I know it is a tired trope, but it’s helpful to look at the ultimate success of Counterinsurgency, or the vaunted COIN doctrine dominating the popular ethos of the American military establishment, as a three-legged stool.
As it is conceived, or at least projected for public consumption, in order for COIN to work in Afghanistan –
1) The central government must be legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and willing to work hand in glove with the U.S military to pursue the campaign to its proscribed ends.
2) Afghan security forces must be trained and equipped and trusted enough by the civilian population to eventually provide security and to “hold” in the long-term any territory coalition forces can wrest from the “enemy” in the current campaign.
3) The U.S military must have trust (and assistance) from the Afghan civilian population in order to gain leverage over the insurgency and to build legitimacy for the government in Kabul.
All three goals bear serious problematic signs of failure today and yet, there is no realistic talk from the Obama Administration, nor the senior military brass about the prospects of any of this having a snow ball’s chance in hell of ever seeing fruition. Karzai’s legitimacy, and particularly his standing with the Pashtun people (at least 46 percent of the population), is a joke. The reliability of the Afghan security forces is much worse than any administration flak or Washington COIN pusher will concede.
And the military’s success with winning over “the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people? We can’t necessarily blame the soldiers themselves. They were trained to kill — and in a post-9/11 world, their target practice was on dummies with funny headgear who spoke even funnier languages and lived in sand traps and goat-dotted mountains — not to make friends or strive to be the next Greg Mortenson. But it is in the soldiers’ and Marines’ own words that we can sense the truth of the matter — and of how flimsy this house of cards really is.
First, war scribe Robert Young Pelton wrote this engaging chronicle earlier this year of his time with one unit of the Human Terrain Project – the Army’s (clearly problematic) attempt to inject anthropologists/social scientists onto the battlefield to engage the people and to learn more about the regional tapestry for the benefit of the mission. What he found was earnest but overwhelmed personnel, and, more than a little disdain, a lot of confusion and a truck load of condescension and outright scorn for the whole “touchy-feely” approach from the chain of command he had encounters with. A good read, for which Pelton tells me he has been virtually “cut off” from the press office and the lead guy for the project (it’s also worth it to read the reaction to Pelton’s piece, particularly from the Army and subsequent comments).
Secondly, this little nugget, posted yesterday by COIN hagiographer Tom Ricks. Again, it takes a non-commissioned officer, not a “senior officer who represents the Establishment Party they serve” as one commenter described, to show how this thing is headed to nowheresville. Why? This last paragraph says it all:
Doesn’t matter if you like the people or not. Don’t really care if you think their ideology is bullshit. Fact is if you want to win, the people have to believe that you are sincere and convincing them that it is in their best interest to support you vice your enemy is a key part. Winning is what matters and the only way to do that is getting better at COIN and IO, regardless of how much we hate it. Read it all here.
As Ricks so artfully blurts at the end, “nuff said?”