Friday, June 24, 2011

COIN's Epic Fail?

Please enjoy this solicited submission by a Teufel Hunden NCO currently attending one of Great Satan's elite academic academies...

Yesterday, the President unveiled his strategic review of Afghanistan announcing that "starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer." Ambitious much, and extremely welcomed by most members of Congress, the Republican Presidential contenders save one, and the American people. Whilst reviewing the speech, I came across an article boldly proclaiming that the counterinsurgency strategy pursued in Afghanistan had failed. Suddenly, it all made sense – Secs Clinton and Gates abandoning ship, no one wanting to touch the SecDef position with a 10 foot pole, and Gen Petraeus' excommunication to the CIA. However, I quickly shook off the urge to make oh so smart sounding correlations to Vietnam and came back to reality. Counterinsurgency never failed in Afghanistan. It was never even tried.

Fighting the urge to do a line by line denunciation of that poorly written misrepresentation of all things counterinsurgeny and LtGen Barno and largely ignoring Iraq for the sake of brevity, let's review the "Aghan Counterinsurgency Strategy." President Obama entered office with 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Making good on his promise to focus on the "war of necessity," the President authorized roughly 30k additional U.S. troops and swapped Gen McKiernan for McChrystal. Then, came the hand wringing. The President conducted an AfPak strategy review with key members of his cabinet. On one side, was VP Biden with a CT plus option of 20k troops for conducting counterterrorist strikes and training the ANA/ANP. Deeming a counterinsurgency campaign untenable with our current military size and vast commitments, Gen McChrystal requested 40k troops. This was less than half of the 85k Gen Petraeus believed would be necessary to conduct a full-scale counterinsurgency. Wanting more options from the military, the President sent Defense back to the drawing board to produce more options. The result was an option of 30-35k troops with 5k held in reserve if needed and an appeal from NATO to provide an additional brigade that would "accept risk in developing local security forces." Being the Ivy educated math whiz that he is, the President realized 35k+5k = 40k. After more back and forth between the President and Defense, 30k troops were authorized with 3k troops in reserve if needed – a far cry from the amount of troops needed for a counterinsurgency. (Most of the above has been sourced from Mr. Woodward's engaging book

 In formulating his new strategy, the President issued orders to the key departments. The leaked secret document is at the end of Mr. Woodward's book and shows the oh so unsexy world of most classified documents. Nowhere in the orders is any mention of counterinsurgency. The closest military goal that could be related to counterinsurgency is "selectively building the capacity of the Afghan government with military focused on the ministries of defense and interior, hardly the benevolent nation building described by Bing West. Indeed, the President made sure that counterinsurgency wasn't mentioned during the pomp and circumstance at West Point

A comprehensive counterinsurgency would have required an equal push from the civilian side of the house that never happened. There is a legitimate complaint that too much was being asked from the military. However, this is not to the discredit of Gen Petraeus or counterinsurgency. There are ideas on how to get this done, but the flaws lie not on counterinsurgency but rather on foreign policy, defense structure and spending, interagency cooperation, etc. Furthermore, there was not enough engagement with key players in the region. After riding U.S. coattails to buy up oil in Iraq, the Chinese swooped in to call first dibs on mineral rich Afghanistan. However, they've been allowed to play the "emerging power" card when it suits them while we sit back and provide their security. More can be done to engage the players in the region, but 44 seems very much like 43 in this aspect. Consider Sec Gates' comments about NATO, our key partner in the mission. "Though we can take pride in what has been accomplished and sustained in Afghanistan, the ISAF mission has exposed significant shortcomings in NATO – in military capabilities, and in political will. Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform – NOT counting the U.S. military – NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25- to 40,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more."

There will be more people claiming the death knell has sounded for counterinsurgency. It's unfair to base a condemnation of counterinsurgency on an 18 month limited foray into some tactics based on some tenets of counterinsurgency. Even more unfair is laying these claims at the feet of Gen Petraeus. As a nation, we're damn good at counterterrorism. After all, counterterrorism is sexy with its high profile killings, seabased terrorist funerals, and Navy SEALs sniping pirates. In fact, al-Alwaki and Al-Zawahiri should probably get their affairs in order as should anyone moving up the list. Counterterrorism has reduced Al-Qaeda to being stuck at home with no internet and in the grip of norpogarphy. The President's odd timeline of bringing the troops home may exacerbate our goals. But the CT Biden strategy can work, and if it does, it will be because of gains made by the U.S. military surge. This change in strategy was preordained by the President when he announced the surge. Everyone knew the timeline for withdrawal would begin July 2011. To equate the President's decision yesterday to a failed counterinsurgency strategy is dishonest.


Anonymous said...

This is thoroughly unpersuasive.


Anonymous said...

Great post, I am curious about the gains that you are referring to when you said that Biden's CT strategy will only be effective because of the gains made during the troops surge. Please explain.


GsGf Teufel said...

@JB. Thanks for the reply! When the President authorized his new strategy for Afghanistan, the top U.S. military commanders asserted that the Taliban had the momentum. They had good freedom of movement and their shadow governors had a lot of power in the provinces. I do not believe that at this point a CT presence would have worked. I believe the U.S. presence would have been bogged down in assisting ANSF at levels that would have made CT much more difficult. With most commanders asserting that the Taliban no longer has the momentum, CT has a better chance of producing results. I do not believe the TB has the ability to overthrow the Afghan government. With more turnover to local forces, the ability to sit back and drop bombs by pissed off teenage kids guiding drones with a joystick is greatly increased.

Winston said...

Yes... No more COIN please.