Saturday, August 11, 2007

The War That Went Bad

By Cernig

Via James Joyner, I see the WaPo has an article by Nathaniel Flick, who is in Afghanistan at the behest of the U.S. Army trying to break U.S. troops of their "everything is a target" mentality.
heavy-handed military tactics can alienate the people we're trying to help while playing into the hands of the people we're trying to defeat.

...Welcome to the paradoxical world of counterinsurgency warfare -- the kind of war you win by not shooting.

The objective in fighting insurgents isn't to kill every enemy fighter -- you simply can't -- but to persuade the population to abandon the insurgents' cause. The laws of these campaigns seem topsy-turvy by conventional military standards: Money is more decisive than bullets; protecting our own forces undermines the U.S. mission; heavy firepower is counterproductive; and winning battles guarantees nothing.
Flick identifies the four pillars of his counter-insurgency doctrine - all uncannily like the British COIN doctrine refined over decades and which stands in sharp contrast to the Israeli/American paradigm of overwhelming force applied bluntly.

"The best weapons don't shoot".
Counterinsurgents must excel at finding creative, nonmilitary solutions to military problems...Reconstruction funds can shape the battlefield as surely as bombs. But such methods are still not used widely enough in Afghanistan. After spending more than $14 billion in aid to the country since 2001, the United States' latest disbursement, of more than $10 billion, will start this month. Some 80 percent of it is earmarked for security spending, leaving only about 20 percent for reconstruction projects and initiatives to foster good governance.
"The more you protect your forces, the less safe you may be."
Of course, mingling with the population means exposing ourselves to attacks, and commanders have an obligation to safeguard their troops. But they have an even greater responsibility to accomplish their mission. When we retreat behind body armor and concrete barriers, it becomes impossible to understand the society we claim to defend. If we emphasize "force protection" above all else, we will never develop the cultural understanding, relationships and intelligence we need to win.
"The more force you use, the less effective you may be."
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are notoriously difficult to tally, but 300-500 noncombatants have probably been killed already this year, mostly in U.S. and coalition air strikes. Killing civilians, even in error, is not only a serious moral transgression but also a lethal strategic misstep. Wayward U.S. strikes have seriously undermined the very legitimacy of the Karzai government and made all too many Afghans resent coalition forces. If Afghans lose patience with the coalition presence, those forces will be run out of the country, in the footsteps of the British and the Soviets before them.
And "tactical success in a vacuum guarantees nothing."
Chasing terrorists and the Taliban around Afghanistan leads to little lasting progress as long as they can slip across the border to rest and regroup. Since 2001, the United States has tolerated this quiet reconstitution of the Taliban in Pakistan as long as Islamabad granted us basing and overflight rights, tepidly pursued al-Qaeda's leadership and cracked down on A.Q. Khan's nuclear-proliferation network. The Durand Line, which separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, is a mapmaker's fantasy. Without political reform, economic development and military operations on both sides of the border, we can do little more than put a finger in the dike that's keeping radicalism and instability in Pakistan from spilling back into Afghanistan.
Instructive reading, especially when paired with the NY Times article today "How a Good war In Afghanistan Went Bad". Security in Afghanistan has definitely deteriorated since the heady days of 2003 - and every step can be attributed directly to a concentration on Iraq which starved Afghanistan of troops, aid, a focus on AQ and the Taliban and even squandered an opportunity to take a breath, step back, and re-evalute COIN doctrine.
Underlying many of the decisions, officials say, was a misapprehension about what Americans would find on the ground in Afghanistan. “The perception was that Afghans hated foreigners and that the Iraqis would welcome us,” said James Dobbins, the administration’s former special envoy for Afghanistan. “The reverse turned out to be the case.”
No wonder Fick writes that he sees America "going zero for two in its first wars of the new century" if it doesn't learn its lessons fast.

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