Small Wars Journal

Strategic Development and Irregular Warfare: Lessons from the High Water Mark of Full-Spectrum COIN

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 6:53pm

Strategic Development and Irregular Warfare: Lessons from the High Water Mark of Full-Spectrum COIN

Jeff Goodson

The high water mark of full-spectrum counterinsurgency (COIN) occurred in Afghanistan from 2010-2012.  Military and civilian budgets were at their peaks, including Economic Support Funds (ESF), Commanders Emergency Response Funds (CERP), the Afghan Infrastructure Fund (AIF), and funding for the DoD Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO).   The Afghan surge was in place, the military footprint was at its maximum, and the drawdown of personnel and resources that followed President Obama’s 2009 announcement of U.S. withdrawal  had not yet begun. 

The new military COIN doctrine articulated in December 2006 had been applied to the surge in Iraq with some success, and it was being applied in Afghanistan under General Stanley McChrystal as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF).  Both governance and socioeconomic development were integral elements of the COIN doctrine, as well as the ”3D” national security policy framework of Defense, Development, Diplomacy.     

General David Petraeus took command of ISAF in June 2010.  At his direction, German Major General Richard Rossmanith was brought in as DCOS Stability and instructed to ‘staff up development, pursue it aggressively, and get it into the game.’  Over the next seventeen months, STAB/Development formulated, articulated and executed the socioeconomic development part of the military campaign strategy.  That work constituted a benchmark for operationalizing development intelligence in COIN, and established a way forward for similar future work in irregular warfare campaigns. 

The Mandate:  STAB/Development had three specific mandates:

  • Integrate socioeconomic development into the military Campaign Plan;
  • Analyze, facilitate and troubleshoot strategic development projects; and
  • Provide the best counsel to COMISAF on strategic development issues. 

The unit was a new kind of military organization, responsible for an admixture of strategic, intelligence, analytical, troubleshooting and advisory tasks.  In execution, it evolved into what variously served as a development intelligence unit, an issues management cell, a think tank, deal brokers, problem troubleshooters, counselor to the Commander, advisor to subordinate commands, and clearinghouse for information on strategic development.  But it operated without development funds.  Instead, it pushed the diaspora of development organizations to execute projects with the greatest COIN impact, regardless of funding source.    

The Staff:  STAB/Development had about 75 staff, all but a few of them military.  Most were U.S., but there were also representatives from nearly two dozen contributing countries over the duration of the operation.  The development experience of the military staff was mixed, but it was supplemented with a handful of seasoned development professionals seconded over from other organizations.  It also included the occasional world-class expert—for example in rail—“borrowed” from other military units. 

Most importantly, the ability of the unit to operate successfully at the strategic level was enabled by fifteen or so Afghan Hands who were assigned to it.  The Hands, a small cadre of U.S. military and civilians armed with Afghan language, culture and COIN training, were mostly attached to the Ministers or senior staff of key Afghan development ministries.  Both individually and collectively, they became game-changers in the extreme.     

The Campaign Plan:  STAB/Development started formulating the development part of the Campaign Plan by articulating the role and importance of development in the 2010 Operational Plan (OPLAN).  After a strategic approach was approved by Petraeus in January 2011, the unit began evolving a COIN Development Strategy for 2012-2014.  That strategy established the foundation of the development part of OPLAN 38302, approved by COMISAF in November 2011 and by JFC-Brunssom after approval by DCOS/Stability in January 2012.     

Operationally, the unit was made responsible for Line of Operation (LOO) #6 of the campaign—“enable socioeconomic development”.  This recognized the role that poor social and economic conditions were playing in fueling instability in Afghanistan, and the role that delivery of basic social and economic services could play in legitimizing the government.  The unit was also charged with two campaign strategic priorities, “enabling development of strategic infrastructure” and “enhancing border area management.”

The Developers:  Socioeconomic development is planned, funded and executed by a wildly diverse array of international development agencies.  In Afghanistan STAB/Development recorded well over 150 active development organizations, including multilateral development banks, bilateral donors, United Nations organizations, non-governmental organizations, military units, private organizations, and others.  About twenty of these were key players which—knowingly or unknowingly—were executing projects important to the COIN campaign. 

The Military as Development Agent:  The US military was arguably the most important of these development agents.  This was partly because of its focus on development as an element of COIN, and because of the many strengths, resources and specialized programs that it brought to enable COIN development in theater.  Among the most important of these were its ability to shape, clear and hold terrain, its ability to enable other development agents to work in insecure areas, its presence throughout the war zone, and the ready access it provided to governors and ministers.  The military also brought logistics, organization, superb personnel, intelligence resources, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), CERP funding for local projects, AIF funding for larger projects, Special Forces tip-of-the-spear capabilities, Village Stability Operations, the Afghan Hands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Civil Affairs units. 

Triaging Development:  One strategic priority of the Campaign Plan approved by Petraeus in 2010 was to enable development of “strategic infrastructure”.  He used the term “strategic” in conjunction with other development actions on multiple occasions, referring to ‘tactical effects with strategic implications’ in the context of Village Stability Operations in 2011, for example, and to ‘strategic CERP projects that emanated from the strategic level’ at ISAF HQ.  In 15 March 2011 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he elaborated on the strategic implications of AIF projects:  

“These are larger projects that…are central to the conduct of a counterinsurgency campaign.  So these are not economic development and they’re not economic assistance or something.  These are projects that directly enable the success of our troopers on the ground…(T)he first tranche of these, for example, is almost all energy related, infrastructure related…to enable the revival of the areas in Kandahar and the greater south, and then tying in a power grid to that as well.” 

In execution, STAB/Development distinguished socioeconomic development from other activities like governance and humanitarian assistance that are often lumped into the “development” rubric.  It then triaged the many hundreds of ongoing Afghan development projects into three categories:  development, defined as all socioeconomic projects; COIN development, defined as those socioeconomic projects contributing materially to COIN objectives; and strategic development, defined as those COIN development projects that were—alone or in aggregate—critical to attaining COMISAF’s strategic objectives. 

Focusing the Work:  In the COIN development strategy, STAB/Development articulated an end state for Afghanistan that focused on ensuring that social and economic conditions wouldn’t derail the security transition after the announced end of the military campaign in 2014. The strategy had three elements: social infrastructure, economic infrastructure, and economic growth.  In social infrastructure it focused primarily on access to basic health and education services, differentiating between physical infrastructure—the schools and clinics—and the operational infrastructure like the staff and recurring costs required to make them function.  In economic infrastructure it focused on roads, rail, aviation, power, water, telecommunications, and borders.  The unit tracked well over 200 COIN-critical infrastructure projects, and as in the social sectors it worked on both the operational and the physical plant. 

The most complicated part of the strategy was economic growth because it is the hardest to operationalize.  To simplify the problem, it was broken into economic governance (the legal, regulatory, judicial, and policy frameworks) and business support (business infrastructure, skills development, banking and finance, large investors, and small and medium enterprises).  The work of Paul Brinkley and the TFBSO in Iraq was hugely consequential, and STAB/Development  collaborated with them in Afghanistan extensively in the energy and mining sectors.

The Perfect Storm and Basic Services:  There was an economic perfect storm brewing in Afghanistan at that time, making prospects for achieving sustainable economic growth poor over the mid-term.  We recognized that the quickest way for social and economic conditions to derail the security transition after 2014 was if the modest but long-running streamflow of benefits that the Afghan government delivers to the grass roots level were to dry up.  We therefore began to also focus on the sustainability of eight basic services programs—delivering health, education, rural roads, local power systems, agriculture, water/sanitation, employment and rural development.  Each was addressed by proven, long-running programs that were funded by international donors, and executed by a few key ministries.    

Results:  In the seventeen months from September 2010-February 2012, STAB/Development tracked hundreds of development projects and analyzed, troubleshot or collaborated on well over a hundred major COIN- and strategic-level projects and issues.  These included:  

  • Roads: Ring Road Northwest, the Salang Tunnel, Armalek-Lahman, Upper Route 611, the E-W and N-S corridors, Kabul-Jalalabad, Kandahar bypass, and Route Lithium;
  • Rail:  Hairatan-Mazar (Afghanistan’s first rail line), creation of a National Rail Authority, Northern Distribution site assessment, rail gauge analysis, and the rail-mining nexus;
  • Aviation: The Civil Aviation Law and Civil Aviation authority, the national Area Control Center, ICAO standards at the national airports, and Kandahar airport funding;
  • Power:  Kajaki hydropower, Kandahar power, the NEPS-SEPS connection, Sheberghan gas, Naglu-Jalalabad and Jalalabad-Asadabad transmission, and the TAPI pipeline;
  • Water: The Kajaki, Salma, Dahla, Kamal Khan, Darunta and Kunar dams, the Jowzjan pipeline, and water sector operations and maintenance;
  • Telecommunications: Current State Assessment, National Optical Fiber Ring, 24/7 cellular, the National Data Center, and communications links to the ministries;
  • Borders:  Interdiction operations, synchronization, customs performance, key Border Control Point monitoring, and border problems with Pakistan;
  • Health: Supported CJ-MED, which had the lead for HQ ISAF support in the critical health sector part of socioeconomic development, and developed sector strategy metrics;   
  • Education:  Radio/television and higher education, ICT education, VTC training, religious engagement, community colleges, and the Communications Technology Institute;   
  • Mining:  Mining tenders, the Afghan-Tajik Basin, Aynak copper, Bamyan coal, Hajigak iron, Zara Zaghan gold, Angot and Amu Darya oil fields, and the TAPI pipeline;
  • Agriculture:  Poppy cultivation alternatives, wheat distribution, saffron, emergency drought, seed distribution, agribusiness strategy, and agribusiness value chains;
  • Basic Services:  Identified eight COIN-critical basic services, tracked program coverage for those services, and troubleshot coverage shortfalls; 
  • Transition:  Basic services, National and local governance connection in service provision, provincial Transition Implementation Plans, and transition metrics;
  • Cross-Cutting:  Donor financial streamflow analysis, COIN spending, the New Silk Road, private security contractors, budget execution, and operations & maintenance.

Altogether, STAB/Development produced over 100 major written analytical or briefing products, about 75 of them directly for COMISAF.  The consumers of these products, in addition to the Commanders, included intelligence agencies, subordinate commands, PRTs, incoming military units, visiting VIPs, governors, ministers, diplomats, key development agencies, and international conferences.    

Why It Worked:  At this place and time, having a robust military capability to strategize, track, analyze and troubleshoot strategic development worked.  There were a number of reasons for this.  First, it was a military operation.  STAB/Development could never have succeeded at this work in either a U.S. diplomatic or, especially, U.S. development agency structure.  Second, the unit was located physically and organizationally close to the ISAF Commanders, and had direct communications with them.  Third, at the top there was a clear understanding of the importance of development to COIN, and commitment to operationalizing it as a central element of the Afghan COIN campaign.  Fourth, the mandate was right and the work was made an integral part of the military campaign and operational plans.  Fifth, it was resourced right: It had the right level of staff and assets for that specific campaign.  Sixth, the DCOS Chief of Staff succeeded in recruiting not just high quality staff, but also a large number of Afghan Hands who greatly increased our ability to successfully conclude COIN-critical issues.  And last, the unit was led by a seasoned development expert who was seconded over to the military and was in the military chain of command.        

Transition and Debate:  As force drawdown and budget cuts started to affect operations at NATO headquarters and STAB/Development in late 2011, the U.S. created a parallel unit in the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) that could sustain and further operationalize the strategic development work.  That unit took over the lead for strategic development in 2012.    

Troop drawdown marked the end of full-spectrum COIN in Afghanistan in 2012, and it may be the last time for the foreseeable future that COIN is applied in this way anywhere.  The drawdown began a robust debate on the performance of COIN, and its potential applicability to future irregular warfare.  Much of the results of that debate are embodied in the new COIN manual (FM 3-24) and Stability manual (FM 3-07), which were revised and re-issued in 2014.  At the end of the campaign, though—analogous to what happened with the CORDS program in Vietnam—the short three-year application of full-spectrum COIN in Afghanistan ended before it could prove itself conclusively one way or the other. 

Strategic Development and Irregular Warfare:  Irregular warfare is defined as “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations.” Of the five kinds of warfare included under that typology—counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, COIN, and stability operations—the work of strategic development is primarily integral only to COIN and stability ops.   

Military priorities are in a state of rapid change, and the primary strategic focus in 2015 is on counter-terrorism and hybrid warfare.  DoD policy, however, is to also remain proficient in the execution of irregular warfare, including both COIN and stability operations.  That development is important to successfully fighting insurgencies is clear, and not just in COIN and stability doctrine.  In 2013, for example, analyzing the relationship between successful COIN and 24 COIN “concepts”, the RAND Corporation found a “strong” linkage between the concept of development and COIN success and noted that “…the COIN force won every time it implemented…” the development concept. 

The Future:  It is also clear that insurgencies and stability operations are here to stay.  The 2013 RAND analysis examined 71 insurgencies that started and ended since 1945, and the Council on Foreign Relations has enumerated an additional 74 post-WW II insurgencies that were still ongoing as of 2012.  That’s 145 new insurgencies in 67 years, or a rate of about two new insurgencies a year.  

There are, however, three inherent limitations that will always work against COIN:  time, money, and political will.  What is needed going forward is a refined “COIN light” approach that can better target specific elements on the critical path to defeating insurgencies that are of lesser scope and magnitude than the one in Afghanistan.  For insurgencies that are truly religious in nature, those elements may not include socioeconomic factors at all.  For most other insurgencies, however—and for virtually all stability operations—socioeconomics will likely play a significant role.  And for those, fortunately, the strategic development work carried out at the high water mark of COIN is scalable.

About the Author(s)

Jeff Goodson is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer.  In twenty-nine years with the U.S. Agency for International Development, he worked on the ground in 49 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  He was Chief of Staff at USAID/Afghanistan from 2006-2007, and Director of Development at ISAF HQ in Kabul from 2010-2012 under General David Petraeus and General John Allen.  The opinions expressed are his alone.


Jeff Goodson

Thu, 09/10/2015 - 11:13pm

In reply to by RantCorp


Good luck fighting the wrong war.



Thu, 09/10/2015 - 9:03am

Good luck on the Crusade

Jeff Goodson

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 7:33pm

In reply to by RantCorp


I worked for over 20 years boots on the ground in the Islamic world. From Mauritania to the Gaza Strip, and from Egypt to Afghanistan. The root cause of the holy war that the Muslim fanatics are waging against us is indeed Islam. Which is not to say that Islam is the enemy; it's not. It's just the problem.

So you and I don't agree on your "fundamental". Let's just leave it at that, and move on to a different discussion down the road.



Wed, 09/09/2015 - 2:12pm


I believe at the outset it is best to agree on a fundamental – otherwise we risk talking past each other. First and foremost IMHO Islam is not the solution, for the simple reason it is not the problem. I don’t know how long you spent working in AF & PAK but if you spent a couple of years or so in both and you believe Islam is central to any problems or solutions, your experience and mine are worlds apart.

IMO most of the problem, and as such any solution, stems from our failure to confront irresponsible governance. I hazard to suggest we agree on that. However where we are most likely to disagree is the location of the nefarious governance that propagates the misery in AF & Iraq.

Despite the abundance of corrupting political constructs in AF and Iraq it is my experience that Machiavellian influences, deeply rooted in the governments of PAK and the KSA, are what drives much of the death & destruction in the region.

Iran’s governing elite is of the same ilk as the pair above but because of their international pariah status since 1979 the more destructive effects of their toxic leadership has been limited to Gaza wherein the Israeli’s RMA/MICkey Mouse approach feeds and sustains the Ayatollah’s UW monster.

Currently we are doing our best to change that and IMO it will only be a matter of time before other nations get to enjoy the same misery the hapless & hopeless Palestinians currently endure.

Oil was always cited as the necessary evil that forced us to indulge the excesses endemic to these autocratic nation states. Unfortunately our dependency, and the vast profit it generates, has created a dominate ruling elite within PAK, KSA & Iran that are universally despised across the entire Muslim world. We are the main providers of their ill-gotten wealth and it should come as no surprise we are as equally despised.

I too fear the effects of the fallout from these nefarious states and agree wholeheartedly the ramifications represent a serious threat to stability in the West and various emerging economies. However I do not believe it is the economic migrants, who are currently fleeing the region in their millions, that represent a threat to the peace and prosperity that we and others currently enjoy.

Fracking appears to offer the means by which we can break the shackles that have bound us to the region since the end of the colonial era. But rather than facilitating the dawn of an era of ME oil free political and economic sobriety, we appear hell-bent on exchanging that costly addiction for nuclear proliferation.

Our efforts to shake off our ME oil dependency and distance ourselves from the region’s toxicity has initiated a political paranoia within the petro-dollar dependent states. PAK technology, KSA money and a Shite persecution complex threatens a nuclear arms-race between sworn enemies that will ramp up with alarming speed and attain megaton status on an unprecedented timeline.

When that happens the governance problems that have plagued the region for more than half a century will be remembered as the sweet nothings of a Shangri-La.
Many folks fail to comprehend how hard-nosed and bloody-minded the decision-makers of these countries can be when it comes to matters they consider to be existential to their hold on political power.

Happily for us a perfect example of this Machiavellian mind-set can be ‘enjoyed’ at:


LTG Durrani’s address to the Oxford Union in April 2015 captured the mind-set of the archetypal General Staff officer found in abundance in the GHQs of Riyadh, Tehran and Islamabad. So convinced of the existential importance of their judgement they consider the death of their fellow citizen’s as a necessary evil – including the massacre of school-children.

If you watch Durrani closely he is completely at ease with the reality of a rogue element within the ranks of Pakistan’s proxy force causing death and destruction in Pakistan. He remained steadfast and argued that the attainment of a strategic objective (removing foreign influences in the region that are not of Pakistani origin) was of more importance than the horrendous consequences for his fellow Pakistanis.

Likewise the loss 15,000 of his own troops was acceptable ’collateral damage’. He essentially was of the opinion that if that’s what it takes to ensure the “world’s sole superpowers got its comeuppance” then the strategy did the world, as well as Pakistan, a favor.

Though he did not say as much, it is not difficult to imagine ( in light of his openly expressed view that Pakistanis who are slain are “collateral damage”) the nature of his sentiments towards the people killed on 9/11 and his attitude to the killing of uniformed US military personnel and their allies since.

From a STAB/DEV POV I would draw your attention to the good General’s attitude to the heroin industry. As you are well aware as a cash crop the growing of heroin is, by considerable margin, the most profitable agrarian industry for unscientific, non-mechanized farming, on infertile soil where there is abundant cheap manual labor.

Durrani allowed his somewhat studied ‘Grand Strategy’ persona to slip somewhat when he expressed his support for the 2 million households that rely on producing heroin paste for a living. He alluded to a moral argument that growing heroin producing poppy was essential for the Afghan population owing to the fact the Western Aid would invariably dry up when the STAB/DEV caravan moved on.

The communal self-destructiveness of the heroin industry bolsters provides a insidious boost to the vestatio objective to create a ungoverned and ungovernable geographical space so as to provide a strategic buffer-zone.

Pakistan and the KSA proxy armies need something to burn to remain effective. The heroin processing refineries are all in Pakistan. The poppy-growing itself flourishes in an environment where governance, electricity, education or mechanization need not exist. Owing to the high value per kilogram of opium paste the transportation by tractor trailer, pack animal or man pack of the paste remains a perfectly profitable logistical option. In other words a narco-army need not concern themselves with ‘collateral damage’ to their own breadbasket when they sow the seeds of despair.

In Iraq the wanton destruction of infrastructure would make less sense but the Gulf States have more than enough capacity to rebuild no matter how much infrastructure was destroyed. Likewise the lives of the Shite populace does not bother them in the slightest. In fact I dare suggest a single light pole or a traffic sign would be assigned a valued higher by the KSA GHQ.

Like I said earlier there are hundreds of serving General Staff officers in Islamabad, Riyadh and Tehran and thousands if you count the retired. They don’t concern themselves with God, Revolution, Resistance, STAB/DEV and the like when they plan Grand Strategy. As Durrani repeated stated the moral dimension is of very little or no use whatsoever. These men are extremely patriotic. Any situation wherein a moral decision to spare a hundred thousand innocents posed a tiny risk to what they adjudged to be a national security risk would be dismissed out of hand as a dereliction of duty.

In a country wherein millions of infants die drinking filthy water every year, and very few foreigners give a damn, you can perhaps appreciate Durrani intellectual POV that the lives of several thousand foreigners will attract near zero gravitas when the strategic risk of the whole country is question.

You might have noted the indignant tut-tutting of the mostly young audience within the Oxford Union when Durrani made his remarks regards collateral damage and diplomatic duplicity. He paused for a moment and cast the audience with his best General Staff cold fish-eye gaze and retorted:

‘If you can’t ride two horses at once, don’t join the circus.”

We expend enormous resources seeking, understanding and neutralizing psychopaths such as al-Zarqawi, deluded Messiahs such as OBL, Mullah Omar , al Baghdadi and terrorist networks such as Haqqani and LeT. Whereas when it comes to those GHQ Staff who oppose us we appear to accept they reside on another planet and only understand an alien language.

The Pak General Staff have neutralized the much larger Indian Army with MAD, defeated the Soviet Union with a Resistance Army and fought ISAF to a standstill with a UW Proxy (the latter funded by us no less ).

If nothing else this suggests to me they are much smarter than we are.
LTG Durrani is no maverick. He is not atypical. He comes from a General Staff system that embeds an attitude to casualties that has much in common with the General Staff of WW1. We do not frighten them in the slightest and we certainly do not intimidate them.

So what?

We don’t even know the right questions leave alone the right answers. We obsess over religion, legitimacy, governance, revolutionary and resistance energy, education, health etc. and ignore the 800 lb gorilla sitting in the room.
To use a burning orphanage analogy - we busy ourselves trying to feed, clothe, educate the pitiful and the wretched. With that done we busy ourselves repairing the roof, painting the walls, connect the grid, water, mow the grass whilst congratulating ourselves on a job well done.

The Durrani’s of this world duly take note and dispatch someone to kick in the front door, roll a blazing drum of oil down the main hallway and stand back and watch with impunity as it all burns to the ground.

The first thing we should do is get some of our own LTGs to fly to Islamabad, Riyadh and Tehran and ask what we need to do to stop them killing our troops and our allies. I would be very surprised if we did not get an extremely frank and honest answer.


Jeff Goodson

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 10:05pm

In reply to by Marshall Wilde


Good to hear from you, and glad you're well.

This isn't the time or place or article for me to weigh in on the governance work at STAB during the high water mark of full-spectrum COIN. I wasn't running that shop, and while I did governance work in many countries after President Bush the Elder told USAID in 1991 to "go forth and spread democracy," governance is something that needs to be addressed separately. Governance and development are like yin and yang, but they are so inherently different and present such different issues in dealing with them in practice that it is really hard to discuss them together without conflating them (I think that's the right word) and their impact.

That said, you and I will have to agree to disagree on the development work. I didn't follow the work of GOV there (no time, not my AOR), but on the development side the work wasn't at all "too diffuse to be effective". Just the opposite, which is why we focused it like we did, triaging out the many hundreds of "just development" projects, and triaging in the "COIN development" and especially the "strategic development" projects and lasering in on those. The impact wasn't the 100+ reports on the results of our actions, of course; the impact was the results described in those reports--most of it classified, and which only a handful of people saw.

One particular issue you raise that I'd like to focus on, though, relates to Kajaki. You say that "Kajaki neglected the reality that we didn't own the grid that it fed." I have to profoundly disagree with that statement. We never "owned" that grid (the southeast power system or SEPS), nor wanted to "own" that grid, nor own the northeast (NEPS) nor western (WEPS) power system grids in Afghanistan, nor own any of the many, many other national and regional electrical grids that we and the broader development community have built in third-world countries around the world since the end of World War II. The Kajaki dam was built by the US decades ago, and the issue with it during our tenure was--and, I understand, still is--getting the third turbine installed and generating another 18.5 MW to feed SEPS and Kandahar City. K-City would only have gotten maybe another 8 MW or so after the rest of it dropped off to electrify the towns en route, but it was part of the very same, tried and true, interim solution (along with the expensive diesel fired generators that we put into Kandahar) that we use all over the world (including Kabul in Afghanistan) to provide electrical power in the short term until the final sustainable power source arrives. In the case of K-City, that of course was completion of the NEPS-SEPS connection to bring power down from the north (Uzbekistan over the short term, which feeds Kabul) to Kandahar.

These plans were part of the electrical power master plan for Afghanistan, developed by USAID (under the vision of a quirky but visionary short-term California consultant) with full involvement and buy-in of GIROA back in the spring of 2006. There was nothing wrong with the plan. The plan was great, and drove programming of probably a billion dollars in USAID and other donor funding for years after its inception--at least until a new Administrator took over USAID in January 2010.

Getting sustainable and affordable power in Kandahar City was one of the highest strategic development priorities while we were at STAB. Both the third turbine at Kajaki and completion of NEPS-SEPS were fully funded, by USAID, AID, and ESF funds in FY11 and FY12. So why is the Kajaki third turbine still not generating 18.5 MW for SEPS in 2015? And why is the NEPS-SEPS connection still not completed? And why does the Taliban capital of Kandahar City therefore STILL not have basic sustainable electrical power? Because USAID failed to make it happen. Why? Ask Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID from January 2010-February 2015. And while you're at it, remember that good men died protecting Kajaki, including two British Royal Marines killed by friendly fire, waiting for the turbine installation team to arrive.

(By the way--if you're looking for a source of the long-running bad blood between USAID and the US military, you can look farther back but you'll never find a more incendiary and exacerbating period than existed under Shah's leadership at USAID.)

I get the 'small is beautiful and responsive and sustainable' argument in COIN development, and so did the 2006 COIN doctrine and so did most local military units. That's why CERP funds existed, and did such great work. In almost every country we work development in, the small-scale, limited funding, bottom-up projects are great as far as they go. Especially in getting the buy-in of local communities. But what they don't--indeed cannot--do is build the the major road, rail, aviation, power, water, wastewater and communications infrastructure that is required to really elevate national development levels. That's what the serious megabucks of the multilateral development banks (ADB, IBRD), bilateral and multilateral donors (US, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Aga Khan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, UAE, EU), and in some cases private sector are for, and what they did in Afghanistan. Including, of course, the special US civil-military Afghan Infrastructure Fund (AIF).

That said though, Marty, there's nothing inconsistent about the two. Quite the opposite. Moreover, in addition to top-down and bottom-up development, there is also the middle-out development that typically focuses on primary and secondary cities and regional centers and their economic impact zones. The top-down, bottom-up, middle-out model also applies to governance, as we saw in Afghanistan with the three-tiered governance approach. (But that's a different story.) And, of course, the approach applies to countries at peace, as well as countries at war, which indeed is where it evolved before it was applied to extremely retarded development state of Afghanistan in the first place.

That said, a key point of the article was that going forward we need to better define what kinds of development and development engagement work best in COIN (and Stability Operations, and Foreign Internal Defense or FID) environments to generate the strategic effect that we want to have. And, how best to adapt the kind of work that STAB did at the COIN high-water mark to smaller and less expensive wars. That's this particular military/strategic development issue in a nutshell, at least as I see it.

Best, Jeff

Marshall Wilde

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 11:44am

Hi Jeff -

I agree. Serving with you on the governance side at ISAF, I also saw that, while our involvement was important, our goals were too ambitious. We played important roles in keeping the boss up to speed, troubleshooting, and coordinating efforts. However, our efforts were too diffuse to be effective. STAB efforts, whether GOV or DEV, in the COIN context, should be modest, focused, and coordinated with the needs of the local people.

The IC as a whole pushed far too many projects that served their own agendas. The Germans and Japanese seemed to love building facilities, regardless of whether they were needed at that time. Kajaki neglected the reality that we didn't own the grid that it fed. DoS pushed formal governance, instead of effective, responsive local governance. In short, too many of our efforts focused on the desires of the IC or the Karzai government, rather than the needs of the people. (I can't tell you how many times I said, "I don't work for President Karzai. My job here is to work for the people of Afghanistan and ISAF.")

In the future, we should spend the limited resources available to STAB on efforts that respond to the needs of the people and military efforts. If that means jirgas and shuras instead of formal courts, micro hydro instead of big dams, or gravel roads instead of highways, perhaps that's less sexy, but more effective. We spent too much money on foreign contractors for big projects and too little on local employees on small, locally responsive projects. I'm reminded of the hapless project officer in Phil Klay's "Redeployment" who needs funds for a women's health clinic, but can only get funds for teaching Iraqis to play baseball. Fictional, yes, but also remarkably familiar.


Bill C.

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 12:23pm

In reply to by Jeff Goodson

Roger Jeff.

It has been a good discussion. Hopefully my perspective has been helpful -- especially with regard to identifying the "way of life" ("religious" for them; "secular" for us)-based conflicts before us.

(Which seem to be very similar to the "way of life"/"secular" v. "religions" conflict problems experienced by the Soviets/the communists when they were attempting to do their "development" work during the Cold War. Re: these common "development" efforts and problems to see, for example, how the exact same elements of the targeted states and societies [to wit: the "conservative" elements] became, ironically, both our today, and the Soviets/the communists back then, "natural enemies?")

A final thought:

Should we not see the "waves of Muslims now moving into western Europe as refugees/emigrants ... " exactly from the perspective that I offer?

To wit: From the perspective that the instability that the world now is experiencing has been wrought, exactly, due to Western efforts to transform outlying states and societies, such as those in the greater Middle East and elsewhere, more along modern western political, economic and social lines?

These such "development" efforts -- while well-intended -- being poorly thought out and, thus, being poorly carried out?

This due, primarily, to the unrealistic expectations derived from such erroneous "universal values," etc., ideas as Huntington addresses in his "Clash" article above (specifically, as outlined in the "West v. the Rest" portion of this article).

It is in acknowledgment of this gross error, I suggest, that we now see the United States and other western militaries (a) throwing out these "universal values" ideas and (b) moving toward, instead, trying to gain a better understanding of the people, cultures, religions, etc.; wherein today, and in the future, they will have to do their portion of the "development" work.

Jeff Goodson

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 9:08pm

In reply to by Bill C.


Huntingdon is clearly a lot more sanguine about western civilization than my experience leads me to be. Remember that existential threats aren't necessary apocalyptic. And anyone who thinks that, for example, the waves of Muslims now moving into western Europe as refugees/emigrants to join their Islamic brethren in the Islamic enclaves of England and France and Germany and Belgium don't represent at least the seeds of an existential threat to western civilization in some if not all of the EU countries, is looking at human events and prognosticating the future through a different optic than I am.

Thanks for your comments. Let's maybe pick this up on some future article.


Bill C.

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 12:10pm

In reply to by Jeff Goodson


Obviously, "western civilization/culture" is not threatened.

The same, as Huntington so clearly points out, cannot be said for other civilizations:

"The West Versus the Rest:"

"The west is now at an extraordinary peak of power in relation to other civilizations. Its superpower opponent has disappeared from the map. Military conflict among Western states is unthinkable, and Western military power is unrivaled. Apart from Japan, the West faces no economic challenge. It dominates international political and security institutions and with Japan international economic institutions. Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a directorate of the United States, Britain and France, world economic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany and Japan, all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other to the exclusion of lesser and largely non-Western countries. Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase "the world community" has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing "the Free World") to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers.› Through the IMF and other international economic institutions, the West promotes its economic interests and imposes on other nations the economic policies it thinks appropriate. In any poll of non-Western peoples, the IMF undoubtedly would win the support of finance ministers and a few others, but get an overwhelmingly unfavorable rating from just about everyone else, who would agree with Georgy Arbatov's characterization of IMF officials as "neo-Bolsheviks who love expropriating other people's money, imposing undemocratic and alien rules of economic and political conduct and stifling economic freedom."

"Western domination of the U.N. Security Council and its decisions, tempered only by occasional abstention by China, produced U.N. legitimation of the West's use of force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and its elimination of Iraq's sophisticated weapons and capacity to produce such weapons. It also produced the quite unprecedented action by the United States, Britain and France in getting the Security Council to demand that Libya hand over the Pan Am 103 bombing suspects and then to impose sanctions when Libya refused. After defeating the largest Arab army, the West did not hesitate to throw its weight around in the Arab world. The West in effect is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values."

"That at least is the way in which non-Westerners see the new world, and there is a significant element of truth in their view. Differences in power and struggles for military, economic and institutional power are thus one source of conflict between the West and other civilizations. Differences in culture, that is basic values and beliefs, are a second source of conflict. V. S. Naipaul has argued that Western civilization is the "universal civilization" that "fits all men." At a superficial level much of Western culture has indeed permeated the rest of the world. At a more basic level, however, Western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate such ideas produce instead a reaction against "human rights imperialism" and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures." The very notion that there could be a "universal civilization" is a Western idea, directly at odds with the particularism of most Asian societies and their emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another. Indeed, the author of a review of 100 comparative studies of values in different societies concluded that "the values that are most important in the West are least important worldwide." In the political realm, of course, these differences are most manifest in the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to induce other peoples to adopt Western ideas concerning democracy and human rights. Modern democratic government originated in the West. When it has developed in non-Western societies it has usually been the product of Western colonialism or imposition."

"The central axis of world politics in the future is likely to be, in Kishore Mahbubani's phrase, the conflict between "the West and the Rest" and the responses of non-Western civilizations to Western power and values." ...

Jeff: It is also important to understand that, in many civilizations, (a) secularism, per se, is an alien and novel thing and that (b) there is little distinction, in these civilizations, between such words and ideas as "religion," "civilization" and "way of life." (This supporting your "distinction without a difference" argument above? But also Huntington's thesis?)

"We now take the secular state so much for granted that it is hard for us to appreciate its novelty, since before the modern period, there were no “secular” institutions and no “secular” states in our sense of the word. Their creation required the development of an entirely different understanding of religion, one that was unique to the modern west. No other culture has had anything remotely like it, and before the 18th century, it would have been incomprehensible even to European Catholics. The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive. The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period."…

Jeff: You seem to understand this unique context and dynamic; a context and dynamic in which:

a. Not western/secular civilization -- but rather non-western (religious?) civilizations -- are the ones that are threatened; this, specifically by our western political, economic and social "development" initiatives. And where logically, and as you suggest,

b. The application of western political, economic and social "development" measures -- to enhance one's ability to conduct irregular warfare -- can be seen as problematic/seems counterintuitive/may not make good sense. This because,

c. Such application -- in such a setting -- is more likely to render "instability" rather than "stability."

(As per your example? "To the point that they were kidnapping, killing or taking development contractors as hostages because their specific village was not actually receiving the power or water, or were being bypassed by a road.")

Thus, "development" -- as per your example here -- upsets the apple cart -- upsets the balance of things -- rather than rendering "stability."

If we look at "development's" ability to upset the apple cart -- to upset the balance of things generally -- but on a much grander scale -- then we can see where we are heading.

To wit: In a negative (instability; as we now see in the greater Middle East and the Russian borderlands) rather than in a positive (stability; which has, due to our "development" initiatives, now been largely lost) direction?

Herein, the "modern"/"secular" Soviet/communists, during the Cold War, running into this exact same problem (fostering fear, instability, revolt and insurgency rather than "stability) when they sought -- as we do today -- to use political, social and economic "development" initiatives (their version) as a means to, not only to quell insurgencies, but also to gain greater power, influence and control throughout various (shall we say "non-secular" or "religious?") regions of the world?

Jeff Goodson

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 12:12am

In reply to by Bill C.

Nah, Bill,we're barking up the right tree. What you're talking about here is what the diplomats like to call a "distinction without a difference."

Don't overthink it. It is, fundamentally, not that complicated. "Class of religions/class of civilizations"? Yes. Been going on for twelve centuries or so. This is just the latest iteration of it. Let's focus on how to keep it from wrecking western culture.

Our author of this thread (Jeff Goodson), below, made the following central observations and posed the following and related important questions:

"A different and more important question, I believe, is the extent to which development can help to sustainably undermine an insurgency that is, at its core, religious. The holy war that the Muslim fanatics are waging against us, for example, seems clearly less susceptible to weakening by traditional socioeconomic development efforts than other non- or less-religious insurgencies may have been in the past. And therein lies the key question and challenge: How best to fight the global holy war that is being waged against us, and how socioeconomic development plays into that strategy."

"To me one of the biggest issues related to irregular warfare doctrine (including COIN doctrine) is the extent to which it is or can ultimately be effective in warfare that is driven by religious or political ideology. In your opinion, to what extent does a fix for this require new military doctrine for, call it say "counter-ideological" (CI) warfare? And in the interim, what is the best strategic approach to dealing with ISIS and other of those "few nation states" that you describe?"

But are we barking up the wrong tree here -- in suggesting that the insurgencies/conflicts that the author is concerned with might be best understood as being, "at their core," religious, related to a "holy war" and/ or re: ideology?"

Might these insurgencies, instead, be seen more correctly as being related to, as per S.P. Huntington, "identity" and "civilization?" In this regard, see the following excerpts from his (Huntington's) famous "Clash of Civilizations:"

"First, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. The people of different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. Differences do not necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean violence. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts." ...

"Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled "fundamentalist." Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. The "unsecularization of the world," George Weigel has remarked, "is one of the dominant social facts of life in the late twentieth century." The revival of religion, "la revanche de Dieu," as Gilles Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations."…

Huntington, here, appears to suggest that religion -- much like culture, language and tradition -- are only aspects of (and thus only rallying points for?) conflicts which are to be more-correctly understood as being "civilizational" in nature.

Thus, to consider our author's questions above -- re: IW, COIN, etc., and the viability of socio-economic development in service of same --

a. More from the (holistic?) "civilizational" aspect suggested by Huntington? And

b. Less from the (subordinate part?) aspect of religion, "holy war," and/or ideology -- as posed by our author here?


Sun, 08/30/2015 - 2:13pm

Jeff, it would be a pleasure to continue this exchange . The issues that surround insurgencies, militant Islam, and our understanding of global development are the great intellectual challenges for our foreign policy and warmaking in this century.

Jeff Goodson

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 12:47pm

In reply to by RantCorp

No harm no foul, RC. In any case, it may well have been my own misreading of what you were saying.

Your point is well taken regarding the tactics of IS, which look like psychological warfare on steroids. The fact that the tactic as it has been carried out in some cases (e.g., Palmyra) runs counter to Islamic tradition suggests at least one counter-tactical approach. But related to this, and going back to the question I asked previously: The last paragraph in your original comment articulates an interesting and particularly germane point of view vis-a-vis broader strategy against, e.g., the Islamic State: " is the strategic need for a few nation states to inflict collective despair that drives the violence...".

To me one of the biggest issues related to irregular warfare doctrine (including COIN doctrine) is the extent to which it is or can ultimately be effective in warfare that is driven by religious or political ideology. In your opinion, to what extent does a fix for this require new military doctrine for, call it say "counter-ideological" (CI) warfare? And in the interim, what is the best strategic approach to dealing with ISIS and other of those "few nation states" that you describe?



Mon, 08/31/2015 - 11:18am

In reply to by Jeff Goodson

Jeff wrote:

‘So the work of STAB/Development was neither ideological nor nefarious in some Machiavellian way.’

It appears in my ranting I have managed to convey the opposite view of what I intended. I don’t for a moment believe the efforts of STAB/DEV was remotely underhanded and I apologize if I gave that impression.

What I was attempting to suggest was the modern day vestatioist needs something of value to destroy. The purpose of the destruction is to instill a sense of hopelessness and intimidation within the populace when assaulted by displays of such omnipotent power. They bide their time until a new road, bridge, power grid, medical center, school etc. has begun to enrich people’s lives and then raid the village, town, city, mountainside or valley and destroy the source of aspiration.

The purpose is create a sense of futility and despair and coerce people to distance themselves from government initiated development so as to avoid direct conflict with the men of violence. The geographical space becomes ungoverned and over time ungovernable.

The proxy armies of both Pakistan, KSA and Russia are currently attempting to impose this political environment on eastern Afghanistan, western Iraq and eastern Ukraine.

In a perverted interpretation of ‘build it and people will come’ the recent actions of the IS epitomizes the tactic of ‘destroy it and people will comply’ to shape their strategic ends.

The cutting of people’s heads off on the internet is losing its ‘cache’ and faced with censorship and a certain macabre familiarity they have come up with an alternative way to kill people’s dreams.

By blowing up the Baal Shamin temple and now the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, the fruitcake inflicted despair across the globe. The fact that the buildings have enjoyed the preservation by Muslims for Islam’s entire existence (and may have even been visited by the Prophet himself) underlines the lie at the heart of IS.

Even folks who care nothing for military action or STAB/DEV and rarely emerge from the vaults, archives and catacombs beneath hundreds of the world’s museums and universities in New York, London, Moscow, Berlin, Cairo, Damascus, Sydney Tokyo etc. are testifying to having a sense that a bit of them died when they saw the images of the temples being blown to smithereens.

We can only imagine what it is like to live with these tyrants outside your front door 24/7.

It is the psychological trauma brought on by such targeting that the perpetrators seek to exploit when they attempt to bend the native population’s will and align it with their nefarious intent.

However as a final word, like the builders of the Baal Shamin and Bel temples 2000 years ago, you and your fellow STAB/DEV are blameless and I apologize once again if you thought I was suggesting you had Machiavelli in mind when you carried out your work.


Jeff Goodson

Sun, 08/30/2015 - 11:56am

In reply to by RantCorp


I appreciate your intellectual deep dive into STAB/Development's work in Afghanistan, but you're way overthinking this. It wasn't anything like that complicated, in either conception or execution.

Social and economic development is basically simple. "Developed" nations have it and like it. Decent education, health care, trains that run, airports that function, roads that get you from point A to point B, 24/7 electricity, water that comes through a faucet into the house, a sewer system that is connected to the house, and a communications system that works. And there are decades of statistics (World Bank, etc.) that conclusively demonstrate that countries that have it are also more stable, have stronger economies, and have relatively well-developed governance systems (good, bad or ugly).

"Undeveloped and underdeveloped" nations don't have some, all or a lot of those basic development elements. And they want 'em. Especially, regardless of where you are in the world: roads, power and water. Health is close behind, and so is education except for in Islamic countries where there are a lot of strings attached (as you see in Pashtunistan).

Over 29 years in the development business, I worked on the ground in 49 countries, in every part of the world, on almost every conceivable kind of development (and governance) project. No government ever said "no" to any of those projects; just the opposite. (They said "no" to some of the governance projects, though, especially when the project focused on things like anti-corruption.) Indeed, at the very utmost extreme end of the national development continuum are the Pashtun, which would--and did--literally kill to get those development projects. Especially power and road and water projects. There wasn't anything complicated or subtle about it. It was: "Drop power off at the villages en route from point A to point B, or we'll keep killing your contractors." They gave the Asian Development Bank contractors fits at that time, and other agents of strategic development as well.

Military folks tend to see development as a "transactional" event. "We'll give you development projects if you give us X, Y or Z". And maybe that's how it's taught in military institutions, or used sometimes in the field. Even at the point-of-the-spear village level, though, remember that it's not what you provide, but rather how you engage the community that has the impact.

As a development guy, I look at development differently. Setting aside all of the political and special interest earmarks, "core" social and economic development is more art than science and more akin to getting your two-cycle lawnmower to work. As every guy knows, when the lawnmower isn't running, it can be hell to get cranked up. But once it's running, it tends to stay running. Indeed, sometimes it can be hard to shut it off. (At least my old Briggs & Stratton is that way.) And so it is with national development. Get the basic elements of development in there, including basic infrastructure, and add the legal, regulatory and policy environment to support economic growth, and you have what's needed to move the country to the right on the development continuum. Indeed, you probably won't be able to keep development out.

Development is difficult to do in practice, it's expensive, and it's generally long to very long term. How difficult, how expensive and how long term depends on what level of development you're dealing with (compare, e.g., Afghanistan and Iraq), and many other factors including trying to do it in the middle of a war. But that said, it's not especially complicated in its conception.

So the work of STAB/Development was neither ideological nor nefarious in some Machiavellian way. It simply recognized the importance of social and economic development to national stability, and the importance of development as an element of COIN to promoting stability. The Unit was fully resourced for that time and place and circumstance, but the work of social and economic development in COIN (and SO, and FID) is something that needs to be mainstreamed, adapted and refined for smaller wars. Fortunately, the majority of the development work that is truly germane to these kinds of military campaigns--the "strategic development"--can be done by DoD.

On a different note, though, a question: Your last paragraph articulates an interesting and particularly germane point of view vis-a-vis broader strategy against, e.g., the Islamic State: " is the strategic need for a few nation states to inflict collective despair that drives the violence...". To me one of the biggest issues related to irregular warfare doctrine (including COIN doctrine) is the extent to which it is or can ultimately be effective in warfare that is driven by religious or political ideology. In your opinion, to what extent does a fix for this require new military doctrine for, call it say "counter-ideological" (CI) warfare? And in the interim, what is the best strategic approach to dealing with those "few nation states" that you describe?

Thanks for your comments,



Sun, 08/30/2015 - 11:18am


I appreciate adages purported by Sun Tzu and Clausewitz were perhaps not something you factored into your STAB/DEV plans but I was wondering to what extent did you consider the individual motives of those committing violence (Sun Tzu - know your enemy as you know yourself) and the nature (as opposed to the characteristics) of the violence you were immersing your STAB/DEV efforts into (CvC - understand the war that you are getting into). IMHO if you were taking guidance on the nature of these fundamentals from the military, you were on a hiding to nothing.

Ironically because the nature of poverty, illiteracy, poor infrastructure, health, communications etc. is the same across the globe, it is my contention you and your fellow STAB/DEV veterans could have given the military well-grounded advice in sync with Sun Tzu and CvC views of understanding the problem – based on numerous strategic economic, heath and infrastructure successes across nearly every country on the globe spanning many centuries. These peacetime achievements founded on the importance of focusing on the root-cause of chronic societal problems and the futility of resourcing the acute symptoms they exude.

For reasons that escape me the military obsess over two misleading characteristics in the ‘Global War on Terror’ when explaining their failures. One being worship of the supernatural (God) and the other Revolution & Resistance energy (RRE). One has its origins in the intellectual trauma inflicted by the shock of 9/11 and the supposed spirituality of the perpetrators and the other is a cognitive aliment leftover from our defeat in Vietnam.

At every turn, when an explanation for the military’s failures in AF and Iraq is offered, we often hear Islamic this and Muslim that and the insurmountable resolve imbued within those declaring inspiration from a supernatural deity.

There is no better manifestation of this viewpoint than LTG Flynn’s (now safely retired) recent interview on Al Jazeera TV. Flynn decided to act as a Recruiting Sargent for those wishing us harm and made the case for the supernatural. In the Al Jazeera interview he managed to insult the spiritual convictions of the majority of 1.5 billion people who abhor the violence in Iraq and AF. I can’t imagine what benefit he hoped to provide for the innocent men, women and children slaughtered yesterday, today and tomorrow by airing his views on Arab TV but there you have it.

Using a STAB/DEV analogy I would describe LTG Flynn’s diatribe (IMO shared by many of our past and present military leaders) as being akin to the Surgeon General of the US reflecting upon the ‘War on Drugs’ whilst on CBS and declaring that he, the Surgeon General of the US, has been at war for 15 years with the Catholics south of the US/Mexico border and until the Mexican, Colombian, Guatemalan etc. governments deal with the extremist element lingering within the Catholic faith the USG’s costly efforts in the Global War on Drugs will continue to fail.

The point I’m trying to make is any STAB/DEV effort that felt compelled to fit within the sentiments shaped by either of those strategic sentiments is doomed. I imagine as a STAB/DEV veteran the folly of the fictitious Surgeon General’s scenario is painfully obvious but the folly of the other (IMO actually describes the reality) is perhaps not so obvious.

The second trauma inflicted upon the military’s intellect came about with the defeat in Vietnam and it often argued by those folks who are convinced our failures should not be placed upon the altar of indomitable ‘God’ worship but on an indomitable governance problem - ala Vietnam.

The argument goes the lack of responsible governance causes an overwhelming Revolutionary energy that only reasoned political governance can hope to quell. Very few people would disagree with that. Furthermore, and this is where we come in, any foreigner who attempts to bolster a regime who’s governance is so inclined will add Resistance energy to the existing Revolutionary energy and thus throw petrol on the fires of political grievance and as in Vietnam, millions perish in the ensuing shit-storm and we lose. Makes sense to me.

Many folks would suggest that when it comes to explaining our failures the RRE argument provides a more plausible excuse than the supernatural excuse – hence it’s appeal to the more ‘intellectual’ advocate.

In Vietnam we were blinded by the threat of a Communist Domino Effect (for many sound anti-Communist reasons) and failed to recognize the RRE deeply ingrained within the Vietnamese desire for independence. This fierce Vietnamese nationalism was seared into the natives by their ancient hostility towards Chinese imperialism and, to a far lesser degree, their opposition to the succession of French, Japanese, French again and finally US occupation of their homeland.

Our belated realization of this oversight (very incisively captured in McNamara’s strangely emotive ‘Fog of War - 12 lessons’ valedictory) has rendered a whole generation of vain-glorious military thinking that if we are failing once again; it is not because of own lack of understanding of the nature of the conflict, but because we are attempting to overcome the same indomitable RRE that doomed our efforts in Vietnam.

To use ‘When all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail’ analogy - oft cited when describing single-mindedness – since 9/11 we have burdened our military (and STAB/DEV folks such as yourself) with a ‘God’ hammer, polished up the ‘RRE’ hammer acquired in Vietnam and inserted them alongside the RMA-MICkey Mouse pile-driver in our strategist’s intellectual tool-kit.

IMO if we are attempting to understand how events came to be in AF and Iraq the foremost and most critical shortcoming we need to accept is the leaders that oppose us are more intelligent than we are. Not in the traditional academic sense perhaps, but in the matters governing an Operational Environment wherein violence dominates the Ways, Means and Ends.

This does not for a moment mean that when political violence dominates the environment, the smart win and the less smart lose. However what it does mean, if we enter such an unforgiving cauldron of violence and we believe ourselves to be smarter - when in fact the opposite is true (as I believe is the case) – we are on a hiding to nothing.

We find this difficult to accept and point out no end of distinguished military qualifications from a host of prestigious institutions and the grade school level intellectualism of our opponents. We seem to give very little weight to the fact that the peoples of the Euphrates and the Punjab have witnessed countless existential wars over thousands of years. We fail to appreciate emerging triumphant after the hostilities cease is an instinctive skill that may not require dusty text books and regimental spit and polish.

Further compounding this notion is the delusion that because our battle-winning hardware is so superior to their hardware, our warfighting philosophy and methodology should likewise be superior.

IMO all of this is compounded by the fact that our predominately WASPish command structure find it difficult to accept brown-skinned people are leading our Good ol’ Boys around the battle ecosystem by the nose
At the end of the VN War, and for a few brief years thereafter, it was widely acknowledged by most who had experienced Vietnam at the sharp end, that we had been outthought as well as outfought. Unfortunately the important sentiment that the ‘other’ could be intellectually as well as martially superior has been completely lost.

The trauma inflicted upon our most influential political, industrial and military institutions by the realization that the little yellow-skinned ‘Gook’ had not gone the same way as the little yellow-skinned ‘Jap’ lives on as a bleeding intellectual wound. The effect of the defeat was so profound that rather than learning from this racist curse, the collective mindset of our military intelligentsia was left intellectually stunted. Like a Vietnam Vet who, having miraculously survived his company being overrun, cannot cope with any re-examination of the events that inflicted his PTSD.

The leadership of our brown-skinned opposition is perfectly aware of the stunting effect this trauma exposes in our military application. At every opportunity they highlight God worship, fierce tribalism, ancient codes of honor, archaic traditions etc. so as to pander to the noble savage image our confirmation bias engages when attempt to examine the problem.

Our opposites ensure their charges jump around in sandals, shoot with their eyes closed, wear Viet-Cong chic pajamas, make bombs out of hillbilly explosives and cooking pots and yell exaltations to supernatural beings at every opportunity in a concerted effort to ensure we remain comfortably cocooned, deluded and unguarded.

Thru a hell-yeah RMA-MICkey Mouse lens we dismiss all of these “stone-age” or “16th century” characteristics as the peculiarities of a lesser foe and fail to recognize they are a charade to mask our entry into the Pandora’s Box of Irregular Warfare. So afflicted and assured of our comparative magnificence we boldly march forward into a nightmare.

Strangely, we draw no cautionary lesson from the apparent ‘backwardness’ of our opponents and the historical lessons from the Spartan, Theban, Macedonian, Roman, the Mongol, the Mogul past from wherein the military commanders we eulogize draw much of their inspiration for forward-thinking.

Obviously when you spend 5 trillion and the enemy spends as little as one percent of this amount, it takes more than a few clever folks living in a cave to kick your ass up around your ears. As the long dead ‘leadership’ of the Quetta and Haqqani Network suggests someone else is driving the beast that has consumed so much of our blood and treasure.

But that's another story.

So what the hell has this got to do with STAB/DEV I hear you ask?

If you are not motivated by the supernatural nor RRE but a desire to render a geographical space ungovernable you need to destroy something of value so as to create a sense of hopeless despair amongst the native population.

The Romans called it vastatio, the Normans called it harrying, and the French chevauchee, the Mughals ganimi kava, and Sherman call it a march to the sea (how quaint), Fruitcake blow up 2000 year temples. It is method of subjugation that is as old as time and has nothing whatsoever to do with God nor RRE. All of these operational arts fall within UW – sometimes called hybrid or non-linear warfare - but it is an ancient form of military subjugation whatever the name.

Today this man-made plague is being inflicted upon the natives in eastern AF, eastern Ukraine, western Iraq, and southern Syria and in a cleverly inverted manner the Spratly Islands.

If all you have is a mud brick house and a few mangy goats on some godforsaken mountainside it is difficult for the perpetrator to inflict misery upon such folk who have virtually nothing. Even if the farm is wiped out the rudimentary nature of the dwellings, crops, infrastructure etc. means everything can be rebuilt from the materials within the rubble and the surrounding habitat. At very little expense (but a lot of sweat) those who manage to survive the destruction can rebuild their traditional lifestyles and much goes on as before.

This is where your STAB/DEV efforts change this equation and provide the opportunity for the latter day Horseman of the Apocalypse to destroy people’s political will-power.

If for the first time you have access to clean water system, a small medical center, a school-house, all weather road, 5 ton SWL bridge, power poles, telecom towers is, as you rightly point out, a genuinely uplifting experience. In places such as AF, the introduction of utilities and services that most westerners take for granted, can initiate an expansive human experience that is liberating and empowering. Unfortunately the creation of this uplifting effect is an essential condition the nefarious harbinger of ganimi kava needs to impact so as to subvert the native population’s will to their political ends.

Once it becomes apparent STAB/DEV has begun to elevate the native population’s aspirations the men of violence need to blow up the shiny new mosque, school, water system, temple, statue, dam , bridge whatever and kill or enslave all of those closely associated with these entities and in so doing bring people hopes crashing down. All of the native population (despite what they may say outwardly) understands this is a disaster. Furthermore, for people who have very little the speed and ease at which the violence can destroy what STAB/DEV may have taken years to bring to a fruition, gives the Taliban, IS whoever an omnipresent aura that is as soul-destroying as it is intimidating for the native population.

Like I said earlier, unlike the strategic success enjoyed world-wide in economics, health and welfare our military has not enjoyed much strategic success since the end of WW2. Whilst your STAB/DEV folks appear to be keeping up your end, the military appear all at sea when it comes to recognizing the nature of their problem.

If the recent confirmation hearings for the JCoS represents a bellwether for the future I believe your STAB/DEV task is not going to get easier any time soon.

Dunford listed Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and IS as the nation states posing the major threats for the future. Despite being responsible for killing thousands of our own troops in the recent past and continuing to kill hundreds of our allies every month neither Pakistan nor the KSA rated a mention.

In summary it is the strategic need for a few nation states to inflict collective despair that drives the violence and not God worship nor RRE. IMO if we fail to recognize this those who wish us harm will continue to ghost straight thru our defenses and destroy all we hope to achieve.



In support of my argument below, that "strategic development" has:

a. More to do with fundamentally transforming the state and societies of Afghanistan more along modern western political, economic and social lines,

b. Less to do with providing "basic services" and, thus,

c. More to do with inflaming/enhancing -- rather than quelling/countering -- the insurgency,

Consider this from Page 22 of the 2010 U.S. Dept of State document entitled "Afghanistan-Pakistan Stabilization Strategy:"

"Advancing the Rights of Afghan Women and Girls:"

"Women’s empowerment is inextricably linked to the achievement of our objectives in Afghanistan – including improvements in Afghanistan’s security, economic opportunity, governance, and social development. Afghanistan cannot prosper if half of its citizens are left behind. Consequently, the President’s strategy for Afghanistan includes assistance to women to build their capacity to participate fully in Afghan society. This is a key component of efforts to strengthen Afghan communities against the reach of extremists. Our goals are to help the Afghans:

- Improve the security of women and institutions that serve women;
- Support women’s leadership development in the public, private, and voluntary sectors;
- Promote women’s access to formal and informal justice mechanisms;
- Enforce existing law and Constitutional rights of women;
- Improve women’s and girls’ access to education and healthcare;
- Strengthen and expand economic development opportunities for women, especially in the agriculture sector; and
- Increase women’s political empowerment and participation.

Support for these goals is integrated throughout all U.S. programs in Afghanistan ... "

Now, consider the following from David Kilcullen's "Counterinsurgency Redux:"

"Politically, in many cases today, the counterinsurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier — a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counterinsurgency. Pakistan’s campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qa’ida (AQ) linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against 21st century encroachment.17"

Footnote 17: "Discussion with Mahsud informant, Northwest Frontier Province, June 2006. The informant noted that each Mahsud family has contributed one fighter to the anti-government insurgency in ordero "to protect their traditional ways" while Waziri tribesmen have joined the fight in a less organized but more fanatical manner. These patterns of behavior are highly consistent with the cultural characteristics of these tribes. See Olaf Caroe, The Pathans, St Martin’s Press, London, 1958 pp. 390-413, and Akbar S. Ahmed, Resistance and Control in Pakistan, Revised edition, Routlege, London, 2004 pp. 11-29."


a. As per the State Dept document above, does not sound like the provision of "basic services," and

b. As per the Kilcullen document next under, does not sound like "quelling/countering" the insurgency (just the opposite).

A simple question:

But first a proposed foundation:

1. A main cause of insurgency, throughout the world, during the Cold War, I believe, is thought to have been related to:

a. Initiatives undertaken by the Soviets, and/or their affiliates, to radically transform other states and societies, more along communist political, economic and social lines, and to

b. Native disagreement with, and corresponding resistance to, these such radical politico-socio-economic "development" initiatives. And/or to

c. The natives simply not being able to make, and/or adapt to, such radical, rapid and often profane political, economic and social changes as the Soviets, and their affiliates, required.

2. Likewise today, a main cause of insurgency, throughout the world, would seem to be similarly linked to:

a. Our -- and our partners' -- post-Cold War efforts to radically transform outlying states and societies; in our case, more along modern western political, economic and social lines. And to

b. Native disagreement with, and corresponding resistance to, these such politico-socio-economic "development" initiatives. And/or to

c. The natives simply not being able to accommodate, and/or adapt to, such radical, rapid, and often profane state and societal changes as the West today requires.

(In this vein, to understand how a term such as "global insurgency" might have been used to describe the phenomenon of common native resistance to/inability to adapt to Soviet political, economic and social "development" initiatives during the Cold War, and how the term "global insurgency" might be [and, indeed, is?] being used to describe the similar phenomenon of native resistance/inability to adapt that the West faces today and re: its "development" efforts.)

Now to the question:

Given these common insurgency scenarios (in both cases, related to attempts made by a foreign power, to achieve politico-socio-economic "development," in the native land of another; this, properly being seen, then as now, as a/the "root cause" of insurgencies),

Then does it make sense, in these such scenarios, to suggest that, in either the Soviet/the communist case during the Cold War, and/or the United States/the West case today, that pouring more "politico-socio-economic development" fuel -- on the "resistance to politico-socio-economic development" fire -- is a reasonable and intelligent way to (a) gain "legitimacy," (b) enhance one's irregular warfare capability, (c) quell these such insurgencies and/or (d) achieve "stability?"

Note: As further evidence of the commonality of these "resistance to politico-socio-economic development" insurgencies (against the Soviets and its affiliates during the Cold War and against the United States and its partners today), should we note that -- in both cases -- it is (1) the more-conservative (more resistance to change) elements of the native population that are seen to be the foreign power's "natural enemy," and it is (2) the more-loosy/goosy liberal (more conducive to change) elements of the native population that are seen to be the foreign power's "natural ally?"

Jeff Goodson

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 1:21am

In reply to by Sparapet

Thanks, Sparapet. Good rackup/response. That said, it also raises some important ancillary questions, which I'd like to pursue off-line if there's a way to do it.


Jeff Goodson


Mon, 08/24/2015 - 2:05pm

In reply to by Jeff Goodson

You pose a thorny question. To make a bold proposition, I do not believe that there is much in COIN doctrine that is of use on the question, as the challenge of militant Islam is a specific class of problem that COIN wholy ignores: militant ideology. It is the same class of problem as any radical ideology that has plagued Europe and the Americas and then the rest of the world since the religious wars. It is the class shared by Communism, Anarchism, Fascism, and any number of religious heressies that have existed since.

Fighting militant Islam then would require the same tool bag as fighting Communism rather than the tool bag for fighting the Soviet Union. This is an absolutely critical distinction that COIN is basically blind to because we have conceived it completely framed within our own -ism, Liberal Secular Representative Democracy.

To push the analogy further, the Soviet Union as a state with an economy, a society, and a military, could be challenged on all of those terms directly, much like we can challenge Afghanistan and Iraq. Communism, however, was more than any combination of those. Communism sprang up in the Andes mountain villagers as well as in the Berlin and Paris intellectuals with equal (initial) appeal. Those driven by communism could then exploit, persuade, manipulate, or influence the people around them regardless of their particular circumstance so long as there was a grievance, physical or intellectual, to tie to.

COIN says we should address grievances by focusing on the population. This seems like on point until one considers that in every place the nature of the grievance and its relationship to the militant ideology could be different and that even in the same place different social strata could have different grievances. I believe this intuitively obvious, but dauntingly complex, dynamic leads us to intellectual reductionism that then imagines development projects as the equivalent of addressing grievances. COIN then reduces the grievance management approach to transactions between the client and donor, doing fundamentally nothing in the sphere of ideological combat that militant Islam (or Communism et al) resides in. It does this while committing two grave sins: 1. in an occupation: it ignores the responsibility of the USG and Army to BE the reliable and trusted government 2. in a FID/IW/Host nation support: it accepts the host government's grievance-producing practices as something to be managed by gentle persuasion and training rather than as a key strategic variable that needs decisive action to resolve. In both sins, the transaction-based relationship between USG and host population is reinforced, while the grievance mechanisms behind unreliable and unfair governance are left basically in place to keep producing grievances.

All this to say that COIN (and its more SOF-obsessed sibling IW) has nothing to say on militant Islam, nor could it. It should have been focused on defeating a rebellion from a tactical stand-point. Instead, it half-waded into land of grievances, strategy, and ideological combat without being equipped to do so, and then drew "profound" conclusions that were translated into half-measures and hypotheses, leaving the business of gaining and maintaining tactical advantage in a rebellion too muddy to see through well enough to be effective. This latter tactical focus is the heart of any doctrine and in that COIN, as a doctrine, fails, while achieving some success as an initial thought piece on the deeper issues that surround a rebellion.

So to hazzard an answer to your question, I would say no, COIN/IW isn't the place to look for a path to defeating militant Islam.

If I may offer one additional thought on your point that "...the job of synthesizing the role of governance in irregular warfare is for someone a lot smarter than me to undertake." I have felt for some time that for those of us holding federal commissions, you as an FSO and miltiary officers like me, are precisely the people to be doing this job. I would go further and argue that it can only be us as the duly appointed delegates of the executive authority of the state. The think-tank babies and Harvard scholars can offer us things to think through, but they are not and cannot be the engines of implimenting those policies and dealing with their implications.

Jeff Goodson

Sun, 08/23/2015 - 3:16pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Good comments, Sparapet. Good food for thought, and a fair bit that I agree with.

It's always difficult getting intellectually wrapped around something as complex as this kind of warfare, with so many significant elements at play, and giving all of those elements their due. Especially in a sub-theater of the war like Afghanistan, which is pushing the hard left end of the spectrum of socioeconomic development and governance in the first place. Since 2002 we have basically tried to drag it into 16th century from the development perspective, and the Afghans have never had a sense of national governance at all--or really even local governance in many cases, answering to their Mullah and whichever warlord is in power at the time. (Not to minimize the role of the elders and the shura process.)

Rest assured that my concern with the development part of irregular warfare--to the exclusion of governance--certainly isn't intended to minimize governance. On the contrary, governance was clearly and explicitly the primary concern over development there in 2010-2012, as it presumably still is today. And rightly so. As interrelated as governance and development are, however, governance presents a whole different set of issues in COIN that need to be addressed separately. And the job of synthesizing the role of governance in irregular warfare is for someone a lot smarter than me to undertake.

Setting that aside for right now, though, let me ask you a different question...

Perhaps the biggest and most enduring issue I have with irregular warfare doctrine is its application to and effectiveness in fighting wars that are fundamentally religious in nature. Islam is the problem, for sure. But Islam isn't the enemy, and indeed Islam must necessarily be the solution (or a big part of it) since ultimately only Islam can fix Islamic extremism.

That makes this an inter-generational war going forward--indeed it already is, if you mark the start of the "modern" version of the Muslim holy war from the 1972 Olympics or 1979 takeover over the US embassy in Tehran. Going forward, there are elements of social and economic warfare that I believe could help undercut Islamic fanaticism over the long haul. But I'd be interested in what your thinking is on this.

In your intellectual construct of COIN doctrine specifically, and irregular warfare doctrine more broadly writ, does there appear to be a good strategic approach to fighting the holy war that the Muslim fanatics are waging against us?


Sun, 08/23/2015 - 1:59pm

In reply to by Jeff Goodson

thank you for the reading recommendations...I am always on the look out for good brain fodder....

Admittedly I am a rather vocal critic (at times, indisputably, a cynic) when it comes to COIN as it is conceived in the doctrine. This is rooted in the conviction that COIN (as per doctrine...a critical distinction) fundamentally confuses development as a tool to advancing policy (e.g. USAID methods with DOD resources) with socioeconomic sector maintenance (first) and development (second) as a critical and inextricable component of governance, which is the real requirement in an occupation and in fighting rebellion.

I call it the real requirement because governance is the business of occupation, which is the skill set we absolutely suck at. This is important because supporting a counterinsurgency battle of a host government is essentially the same skill set. If we cannot govern as an occupier then we lack all the attendant skills that would be required in a COIN fight. In essence, COIN is the lesser included operation of governance/occupation, not of maneuver combat.

Thus to my more pointed criticism of the mandate your organization was given by ISAF. By treating development goals as component LOEs in a campaign plan to fight a named enemy, it was forced into the frame of tactical actions in support of tactical goals (LOEs). Consider that in the domestic context no state, our own included, conducts business as LOEs. While broad departmental specializations (e.g. interior, transportation, etc) may be conceived of as high-order LOEs, they are not synched and in support of the security establishment, whether it is thru police, intelligence, or military.

All the schools and roads and markets don't matter if the average citizen does not believe that the state authorities function in a predictable and fair manner (as locally defined). Likewise, crappy schools and far away markets don't cause insurgencies if the people believe the authorities are reliable as these are trappings of extra resources and not prerequisites to content life. People are always happy when you hand them a gift. And in that moment of happiness they may build enough good will to cooperate...for a while. But once the new shiny school isn't new anymore, their cooperation becomes contingent on the next favorable transaction.......and that is our biggest conceptual failure. We conceive of development goals and LOEs as transactions...I give you this, you give me that, which is probably where you want to be when leveraging development to advance tactical requirements. It is an abject failure when your intent is gain and maintain control of the population.......

Jeff Goodson

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 9:57am

In reply to by Sparapet


Thanks for the comments.

This article isn't about the Unit. It's about socioeconomic development, its evolving role in fighting insurgencies, and its future role in other kinds of irregular warfare. It was written to summarize work that took place in Afghanistan from 2010-2012 to formalize and operationalize the role of socioeconomic development (and, by the way, governance) in counterinsurgency, at that historic and unique high water mark for full-spectrum COIN. There's nothing either backwards or ill-conceived about the concept.

This article was designed to be just one of many historical benchmarks available for use in improving future COIN campaigns. The challenge in COIN going forward is of course learning how to counter insurgencies better. That's a rolling learning exercise, and the more benchmarks we have the better. With roughly 75 insurgencies ongoing in the world today (see Council on Foreign Relations data), I would argue that we can use all of the historical lessons we can get.

Your 'imagination of COIN as industrial scale policing' is interesting in concept, but neither the only approach to COIN nor even objectively among the best. You might take a look at the 24 COIN concepts that RAND analyzed in Paths to Victory, to broaden your perspective on approaches to COIN and which are most critical to success.

In terms of measuring success, we didn't use "hampsters". Detailed multi-level metrics for each of eleven major development categories were established up-front, and constantly refined to improve relevance to the fight. Success was measured both project-by-project, and over the longer haul sector-by-sector. Every school that educated a young boy who would otherwise have been sent to a madrassa, or a young girl who would otherwise have had no education; every clinic that treated someone who had never had access to health care before; every road, power line and water source that improved the daily lives of the local population; every cell phone tower and network that allowed them to communicate to faraway family members for the first time; and every business engagement that created jobs and kept young men from hiring out at $5 a day to kill the foreign infidels, was a small-scale success on its own and part of the very successful long-term progress in development work that we documented was carried out in Afghanistan from 2002-2012.

Regarding your comments about business development, by the way, you might want to read Paul Brinkley's (DoD Task Force for Business Support Operations) book War Front to Store Front on the COIN impact of their business development and job creation work in Iraq and Afghanistan. It establishes a benchmark of its own that will be long-referenced in thinking about strategic development and irregular warfare.


Thu, 08/20/2015 - 5:01pm

<blockquote> The Mandate: STAB/Development had three specific mandates:

Integrate socioeconomic development into the military Campaign Plan;
Analyze, facilitate and troubleshoot strategic development projects; and
Provide the best counsel to COMISAF on strategic development issues. </blockquote>

This is the heart and soul of why we suffer with COIN. "Integrate socioeconomic development into the military Campaign Plan" sounds, smells, and feels backwards. Considering that the Campaign Plan was the most important of any of the plans our government had in that country, it might make sense on the face of it. But here's the heart of the COIN problem: socioeconomic stabilization/development is the plan into which a military campaign needs to be integrated. The other way around it becomes a tactical task in support of an operational objective identified in the plan. Or worse, it becomes a disjointed activity pot where money is spent and things are done, but in retrospect no one would be able to explain why any of it was done except that it seemed like a good idea at the time because reasons. It is a fundamental failure of our planning process that considers the act of governance in an occupation/counterinsurgency a supporting activity to the fight.

What this means is that the STAB/Dev (which I am familiar with only through this article) looks a lot like a special staff on civil affairs with a GO in charge and therefore having weight. Some success is to be expected with resources and rank. The question is in if that success is meaningful to the strategic purpose being pursued. A hampster in a wheel is always successful when success is measured by time spent spinning.

It is not a critique of the organization, which seems to have been created with an explicit purpose and served that purpose well. It is a critique of the purpose it self. COIN as we have imagined it is industrial scale community policing with its centers of gravity, communal grievances, cultural understandings and what not. All of that is important in community policing to gaining short term trust, which would lead to rooting out of enemy elements. But the socioeconomic element is none of those. It is the foundational engine of a society's daily life and in the same way NYPD doesn't go around funding small business dev as part of their community policing plan, a military conducting COIN per US doctrine shouldn't either. It is utterly pointless except as a bribe for short term good will.

All that to say that money, time, and political will are problems with everything always. But fixing any of them would do nothing for COIN or our campaign plans as they are ill conceived from the start.

Bill C.

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 5:52pm

In reply to by Jeff Goodson

I look at "development," for example,

a. As attempted by the Soviets/the communists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and/or

b. As attempted by the United States/the West in Afghanistan over the last decade or so,

From the standpoint of a foreign power (for various reasons) attempting to gain greater power, influence and control, in various parts of the world; this, via the transformation of outlying states and societies, contained within these various regions, more along the invading/occupying nation's own peculiar political, economic and social lines.

Thus, I tend to see "strategic development," for example, as attempted by the Soviets during their time in Afghanistan, and/or as attempted by the United States during its time there:

a. Not in terms of "providing basic (or enhanced) services." But, rather,

b. In terms of fundamentally transforming the way of life, the way of governance and the values, attitudes and beliefs of these invaded/occupied states and societies.

In this latter manner, the foreign invading/occupying power hoping to:

1. Gain greater power, influence and control in these regions of the world and

2. Cause the states and societies, contained therein, to become less of a problem for, and more of an asset to, the foreign power and its allies.

(Note: Such development as I describe above, and whether conducted by the Soviets/the communists in the 1980s, and/or the Americans/the West today, essentially entails [1] the destruction of the way of life, the way of governance and the underlying values, attitudes and beliefs of the populations concerned and [2] the replacement of such ways of life, such ways of governance and such values, attitudes and beliefs with those of the foreign invading/occupying power. It is this "development" that I suggest that populations have not signed up for.)

Thus, and to sum up, I seem to see development generally, and strategic development specifically, more from the standpoint of the definition below:

Development is the purposeful pursuit -- by a foreign power -- of its economic, social and political goals through planned intervention in another country.

Thus, "resistance to development:"

a. As experienced by the Soviets when they were in Afghanistan and telling the Afghans how they would, for example, treat their women,

b. As experienced by the United States, et. al., today and re: our similar demands of these populations, and

c. As experienced by those who, likewise, seek to "transform" the populations of Mindenao(?) more along our foreign political, economic and social lines,

This such resistance to be clearly understood as a rejection of such radically different/profane political, economic and social "development" as the foreign power (and/or its affiliate) seeks to introduce/bring about.

Herein, "warfare" (irregular or other) -- as conducted by the foreign power and/or its "partners"/"affiliates" -- often being needed to (1) overcome such native resistance and to (2) impose "modernization" on the natives anyway; and, this, in spite of such resistance to/rejection of "development" as these natives might produce.

Thus, in the context offered above, to see:

a. Policy -- re: the political, economic and social development (transformation) of outlying states and societies -- as "Master?" And

b. Warfare -- irregular or other -- as "Slave?"

Jeff Goodson

Wed, 08/19/2015 - 8:30pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Thanks for the questions, Bill. I'm not sure, however, that I exactly follow the thinking.

The quote you lead off with may be the problem. It is what it is: a fine example of politically liberal theological boilerplate passed off as sober analytical thought regarding international development in the post-9/11 world. In the 29 years that I worked for USAID, I saw and heard many variations on this theme as the agency tried to justify its relevance when buffeted by the winds of global change (e.g., end of the Vietnam War, rise of environmentalism, fall of the Berlin Wall, crackup of the Soviet Union, global economic crisis, 9/11, etc.). This kind of speechwriter rhetoric is always being trotted out for public consumption by one administration or another to justify foreign aid, and at the same time to placate their political supporters (gender, environmental, human rights, etc.). It's endemic to the business. Don't overthink it, and especially don't lose any sleep over it.

Your question about the role of development in warfare, however, is core--to be exact, when and to what extent do what kinds of development actions become strategic elements of the overall approach to a specific type of warfare campaign. That question is one that we confronted head-on in the full-spectrum COIN environment in Afghanistan, but the question is also confronted every day in a much more limited way in every COIN theater that is smaller in nature or scope (think Mindenao). There is no clear--much less universal--answer at this time, but I believe that there is evolving a body of experience that will allow us to get much better at countering some kinds of insurgencies through better and more targeted development and governance intervention.

The delivery of "basic services" to the people by their government, for example, is increasingly considered as a fundamental indicator of government legitimacy, and also as an indicator of the likelihood that a new government actor can actually govern and bring stability. This question has been looked at by RAND and others, and is raised fairly often these days in (for example) relation to the ability of ISIS to actually create a government that functions. The specific services categorized as "basic" may vary somewhat from theater to theater, but basic development (not to mention basic governance) brings a level of basic security that does not exist without it.

In terms of 'who wants our kind of development', though, I'd have to respectfully disagree with your suggestion that almost no one does. My experience has been quite the opposite--unless you're talking about something exceptionally sensitive like good governance or anti-corruption. After work on the ground in 49 countries, I found the desire for development to be almost universal. And certainly,I never saw any people anywhere in the world with a greater thirst for the kinds of development work that we were delivering in Afghanistan--especially roads, power and water. To the point that they were kidnapping, killing or taking development contractors as hostages because their specific village was not actually receiving the power or water, or were being bypassed by a road.

A different and more important question, I believe, is the extent to which development can help to sustainably undermine an insurgency that is, at its core, religious. The holy war that the Muslim fanatics are waging against us, for example, seems clearly less susceptible to weakening by traditional socioeconomic development efforts than other non- or less-religious insurgencies may have been in the past. And therein lies the key question and challenge: How best to fight the global holy war that is being waged against us, and how socioeconomic development plays into that strategy.



An event (such as 9/11) provides us with both an opportunity -- and a perceived need -- to transform certain outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. I.E., to "develop" these outlying states and societies as per our 21st Century Global Development goals.

"Development is thus indispensable in the forward defense of America’s interests in a world shaped by growing economic integration and fragmenting political power; by the rise of emerging powers and the persistent weakness of fragile states; by the potential of globalization and risks from transnational threats; and by the challenges of hunger, poverty, disease, and global climate change. The successful pursuit of development is essential to advancing our national security objectives: security, prosperity, respect for universal values, and a just and sustainable international order."

The government and the populations within these outlying states and societies, however, have no great desire for, no great inclination re: and/or no general ability to achieve such transformations/ developments as we seek to facilitate. Quite the opposite.

Given this scenario, then:

a. What role does warfare (irregular or other) play? And

b. What role does "development" play?

c. Which is master? And

d. Which is slave?

As a proposed answer to these questions, and re: this particular scenario, let me suggest that:

a. "Warfare" (slave?) must be used to (1) bring down and hold at bay the opposing regime and to, likewise, (2) bring down and hold at bay the opposing populations. This, so that

b. "Development" (master?) -- over many, many years -- may be forced upon these folks.

Thus, in the scenario outlined above, can we say that "development" -- imposed via "warfare" (irregular or other) -- should be considered, for example, as being "strategic" or, rather, as "anti-strategic?"

This, given the fact that "development," imposed in this manner, is likely to provide us with more (worldwide?) enemies than friends?

Jeff Goodson

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 6:48pm

In reply to by joerichard


Sorry for the delay in responding to this comment, but it took me a long time to find a downloadable copy of the your 2013 article. Question: The Stability Ops doctrine (FM 307) was published in 2014, the year after your article. To what extent did the final SO articulation take into account your many issues with the draft materials?

On a separate point, I wanted to see if you could elaborate on something that you raised in July in conjunction with a different article in the SWJ--i.e., that "stability and development still do not have a valid theoretical construct, or even a workable operational theory." Coming from 29 years in the development world, the statement resonates. I'm not sure there's ever been a "theory" (much less unified theory) of development itself, and I doubt that 1% of development people could even start a conversation about a "workable operational theory" of either development or stability insofar as the military context of the term is concerned.

I've been working on a narrower task, describing development (social and economic) as an element of warfare--including regular and irregular warfare, and "cold" as well as hybrid warfare. So your thinking on the lack of a valid theoretical construct or workable operational theory of stability and development is of special interest. Care to elaborate on it?


Jeff Goodson

Jeff Goodson

Wed, 08/19/2015 - 8:51pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Thanks for the comments, Dave.

I agree with you--at least for the most part--that money wasn't a problem in Afghanistan and Iraq. But those fights continue, we are $19 trillion in debt, and the cost to continue to pursue full-spectrum COIN--or, for that matter, even the development part of it in, say, Afghanistan--isn't something that's palatable on either side of the political isle in Washington, or Wall Street, or Main Street, or any other street. At least not now. That will of course change, as circumstances change.

We sometimes talk blithely about the constraints of "time, money and political will," (as I unfortunately did in the article), but in reality these three factors are more like an omelette than three eggs up on a plate--they're inextricably entangled, and once mixed they can't be taken apart. In the best of all possible worlds we would fight short, sweet counterinsurgencies that end well, and we'd then go home. Unfortunately--and while RAND may have identified a few of these since World War II--these are by far the exception rather than the rule. So long as we are fighting a holy war waged against us by the Muslim fanatics in theaters like Afghanistan-Pakistan or the morass that has become the middle east, time, money and political will will continue to comprise the principal constraints to successful pursuit of COIN. Especially as we are on track to double the national debt under just this one administration.

Your comment on FID as a possible home for COIN light is intriguing. I'd like to mull this over, and get back together with you on that and ancillary issues related to institutionalizing strategic development as an element of irregular warfare.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 8:44pm

From the conclusion:
QUOTE: There are, however, three inherent limitations that will always work against COIN: time, money, and political will. What is needed going forward is a refined “COIN light” approach that can better target specific elements on the critical path to defeating insurgencies that are of lesser scope and magnitude than the one in Afghanistan. END QUOTE

I do not think that money was a problem in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think we were spending it as fast as we could print it.

I think "COIN light" should come under the rubric of FID of which development is also a part of because traditionally in FID the USG (military and civilian agencies) support the host nation's internal develop and defense plans (now just called "action plans" in the doctrine so I think people forget about internal defense and development and think FID simply means training defense forces).