Posts Tagged ‘COIN’

The author of this important report in Politics Daily (also attached below), Dave Wood, is a very experienced combat reporter and one of the very best US reporters covering Afghanistan. (Truth in advertising: I have known and admired Dave for 25 years.) Wood has produced an an excellent, if grim, Afghan SITREP that is well worth studying carefully, including its hotlinks.

I think it would be a mistake to conclude that the situation being in a kind a balance, because we are in a strategic stalemate, however. While it is probably true we are in a strategic stalemate in the strictest sense of term ‘strategic,’ every year the Taliban is able to maintain its menacing posture gives the insurgents additional leverage at the far more decisive grand-strategic level of conflict: To wit, ask yourself if any of the following five trends (which are inversions of the five criteria defining a successful grand strategy) is way out of line:

(1) Polls tell us that the political will at home to continue this war is slowing deteriorating;

(2) our allies are also going wobbly and some have already pulled the plug;

(3) uncommitted countries are not being attracted to our cause and our warlike activities are alienating many in the Muslim world;

(4) the insurgents’ will to resist shows no sign of weakening; and

(5) no one the US government has a clue how to end this conflict on favorable terms for the United States that do not sow the seeds of future conflict in the region, or with Islam.

The Afghan insurgents may not understand grand strategy in these terms, but they understand instinctively that they can outlast invaders, because they believe they have done it before to Alexander the Great, the British at the height of their imperial power, and the Soviets. Is there anyone who not think the the insurgents’ moral is being boosted by the prospect of outlasting the Americans?

A simple grand-strategic analysis reveals that time is clearly on the Taliban’s side and to assume that battle hardened leaders of the Taliban do not understand this is just a tad optimistic, to put it charitably. In fact, the breakdown of President Obama’s strategic review last December, which devolved into a dispute over when to leave, simply reinforced the obvious.

Chuck Spinney
The Blaster

The Afghanistan War: Tactical Victories, Strategic Stalemate?

David Wood, Politics Daily, 13 February 2011



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I have echoed these sentiments for years.  Of course, you are not heard when you say something that is negative, not in a think tank, etc…just keep fighting the good fight.


Chicago Tribune
August 23, 2010
Pg. 17

Petraeus’ Dubious Strategy In Afghanistan

By Christopher Layne

Gen. David Petraeus recently began a public relations blitz to convince American public opinion that the U.S. should stay the course in Afghanistan rather than holding to President Obama’s pledge to start withdrawing troops in July.

But most non-military observers understand that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won in any meaningful sense. They also understand a big reason for this is that success in Afghanistan requires a lot more than battlefield victory. To stabilize Afghanistan, the U.S. needs to establish good governance and foster economic development there. In a word, the U.S. must engage in nation-building. The U.S. has a long record of failure at that. Petraeus, however, would have Americans believe that the war can be turned around if we just give his strategy more time, troops and money. In making this case, Petraeus is banking on his prestige as the architect of the 2007 Iraq surge.

That credibility, however, rests on a dubious foundation. The media-savvy Petraeus created a myth — and that is what it is — that the Iraqi surge was successful. Studies of the Iraq war have shown, however, that the surge was incidental to dampening down the violence in Iraq. Most important, however, the surge failed to achieve its overriding objective, which was, as then-President George W. Bush declared, buying time for Iraq’s Shia and Sunni populations to achieve political reconciliation. As the current political stalemate in Baghdad indicates, in this respect the surge failed, and Iraq faces a bleak political future.

The strategy Petraeus advocates for Afghanistan is a dubious one based on the counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine of which he is the primary author. Col. John Nagl, an influential COIN theorist who is president of the Center for a New American Security, has said it will take “at least a generation” for the U.S. to prevail in the fight against terrorism.

The new strategy assumes that the global counter-insurgency may last as long as the Cold War, and will require a greater mobilization of national resources than has occurred to date.

The problem with COIN is that in the real world none of the preconditions that military planners deem necessary for success can be fulfilled. Neither Congress nor the American public is willing to accept an open-ended military commitment to Afghanistan.

COIN misdiagnoses the root cause of America’s Middle Eastern difficulties. The U.S. is the target of Islamic terrorists because of its regional policies like support for corrupt regimes, its one-sided stance on the Israeli/Palestinian problem, its heavy politico-military presence, and the fact that the U.S. appears to many in the Middle East to be the imperial successor in the region to the French and British who once dominated it. As Andrew Mack, currently on the faculty of the School of International Studies at Simon Fraser University, pointed out in a classic article 35 years ago, there is a good reason that big states lose small wars: The forces of national and religious identity are stronger than the will of outside powers — powers that, inevitably one day will go home.

On its own terms, COIN is a problematic policy. Even more worryingly, it sets exactly the wrong grand strategic priorities for the United States. In an ironic coincidence, the same morning leading newspapers carried reports of Gen. Petraeus’ remarks, another headline announced that China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economic power and is on track to overtake the U.S. by 2030 (indeed perhaps as soon as 2020, according to many leading experts). In the early 21st century, East Asia is becoming the world’s geopolitical and economic fulcrum, and it is U.S. air and naval power that will be needed to meet the emerging challenge from China. That is where America’s long-term grand strategic interests lie — not in fighting futile Eurasian land wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Christopher Layne, the Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, is writing a book on the collapse of the Pax Americana.

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Against counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

BY HUGH GUSTERSON, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1 JULY 2010 http://thebulletin.org/print/web-edition/columnists/hugh-gusterson/against-counterinsurgency-afghanistan

It says something about American politics that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was not fired because U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are running at record levels, because the much vaunted Marja initiative has failed, or because the Kandahar offensive is already in trouble during its preliminary rollout. No, he was fired because he and his team embarrassed the White House with carelessly frank talk to a journalist. “This is a change in personnel, but not a change in policy,” said President Barack Obama in announcing General McChrystal’s dismissal. Or, in the words of Rep. James McGovern, we have the “same menu, different waiter.”


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June 22, 2010 – 4:35pm | admin

By Michael A. Cohen

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. —George Bernard Shaw

            Shortly after he assumed command of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal provided his soldiers with operational guidance for fighting insurgent Taliban forces. McChrystal’s words directly reflect the Pentagon’s new model of U.S. warfare and inform the philosophy behind the current U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan: “The ongoing insurgency must be met with a counterinsurgency campaign adapted to the unique conditions in each area that: protects the Afghan people, allowing them to choose a future they can be proud of; provides a secure environment allowing good government and economic development to undercut the causes and advocates of insurgency.”


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My issue with COIN is that it has been used by the think tanks, and senior leaders associated with the think tanks as a tactical solution to solve a strategic nightmare. This article does an excellent job of describing what the recent Rolling Stones “The Runaway General” was really getting out, how a tactical solution fails to solve strategic problems. The Germans found this out in World War I and II. They were premier at the tactical and operational levels  of war, but failed at the strategic level. As I have said before, their strategy caused them “to make enemies faster than they could kill them.” I continue to advocate what I originally wrote in my book Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs, in 2002, that we need to remain an expeditionary army where our focus is in powerful in and out operations, punishing our foes, leaving a calling card, that if they return and or repeat their actions, we will return with a vengeance. We have an overall culture that is impatient, long term occupations, especially of Islamic countries, do not work, and our own fiscal issues do not allow us to waste trillions of dollars in making countries in our own image. That is just a harsh reality. In this I am in total agreement with my friend COL Gian Gentile at West Point, and Dr. Andy Bacevich at Boston University. Many people have responded to me before and said, “but you believe in the 4 Generations of War.” Yes, but one must understand one’s own environment as well as that as potential opponents, and while the world is going the way of 4th Generation Warfare, our best solution is to move from a 2nd Generation to a 3rd Generation force to better understand and cope with a 4th Generation world.  Given those factors, it is best we avoid such situations. Good strategy places one’s forces in the best position to win (I respect the fact that people do not agree with the generations of war).


Rolling Stone Article’s True Focus: Counterinsurgency By TIMOTHY HSIA

“COIN doctrine [is] an oxymoron.”
– Chief Adm. Eric Olson, U.S. Special Operations Command

The Rolling Stone profile on Gen. Stanley A. McChyrstal has made civil-military relations a national debate. But an equally important question raised by the article is the limitations of counterinsurgency, or COIN. The article by Michael Hastings article should not be read simply as a profile of a general but also as an indictment on counterinsurgency and the growing dissatisfaction inside the military with COIN theory and its practice in war (though General McChrystal’s replacement on Wednesday, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the leading proponent of counterinsurgency, seemed to indicate there would be no immediate shift away from the strategy).


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Tom Ricks, who I do respect, and love his books, wrote a very biased list of reformers in regard to the COIN movement inside the Army today (he works with a lot of them as well). A lot of these people, if not most, are beltway insiders (I don’t know everyone of them, but do most). They almost all get a lot of media attention for the wrong reasons. I disagree almost totally with Tom’s list. So, I published my own list below.  I disagree as I explain below. Read Tom’s list at the bottom of this post, then read mine here.

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas,



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I am also proud to say that George Wilson, the dean of defense reporting and friend, has written the very insightful piece below that explains how American exceplionalism has gotten us into committments that are bankrupting. The only ones who don’t think so are inside the beltway.



War without End? Monday, June 15, 2009 CongressDailyAM www.congressdaily.com

By George C. Wilson

Is this Global War on Terror going to last forever? Has it already changed our nation from an historically defensive Athens to an offensive Sparta whose military looks everywhere for trouble and finds it? Who is calculating the cost-to-benefit ratio of sending Green Berets and other Special Operations troopers into remote corners of the world to assassinate suspected terrorists?


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