, what is a "terrorist group"? Far too often in the post 9-11 era it is simply some group that has a convenient legal label applied to them to facilitate the type of targeting allowed under CT authorities. We conflate and expand labels to easy our operations, but the purpose for action that is so critical to appreciate among these groups is lost in the process. We do the same thing in Mali, Yemen, etc.

We need to learn to distinguish between local groups with local grievances (largely revolutionaries) form those who conduct UW and guerrilla warfare with foreign fighters in the name of some larger, external agenda. Intel-driven operations seek to facilitate targeting, and that most often counterproductive to actually getting after the issues that need to be resolved for some degree of natural stability to emerge.


Sun, 03/17/2013 - 4:45pm

In reply to by RantCorp


"So instead of empty threats to decapitate the Pak Army we should ask them what is it they want (unlike us they do have a strategy), meet them half way, horse trade, go back to being friends and go home.

Feed them cake,"

Now that is a strategy for the future, ask the crooks what they want in exchange for not robbing or killing you anymore. The dissuasive effect that will have on others considering criminal action against you is probably slight.

A strategy of surrender is not viable long term.


Sun, 03/17/2013 - 5:46am

In reply to by JasonT

JT wrote,

“At the same conference Col. Fertig agreed and argued that nowhere is leadership more important than in guerrilla warfare where there is often strong attachment to the individual who symbolizes the cause; by eliminating him you have accomplished much of your task.”

Decapitation of the Taliban would probably end the warfare but that would require the destruction of most of the officer corps of the Pakistan Army – so that is never going to happen so Plan B (which should have been Plan A) is long overdue. The killing of local commanders will obviously have a tactical effect but will not make one iota of difference to the will of the political leadership so is meaningless in the long term - as the last 12 years have proved.

Some folks seem to have the impression that across the border the Haqqani’s, Hekmatyar, Omar ET AL have their little fiefdom where the Pak Interior Ministry scurries around anxious not to offend Afghan Warlord-ism. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The simple fact is that the foreign fighters cannot, and just as importantly do not, take a dump, turn on a light, fill a SUV with fuel, fill a AK magazine, cook a meal or anything else without Pak permission. Occasionally when a member of one of the particular groups forgets this reality their HQ is surrounded by mechanized armored troops and locked down and the errant individual is handed over and the show goes on. It has been like this for 40 years and is a very well understood arrangement – on the Pak side of the border at least.

So instead of empty threats to decapitate the Pak Army we should ask them what is it they want (unlike us they do have a strategy), meet them half way, horse trade, go back to being friends and go home.

Feed them cake,


One of the challenges with responding to this paper is whether to focus on the specific theme or to say as Robert C Jones argued it could of all be avoided with ruthlessly pressing forward with an arrangemnt towards the end of 2002.

The paper also does not deal with Pakistan and the AfPak region. Whether true or not I was told of at least two projects that were only permitted to go ahead after Quetta had given the OK...but they knew all this COIN stuff because as it came closer to summer, they said "we dont wont this project to go ahead because the men wont have time to fight." It was as if the legimate Governor (who was only interested in having the funds funnelled through his pocket) had little real say or influence any way.

I attended an MTT / COIN training session around the white board it was compelling. But clearly the mix of different Coalition nations in the room made it obvious that there were a variety of interpretations or even care factor with implementing the post-modern view of COIN as prescribed by Kilcullen and Nagl et al.

I find it curious that my US friends continue to deflect the fact that there were a number of other nations involved in this experiment with varying degrees of expertise, resources, commitment and understanding of COIN.

Not all COIN proponents agree with the modern day politically correct interpretation that controlling the population means showering them with money and post-modern social changes. At the ’62 Rand COIN Symposium, in the opinion of Australian Lt. Col. Bohannan the ultimate objective is the elimination of the enemy (by liquidation, neutralisation, or conversion,) but the path to that end runs largely through the civilian population. For instance, as I saw in Sri Lanka, the GOSL was focused on killing the enemy and removing LTTE leaders far more than winning hearts and minds. In Col. Bohannan’s view, people will revert to their indifference once the leaders of the guerrillas have been eliminated. At the same conference Col. Fertig agreed and argued that nowhere is leadership more important than in guerrilla warfare where there is often strong attachment to the individual who symbolizes the cause; by eliminating him you have accomplished much of your task.

Post modern COIN, GOSL version of COIN it is probably a bit late to be reminding us of the basic power point slides from a COIN presentation, when we are preparing to pull out.

When I ask any of the local Afghans who worked with me how they see the future, they pretty much all agree that once the US withdraws after 2014, “Afghanistan will be the same like in 1990s. In the words of one of the younger Afghans, he said when the US leaves, the snakes will keep coming and will take everything from us. The snakes are not Afghans but those who live across the border. The neighbouring countries will take over internally, and once again the terrorists will start coming to our country. This time the terrorist groups will be smart, and they won't be obvious they will continue their operations against the West.”


Thu, 03/14/2013 - 2:01pm

sorry double post


Sun, 03/17/2013 - 4:37pm

In reply to by RantCorp


The Mumbai attack and the attack on Parliament were 5 years ago and 12 years ago respectively. India then and India now ain't the same. What power we have to restrain the Indians now ain't what it was then. When and if the Pak Army/ISI tries something again, very bad things will happen. I doubt the Indian voter will put up with being told the Punjabi empire has them over a barrel and they have to take it forever.

I wonder if there will be doubt as to where a weapon detonated comes from. The world has been monitoring nuke tests for going on 70 years and the scientists know an awful lot about determining things about weapons after they have detonated. The guys at Constant Phoenix figure they know a few things. If, please God don't let it happen, but if it does, whoever the target is will go completely ape.

I won't judge whether anything is better than something. But one thing I know, the world won't lay prostrate at the feet of a beggar Punjabi empire for long.


Sun, 03/17/2013 - 4:05am

In reply to by carl


Appreciate the exchange but I think its best we agree to disagree on what is politics and what is ideology.

However your question regards India’s lack of action is an important one. Obviously the Indian House of Parliament attack and the Mumbai attack were an extreme provocation but the Indians did nothing. This I believe answers your question. Namely an incursion by the Indian Army into Pakistan will trigger a nuclear war.

As opposed to the NIED threat to the West which would have to be delivered by a slow moving drug smuggling chain or DHL and limited to around the 100 kg size, the Indians have to consider vastly greater numbers of causalities. Nearly every major Indian city is within missile range of 1000kg nuclear warhead which is getting into megaton (i.e. 50 x bigger than Nagasaki) yield blast. So whilst the West is looking at tens of thousands of deaths the Indians are looking at 100 million of their own within 20 minutes and then all of Pakistan would be wiped out soon after. So 300 million people within an hour. Literally anything is better than that.

Disturbingly this imbalance as to who gets the lesser pain brings to the fore the ‘False Flag’ nightmare. The US gets attacked by NIED which circumstantial evidence indicates it was of Pak origin but in fact was sent by North Korea, Iran, Israel or even India so as to have the US solve their own region’s political problem. As SAC are loading the codes the White House (if it’s still there) gets a call from Beijing saying they have irrefutable proof that it was not their close ally Pakistan who did the dirty deed.

Like I’ve said many times, anything is better than this.

If there’s an address.....we’ll find it.



Fri, 03/15/2013 - 3:03pm

In reply to by RantCorp


As far as the Jihadists pretending to be Jidadists when they are really not Jihadists and only do that to fool us, well it is one of two things. Either they are really fine method actors what with Mullah Omar wrapping himself in the cloak of the prophet, murdering polio vaccine workers, throwing acid on girl students faces, slaughtering Christians, slaughtering Shias...or...they really are Jihadists genuinely motivated by a homicidal interpretation of Islam, like they say they are. Given their actual behavior and words, I judge they are really Jihadist killers who will, have turned on their creators. That ain't no smoke. That is the real thing.

How can it be that Sunnis kill Sunnis? They did a pretty good job of it in Bangladesh in 1971 and numerous other places in the world over the course of history. They continue in that fine tradition.

The rest of your argument is a fine example of the game the Pak Army/ISI has been running on us for years and years, the old "You know there are those nukes and if we lose control of them why..." game. That is called nuclear blackmail. I think responding to Pak Army/ISI nuclear blackmail backed up by them using Jihadist killers to kill our people by acceding to their desire for us to use our resources to preserve a rag-tag Punjabi empire is poor policy. Just think of the ideas that would give to the rest of the world.

There is one thing you forgot to add to this grift, India. If there ever was any indication that those nukes might go walkabout, the Indians would move rather quickly, al-Islam's eyes going wide with outrage be damned.

(Why is so many people discount India when discussing these kinds of things?)


Thu, 03/14/2013 - 6:32pm

In reply to by carl


The terrorists want to be seen as religiously motivated as this allows them to use an indirect approach to achieve their political ends. You seem to be hell-bent on maintaining the smoke-screen so I’ll not repeat myself. However if the motivation is Islam and not politics how can it be Jihad (as you described it) if the Sunni Pathans are attacking the Sunni Punjabi? IMO it is this focus on the 5 meter ‘ideology’ target which has benefited the enemies of the US more than anything else.

This tunneled view is one of the major reasons why we have spent $300 billion in Afghanistan and the enemy has spent less than $1 billion (some of which donated by us no doubt) and we are losing. It would seem we don’t mind wasting money but the important question is how many Americans are we willing to sacrifice to bring this crisis to an infinitely bloodier end.

If a civil war breaks out in Pakistan and the country falls apart the threat of nuclear IED (NIED) attack on the US and others is a virtual certainty. Though Israel and Saudi may beat us to the top of the hit list, it is the delivery system that will most likely determine who gets the first NIED.

The delivery system targeting inside the US is perfect. It has been fine tuned for a good 30 years and it gets better every year. A 10 inch nuclear shell weighs around 120 kg. The drug industry lands 50 tons of illicit cargo inside the US every month – a good portion originating from the Af/Pak region. The highly efficient unregulated US transport infrastructure means the package could get it to any address you care to name within weeks.

I would like to think the average North American drug trafficker would probably balk at shipping a NIED concealed inside an oil drum or shipping container/crate to an American address but they would never know as the Mafia and the Cartels have a nasty way of discouraging the curious courier. So you’ll have a highly secretive, very determined and murderously enforced delivery system nuking a neighborhood near you and all funded by the US drug-taking community. Like I said - perfect!

Stopping the hundreds of tons of illicit drugs entering the US (as opposed to relatively small amounts entering Saudi Arabia and Israel ) is something that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future so I think we can rest assured that all systems are a Go for a point target strike anywhere on the US grid.

An 8 inch shell has 10 kiloton yield blast and weighs in at 50 kg. A 10 inch shell has a 30 - 50 kiloton yield blast and just over 100 kg in shipping weight. Getting into the megaton yield blast device is just over 1000 kg in weight and the illicit drug delivery system moves the equivalent of this payload into the US every day of the week. Obviously the question of whether Pakistan could manage a three stage thermonuclear device (which could subsequently be stolen by mutineers/rebels/terrorists) is unlikely but the yield of the bombs on Japan are well within the modern 10 inch shell yield blast (15 kt and 21 kt). So at the very least you are looking at around 5 sq miles of total destruction and who knows the flash/radiation casualties.

For those who think this is an option:,_Hiroshima,_Japan,_1946...

courtesy of the USAF.

So the point I’m trying to make is if securing the internationally recognized Durand Line can prevent even the remotest chance this scenario panning out it’s got to be worth it. I don’t give a damn about internal Pakistani politics – that’s their business and no one else. Prior to the Arab dissident's attack on 9/11 Pakistan was a close ally of the US and a reasonably peaceful country wherein all the ethnic communities got along as they have for thousands of years. The sooner it goes back to what it was prior 9/11 the better for everyone.

But like the man said,

"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking."

Blowing smoke like a mushroom,



Wed, 03/13/2013 - 4:42pm

In reply to by RantCorp


I don't think it would be a good idea for the US to make its goal in the region the preservation of the territorial integrity of a Punjabi empire for the benefit of the Pakistani feudal/military elite. If they treat the Pathans badly enough that they want to break away, tough luck for them, especially since the Pak Army/ISI has spent the last 12 years killing our people. Ul-Islam's glazing over notwithstanding.

And I don't think using shorthand for homicidal religious fanaticism is at all unjustified. If Islamist isn't satisfactory then Jihadist will do.

And I am skeptical that even if we put the entire USMC at the disposal of the Pak Army/ISI to keep the Pathans suppressed to preserve that Punjabi empire that it would stop the Jihadist monster the Pak Army/ISI has created. Those guys have their own agenda that to them is mandated by Allah, and that agenda doesn't include preserving the raggedy Punjabi empire.


Tue, 03/12/2013 - 6:58am

In reply to by carl


Like many things if something or someone is attributed a misleading name or description it can set off a ‘butterfly effect’ which can lead to enormous problems. If and when the error is discovered more often than not those involved are somewhat incredulous that such an obvious mistake was possible. Military strategists have understood this for thousands of years and in today’s world of global communication getting it wrong at the start can have profound implications that become entrenched at an alarming pace. So it is important to get it right from the get go.

One example getting it wrong would be the description of the 9/11 terrorists. If they had been labelled Saudi Anti-Monarchist, Republicans (in the PIRA sense), Parliamentarians (in the Oliver Cromwell sense) or Arab Springer’s as their nature dictated, things may have turned out very differently for everyone.

Instead within days we branded them with the misnomer of ‘Islamic’ terrorist and immediately alienated 1.5 billion people which in no small way sowed the seeds of so much wasted effort. By targeting their ideological camouflage we ensured their indirect approach against our much more powerful forces would cost us enormous amounts of treasure, blood and world-wide sympathy following the heavy blow of their opening salvo.

Interestingly when our troops are labelled ‘Crusader’ we find this somewhat comical but when we label our adversaries with the same ideological based misnomer we take it deadly seriously. This blind-spot we have compounds the stove-piping and whilst we are happy to accept that ‘where we sit is where we stand’ - we somewhat bizarrely believe this doesn’t apply to our opponents.

Not for the first time have we got it wrong off the bat and suffered for it.

Gulf of Tonkin 1963.

After sailors on the USS Maddox had finished what President Johnson privately described “as shooting at whales and flying fish” the president nonetheless ordered air-strikes on the VN torpedo boat bases and set the US on a course to reverse the Vietnamese War of Independence from the French. In name of the absurdly stupid Domino Theory (the conquest of southern Asia and Oceania by Chinese communists no less) millions of people were put to the sword.

Feb 2003.

Colin Powell going before the entire world and instead of declaring the Bush Administration’s desire for Regime Change as the reason for invasion he declares the ambition is to make the world safer by seizing non-existent WMDs. His ‘whales and flying fish’ moment occurs when he presents photos of aluminum tubes and an Iraqi mobile field kitchen as evidence of WMDs and justification to start a war.


The creation of the Taliban is a direct result of the loss of half of the Pakistan State to an Indian backed secessionist movement – now called Bangladesh. It is difficult to imagine a more traumatic and shameful experience for any nation’s Armed Forces. To ensure this will never happen again a nuclear weapons program was initiated in the 1970s and proved successful. A Cold War MAD arrangement now ensures there will be no repeat of an Indian backed secession unless they wish nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons cannot deter a civil war (I hope) so a different approach is needed to thwart a second secessionist movement emerging from Afghanistan and ripping their country apart again. This is the Pakistani political will driving the Taliban. This political strategy was blown out of the water when Arab dissidents attacked the WTC on 9/11.

Calling the Taliban an Afghan Revolutionary movement is very much a ‘whales and flying-fish ‘ mistake/moment. In fact by nature the Taliban is the very opposite of a Pathan revolutionary movement.

Calling the Pak-based Pathan secessionists somehow Taliban-related is a misnomer and has people barking up the wrong tree. Certainly in terms of ideology, modus operandi, manner of habits etc they appear very similar but by nature they are completely different. The Pak army is unlikely to create a home-based movement which threatens their own nation state. The secessionists are the product of genuine Pathan grievances but they have very little political power and like the Shia are regularly pounded mercilessly by the Punjabis.

You mentioned Islamist driving the movement. Once again you are focusing on the sheep’s clothing (Ala WTC) and missing the political nature of the wolf underneath.

Pakistan does not wish the conquest of the Afghan side of the border. If that were the case instead of fertilizer bombs and irregulars the country would be awash with MANPADS, ATGMs, Digital Comms and Pak Army SF. What they do require is the maintenance of their own sovereignty as denoted by the Durand Line. If this political aim is secured the warfare will stop. Huge problems will still remain but they will be of a criminal nature and not political and as such require the West's law enforcement and not their Armed Forces.

Like the man said we have yet to understand the kind of war we are in.

If Kerry goes into the office of the head of ISI Lt Gen Zaheer ul-Islam in Islamabad and asks him “What are we going to do about Islamic terrorism threatening the region?” ul-Islam’s eyes will glaze over and he’ll smile and serve tea. If on the other hand he asks “What are we going to do about the Pathan secessionist threat to your country!" he will have ul-Islam’s undivided attention.

We all have one,



Wed, 03/06/2013 - 2:52pm

In reply to by RantCorp


Your comment about Punjabi political will being the dominant political force in the region about the best thing I've read in a long time. In just a few powerful words you outline the heart of the problem.

I have some questions about this.

First, how can the West satisfy the Punjabi determination that there will be no possibility of a Pathan (Hooray! You used Kipling's old word.) secessionist movement now? We are going to be gone in a very short time and will have next to no influence. Hasn't the successful Pak Army/ISI effort to drive us out of Afghanistan removed the best chance the Punjabis had to have the West assist them or even care about preserving Pakistan's current borders against Pathan incursion? I figure once we're out they will have nobody at all stupid enough to intercede on their behalf. They will face the beast they created on their lonesome. It is sort of analogous to the situation in Iraq before the Sons of Iraq came to the fore. The Sunnis were trying hard to drive out the force that was actually their best protector.

Also, the Pak Army/ISI has created a monster. Once we've left, can they control that monster? Already some of the 'bad' Taliban are using Afghanistan as a sanctuary. The Islamist ideology driving a lot of this can't be put back in the bottle so easy and I don't think it will really be so interested in scaling back after our exit. They've already begun to murder Pakistani Shias in large numbers. Have the Punjabi empire keepers in an effort to preserve their empire already set in motion things that will inevitably destroy it?


Wed, 03/06/2013 - 12:56am

RCJ wrote,

“The reality is that you would probably be hard pressed to find two Pashtuns who would cross the street to talk to a true Arab AQ member. They never did much like those guys, nor were they ever much interested in the message or movement. Sure, you can set up your monkey bars over there to train on, and I won't give you up to the Americans on demand, Pashtunwali and all, but I'm not interested in what you are selling.”

It is disturbing how rarely you get to read this observation. After 12 years of direct action against ALQ many people still describe their motivation in terms of Holy War, Caliphate, Islamism, fanaticism, fundamentalism etc. and little mention political dissent towards the House of Saud and the State of Israel and general political disenfranchisement. Whereas if you asked the average illiterate sullen Talib slinking around the AfPak border he will tell that ‘American lackey House of Saud’ and ‘Zionist black-dog’ diatribe is the only subject the Arabs talk, chastise, lecture, rage and rant about. If you had the misfortune of crossing paths with one of these Holy Warriors you were in for an hours’ worth of raving political Arabian dissidence being barked into your face. The tone of which got more and more shrill due to the fact that the audience did not understand one word of Arabic.

“In the study of insurgency one finds that good ideology is like a good rifle. You have to have one, but if yours is somehow defeated, co-opted, destroyed, stops working, etc - just keep picking up new ones until you find one that works and press on. Not surprisingly, an ideology rooted in fundamental aspects of Islam works for Muslims.”

This analogy is a good one as it underscores the opportunist and haphazard character of the average Jihadi’s ideological make-up. As they navigate across a battle space they may decide on a certain morning to adopt the modus-operandi of the baksheesh checkpoint rifleman or perhaps the stick-wielding anti-vice misogynist, the holy warrior eyes-shut inshallah RPG gunner, a week as the anti-infrastructure cum tractor IED blower upper, a bit of the school burner before prayers on Friday, the mosque repairing Koran ‘reading’ Talib student for the winter and all of it interspersed with random days of cultivating and smoking brown sugar and some Dragunov 7.62mm anti-Crusade sniper action.

This shopping list approach to ‘duty’ does not stop them killing or being killed, but as RCJ points out none of it, even taken as a whole, represents the prime driver that perpetuates the warfare.

“But for success, we must address the revolutionary insurgency” where I respectively disagree with RCJ. Though both the revolutionary insurgent and the resistance insurgent require a political will the political will that created and sustains the Taliban is all about Pakistani Punjabi control and is, by several orders of magnitude, the dominant political force in the region, not just the AfPak border, but the region. Certainly there are resistance and revolutionary insurgents on both sides of the Durand Line (labelled incongruously ‘bad Taliban’ in Pakistan) but the political will that drives the Taliban is a pure extension of the Pakistan military strategy which views the Pathan revolutionary as the mother of all evils.

When it was realized the Soviet Union had no intention of pushing through to the Arabian Sea the Pakistan Army recognized the political need to create a proxy force to preserve the shattered failed state on their western border. After Warlordism helpfully destroyed what little the Soviets had left intact the Taliban were deployed in the mid-nineties.

Mostly teenagers, these foot soldiers had been recruited in their thousands from the FATA refugee camps as infant boys and indoctrinated in schools run by the ISI. Rather than a force motivated by strict Islamic ideology they were a extreme right wing political movement which enforced a nihilist barbaric governance enshrined by a ‘Star Chamber‘ criminal justice system that often manifested itself in misogynistic persecution and gratuitous public executions. A perfect political construct to maintain a scorched earth wasteland wherein ‘Mad Max-like’ gangs riding gun-bristling technicals ensured no meaningful Afghan body politic could take root.

The whole world considered this a perfectly acceptable political strategy until Af/Pak based Arab political dissidents threw a spanner in the works on 9/11.

Obviously all war-faring movements undergo changes and the Taliban are no different – but these changes will only be characteristics and ideologies which amount to very little in warfare. For the Taliban to morph into a Pathan revolutionary movement not only would it have had to change its very nature but so would its creator and mentor the Pakistan Army. The suggestion that the Pak military leadership would nurture a Pathan revolutionary movement in its midst is ridiculous. If the Taliban were likely to even attempt such an about- face the Pak Army would smash it as hard as it smashes the Pakistani based Pathan secessionists.

The Pakistani secessionist enjoys relatively little tangible political support in the region. Unlike the Taliban who enjoy the political support of an Army which still smarts from losing half its landmass in 1971 when an Indian backed secession created Bangladesh. The political will of the leadership that determines not one more meter will be lost is what drives the Taliban. Pakistan may not be the most powerful nation in the region when it comes to machines and numbers but they possess the strongest will.

So what?

Arab dissidents and 9/11 has taken Pakistan from being one of the West’s closest allies to a pariah state. It has proved an economic catastrophe and the country is falling apart. If the primary driver of the warfare is politics then it stands to reason all possibilities are open to negotiation. Certainly nothing the West does kinetically will persuade them to change their strategy but if the West satisfies their determination that there will be no possibility of a Pathan secessionist movement emerging from Afghanistan the reasons for the warfare will end.

If the warfare ends the possibility of Arab dissidents seizing nuclear IEDs virtually disappear and the only good reason the West has military forces in the region will go with it.

Like the man said the first thing we need to do is recognize what war we are in fact fighting.

Pakistan Zindabar,

COIN, much like of our foreign policy generally today, would seem to focused on transforming outlier states and societies along modern western lines.

This, so that these countries and populations might, much like the more modern world, come to better benefit from -- and better provide for -- both their own citizenry and that of the world as a whole.

Given this objective and reality, should we say that it is a mistake to focus our COIN efforts, and our foreign policy generally, too much on those individuals and groups who violently oppose this transformation, and too little on -- or at the expense of -- those individuals and groups who may be more inclined to accept and support the significant way of life and way of governance changes that we propose?

My explanation here (or something like it) helping to explain (1) why it is unwise to go in too "heavy-handed" in a COIN environment and (2) why the adoption of the "top ten" observations from the COIN shura noted above make both good COIN and, indeed, good foreign policy sense?


Fri, 02/22/2013 - 7:28am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I see you use "ideology" with some arcane/non technical ("technical" in philosophy, political science, legal theory, sociology) meaning only you understand. Impossible to communicate like that. But gladly you recognize this is about "political power" and "politics", and "revolutionary" warfare. "Ideology", after all...
Because, technically, "ideology" is always a convenient justification for action in the real world.

What was not answered yet, for critics of the initial writing, is: would people prefer Predator strikes without just cause, consultation, planning, explanation, clarity, publicity, discrimination? Would it be better to have blind drone attacks, increasing 'collateral damages' and civilian hell?

As for imposition of values, I guess we all agree here - or almost all - that Afghans should solve the problem for themselves and no one should meddle, save if Afghanistan intends to export its 'values' and 'ideology' to other unwilling countries. In one word, 9/11.


Robert C. Jones

Fri, 02/22/2013 - 6:31am

In reply to by nrogeiro

I don't know if we will ever shake the belief that such conflicts are ideological in nature. It is just too handy of a devise for governments to rationalize their roles in these things away onto something beyond their control/responsibility. It is what governments do.

The reality is that you would probably be hard pressed to find two Pashtuns who would cross the street to talk to a true Arab AQ member. They never did much like those guys, nor were they ever much interested in the message or movement. Sure, you can set up your monkey bars over there to train on, and I won't give you up to the Americans on demand, Pashtunwali and all, but I'm not interested in what you are selling.

No, this, like most all true insurgencies, is about politics and political power. The largest ideologue in the equation are members of the West pushing their belief systems on Democracy, modern US values as being somehow universal just because the UN adopted them, rule of law as we define it, etc.

In the study of insurgency one finds that good ideology is like a good rifle. You have to have one, but if yours is somehow defeated, co-opted, destroyed, stops working, etc - just keep picking up new ones until you find one that works and press on. Not surprisingly, an ideology rooted in fundamental aspects of Islam works for Muslims. But it did not cause this, or any of the unrest anywhere else in the Middle East. It is a tool for the insurgent, and a convenient foil to blame shortfalls on for the counterinsurgent. We (royal we of governments everywhere) need to evolve and take responsibility for the products of our actions and policies, and the perceptions they create among the people affected by them.

We used to get this in the US, back when we were on the receiving end of such governance, and it is codified in our declaration of independence. Now that we are the ones helping to dish it out, I fear that our declaration has become a bit of an inconvenience - that relative who makes us all uncomfortable when he shows up at family events because we all know he has stayed true to his moral compass while the rest of us have strayed...

For the West? Quit compromising the sovereignty and legitimacy of those we seek to help in order to better control the final political outcome. Create time and space, mediate, but let them sort it out for themselves. We might not like the answer, but we will get better results. The Cold War model of controlling the answer is obsolete. Move on.

For the Northern Alliance monopoly we call GIRoA and protect with our military and their constitution? Shred that damning piece of paper, hold a true Constitutional Loya Jirga without a pre-written document and ensure that all the parties are appropriately represented. Then pack up our militaries and go home. We won't like the answer, but we will get a better result.

Or give classes on TTPs that granted, reduce our contribution to the resistance insurgency. But for success, we must address the revolutionary insurgency. We don't even recognize the difference between the two, yet alone the primacy of one over the other and how each was formed, and how each must be addressed to be resolved. Instead we focus on symptoms. Like ideology.


Thu, 02/21/2013 - 8:15pm

In reply to by Col Bradley Weisz


1.My regards.Understood, at least from this side. There are at least two ways of looking at bad situations - go back to metaphysiscs and invent another game plan, and sometimes another world - or try to see what you can do with what you have, correct mistakes, hear from others, not shy from ameliorating your tactics, etc.
I thought the text was sufficiently clear in detailing a rational way (among several options) to do it, and I thank your for that.
But to discuss COIN strikes with a Shura cannot be mistaken - as some analyses here seemed to suggest - for a strategic initiative or a new political game plan. It takes place at another level.

2.On other objections, in particular space: of course space is important but what I believe was stressed here is that it is more than space. The chessboard is ideological, under the guise of "religion". "Religion" for AQ is, of course, what we would call ideology, with the global caliphate having the role of the "sun of the earth" (expression used by certain communist parties referring to the USSR), or, as some would point, "communism", that famous "classless, post-capitalist and post-alienated society".

The essence of the war is ideological, but space plays a role, indeed, as the place where ideology incarnates, gets adepts, bases, ways of expressing itself, reserve armies, places of confrontation. Actually, if Afghanistan would not have become the C3I physical capital of Al Qaida, where many global operations were planned (the Wadi Al Hage African network and the explosions in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi, the strike against the Cole, 911 and some others) who would have cared about Afghanistan, that beautiful but remote place that is the graveyeard of so many young and old soldiers of so many empires?

3.This is also why spaces without governance are worrisome. In particular if they lay too close to routes of communication used by spaces with governance, or other strategic or worthy areas.
A "res nullius" infested by bases of an ideological enemy is truly a nightmare


Bill C.

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 7:02pm

In reply to by Col Bradley Weisz

If our goal is:

a. To use the opportunity presented by insurgencies and/or other problems,

b. To intervene so as to open-up the more-closed and more-different states and societies,

c. To transform these so that their political, economic and social systems will run more along modern western lines and, thereby,

d. To incorporate them into the global economy and the international community,

(This being, I believe, what COIN -- like our foreign policy in general -- is all about today, to wit: transforming outlier states and societies such that they might come to be less of a problem for and more of an asset to the now more market-based international community.)

Then certainly we cannot hope to do this by focusing (1) too much on those who vehemently and violently oppose this future for themselves, their country and their countrymen and (2) too little (or at the expense of) those individuals and groups whose convictions are less severe and whose help we will need in (a) overcoming the vehemently/violently opposed and (b) achieving our goal.

Is this in the ball-park?

Col Bradley Weisz

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 5:29pm

As the MTTs traveled around Afghanistan, discussed COIN & shared best practices/lessons learned with the IJC Regional Commands & Afghanistan National Security Forces, it quickly became evident that the other NATO & non-NATO countries who were supporting OEF overwhelmingly thought/viewed our U.S. forces as coming into Afghanistan too heavily handed/too focused on kinetic operations.
Col Weisz

Bill C.

Fri, 02/22/2013 - 10:52am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

(Modified slightly from my initial entry.)

Would it be wrong to suggest that curing instability (at least in the near-term) is not what we are about today?

Rather, what we are about today is transforming outlier states and societies along modern western lines and, thereby, obtaining more long-term, more broad-based and more enduring stability and security.

Herein, we understand that this objective (attempting to achieve more long-term security via outlier state and societial transformation) is virtually guaranteed to cause some degree of greater instability in the near-term. States and societies almost always experience some amount of instability when they undertake, undergo and/or are forced to accept rapid and radical change. This instability is well known to be part-and-parcel to any such transformational process.

We believe, however, that because of the universal appeal of our way of life -- and the values, attitudes and beliefs upon which our way of life is based -- such instability will be relatively insignificant and short-lived.

Our strategy, in fact, is largely based on and dependent upon this belief being accurate.

Thus, should facts and events come to prove that we are:

a. Clearly wrong re: the universal and overwelming appeal of our way of life, our values, etc. and, thus,

b. Clearly wrong re: how deep, wide, significant, consequential and/or long-running the instability caused by our state and societal transformational efforts will be,

Then this would dictate that we must go back to the strategy drawing board; because our current strategy would then be proven to have no legs upon which it might stand.

Bill C.

Sun, 02/24/2013 - 9:13pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Governance, it would seem, cannot serve two masters, for example, both:

a. The foreigner -- and the wants, needs and desires of his state, civilization and society and

b. The natives -- and the often very different wants, needs and desires of their often very different states, civilizations and societies.

Thus, when a foreign power intervenes -- yesterday as today -- to cause local governments to become organized, oriented and configured so as to better provide for the foreign power's requirements; this is routinely done at the expense of what the native populations want, need and require from their governments.

National sovereignty -- and government legitimacy -- (from the standpoint of the natives) would not seem to be possible in this environment.

Instead, long-term and, indeed, historical grievance -- yesterday and today -- might well be the fruits of these foreign interventions.

While the overall goal of the foreign intervening power may be: to cause the native populations to want, need and desire the exact same things that it (the foreigner) does, attempting to do this via a foreigner-installed government may not be the way to achieve this goal. This, given that such efforts often appear to be:

a. Counterproductive. And

b. A "cart before the horse" approach so-to-speak. (To wit: the change in government that the foreign power desires should, one might suggest, occur only AFTER -- and not before -- the native population has decided that it wants a way-of-life and a way-of-government similar to that of the foreign nation. Native country sovereignty and government legitimacy, thereby, being retained.)

But are there other things that the foreign power must consider in this analysis? For example:

What if the foreign power has determined that its security has been, and will continue to be, compromised by the different forms of government in other countries, the different ways-of-life of varying peoples and, indeed, the different values, attitudes and beliefs upon which these different ways-of-life/different forms of government are based?

What then is the proper course of action for the foreign power?

Is it not obliged to consider and compare the consequences of intervention in and transformation of these alternative states and societies -- vis-a-vis the consequences of non-intervention/non-transformation -- and determine which is the more dangerous choice?

Move Forward

Sat, 02/23/2013 - 11:16am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

<blockquote>Our intel-driven strategy of the past decade is problematic in many ways. It puts us in a reactive stance and it has us chasing shadows all over the globe.</blockquote>

How is it reactive to find issues before they are threats? That is proactive use of intelligence and RSTA. A shadow is blocked light of something real. Burying our heads in the sand by claiming that threats are minor leads to events like 9/11. Did you read the AP document captured in Mali that outlined means claimed to thwart drones? These are not just backwoods country bumpkins incapable of launching major attacks elsewhere in the world.

I'm sure you would say that it is our very presence in the Middle East and Africa that leads to hatred of us. So what. We have legitimate interests there in securing oil flow (particularly if our administration hinders homegrown sources), and protecting Israel and moderate Arab/African states. We also preemptively seek to prevent WMD capture by extremists or their proliferation through cooperation between theocracies and rogue and failing states.…

The following quote and the last five paragraphs of the above linked article are particularly instructive as an anecdote.

<blockquote>In late July, according to officials in the eastern province of Nuristan, a teacher and another Afghan civilian were traveling in a sport utility vehicle along a rocky road toward the Taliban-held village of Waygal. Three senior Taliban leaders and a junior operative stopped the car and demanded a ride, said Shamsuddin Aselzai, the head of the provincial council, who is from that village.

Minutes later, Aselzai said, a drone strike destroyed the SUV, killing the three Taliban leaders and the teacher, Abdul Qayum, a 48-year-old father of four. The other civilian and the junior Talib were injured but survived.</blockquote>

How do we know the three senior leaders forced their way into the vehicle? How many other innocent Afghans will survive because those three key Taliban leaders were killed? We take event survivor's word for it, one of whom was an insurgent. Because we are horrified by such stories, we overlook source credibility to readily believe the NGOs, the UN, and others based out of Kabul, Islamabad, or the U.S. who use surveys and hearsay to make claims about civilian casualties (CIVCAS) from drone strikes. To see the part that seldom gets reported, read the last three paragraphs of the Stars and Stripes article.

<blockquote>Since then Taliban leaders in Waygal have gone almost into hiding, Aselzai said, fearful of the next drone attack.

“They are afraid, otherwise they wouldn’t hide even for a second,” Aselzai said by phone. He called Qayum’s death a tragedy and a mistake, but said the drone strikes were “very useful.”

“The Taliban are destroying our country,” he said, “and we need to take some serious steps.”</blockquote>

Drone strikes instill fear and make it harder for insurgents and terrorists to train, plan, and shoot/move/communicate. Due to precision, long observation prior to attack, and smaller warheads, claims of CIVCAS are grossly exaggerated. Yet every talking head and academic "expert" will ignore the weakness of sources claiming high CIVCAS to draw false conclusions based on flawed data. They also fail to note that casualties would be far higher if larger ordnance was dropped from high performance aircraft or fired from artillery.

Last weekend, I watched a C-Span publicity effort for a new book by Peter Bergen and multiple other experts, titled Talibanistan:(something). It was intriguing enough that a subsequent google search led to a different National Geographic documentary of the same name. Watching it, a captured would-be young suicide bomber spoke with the reporters and started crying because he had been <strong>told</strong> that Pakistani women were being shipped off to Guantanamo where they were being raped and tortured.

Obviously, youth get brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers or insurgents. That's one reason COIN principles won't work on foreign fighters or insurgents originating from sanctuary. Pakistani madrassas, and Soviet history in Afghanistan and Chechnya help the brainwashing process.

The population, similarly, is brainwashed into believing drone strikes cause many CIVCAS that actually are in single digit percentages relative to killed insurgents, yet seem to ignore the insurgent IEDs that kill civilians by the thousands. The Talibanistan book had one author of a chapter citing that 75% of Pakistanis oppose drone strikes and 90% oppose US military operations in the FATA. There's little we can do to change that opinion short of stopping drone flights. But I've got ocean-front property in Montana for sale if you believe Pakistan's government does not allow our drone strikes and thinks them someone on the expert panel pointed out (I have no knowledge of Pakistani drone operations other than what I read in Long Wars Journal and other media).

<blockquote>Do you think the Iranians do not have reasonable grievances about how they have been treated by the West over the past 100+ years? </blockquote>

The problem is not the Iranian people, it is Islamic extremists in the IRGC and Hezbollah, and the ayatollahs that control the theocracy. Before the 1979 revolution, we provided ample assistance to Iran and got along fine. Same for Afghanistan in the 60s in Helmand's "Little America." Only an extremist view of Islam and an irrational hatred of Israel has screwed it up for Muslims.

I won't claim we or Europeans have clean hands what with colonialism and our support of Iraq against Iran in the 80s, and our quick exit from assisting Afghans after the Soviet left. Nevertheless that makes it all the stupider to make an overly quick exit from AfPak now, and to strictly adhere to ancient colonial borders that ignore ethnic differences.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 02/23/2013 - 8:10am

In reply to by Move Forward


Yes, the world is dangerous place, and while it is good to root for the hometeam, it is also wise, as Sun Tzu advised, "to know your enemy." Knowing who he is, or even doing pattern of life and network analysis on him to know where he goes, who he sees, and where to target him, is not what Sun Tzu was talking about.

Do you think the Iranians do not have reasonable grievances about how they have been treated by the West over the past 100+ years? Likewise for the people of the region Mali was carved out of? Or Nigeria?

What exactly is France hoping to accomplish in Mali, and will those efforts make French citizens back in France safer or move them up on the target list of those who believe that the people of the Sahal should have a right to self-determined governance? Will the US lending our support to that French effort, or our application of the AQ label to the many nationalist (or perhaps just "anti-foreign influenceists" since the concept of nations as tied to specific populaces in that region is a sketchy one) movements seeking get to governance that answers more to them than to some foreign power. This is in many cases a quest for sovereignty and legitimacy.

But when you take on Israel, or the US or France, you are apt to need help. Just as the US colonists turned to France in our efforts against Britain. It did not mean we wanted to be French, or that France would dominate the North American continient (though I suspect that Britain feared and France hoped for that result). Nor does it mean someone wants to live under radical Islamist dogma simply becuase AQ is the only one willing to lend them a hand.

There are no clean hands, and there is no right side or wrong side, and no black or white. This is all shades of grey tinted in blood.

Our intel-driven strategy of the past decade is problematic in many ways. It puts us in a reactive stance and it has us chasing shadows all over the globe. Sure traditional miltary leaders want to link the enemy to some space. Just as in Vietnam there was the persistent quest for that set-piece battle where we could show those little bastards what for. Wrong thinking then and now.

We need to break that cycle. These are issues of policy and politic, not war and warfare. We are attempting to make that transition, but old habits die hard.

Move Forward

Fri, 02/22/2013 - 11:58pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Doctrine Man just noted on Twitter here:…

Obviously someone felt the need to have bases to access Mali if needed, and the French plan for a rapid Mali withdrawal may find it harder to return at a later date should Algeria withhold access over its airspace. You can pretend the problem is solved, but the terrorist gets a vote.

Earlier today, Long Wars Journal posted two stories about Hezbollah and a terrorist group named Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in Nigeria and Mali with global aspirations.

<blockquote>The US government added MUJAO and two of its leaders to the list of global terrorists and entities in December 2012. Earlier last year, the group quickly established training camps for jihadists from across the globe following the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in March 2012. France did not intervene in Mali until January 2013, when AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine had begun marching south and threatened to take control of the capital of Bamako.</blockquote>

In a Long Wars Journal article titled:"Iran-backed terror cell exposed in Nigeria" it stated:

<blockquote>Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS) announced the arrest of three members of an Iranian-backed terror cell that was reportedly planning to carry out attacks on US and Israeli interests as well as former Nigerian officials.</blockquote>

Later in the article with the above quote, it was cited that an African USAID complex was being targeted along with Jewish and American targets and hotels. It also noted a rise in Hezbollah-related international attacks that were thwarted in about 6 countries cited, but not stopped in Bulgaria.

<strong>We may no longer be interested in jihadist terror but Islamic extremist terror apparently remains interested in us.</strong> You said in your response above:

<blockquote>We need to get our brains around the fact that this is not about us. We are just standing in the way of populaces seeking to bring the systems of governance over them into a status of local legitimacy.</blockquote>

Obviously terrorism is about us and Israel when Islamic extremism is involved. Because neither Israel nor the U.S. are going away from the Middle East, sanctions and other actions will anger Iran, and Saudi oil interests thankfully will maintain control over that nation, the motivations driving jihad and terror will remain.

Somewhere a few hours ago I was reading about American jihadist rappers who no longer are stateside. Other U.S.-born jihadists aren't here either. These folks obviously could blend into the U.S. more easily than many extremists yet they choose to stay abroad. They know that no training can occur here, and the likelihood of being caught is greater in developed nations vs. in more primitive and isolated geographical areas.

If terrorists plot attacks in hard to access places, we also must access those locations in some negotiated mode. The French action in Mali illustrates a place remains for ground troops beyond small SF teams...who obviously had limited success there acting alone.

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 02/22/2013 - 8:44pm

In reply to by Move Forward


I think you are confusing people and causation for the places where those people live.

AQ could hide in NYC as easy, or easier, as the Sahara desert, if their was a populace there that had grievances with governance and that was also Muslim.

We need to get our brains around the fact that this is not about us. We are just standing in the way of populaces seeking to bring the systems of governance over them into a status of local legitimacy.

Certainly places where a larger portion of the populace fall into that category are better than those places where only a small minority applies. Equally, places where governmental systems of enforcement are weaker are easier to operate in than those places where government enforcement is strong. That is why Saudi insurgents hide out in Yemen and Pakistan.

But this is about people, not places - and governance, not ideology.

Move Forward

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 8:24pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

It's clear that al Qaeda is dependent on spaces or places where they can hide or blend in with the population, often well inland to avoid naval/Marine and high performance airpower. We don't see them thriving in the U.S. or anywhere that they stand out and where law enforcement and technology can thwart them.

In addition, we saw the impotent attempt to kill a training camp with cruise missiles during the Clinton years. We constantly cite that we could have pulled out of OEF in 2002, without forecasting likely outcomes of a resurgent Taliban and a reluctant Pakistan to let us have overflight rights. It's hard for small SF groups to survive massed attacks without help from above, not forthcoming without requisite bases and airspace.

Look at Mali which like AfPak is far inland attempting to thwart counter-terror attacks and ISR. Suspect that not many satellites overfly Mali. Also, wonder why SF presence in Mali for apparently a decade did not help, but rather assisted a legitimate government's overthrow, and did not notice the Toareg separatists.…

The Toareg seem to dispute the notion that people continue to cooperate with al Qaeda when invariably they show their true colors and impose Sharia Law. Problem is, by then its too late because the intimidation and blood-letting against resistance or "collaborators" ensure that COIN principles are irrelevant. COIN does not work on terrorists with an agenda unphased by trying to be diplomatic.

Also would submit that places and spaces around the Arabian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz are rather important. Egypt, Libya, and Syria should be clear examples of be careful what you wish for when you start decrying the evil royal family of Saudi Arabia...and then consider the alternative.


Thu, 02/21/2013 - 2:34pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Ah, the 'ideological warfare' need. Sure. I've been writing about that for more than a decade now. 'Isolating' and 'insulating' may also include that IW front, and something is being done, albeit possibly we can disagree on methods, suitability of personnel, goals, too little too late, etc etc.
May I also remind you that in many SF syllabus around the world comes 'revolutionary warfare': we tend to look it as SF and intel doing the counter-revolutionary task, but what we need here is to conduct the revolutionary one.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 2:18pm

In reply to by nrogeiro

I may have misinterpreted what you meant by "isolating," if not some place or space in your comment of"

"consisting of... isolating AQ, annul it and destroy it in a meaningful and durable way"

AQ is a product of an issue, not a space. They are a non-state political organization dedicated to reducing Western influence over the governments of the greater Middle East. They employ terrorist tactics and they conduct UW to tap into the energy of the many diverse, but widely dissatisfied, populationg groups across the region. Some of these populations had or have organized insurgent organizations to plug into directly, while others merely have these powerful conditions. All ripe playing fields for the conducut of unconventional warfare.

We do not need an overarching CT strategy, we need an overarching counter-UW strategy. We certainly had no need to topple the regimes in either Afghanistan or Iraq - in many ways those were just low-lying fruit that were politically convenient to vent our anger and frustration against. If there is any COG to the AQ movement it is the nature of the relationship between the Saudi Family and the Saudi people and the perception of co-opting or corrupting influence of Western influences on that relationship. But we built a "sanctuary" around that from the very beginning. Instead we have an intel-driven strategy of tactics that chases "terrorists" and beats up on "insurgents" across the region. Sadly those efforts, by any reasonable measure, have largely made the problem worse.


Thu, 02/21/2013 - 1:05pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

It would maybe suit your purpose that I would think AQ is related to space, place or even time. But I am not even going to spend time telling you I never said that (oops, I did spend that time).
My not dealing with the strategic issue now has only to with bumps and rocky road. So literally I don't have time now. But will have once at destination. Including by dealing with your assumption about FDI: NATO ISAF is doing FID after putting into place the conditions for the current regime (the FI in FID) to ask for FID. But the story didn't start like that, as you possibly know. It's probably the transition of AT/CT to COIN to FID that contributed to many of these discussions, but we will deal with that later if you're willing.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 12:03pm

In reply to by nrogeiro

"...and have no time to deal with the strategic issue..."

You and everyone else. This pretty much sums up how we got to where we are. Given an hour to solve any problem we will spend 1 minute thinking about the problem and 59 attempting to make that poorly formed concept work. The ratio suggested by another thinking German is a better model we should work toward.

The very idea that you think AQ is somehow dependent upon any particular "space" or "place" is indicator enough. They are a symptom, a symptom born of conditions that exist in varying degrees across most of the populaces of the Islamic world. The energy and sanctuary for such movements does not come from any discrete place, but rather from the people themselves. Targeting the symptom or any particular place the symptom happens to pitch a tent is a fruitless exercise, that more often than not, only drives the problem deeper into the fabric of the societies touched by such "cures."


Thu, 02/21/2013 - 11:48am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I'm travelling and have no time to deal with the strategic issue, at least now. But 'tactics' or even 'battlefield rules' briefly aligned here are essential - in my humble opinion - as part of a strategy precisely consisting of... isolating AQ, annul it and destroy it in a meaningful and durable way, not in an illusory 'big bang' victory (that will come to haunt you/us).
And rest assured that my KSK friend learned all that Afghaniness by himself. He was not taught by 'us' or the US. And he is a mean fighting machine, but also think.



Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 8:31am

In reply to by nrogeiro

nrogeiro - I'm sorry, everything you just said is about tactics. We need to stop debating tactics and start thinking about the strategic essence of these types of conflicts, as well as the inherent inappropriateness and related problems with intervening in someone elses domestic dispute and attempting to shape it to suit the interests of the intervening party.

Yes, you can train a German to talk to Afghans. Great, and equally so what? This is not a problem caused by Afghan elders somewhere in the mountains. This is not a populace that is broken or backwards and in need of fixing or modernizing. This is Western powers mis-reading the problem of al Qaeda and then building upon that strategic mistake with a host of follow-on poorly formed concepts on democracy or effectiveness of government as a cure to instability; or TTPs derived from a range of colonial efforts over time to buy down the cost of empire as somehow being ways to build a sovereign, legitimate state blessed with conditions of natural stability. It is misguided and delusional.


Thu, 02/21/2013 - 7:22am

All valid- initial text and first rebuttal - and essential topics on the hybrid Foreign Internal Defense COIN mission. My first experience in Afghan post 911 enviroment was with a German officer who spent many hours learning how to seat, eat, talk and do protocol with a certain section of mountain elders. He was respected and effective.
This is no guns blazing big shining armor campaign. It can be nasty and dirty, desperating and absurd, all too human or inhuman sometimes. It has its part of war of shadows, the tricky side of trying to determine who is who, the never ending process of negotiation, PR, and lots and lots of listening. And protecting.
In the end, lots of politicians are going to tell you - who sat, fought, negotiated, listened, got maimed, saw friends going away in a blast - it was all in vain, that it was useless, that it was not the right political equation. We saw that before: each of us, younger or older, can name an atypical conflict where pieces of this scenario fit.
But still there are things that can be done, or tried, amdist the big fog of a small war. One is the set of recommendations drawn here. There is no COIN success if you kill the ones you want to protect, if you attack the wrong element, if the use of force is more detrimental than benefitial. There is no COIN success if you don't know how to act as a diplomat, as a guerrilla fighter, as a monk, as an ermit, as an humble men among great but miserable lives.
Mingle, talk, immerse youself, be one of the Afghans who want a better place, rid of the foreign element that hijacked the country, before they hijacked the jets that ate NYC.
Drones in this context are smart pieces of a smart campaign. Drones without this are just pieces of absurd.
Of course there are no perfect solutions here. I remember too well the process of political-military consultation for each strike - literally - done by NATO against the Milosevic regime, to stop the "avant la lettre" Bengazi anticipatory possible butchery scenario in Kosovo. It was something new, sometimes risky, sometimes clumsy, sometimes absurd, but it showed that military operations of decent nations have to have an ulterior purpose and soul, not a life of its own.
Thks for sharing this piece. It is only the beginning of a new chapter.


Mark O'Neill

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 7:08pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I agree Bob (re: frustration).

I also get your *rant* about what 'we' should have done, that is a bit like crying over spilt milk..

The 'lessons' of the COIN Shura described by COL W are remarkably like the piffle we initially taught at the COIN CFE in Taji during the Surge - just with an 'Afghanistan' flavour. This dogma was derived from - you guessed it - FM3-24. Almost 100% uncritically.

But a funny thing happened as we went out and about and looked in detail at what was actually happening on the ground, both with the US 'Surge' forces and, more importantly I think, the Iraqi Security Force's Surge. Empirically, there was quite a chasm between MNF-I's doctrinal rhetoric and what was actually happening on the ground (and working). Of course, given that the lexicon of the day was FM3-24, and leadership 'buy in' , the reporting up the chain was in pure FM3-24 speak... Smart Bn, Bde and MND Commanders and staff quickly learn and adopt the Leader's vernacular.

A degree of dissonace developed when trying to reconcile the 'story' with the reality. Targetting (JSOC and others ), bribery, coercion and violence (SOI..), Divsional level Urban clearance during COTK in down in Basra, daily life for an Iraqi Bn (anywhere) ... it was patently actually a story about mastery, control and manipulation of the art of coercion, violence and information management(in that order).

While in Iraq I never did discover reliable and replicable evidence that one could use to 'prove' the FM3-24 cant . In a later conversation with a Mate who has a key staff officer in a key MND during 06/07, he related how he and a mate kept a list of the FM3-24 principles and daily ticked off which ones they 'broke'. Yet the narrative of the war records that Division's time as MND-X as being an instrumental part of the Surge's 'success'.

Subsequent research has led me to believe that what we saw daily in Iraq during the Surge replicated previously well established practices in other COIN wars: managing coercion, violence, subversion, information and organisation to achieve appropriate and limited objectives. The FM3-24 guff was left over BS from a fairytale version of COIN that developed during the Kennedy era and has rarely been subject to substantive critical academic review (Although Michael Shafer and Stathis Kalyvas came very close...)

I would dearly love to see the empirical evidence, with properly established casual relationships identified between the 'top ten' listed and the desired campaign effects, that supports each item listed in the Shura 'top ten'. I suspect that it doesn't exist and that the 'top ten' is actually more akin to an OPED rather than a valid piece of OA...

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 6:28am

Articles like this are so frustrating to read.

I wish I could say I was surprised that these are the tenants promoted at this COIN Conference (Yes, I realize the Afghan word for meetings is "Shura" but I am pretty sure based on the content of the piece that this meeting was not organized or led by Afghans)

Which cuts to key points not made in this article.

1. COIN is what the Afghan government does. We are doing FID. When you confuse that point you soon find yourself as a foreign outsider over-riding the very sovereignty and legitimacy you claim to be promoting, and that is so vital to ever attaining a true stability.

2. #1 task is not to "protect the Afghan people"; after all, in insurgency the insurgents and their supporters are equally members of "the Afghan people." #1 task is to understand the critical perceptions of that (large) portion of the population that passively and actively supports the insurgency, and then working with the host nation government to fine tune their approaches to governance to reduce those points of friction.

In FID the # 1 goal is to help some government to be a better version of itself - not to attempt to make it a lesser version of us.

Afghanistan did not need the current constitution or election system we imposed upon them - in fact the revolutionary insurgency based around the Taliban leadership exiled to Pakistan by Western military power did not really begin until we completed those two little projects. What Afghanistan needed was a constitution that reinforced local culture and expectations of government, not one that sought to replace it with a system deemed acceptable to Westerners. What they needed was a leader selection process rooted in their own culture and allowed to pick who they wanted to lead them, not one rooted in Western culture and designed to pick who we wanted to lead them.

As we "surged" to attack the revolutionary insurgency our very presence and efforts stimulated the growth of the resistance insurgency among the average, and largely apolitical people of Afghanistan. Half measures like "courageous restraint" or "the round not fired" cannot fix the glaring illegitimacy and inappropriateness of our very presence and operations in the first place.

Yes, in 2009 President Obama was led to believe that this place was vital to our national security interests. As his current guidance is to turn this effort off as soon as possible and get out, it is more than disingenuous to roll that old quote out now, in 2013, as if it is still his official position on the situation. The reality is that the Afghanistan mission should have been scoped as a strategic raid or punitive expedition from the very start and wrapped up by early 2002. Everything after that has been a mix of ignorance, hubris, mission creep and folly.

I used to work with addicts. One thing I quickly learned is that they never began to overcome their addiction and self-destructive behavior until they first stopped lying to themselves. Like Addicts, we rationalize away all the problems surrounding our long efforts in Afghanistan. It is time to get honest with our own selves, and capture the strategic lessons learned that trapped us there, not the tactical lessons learned on how we stirred the pot throughout the duration. Arming future generations with good TTPs for how to do the wrong thing well is what the Vietnam generation did for us. And here we are. This time we need to capture the strategic lessons not learned and avoid the next (and there will always be a next) "opportunity" to do this altogether.