Sunday, January 17, 2010

With all the buzz over "counter-insurgency", there remains very little understanding of the term. Primarily, it is a low level partnership between government and local forces, as highlighted in today's profile of special forces Maj Jim Gant in the Washington Post:
In an unusual and unauthorized pact, Gant and his men were soon fighting alongside tribesmen in local disputes and against insurgents, at the same time learning ancient tribal codes of honor, loyalty and revenge -- codes that often conflicted with the sharia law that the insurgents sought to impose. But the U.S. military had no plans to leverage the Pashtun tribal networks against the insurgents, so Gant kept his alliances quiet.

No longer. In recent months, Gant, now a major, has won praise at the highest levels for his effort to radically deepen the U.S. military's involvement with Afghan tribes -- and is being sent back to Afghanistan to do just that. His 45-page paper, "One Tribe at a Time," published online last fall and circulating widely within the U.S. military, the Pentagon and Congress, lays out a strategy focused on empowering Afghanistan's ancient tribal system. Gant believes that with the central government still weak and corrupt, the tribes are the only enduring source of local authority and security in the country...

Intellectually, Gant is driven by a belief that Special Forces soldiers should immerse themselves in the culture of foreign fighters, as British officer T.E. Lawrence did during the 1916-1918 Arab revolt. In Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, Gant relied on his Special Forces training to build close bonds with local fighters, often trusting them with his life.

Too many commentators ignore the kinetic aspects and look at counter-insurgency as little more than a "soft" operation. I always grimace at the term "hearts and minds", which further obfuscates this. It is not a popularity contest. Counter-insurgency is about citizens respecting their government, demonstrating competency at the lowest level, and this includes enforcing security with sometimes violent means. Simultaneously, you gain the anti-corruption effects from Americans merely living and operating side by side with indigenous forces. The real difficulty in COIN is not getting tied up in overly local affairs.

Effective counter-insurgent operations are bottom up affairs. These wars aren't won in Washington, Kabul or Baghdad. Both the Anbar Awakening in Iraq and Bing West's Counter-insurgency classic "The Village" paint pictures of the American military engaging the enemy with local security forces at the lowest levels, demonstrating effective operations and leading from the front:
Soon afterward, Gant led those same police in fighting their way out of a complex insurgent ambush near the city of Balad, saving the lives of two policemen and an Iraqi girl while under heavy fire, and deliberately driving his Humvee over two roadside bombs to protect the police riding in unarmored trucks behind him.

Gant earned a Silver Star for his bravery, but he remembers most the goat sacrifice the police held for him that day. "We had just won a great battle. We had several [police] commandos there, with several goats, and they were putting their hands in the blood, and putting their handprints all over us and on the vehicles,"

h/t SWJ
Copyright © Swing Right Rudie
A notebook to myself