by Andrew Exum, Small Wars Journal Op-Ed
In advance of the Obama Administration's forthcoming review of policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, much of the commentary has focused on whether or not the Obama Administration will adopt a long-term, hugely expensive population-centric counter-insurgency (COIN) campaign or whether the administration will instead opt for a lower-cost counter-terror (CT) strategy. Fred Kaplan, in a typically well-informed piece for Slate, framed the debate as an either/or dichotomy in which the Obama Administration had to choose one or the other vis a vis Afghanistan.
The distinction between COIN and CT, however, is poorly understood. For one, there is no hard and fast dichotomy between the two -- a fact that Kaplan and other longtime defense correspondents largely understand but which policy-makers must understand as well. If what Kaplan writes is true, and policy-makers are stuck thinking of their policy options as either/or propositions, we are in more trouble in Afghanistan than I thought.