Showing posts with label counterinsurgency. Show all posts
Showing posts with label counterinsurgency. Show all posts

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Counterinsurgency 'Light' Campaign in Afghanistan

Charles Barham, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and veteran of various programs and projects in Afghanistan, provides an excellent argument on the need for the government of Afghanistan to wage a counterinsurgency campaign. He stresses that the Afghans would be in the lead; but that they would be assisted by Resolute Support and other organizations. The COIN campaign would be a package of security, governance, and basic services.
"This does not need to be the full spectrum, comprehensive COIN led by the U.S. from 2010 to 2012, but a "light" version of that campaign. Regardless, GIRoA will likely require coalition forces to work by, with, and through them, providing training, advising, and assistance (TAA) in order for GIRoA to identify and address the specific elements of security, governance, and basic services which are the most critical for winning over the population and bringing the Taliban insurgency to an end"
This work by Barham is one of the more very informative articles about the way forward in Afghanistan that has appeared in the media. One wonders if the newly established U.S. Army's Military Advisor Training Academy (MATA) or the soon-to-deploy to Afghanistan 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) has included within its training topics relating to counterinsurgency. Another good question is whether the Counterinsurgency Training Center - Afghanistan (CTC-A) is still operating.

Read "The Case for Counter Insurgency 'Light' in Afghanistan", by Charles Barham, Real Clear Defense, February 5, 2018.

Read other publications and papers about counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Paper - The Afghan National Army After ISAF. The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) has published an 18-page paper (March 2016) about the state of the ANA and the current security situation in Afghanistan.

Worries on Afghanistan. Manoj Joshi writes about the current situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban's recent refusal to participate in peace talks has serious implications for the security and stability of Afghanistan. The Taliban clearly feel that time is on its side - and given its recent gains on the battlefield - that there is little point in engaging in peace negotiations with the Kabul regime. Read more in "Worrying signals from Afghanistan", ORF Online, March 8, 2016.

Developing Emotional Calluses. Nathan K. Finney has wrote a short essay on how military members, as a result of their exposure to years of direct and indirect trauma, develop emotional calluses to the world around them. Read "Consequences of Fear: Callousness", Consequence Magazine, March 6, 2016.

Too Much Mandatory Training. While senior leaders of the military recognized that there are too many mandated training activities it would seem that little is done to lighten the load. Read more in "No Time, Literally, For All Requirements", by Maj. Crispin J. Burke, Army Magazine, March 8, 2016.

Mandatory Training - Part II. There is no doubt that the training requirements for the U.S. Army far exceed the time available to train. Many Soldiers would cut much of the training they receive. For instance, do Soldiers really need to endure a class presentation where they learn that American society attaches privilege to being white, male, and heterosexual. Yep, it happened. Read more in "U.S. Army Lectured Soldiers on Dangers of "White Privilege"Fox News,  March 10, 2016.

Do We Need Better Generals? Michael Vickers, the former under secretary of Defense for Intelligence seems to think so. Read "Vickers: Fastest way to improve strategy is to prepare and pick better generals", Foreign Policy, March 9, 2016. See Mike Vickers testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee entitled Improving the Pentagon's Development of Policy, Strategy and Plans, December 8, 2015.

"Silk Road" and Afghanistan. China is pushing the integration of China economic interests into the Central and South Asian regions. Expanding China's direct interests in Afghanistan would open new avenues for U.S.-China cooperation. Hmmmm. Okay, but I say "Advantage China". Read what Andi Zhou has to say in "Can China's 'One Belt, One Road' Save the US in Afghanistan?", The Diplomat, March 11, 2016.

Australian Documentary. "In their own words and their own extraordinary, never-before-seen helmet-cam battle footage, Australia's fighting men and women lay bare their hearts in an epic series - not just how they waged a war, but why and to what end." If you live in Australia then you can watch "Afghanistan: Inside Australia's War",, March 8, 2016. Unfortunately, unless posted on, the rest of us can't.

Movie Review - A War. Several weeks back I reviewed the newly released Danish movie A War. Since then numerous reviews have come out. The latest that I have read is by David Franke - who manages to input a bit of commentary at the end of his review. Read "The Danes in Afghanistan", The American Conservative, March 11, 2016.

Recalibrating ROE. In past decade the Rules of Engagement at theater level have seen some changes. Some believe the rules are too tight; sacrificing safety of military members in order to avoid civilian casualties and unfortunate situations that will explode in the world's media. Others see the tightening of ROE necessary in a counterinsurgency environment. Not my favorite topic, but if you are a lawyer you might be interested in a 57-page paper on SROE /SRUF by Colonel Gary P. Corn and published in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 49:1, 2016.

Panel - "What to Do About Afghanistan". The Council on Foreign Relations hosted a panel discussion on the security situation of Afghanistan. Former ISAF commander General (Ret) John Allen, Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham, and Mary Beth Long - a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and President of Metis Solutions were on the panel. You can watch the one hour long video at the link below.

Hybrid Warriors. The military community (uniformed, academic, think tanks, included) has been struggling with defining the new era of warfare since 2011. The crux of the matter is how to attach a term to the space between peace and war. Lots of terms are out there: unconventional warfare, Gray Zone, Hybrid Warfare, political warfare, etc. One security observer and commentator - Douglas A. Ollivant - has penned a paper that sees past the terminology and concentrates on the participants of this new type of conflict. Read "The Rise of the Hybrid Warriors: From Ukraine to the Middle East", War on the Rocks,  March 9, 2016.

Understanding COIN. Dr. Geraint Hughes, a student of counterinsurgency and formerly of the London Regiment of the Territorial Army, writes that the terminological distinctions between COIN, PSO, 'stabilisation', and 'major combat operations' are potentially becoming increasingly less relevant. Read "Uncertain Coinage", Defense-in-Depth, King's College, London, March 7, 2016.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Afghan Nation-Building A Bust. Doug Bandow thinks its time for a departure from Afghanistan. "Afghanistan is a bust. The Taliban is expanding its control. The number of security incidents was up a fifth in the last months of 2015 over the previous year. Popular confidence is at its lowest level in a decade. . . ." And so on. Read more in "Bring America's Troops Home From Afghanistan: Nation-Building a Bust",, February 1, 2016.

Life Without War. A combat veteran of the Afghan War, Daniel Fisher, writes about life after his tour in Afghanistan in "#Essays on War: September Morning", The Strategy Bridge, February 2, 2016.

More Troops Not the Answer? General Campbell, Resolute Commander, testified before the House Armed Services Committee and said that the U.S. should continue to provide military assistance to Afghanistan for five more years. I guess this is the forever war! Some skeptics are convinced that the security situation gets worse each year. Read "Throwing More U.S. Troops at Afghanistan Isn't the Answer", National Interest, February 2, 2016.

RAND Report - COIN Update for Afghanistan. Christopher Paul and Colin P. Clarke have penned a 51-page report entitled Counterinsurgency Scorecard Update: Afghanistan in Early 2015 Relative to Insurgencies Since World War II, RAND Corporation, February 2016.

A "Plan Colombia" Needed for Afghanistan. Shawn Snow believes that in the fight to rid Afghanistan of violent extremism, the central government needs greater resources to gain a decisive advantage. Read "A Plan Colombia for Afghanistan", Foreign Policy, February 3, 2016.

Dividing Afghanistan? One commentator seems to think that a division of Afghanistan into two regions would help settle down the conflict. The western / northern portion would contain Heratis, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and others. The southern and eastern portion controlled by the Pashtuns. Hmmm. Not sure that would work. Read more in "Deteriorating Security Situation in Afghanistan", Indian Defence Review, February 4, 2016.

Open-Ended Conflict. Abdullah Sharif provides his thoughts on the current situation in Afghanistan in "Quagmirestan: America's Open-Ended Involvement in Afghanistan", The World Post, February 3, 2016.

Pakistan's Hand. Carlotta Gall examines Pakistan's role in the rise of international jihadism. Read "Pakistan's Hand in the Rise of International Jihad", The New York Times, February 6, 2016.

Book - "The Envoy". A former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations has penned a memoir. Zalmay Khalilzad has wrote The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World available at Macmillan Publishers. Khalilzad was born in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan. Should be an informative read providing historical insight of the 'big picture'.

The War We Want and the War We Have. David Betz, a Reader in Warfare in the War Studies Department at King's College London, has penned a long essay on wars we want to fight and the wars we find ourselves involved with in "Carnage and Connectivity: How Our Pursuit of Fun Wars Brought the Wars Home", War on the Rocks, February 2, 2016.

Russia and a New Ally in Afghanistan? Some observers have made a lot of noise about Russia's supposed overtures to the Taliban in order to join forces against the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Javid Ahmad writes about Moscow's new ally in "Russia and the Taliban Make Amends", Foreign Affairs, January 31, 2016.

Lessons Not Learned. The US Army has two missions - defeating a capable adversary in large-scale land operations and conducting effective stability operations in areas in which governance is weak or nonexistent. The newly released report by the National Commission on the Future of the Army (Jan 28, 2016, 208 pages, PDF) lacks insight on how to address stability operations or counterinsurgency. As if to say that (as in the post-Vietnam era) we are not going to fight an OEF or OIF-like conflict every again. Read a critique of the recent report by the NCFA in "Ignoring the Army's Recent Past Will Not Help It Win Future Wars", by Andrew Hill, War on the Rocks, February 2, 2016.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Airpower and COIN. Much of the focus on combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been the heavy use of airpower by the United States and its coalition partners. Some critics believe that air strikes are not enough and 'boots on the ground' are required. Others see a need for more special operations forces to train and advise the moderate Syrian rebels and the Iraqi military forces along with targeted strikes against ISIS leaders. Certainly what has become apparent is that ISIS will not be degraded or defeated by just airpower. One observer is Christoper A. Lawrence - the Executive Director and President of the Dupuy Institute. He has penned an article entitled "Airpower: Just Part of the Counterinsurgency Equation"Small Wars Journal, January 18, 2016.

His viewpoint is that there is no concrete evidence that airpower has destroyed an insurgency. I agree with the author that airpower is limited in its ability to counter an insurgency; but am troubled with comparing the Islamic State to an insurgency; I think they past the stage of insurgency in Iraq and Syria - at the moment. ISIS controls territory and masses forces to both gain and defend territory. Once an insurgency moves to a more conventional phase they start to present targets. Of course, more than just airpower is needed to defeat ISIS - advisors and ground forces are needed; but not necessarily U.S. ground troops.

A-29s Arrive in Kabul. The U.S. Air Force delivered four A-29 Super Tucanos to the Afghan Air Force in January 2016. Read more in "Afghan Air Force receives first four A-29s", U.S. Air Force News, January 19, 2016.

India's Mi-35 Helicopters. The four helicopters recently provided by India to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) are almost operational and may soon see combat in Helmand province. Read "India's Mi-35 Helicopters Ready for First Battle in Afghanistan", NDTV, January 21, 2016.

More C-208B Aircraft? The U.S. DoD has approved a new contract for 18 additional C-208B aircraft for the Afghan Air Force. The contract is worth about $55 million. (, Jan 22, 2016).

A-10 Retirement Delayed. "After trying to retire the battle-tested A-10 Warthog for the past two years, Air Force officials concede that the plane is key to the war on ISIS", Read "Air Force to Delay A-10 Retirement, Thanks to ISIS"Defense One, January 13, 2016.

Video - 25 Years of Bombing. The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has produced a 5-minute long video entitled 25 Years of Bombing Iraq published on on January 14, 2016. The narrator provides a brief history of airpower and analyzes the contributions and limitations of airpower.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

SOF News

VSO, Gant, Water, Crops, and COIN. One writer, Doyle Quiggle, manages to combine a variety of topics (although related) into an essay on how to win a small war! He tells us of the failures of the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program of U.S. special operations in Afghanistan, of how Jim Gant was doing VSO right, and the importance of water in counterinsurgency at the village level. Read "Small Farms and Small Wars: Planting The Garden in Village Stability Operations", Small Wars Journal, November 29, 2015.

Event - "Lessons from VSO and ALP". Dr. Corey Lofdahl is presenting a lecture on the topic of Implementing  Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: Lessons from Village Stability Operations and Afghan Local Police (VSO/ALP). He is a senior scientist with Charles River Analytics who worked in 2011 and 2012 at the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command - Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A). The presentation is on Thursday, December 10th in Washington, D.C. and is hosted by The Institute of World Politics. (Note: CFSOCC-A is now known as the Special Operations Joint Task Force - Afghanistan or SOJTF-A).

DoDIG Investigation on ANASOF TAA. The Inspector General for the Department of Defense intends on conducting an assessment on U.S. and Coalition efforts to Train, Advise, Assist, and Equip the Afghan National Army Special Operations Forces (ANASOF). The objective is to determine whether U.S. government and coalition goals, objectives, plans and resources to train the ANASOF are sufficient, operative, and relevant. Read the memo from DoDIG, November 25, 2015.

Joint U.S. - Afghan SOF Raid Frees 40 from Prison. A prison rescue mission successfully liberated at least 40 Afghan security personnel from a Taliban prison in Nawzad district of southern Helmand province in an operation that began on Thursday night. (Tolo News, Dec 4, 2015). See also an NBC News report dated December 4, 2015.

"Project Gray" - Fighting in the Gray Zone. Warfare has changed over the past few decades. The advent of Hybrid Warfare, Irregular Warfare (IW), and the use of Unconventional Warfare (UW) by our adversaries (Iran, ISIS, al Qaeda, Russia, and others) has forced the U.S. military to take a long look on how to operate in this new environment. The UW experts at Fort Bragg (that would be the Green Berets) are learning to fight in what is now being referred to as the "Gray Zone".  The initial Special Forces training that Green Berets undergo goes a long way to prepare its members for this kind of fight; yet the learning never stops. As part of this never-ending learning process the U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence has started "Project Gray" and published a website that reflects the work in this area.

Advocating a "Human Warfighting Domain". One writer is strongly proposing that a Human Warfighting be established and that the proponent should be those in the U.S. Army who are the most proficient in counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare - that would be the 1st Special Forces Command. Read "Should There Be a Human Warfighting Domain?", by Thomas Doherty, Small Wars Journal, December 3, 2015.

5th Group Reviving Vietnam Era Flash. The solid black flash worn on the berets of members of the 5th Special Forces Group will be giving way to a bit of history. The new (or old) flash will be the one worn by 5th Group Soldiers while serving in Vietnam (and also stateside). Read more on the perplexing move by 5th SFGA and Special Forces Command in "Army's 5th Special Forces Group to Resurrect Vietnam-Era Beret Flash",, December 1, 2015.

'Targeting Force' to Iraq / Syria. In testimony before Congress SECDEF Carter stated that more U.S. military forces will be headed to the Middle East to fight against ISIS. The number of airstrikes will increase as well as on-the-ground intelligence gathering and special operations raids. Carter also said that a "specialized expeditionary targeting force" will assist Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces fighting the Islamic State. Sounds very JSOC-like! Read more in "DoD to deploy 'targeting force' to hunt down ISIS leaders"Military Times, December 1, 2015. See also Kim Dozier's article - "Obama Unleashes Hunter-Killers on ISIS", The Daily Beast, December 1, 2015.

USSF Fighting with Kurds for Months. Kurdish fights say that US Special Forces have been fighting ISIS for months in northern Iraq. The Obama administration continues to maintain that there are 'No Boots on the Ground"; however, perhaps that is because the SF dudes (in another era they were referred to as "Sneaky Petes") are all wearing sneakers. (The Guardian, Nov 30, 2015).

SOCOM Cdr Likely Choice for CENTCOM. General Votel is a top candidate to succeed General Austin for command of Central Command. Given the importance of the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria he is a good choice. Read more in "SOCOM's Votel is Top Choice to Take Over CENTCOM", Defense One, December 3, 2015.

How Does SOCOM Feel about the Gender Integration Order? - He is all for it! The commander, General Votel, seems to think it is a good idea. (The feedback I hear from those on the SF teams is quite different.) Listen to a 8-minute long video of the leader of SOCOM justifying his decision to support the SECDEF in the full integration of women into all special operations organizations. (USSOCOM, December 3, 2015).

How Do SOF Operators Feel about Women in SOF Units? Not So Much! The RAND Corporation conducted a study that special operations leadership commissioned on the integration of women into SOF units. 85% of the rank and file said "NO!, Don't Do IT". But with the proper 'career guidance', 'gender integration seminars', 'focus groups', 'safe space discussions', and more I am sure the steely-eyed combat veterans with multiple deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere will come around. Read "Special Ops Survey Showed 85% Opposed Serving With Women", Defense One, December 4, 2015.

Book - Relentless Strike. I just finished reading Sean Naylor's recent book about the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Very informative read with perhaps more information than USSOCOM would have wanted published. I am sure there was more than one former 'operator' talking out of school. The book is available on


Counter-IED Capabilities Need Investments. Over the last few years the U.S. military has attempted, unsuccessfully, to put Afghanistan and Iraq (and things like COIN, C-IED, JIEDDO, etc.) into the rear view mirror. Unfortunately conflicts like these will continue to pop up over the horizon and the use of IEDs by the combatants that we will oppose will stay just as prevalent as they were on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan. Read more in "Growing Terrorist Threat Requires New U.S. Investments in Counter-IED Capabilities", by Daniel Goure, Real Clear Defense, November 30, 2015.

Deobandi Islam, Pashtunwali, and the Taliban. "The Taliban are arguably more powerful now than at any point since they were ousted in 2001." This power comes not just from the support the Pakistan state provides but from the civilian population of Afghanistan tired of an ineffective and corrupt national government. The Taliban's more moderate approach and ". . . increasingly resurgent narrative of stability through reverting to Afghanistan's past . . . " is generating ever-growing support from the rural Afghan population. Peter Storey provides us with his view of the Taliban in "The Roots of the Taliban", The Bridge, December 1, 2015.

Pivoting From Pakistan. When President Ghani took office he made a deliberate effort to revitalize the Afghan- Pakistan relationship . . . but it wasn't reciprocated. Now it would appear he is reaching out to India at the risk of weakening ties with Pakistan. Read more in "Ghani's Pivot Away From Pakistan", by Shawn Snow, Foreign Policy, November 25, 2015.

Fighting a War in a Land-Locked Country Like Afghanistan. A U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft commander provides his perspective on the difficulties of fighting a war in a country that is remote and bordered by less than reliable allies. His paper describes exactly how difficult it is to get the Pakistan government to stop its support of the Taliban given the overflight requirements needed to prosecute the war. "Pakistan Catch-22: The Trouble with Wars in Landlocked Countries", The Bridge, December 2, 2015.

Fractured Taliban? Tamim Hamid provides us with an explanation of the current state of the Taliban leadership in "A Divided Taliban Explained", Tolo News, December 3, 2015.

Corruption Hindering the Fight. Corruption in Afghanistan has had a corrosive impact on military operations. It undermines the legitimacy of the Afghan government, provides fodder for recruitment into the Taliban (and ISIS), and has rendered ineffective the Afghan National Police (and to a lesser degree the Afghan National Army). The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) undermined its own objective of creating security in the country with its initial inattention to the problem. Read "How Corruption Undermines NATO Operations", Defense One, December 2, 2015.

Kagan on Afghanistan. Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and a observer of the Afghan conflict provides his thoughts on what the US needs to do in Afghanistan. He sees the insurgent groups gaining more territory and capability as time goes on and a weak ANDSF that is seeing its international support slowly diminish. He advocates for more US troops and expanded authorities for those currently stationed there. He believes that the appropriate troop level is likely around 20,000 to 30,000. Read The Afghanistan Conundrum: How Should the US Approach the Rise of Insurgent Groups?, AEI, December 2, 2015.

French COIN. The vast majority of our senior level general officers would like to put the counterinsurgency years of Iraq and Afghanistan behind us - well, . . . they can't. COIN is not going away. While folks are painting the conflict in Syria and Iraq with ISIS as counterterrorism there is still many aspects of the fight that is a counterinsurgency. And in Afghanistan, the Afghan security forces are conducting counterinsurgency (while U.S. and NATO advisors busy themselves with advising the Afghan security institutions and corps-level organizations on 'systems', 'functions', and 'processes'). Many U.S. "COIN experts" draw upon the experiences of the French pacification of Algeria for 'lessons learned'. In particular, they read the tracts provided to us by two noted French officers - David Galula and Roger Trinquier. However, one student of French strategy suggests that a truer picture of the French COIN effort in Algeria can be gained by digging deeper into French military historical writings. Read "Myth-Busting French Counterinsurgency", by Terrence Peterson, War on the Rocks, December 3, 2015.

Is the U.S. Army's Personnel System Broke? YES! A 1LT who spent two years studying at Oxford instead of holding standard military jobs expected of junior officers was almost forced out of the Army. Besides being a Rhodes Scholar he was at the top of his ROTC class. And although over 90% of his peers were getting promoted he was being left behind. Read more about some of the systemic problems the Army's personnel bureaucracy is experiencing in "First Steps Towards the Force of the Future"War on the Rocks, December 1, 2015.

PowerPoint in Armored Vehicles - Really? OMG, so it finally happened. The Army's officers have figured out a way to display PowerPoint slides in an armored. Trust me - this is not a good thing. My experience with creating PowerPoint slides to convey a message to senior level officers is that the font type, size, and color is much more important than the content. Read "This armored vehicle lets you use PowerPoint on the battlefield"The Washington Post, December 1, 2015. For more info see "I Corps validates new mobile command post proof-of-concept", November 29, 2015.

All Military Occupations Open to Women - SECDEF. Ash Carter, the Secretary of Defense, announced that beginning in January 2016, all military occupations and positions will be open to women, without exception. This includes all units and organizations in the infantry and in special operations. So far in 2015 two women passed the very tough Ranger Course at Fort Benning; perhaps we will see some women enter Special Forces training at Fort Bragg in 2016. Let's hope that a advance in "fairness" and "political correctness" will not result in the implementation of quotas, a lowering of standards, the erosion of unit cohesiveness, and a decrease in combat effectiveness. Read more in "Carter Opens all Military Occupations, Positions to Women", DoD News Release, December 3, 2015.

Women in the Marine Corps Infantry? RAND Corporation conducted a study for the U.S. Marine Corps that reviewed the literature on the integration of women in combat units, conducted interviews with members of organizations with physically demanding occupations, estimated the costs of potential initiatives to promote successful gender integration, and develop an approach for monitoring implementation of gender integration of the infantry. Read "Implications of Integrating Women into the Marine Corps Infantry", Rand Corporation, November 2015.

Women in Ground Combat Units? A doctor very familiar with sports science adds his voice to this topic. Read "Sports Science, Physiology, and the Debate over Women in Ground Combat Units", by Dr. Paul O. Davis, War on the Rocks, December 1, 2015.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Paper on COIN Policy in South Asia

This paper compares the ". . . accounts of different conflicts in India and South Asia, it delineates two ideal types of counterinsurgency: 'population-centric' and 'enemy-centric'. While both models are institutionalist in nature - they assume the malleability of the population's preferences - they differ on whether persuasive or coercive institutions are used to mould those civilian attitudes towards the state. The study also explores the effects of mixing the two models and how this generates noisy signals that inhibit cooperation."
Read Challenges in Designing Counterinsurgency Policy: An Institutionalist Perspective, by Kaustav Char Chakrabarti, ORF Occasional Paper #71, September 2015. 50-page paper posted on Observer Research Foundation website. Read more papers about counterinsurgency and about counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Paper - COIN and Strategic Development

The Small Wars Journal has posted an informative paper by Jeff Goodson about the socioeconomic development part of the overall military campaign strategy for Afghanistan during the years 2010 to 2012. Goodson is a retired US Foreign Service Officer who worked for USAID for 29 years. He served 31 months in Afghanistan during the 2006-2012 timeframe and seventeen months as Director of STAB/Development at ISAF HQs in 2010 to 2012. In his paper he provides us information about the STAB/Development section of ISAF to include its mandate, its staff, the campaign plan, types of development, the focus on eight basic services programs, and more. He concludes his paper recommending a "COIN light" approach and states that socioeconomics will almost always play a role in a counterinsurgency and stability operations. Read the article entitled "Strategic Development and Irregular Warfare: Lessons from the High Water Mark of Full-Spectrum COIN", Small Wars Journal, August 16,2015.

Friday, April 24, 2015

COIN Strategy Doesn't Work?

James F. Jeffrey explains in the March/April 2015 issue of Foreign Policy "Why Counterinsurgency Doesn't Work". He says the problem is in the strategy, not the execution. Huh. I thought that the execution was faulty but the strategy was good. The author explores the counterinsurgency wars of the United States in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He says our military can get the "Clear, Hold" parts of "Clear, Hold, Build" counterinsurgency done; but that the civilian agencies (DoS, DoJ, DEA, USAID, etc.) of the United States government always seem to fall short in the 'nation building' arena of the conflict.

Jeffrey concludes the article with this:
"What, then, should U.S. policymakers do when faced with an insurgency? If possible, Washington should respond by backing friendly local forces. If not, it should accept the consequences of a victorious insurgency, contain its spread, and protect critical allies. But to embark on another U.S.-troop-centric counterinsurgency mission would do an injustice to the fine men and women who serve in the U.S. military".
Ah. So now I get it. COIN strategy can be broken into two different approaches.

One approach is the use of massive amounts of U.S. troops on the ground in a foreign nation attaining a sufficient force to population ratio conducting counterinsurgency (and doing the lion's share of the fighting - as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam). This type of COIN was endorsed in FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency,  2006. Some call this 'population-centric COIN."

A second approach is in the "By, With, and Through" methodology favored by U.S. Army Special Forces. This is where highly-trained Combat Foreign Internal Defense teams (C-FID) of twelve advisors are embedded with the indigenous host nation forces (at battalion and brigade level) to train, advise, and assist. In other words, let the host nation forces do the fighting (clear and hold) and the host nation (assisted by Civil Affairs teams and U.S. agencies) do the building. In a more hostile environment there may be the need for conventional FID teams (as in the SFAATs used in Afghanistan or the MiTTs in Iraq) to work in conjunction with SOF advisory teams.

So, in my view, it isn't the counterinsurgency strategy that is wrong - it is the approach and execution of that strategy.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Article - COIN as False Narrative

In the aftermath of the counterinsurgency campaigns of Afghanistan and Iraq some observers are evaluating counterinsurgency as a strategy, doctrine, or concept. Many believe that the concept of counterinsurgency is sound while others discount its importance. Two members of the Kings' College in London have penned an article discounting the importance of COIN saying that "COIN is therefore a false narrative and should not be regarded as a formula for prescibing the principles of action to be used in future wars. COIN-centric readings of history, like all grand social science theorising, should be treated with scepticism". Read their thoughts in "The Strange Death of the Counter-insurgency Era", International Relations and Security Network (ISN), April 2, 2015.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Paper - Economics in COIN

It is estimated that the Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of State (DoS) combined spent over $100 billion in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The Commission on Wartime Contracting estimates that much of this money was lost due to fraud, waste and abuse. Employing economics in a stability situation such as Afghanistan always presents challenges. However, many problems in this field were the result of the lack of an overall unified strategy for economic reconstruction. This paper compares previously deployed economic development plans (WWII and Vietnam) to efforts undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read "Economics in Counterinsurgency Operations", by Hayes J. Weidman, IAS-004, March 2015. The paper is a special study published by the Simons Center for Interagency Cooperation.

Paper - Russia, COIN, and Lessons (Not) Learned

A paper recently published (Dec 2014) entitled "Russian Organizational Learning in the Context of Afghanistan and Chechnya Counterinsurgencies" provides us with an examination of the Soviet Unions approach to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (violently offensive mindset that alienated the populace they needed to succeed). The paper compares this approach in Afghanistan to the Russian counterinsurgency approach in Chechnya (essentially the same). The 47 page long paper seeks to understand why the lessons learned (or perhaps not learned) in the Afghan COIN environment were not implemented in the later counterinsurgency situation found in Chechnya. In addition, the author notes that the United States did not learn its counterinsurgency lessons in Vietnam and when presented with the counterinsurgent struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. had to relearn those lessons. The author of this paper, MAJ Anthony M. Roh, wrote the paper as a student in the School of Advanced Military Studies at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The paper can be read online or downloaded at the link below on the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Abandonment of COIN . . . But Wait . . .

We have seen the swift rise and fall of Western counterinsurgency (COIN) between 2004 and 2014 as practiced in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a few other places. While, at the same time, Islamic extremist groups and other insurgents, continue to wage hybrid and other forms of insurgent warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places. So if COIN is discredited what type of warfare will replace it? Learn more in an article by Michael Evans entitled "The Shirt of Nessus: The Rise and Fall of Western Counterinsurgency", Quadrant Magazine, January 21, 2015.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

COIN and Carter Malkasian

Carter Malkasian - book author, advisor to COMISAF, and political advisor for DoS in Afghanistan - was recently interviewed by Octavian Manea about the effectiveness of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. He provides his opinion about COIN at the tactical level and COIN at the strategic level (having seen both during his tours in Afghanistan). Read "Thoughts from Garmser and Kabul", Small Wars Journal, February 14, 2015.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Pop-Centric COIN: Protect the Population

"COIN is Population-Centric. The development of a proper COIN approach starts with the acceptance of the people as important to COIN operation." Counterinsurgency strategy should " . . . protect the population from insurgent violence; . . . " Page I-3, Joint Publication 3-24, Counterinsurgency, 22 November 2013.

"Security Sector Reform. SSR is primarily a means to strengthen the capabilities, capacity, and effectiveness of the HN security apparatus, which in turn improves the capabilities of the security forces to secure and protect the population from insurgent/terrorist violence." Page VIII-11, Joint Publication 3-24, Counterinsurgency, 22 November 2013.

Stated at the top of the first page of the ISAF Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance, signed by General McChrystal, are the words "Protecting the people is the mission".

The Host Nation, Afghanistan, is conducting counterinsurgency operations to defeat the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The Resolute Support Mission, comprised of NATO and other countries, is engaged in Security Sector Reform (a U.S. doctrinal term) through its Train, Advise, and Assist (TAA) mission to help the Host Nation conduct its counterinsurgency war. So how is the COIN population-centric campaign going?

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has released its 2014 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, dated February 2015. Afghan civilian deaths rose 25 percent in 2014. Below is a chart from the report depicting the continuing rise in Afghan civilian casualties in the war from January 2009 to December 2014. Based on the United Nations data it would appear that the "protect the population" component of the COIN population-centric campaign is not going so well.

The entire report can be read at the link below. It is an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.
2014 Annual Report - Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

The Resolute Support Headquarters Information Operations machine was hard at work in response to the UN report. See the RS HQs press release entitled UNAMA 2014 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Report, February 18, 2015 at the link below.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Afghan COIN Lessons Learned

With the conclusion of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, the end of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, and a "responsible end to the Afghan War" pundits are commenting on lessons learned of waging a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. These lessons learned will inform the public and military for years to come in future counterinsurgency operations. Steve Metz is the director of research at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute and an author. He provides us with three lessons learned on the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

1. Political culture must shape any U.S. counterinsurgency campaign.
2. Success is not simply a matter of picking the right local leader.
3. A successful counterinsurgency is almost impossible when the insurgents have external sanctuary.

Read his complete article entitled "What are the real lessons of the Afghanistan War?", World Politics Review, January 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Paper - "Rethinking Victory in Counterinsurgency"

Colonel Michael C. Griffin, a USMC officer, has wrote a paper entitled "Rethinking Victory in Counterinsurgency". He suggests replacing the term "victory" with "success". According to Griffin victory is almost always unobtainable in a counterinsurgency but success - an endstate that can be defined in many different ways - is sometimes obtainable. He subscribes to the theory that counterinsurgency is 80% political and 20% military (I am in strong agreement with him on this point). He further states that defeating an insurgency or at least achieving a political solution that causes the insurgency to go away requires eliminating the "root causes" of the insurgency. (He is right again!). This is a very good paper that places counterinsurgency in its proper context; especially in light of the events in Iraq and Afghanistan this past year (2014). The paper (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 42 pages, 1.2 MBs big) was published in October 2014 by the United States Army War College Press, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania and is available to read online or download at the link below.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Outgoing Army CSM Says to Forget COIN

In a recent interview in Afghanistan the outgoing Army Sergeant Major - Raymond Chandler - provided us with his insight on counterinsurgency. Essentially he says leave that all behind. Future warfare will be about big tanks, airplanes, and ships. The likelihood of the U.S. Army engaging in another COIN environment is . . . ummm, well, maybe, hmmmm. Yeah. He doesn't get it. Read more in "Outgoing sergeant major of the Army calls for return to basics", Stars and Stripes, December 10, 2014.

Modern Conflict - Not What You Think

The Asia Foundation has published an article entitled "Modern Conflict is Not What You Think" (Dec 10, 2014) by Iain King. The author states that ". . . a new focus on the impact of conflict, combined with modern research methods . . ." offers hope to finding ways to end conflict. He offers 12 lessons learned thus far in his article.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Book "Failure of Counterinsurgency"

The topic of counterinsurgency is popular if you judge it by the number of books coming out. It is interesting to see so many perspectives on COIN in literature; and there are certainly more to come. Supporters are trying to justify COIN while detractors criticize it. Ivan Eland, a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty, has wrote his perspective of COIN in The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won. Read an article on why COIN failed in Afghanistan that he posted in The World Post (Huffington), (Dec 1, 2014).