Small Wars Journal

Tactics or Strategy?

Sat, 08/15/2009 - 7:23pm
I came back from my latest month in the field in Afghanistan disquieted about our basic military mission. Is the military mission to engage, push back and dismantle the Talbian networks, with population protection being a tactic to gain tips and local militia, or is the military mission to build a nation by US soldiers protecting the widespread population, with engagements against the Taliban as a byproduct?

It appears our strategy is nation-building, with fighting and dismantling of the Taliban a secondary consideration. Thus, the number of enemy killed will not be counted, let alone used as a metric. This non-kinetic theory of counterinsurgency has persuaded the liberal community in America to support or at least not to vociferously oppose the war. But we have to maintain a balance between messages that gain domestic support and messages that direct battlefield operations.

We must understand what our riflemen do in Afghanistan every day. The answer is they conduct combat patrols. That underlies all their other activities. They go out with rifles to engage and kill the enemy. That is how they protect the population. For our generals to stress that the war is 80% non-kinetic discounts the basic activity of our soldiers. Although crime isn't eradicated by locking up criminals, we expect our police to make arrests to keep the streets safe. Similarly, our riflemen are trained to engage the enemy. That's how they protect the population. If we're not out in the countryside night and day -- and we're not -- then the Taliban can move around as they please and intimidate or persuade the population.

I'm not arguing that we Americans can ever dominate the Taliban gangs. There's a level of understanding and accommodation among Afghans in the countryside that culturally surpasses our understanding. During the May poppy harvest, the shooting stops on both sides and men from far and wide head to the fields to participate in the harvest. That's an Afghan thing. Only the Afghans can figure out what sort of society and leaders they want.

That said, we should strive to do a better job of what we are doing for as long as we are there. I condensed several hours of firefights I filmed during various patrols into the 30-second clip I posted here on 10 August (Not a Tactical Hurdle). The purpose is to illustrate a tactical problem that is strategic in its dimensions. Simply put, our ground forces are not inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. However, the annual bill for the US military in Afghanistan exceeds $70 billion, with another four to six billion for development. We've already spent $38 billion on Afghan reconstruction. Congress may eventually balk at spending such sums year after year. The problem is we're liable to be gradually pulled out while the Taliban is intact. Nation-building alone is not sufficient; the Taliban must be disrupted.

Our soldiers only get a small number of chances to engage the enemy. Our battalions average one arrest every two months, and one platoon-sized patrol per day per company that infrequently makes solid contact. On average, a US rifleman will glimpse a Taliban once a month. The Taliban initiate the fights because they know they can escape. Our patrols have firepower but lack mobility. Our soldiers are carrying 70 pounds; a Taliban is carrying ten pounds. The Taliban have the distinct edge in mobility. Because the Taliban are well-concealed and scoot away, our superior firepower does not yield precision aim points to do severe damage.

More senior-level attention must be paid to inflicting severe enemy losses in firefights and to arresting the Taliban, so that their morale and networks are broken. A recent directive forbids applying indirect fires against compounds where civilians might be hiding. That directive upholds human decency and may reduce enemy propaganda. But indirect fires -- helicopter gunships and jets -- used to be called "precision fires" and gave the US its enormous advantage in combat. Now that such fires are restricted, what provides our advantage when the enemy sensibly fights from compounds? Don't expect Afghan soldiers to do it for us. We have equipped and trained the Afghans in our image. They are as heavy and slow-moving on the ground as we are, and rely upon our advisors to call in the firepower.

This is my third war. It has the highest level of military scholars. Those scholars who emphasized the concepts of non-kinetic counterinsurgency need also to design concepts that bring more lethality to the ground battlefield. We're pumping billions into UAVs. Surely we can find technologies and techniques for the grunt.


Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/21/2016 - 7:36am

Man, I sure come across as a loon.

Don't really feel bad about that, though. If the DC Consensus is crazy but presented as sanity, then sanity has to look loony, right?

I don't know why military scholars didn't get it right but I do know that the Cold War did lasting damage to the psyche and the moral universe of the Washington Foreign Policy crowd.

Just look at any quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski: what mattered most in the history of the world, bringing down the Soviet Union or stirring up some Moslems? Is that how he put it? No weeping for Chinese communism or its victims? Not one bit of unhappiness that innocent peoples were drawn into the various proxy traps and stratagems, that the collection of oppressive client regimes was dirty, dark business and it affected our souls?

Why did we all think that that attitude wouldn't one day spill over onto our own people?

That is one reason no one seriously cared that we paid governments who paid the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They were only doing what they had been taught. Anything is okay in the realm of grand strategy.

There's your answer as to why we slowly move on, using our troops in this way, without rethinking anything.

Same goes for worry and concern over Sunni allies. You can't get to the better tactics if you can't change that moral universe. I make that claim, who shall follow up on it?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 11:52am

There is an article in The Journal of Operations--that online journal--about the "new" Russian UW warfare, and, I'm all, this sounds like Kashmir or Punjab embedded within the Cold War to me, sounds like the same set of processes. A very psychologically "History happens only here!" place, Europe, despite the claims of being more international. Sort of like the Americans. Sort of like everybody. #HumanDomain

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 11:42am

On the larger topic of UW vs. COIN as a tool to understand the nature of a tactical discussion, I'd like to add part of a comment I made on another thread here too:

"What is interesting to me is how the Taliban insurgency came to be the main way in which the region was viewed and not through the UW of many outside parties. I believe this consisted of a combination of bad thinking arising from the standard NATO narrative of violence in the region--and information operations by more than one party.
If you go back and start reading the articles from the very specific period in Sept, Oct., Nov, you find many interesting and fantastical things, sort of like the Saudi Ambassador on air soothingly saying, "but they hate all our values, not any one policy," or something to that effect."

I would combine any discussion with the following:

<blockquote>Despite that disastrous start, however, the CIA had quickly become deeply committed internally to building a major programme around the drone war. In 2005, the agency had created a career track in targeting for the drone programme for analysts in the intelligence directorate, the Sep. 2 Post article revealed.

That decision meant that analysts who chose to specialise in targeting for CIA drone operations were promised that they could stay within that specialty and get promotions throughout their careers. Thus the agency had made far-reaching commitments to its own staff in the expectation that the drone war would grow far beyond the three strikes a year and that it would continue indefinitely.

By 2007, the agency realised that, in order to keep those commitments, it had to get the White House to change the rules by relaxing existing restrictions on drone strikes.</blockquote>…

CIA vs. DOD, analysis vs. targeting, how the targeting actually occurs and what the second and third order effects are....

I mean, beyond the usual drone discussion, what did this focus do to the understanding of what might have been needed in Afghanistan beyond the COIN vs COINTRA debate?

Counterunconventional warfare on ONE side of the line, can you deal with the outside proxy support in non-military ways, and tactically, how can a military scholar think about it.

We know the UW is driven by outsiders, but we and our allies are tied to these outsiders in complicated ways.

Now, our system came up with aid as goodies and bargaining, drones on one side of a border, and raids, airstrikes, eventually some variant of big COIN mixed in on another side of the border.

But if UW and proxy warfare are to do with governance and borders/sanctuary, and insurgency has to do with governance, where does that leave the military tactically? How do you disrupt without being disruptive?

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/14/2014 - 10:58pm

Here is the Michael Vickers talk I mentioned earlier:

Military Strategy Forum: The Honorable Michael Vickers on Intelligence and National Security - CSIS (on their site and YouTube as well, I believe).

I made an error. He said the IED is the signature weapon of our enemies and the US has the signature weapon of the drone.

For discussion, I'd like to pair that talk with this paper:

Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan…

What is interesting to me about the paper is that the intelligence fix is still within the framework of nation building. What does one miss when one fixes intelligence so that the main questions are about tribes and governance versus other activities? Unless I've read the paper wrong.

Finally, to turn the question back to the question asked by Bing West in this post, I think it is interesting to pair both the talk and the paper with this Small Wars Journal paper:…

Is this the better 'answer' when thinking creatively about tactics in a strategic manner? The other two references I've linked seem to fall into the same two patterns that recur in military intellectual discussion (and the third is one way of looking at airpower; I realize this is a broad brush and perhaps too broad): technology as the answer, and one variation of boots-on-the-ground as the answer.

Would tactical scholarship belong in this space?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 1:30am

Okay, want to flesh this out before I knock it off. Michael Vickers has an online talk, maybe at CSIS or something, and he says the signature tactic for our enemies is the IED while ours is the drone (or roughly paraphrasing).

Does that make sense, to prioritize drones over building human networks or prioritizing the Pakistan side over the Afghan side over the years? It does if the CIA wants bigger budgets, a bigger role, and add in all the other crazy reasons we've been enmeshed with the security elite in Pakistan. I sometimes wonder what they have on our guys at the top. This also fits into the torture discussion, the security apparatus is big bucks for many.

To my sadness, I couldn't get many pro drone Pakistani bloggers to engage seriously with the following points:

<blockquote>The difference is that Goldberg's machines were deliberately engineered to do simple tasks in the most complicated fashion. But whether by accident or design it works out to the same difference: at the end of every complex set of transactions between the CIA and the ISI, yet more enemy combatants materialize, to be rounded up or dispatched, leading to yet more enemy combatants to attack ISAF troops and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, to be rounded up or dispatched, leading to -- well, last night CNN reported that "Taliban" now control 80 percent of Afghanistan, even though only 7 percent of Afghanis support the Taliban.

And it's this infernal process the CIA considers to be a big savings for U.S. taxpayers.

I should add that Greg Miller's report on the CIA's clandestine bounty program is not a 'scoop.' He mentioned that "former CIA Director George J. Tenet acknowledged the bounties in a little-noticed section in his 2007 memoir. "Little noticed" is an understatement. If you can recall that any U.S. media outlet mentioned the clandestine program prior to Miller's report, and the fact that the CIA was also paying for an assassination program over which they had no oversight, please tell me if you can recall the name of the newspaper, radio program, or TV show that rendered the public service.</blockquote>…

It's simply not true that drones were the only option. We chose the option because it fit better than building other networks. And there is also something fishy about our allies and all of this. Western allies but this is intuition....

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 1:21am

I have more on what I call the Kabul "double step" and airpower but I'll leave it for later. What if airpower wasn't as efficiently coordinated initially as we told ourselves in 2001 and the issue was jointness, or lack of it, at that moment? Not blaming, fog of war always, just trying to update an understanding.

And I find it quite interesting that we became fixated on the Taliban insurgency just as a sliver of Indian-occupied Kashmir became synonymous with the complicated three dimensional proxy conflict there. It seems to be a very interesting parallel, and that is why going back to the Cold War and how the narratives developed around Kashmir is so important in the realm of information warfare. Curiously similar narrowing down of a larger process.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 1:14am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

No Rant, you did train them, in a sense. Shouldn't counterunconventional tactics engage with this point?
From RAND (via Pundita blog),

Pakistan’s Use of Proxy Warfare:

<blockquote>Following the failed effort to seize Kashmir in 1947, Pakistan supported numerous covert cells within Indian-administered Kashmir, sometimes using operatives based in the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi.

In 1965, Pakistan assessed that a wider indigenous insurgency could be fomented in Indian-administered Kashmir.5 Pakistan’s interest in using proxy war may have increased during the 1950s, when the United States provided insurgency-specific training during the Cold War.6 The United States was an important supplier of military equipment for several reasons, including to help balance against Soviet power in the region. Pakistan’s military also undertook an important doctrinal shift under American influence and tutelage.

<strong>As Stephen Cohen noted, Pakistan began intensively studying guerilla warfare during its engagement with the U.S. military. While the United States was interested in suppressing such wars, Pakistan was interested in learning how to launch such wars against India -- or even to develop its own “people’s army” as a second defense against India.7 </strong></blockquote>

The problem for the American (and British) military is that the Pakistani security establishment has powerful patrons in the West. Even after 9-11. Even with what has happened in Afghanistan.

My question is, within that framework, what can you come up with? COIN gets all the blame but State and the CIA have their own reasons to have proceeded in the way they have. Good for contracts, budgets, and for the various larger strategic interests that are never really shared with the American public, such as, if we don't have the Pakistani Army, what happens if there is a Saudi Civil war, etc. Just brainstorming on the last one. NATOist factions in particular will not give up its patronage and may not even mind as long as the jihadis are pointed in the correct direction.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 1:07am

<strong>RantCorp commented</strong>:

<em>The only folks who were in a position to explain the reality of what was actually occurring on the ground in Soviet occupied AF were in the Pakistan Army and the Pakistani Special Branch. Many non-Paks claim they understood the reality but IMO they were either duped, lying or stupid.</em>

Some Russians (former Soviet), Afghans and Indians might have a particular insight but they have their own agendas too. Still, if you faced it from the other side, you might be aware. The US makes a powerful enemy when it <em>wants</em> to be an enemy and some people may not want to point out inconvenient facts.

From <em>Not A Good Day To Die</em>, Sean Naylor:

<blockquote>Around this time an old friendship bore fruit for Blaber. He had asked an intelligence analyst who had worked with Delta previously to look out for documents that could prove useful to AFO in Afghanistan. Back in the States, the analyst kept his eyes and ears open and came across a fascinating document that he forwarded to Blaber. It was the product of an interrogation Ali Mohamed, an Egyptian-born Al Qaida operative arrested by US authorities in September 1998, for his role in the bombings of the American embassies i Kenya and Tanzania on August 7 of that year.
Bizarrely, Mohamed then joined the U.S. Army and became a supply sergeant at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg....</blockquote>

Forget the conspiracy theory stuff and maybe this was nothing but we trained a lot of people over the DECADES at Fort Bragg, didn't we? Why is tracing through this stuff to come up some sort of tactical profile such a bad idea (and I don't know, just asking).

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 2:04pm

Dear military scholars, from the National Interest (again, can't embed links):

Shale-Oil Surprise: OPEC Faces an Insurgency, Not a Price War

"OPEC is not waging a price war against the United States—rather, U.S. producers are waging an insurgency against OPEC."

Nikos Tsafos

(It's like this is important somehow....if Cheney and his oil cronies were thinking about this early on, then maybe Darth Vader might have been on to something....didn't he get some kind of award a while back from the Saudis, some ceremonial something that was only posted in the Washingtonian or Georgetowner or something like that, the world of the retired military LLC and his Virginia mansion and all those boring talks given while wearing a mock turtleneck and loafers and all that?)

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 1:46pm

It just occurred to me that some people lurking are probably paranoids, sort of like me.

To schoolmarm it, once again: populations vs. individuals.

When I speak of my own experience, that is as an individual. When I use the name of prominent Pakistanis or Pakistani commenters living in the States, I am simply invoking names as a touchstone for a population of individuals (secular, of a certain age and generation). I don't mean the specific individuals in that case. If I were to use names from my own life, people here wouldn't know who they are. If I were in a different online environment, I might use a name like Razib Khan or something. Just touchstones for population differences. Populations vs. individuals.

To schoolmarm it again: how does the development of a tactic or strategy occur? What is the mental space that allows that to happen outside of the trial and error of practical experience (there is a good article about this at Strategy Bridge Medium or whatever that blog is called).

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 12:19pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The details that struck me from the article were the differences between the Indian Muslims I knew growing up and how unusual some details are for someone that emigrated that long ago. I didn't see veils, and their children socialized with one another, the men and women in mixed company, Indian American, Hindu or Muslim, and Pakistani American, and no parent would segregate their children ever. The child was meant to know American society, to be a part of it, even while respecting the culture of one's parents. A hybrid. Pioneers. Beginning at the beginning.

I thought I was ugly as a child because I had brown skin. Never once, never once, did my family create a sense of grievance. Soothed. Of course, I can't know what the adults did in this situation and the radicalized children seem to come from different backgrounds in the US, some American as apple pie, white kids in white kid schools.

It's a bit like the problem with studying medicine where there is the population and then the individual and you study populations but you treat individuals.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 12:09pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

<blockquote>"This is a time bomb that, under the guise of education, Wahhabi Salafism is igniting under the world really. And it is funded by Saudi and Qatari money and that must stop," said Gen Shaw. "And the question then is 'does bombing people over there really tackle that?' I don't think so. I'd far rather see a much stronger handle on the ideological battle rather than the physical battle."

Gen Shaw, 57, retired from the Army after a 31-year career that saw him lead a platoon of paratroopers in the Battle of Mount Longdon, the bloodiest clash of the Falklands War, and oversee Britain's withdrawal from Basra in southern Iraq. As Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, he specialised in counter-terrorism and security policy.</blockquote>…

I remember feeling strangely grateful that someone at that level would say something like that but the old suspicions remain because no one of a "South Asian" background can be naive about how the need to placate minorities and allies created problems in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

Nigel Farage says the EU is kind of like a mausoleum for some and the UK and European youth deserve a global future.

Once again, a kind of gratefulness mixed in with fear and suspicion when I hear something like that from someone who is British, given the history post 47 in "South Asia." Insane, I know, but human beings are not rational beings. The US is quite possibly worse, so again, factions egging each other on and again, I have no idea what is really behind it all.

You see, Americans who are not of a certain background really are naive, even after everything that has happened. They don't know their own immigrant or diaspora communities except through a kind of fable they tell themselves.

This am, I checked in with Steven Metz on twitter. I'm not into twitter, don't know why I did that. He and others (Andrew Exum, J Berger, can't remember who else) were discussing a case of Indian Muslims living a long time in the US, in Chicago, and their children had tried to go fight in the Mid East. I picked up completely different details from that story than they did, it's interesting, completely different details. My question was not about radicalization but how differently people raise their children, how the community and communities have changed, and how my world is gone. Completely gone. I would be more comfortable socializing with Omar Ali or Hussain Haqqani than many newer Indian immigrants, although I am not of the same religion and not Pakistani American. I bet they would understand what I am saying.

We smugly thought that what was happening in the UK would not happen here but it the internet is a different world. It's just a different world.

Funny, I picked up a completely different details, no one I knew would have wore the same clothes or segregated their children from one another. How a diaspora lives seems to be of little interest to some people, the voice that matters is the voice of the expert only.

We are in a complicated place, now.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 11:52am

Allright, without the link then, and I didn't save the comment so I'll try and recreate it:


Have I gone off the deep end again? The British can't win with me, can they? I complain when you are in the Gulf, I complain when you are not in the Gulf.

I would pick a Bing West post to go off on (one of my favorite writers) but "our Sunni allies" is like a red flag to me.

During the 90s, the war in Iraq was made more likely because of a series of actions, many of which were simply done for domestic political reasons, or out of inertia, or for money, thoughtless careless actions that really meant nothing, until they did. - Correction, no, this is me, here is the quote from Patrick Cockburn in the Independent (can't link it):

<blockquote>It is not at all clear why Britain needs to establish its first permanent naval base in the Middle East since 1970 in Bahrain, other than the fact that it is possible to do so.</blockquote>

It is most possible to do so within the framework of old Sunni monarchy alliances, isn't it? Those nations have their own ideas about the world and Syria and I can see how a similar set of conditional thoughtless actions all sort of point in the same direction without anyone meaning to do that. Yet, even within the thoughtlessness is maneuvering.

We shall see.

The US relationship with Saudi Arabia is like a test we continually fail, decade after decade. This is also a very confusing time within the traditional understanding of the so-called special relationship between the US and the UK. Factions in both our nations are behaving very badly again, and I'm not too pleased about how they egg each other on....but people of both nations have cause to be upset, it's more factional than national.


Tue, 12/09/2014 - 2:31pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


The only folks who were in a position to explain the reality of what was actually occurring on the ground in Soviet occupied AF were in the Pakistan Army and the Pakistani Special Branch. Many non-Paks claim they understood the reality but IMO they were either duped, lying or stupid.

Charlie Wilson allowed himself to be duped by the Paks and his standing as Congress's fire-breathing Muj champion meant the entire US Admin was led up the garden path. Unsurprisingly US popular opinion dutifully followed.

Needless to say nobody on the Pak side is interested in telling the truth - why should they? If it ain't broke don't try and fix it.

As far as I can determine the poor judgement we displayed at that time continues to undermine our good intentions for the region in the present day. IMHO until we cut the Gordian Knot that was tied during the Soviet Occupation our pain and misery is not only going to continue; it is going to get a helluva lot worse.


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 10:03pm

My apologies, I am too busy to find the correct quote in my notes, so I will have to rely on a wiki:

<blockquote>....the key architect of the strategy was Michael G. Vickers, a young CIA paramilitary officer working for Gust Avrakotos, the CIA's regional head who had a close relationship with Wilson. Vicker's strategy was to use a broad mix of weapons, tactics, logistics, along with training programs, to enhance the rebels' ability to fight a guerilla war against the Soviets.[13][14]</blockquote>

Tactics, logistics, training....I'm afraid I still don't understand how we got to today in terms of the discussion on either tactics or strategy. Well, I do, but I don't like the understanding, 9-11 was just an excuse to do whatever people wanted to do anyway. Still, within that framework, why no discussion of Special Forces and this history? If you taught in the region once, wouldn't you face it again if you are now on the 'other side'? I don't understand.


Mon, 12/08/2014 - 8:55am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


I would NOT read too much into the recent British announcement that they are 'returning' to the Gulf, with a new naval base.

The base is in fact for four minesweepers, which have been in the Gulf for a long time - since the Iran-Iraq War, when mines were laid. They have "piggy backed" on the existing USN facility.

Perhaps in the future the Royal Navy will deploy additional ships to the Gulf, leaving aside those assigned to anti-piracy operations (which use Bahrain facilities too I expect).

The "spin" referred to larger ships, even an aircraft carrier being able to use the 'new' base (built and paid for by Bahrain); well that will be fun, a carrier minus any combat aircraft for the foreseeable future.

There is an existing RAF presence in Qatar, using a facility used by a coalition; with a fighter squadron. Plus some other more low profile detachments, training teams and the like in other Gulf sheikhdoms.

The announcement was and is a curious move, more to do with diplomacy, economic relations and politics than any naval or military role. Symbolism methinks, especially as the Foreign Secretary was there for a private IISS meeting.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 9:36pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Also, the command must be anticipating regime change in Syria, or what are the British doing in Bahrain?

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 9:35pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

To do the sort of study that you ask, we would have to challenge some of those Sunni allies and what really happened in Kashmir during the 80s, and especially in ways that might embarrass our "get Iran" coalition, and some of our NATO allies.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 9:33pm

<em>This is my third war. It has the highest level of military scholars.</em> - from this article

Mr. West on another thread wrote the following:

<blockquote>Our policy of aligning as a subordinate rear echelon to Iran makes sense only if helps to lead to an ambiguous nuclear deal that the administration will advertise as its singular foreign policy achievement - at the undisclosed price of alienating all Sunni governments. Why the JCS are setting up a senior command to facilitate this masquerade is puzzling. - Bing West</blockquote>

While I admire Mr. West greatly, I suspect that this is the very intellectual and emotional space (our forever alliance with the Sunnis against the Shia, despite 9-11, "Sunni" nuclear proliferation, the changing economic and demographic status of the West in relation to the East (China, India, etc.) that prevented the study of the insurgencies that would lend a better understanding of tactics suited to this age.

How could our military intellectuals do what you ask when doing that would cause them to question the very basis for all of our strategic postures, and to question what the Reagan administration really accomplished in Afghanistan during the 80s?

From the Pakistani Unconventional Warfare thread:

A book review in Foreign Affairs (July/August 1995) by Eliot Cohen:
Asymmetric Conflicts: War Initiation by Weaker Powers
By T. V. Paul Reviewed by Eliot A. Cohen

<blockquote>This dissertation turned book looks at six cases of weaker states attacking stronger ones. Stripped of its political science superstructure, part of the reason they did it is that they thought they could get away with it. However, an ability to launch a limited surprise offensive and then assume the defensive helped, as did some expectation of patronage from other powers. In some cases, decision makers simply underestimated the resolve or capabilities of their opponents, which suggests that military power is more difficult to assess than it would appear in retrospect. This latter proposition deserves greater exploration than it receives here. Nonetheless, the case studies are well presented, and the argument clearly put."</blockquote>

One of the case studies was Kashmir, among others. And much that can be applied to a campaign-wide understanding of Afghanistan post 9-11. "Patronage" and so on.

Dr. Cohen also wrote the following in a book review for Foreign Affairs (September/October 2000):

<blockquote>Bearing that in mind, the reader will nonetheless find an interesting and useful summary of the latest Indo-Pakistani war -- and a war it most certainly was. Students of the subcontinent will <strong>nervously</strong> ponder the consequences suggested by the editor's confident judgment that "if India can beat a professional military force equipped with modern firepower, on the ground and at a time of Pakistan's choice, with the initiative also in its hands, with strategic and tactical surprise almost complete, then India can beat Pakistan anytime, anywhere."</blockquote>

Nervously? Think about that, and why Eliot A. Cohen might have written that. So shortly prior to 9-11.…

Mr. West, this is the intellectual and emotional place that prevented influential military intellectuals from understanding how to study the region tactically.

It's 2014, not 1985. Our forever Sunni alliance needs to be updated. The "get Iran" and "get Russia" crowds have a lot to answer for post 9-11.

Distilled,I'd put the concern the other way around, in line with kdog101's comments. Were "Afghan officials" the driving factor to establish these outposts in the first place?

It sounds like we may have been handing the enemy a "no-lose" situation when we (whoever exactly "we" is) decided to go in without the requisite conditions being set for long-term success in the area. Either we risk the negative information implications of a public tactical setback (like we suffered) or we hand them a propaganda opportunity to play up our withdrawal as abandoning the area.

Its easy, and dangerous, to second guess from here, but the situation highlights important issues about tackling an insurgency in this area. If we dont have the forces to blanket everywhere (and the oil-spot technique implies a progressive approach--move gradually and deliberately from where we are strong to where we are not), then some areas will be "uncovered" and some elements of the population will have to wait for their protection and the governance/economic benefits that comes along with it (in the theory). However, while these areas are uncovered, or await our movement in, they provide an obvious information boost to the adversary. Sometimes there is political/public pressure to go where it is not really smart to go at the time.

Two points here:
1. This is not unique to Afghanistan or even COIN. In WWII, we poured much more resources into Italy, or even the Pacific, than their role as secondary efforts should have called for. However, while economy of force sounds good in the calculations of military strategy, it does not play well when you, or a loved one, is doing the dying on a front that is not expected to advance. In COIN, it does not play well, when you are the population at the bottom of the priority list for receiving the promised security (not that all areas in Afghanistan are clamoring for ISAF or GoA presence).

2. The negative informational effects of withdrawal are real, and likewise, this does not only apply to COIN. Even Clausewitz noted that a withdrawal is one of the most difficult operations. No matter how logical and prudent it may be in the operational sense, it will largely be perceived as retreat and have negative impacts on troop morale. For this reason, it can sometimes be hard to control a withdrawal and prevent it from becoming a route. In the COIN sense, I can see the potential point of the Afghan officials. No matter how prudent the withdrawal from that outpost of area, it would be hard to "contain" the negative implications of the informational advantage gained by Taliban claims of success.
Phil Ridderhof

Distilled (not verified)

Sat, 02/06/2010 - 12:29pm

From the Washington Post article Phil cited:

"Both the squadron and brigade commanders overseeing the Kamdesh outpost had been pressing to close it for months after they determined that it made no sense to keep troops in the area. But plans to close the outpost were regularly delayed because of pressure from Afghan officials, who did not want to cede territory to the Taliban, and because of other missions deemed a higher priority."

That's a real concern for me -- that Afghan officials were allowed to prevail over the instincts and desires of our commanders. Is that the essence of COIN?

kdog101 (not verified)

Sat, 02/06/2010 - 3:51am

I tend to think the discussion on tactics is the wrong focus, because it should not be US soldiers fighting the day to day battles. We do not live there, we don't know or understand the people that well, and our motivation is to complete the mission so we can go home.

Afghans should be the ones discussing tactics. They are the ones that are going to have to live with the results, they understand their own region and people, and they will have the motivation to succeed.

I think our problem is that we have tried to do too much. Instead of working with existing tribes and Afghan groups as they were, we decided to push them towards creating a democracy and central government. We have pushed them towards creating a national army. We have trained them with our weapons and tactics. We have developed a strategy where our soldiers are involved in protecting them.

We are telling them what to do, telling them that we will protect them, and telling them that we will not leave them. I do not think this is a good way to teach self reliance.

I think we should have stuck with a hands off approach. Kept our role to a support role. Give aid in the forms of food, small arms, logistics, air support. Focused on destroying Al Queda.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 02/05/2010 - 7:30pm


My wife and kids take exception to any hint I might be a voice of reason...<blockquote>"Historically, it was far from unusual for large numbers of field commanders to be relieved from duty as military organizations transitioned from peacetime to wartime and weeded out those unable to make the grade. This did not seem to be the case with the U.S. military and the GWOT.</blockquote>True but the peacetime orientation of the Personnel system does not gracefully accept such reliefs -- they cause undue turmoil and angst for the managers. IOW, the system today mitigates against such reliefs and has since Viet Nam.

I believe we're seeing a long overdue change in that attitude -- and I suspect thanks for that blessing are due to Bob Gates. Hopefully, we'll arrive after a few oscillations at a sensible policy of reward, relief and several stops in between. We had it before, it just entails individual responsibility as opposed to group think.

Your comment that such a reprimand is tantamount to a career ender in the contemporary hyper competitive, zero-defect U.S. military was and perhaps is totally correct but that may be changing to an acceptance of the fact that errors will occur and they are more prone to occur in combat. The proponents of that zero defect mentality are notoriously not generally in the habit of doing much, ergo they make few errors and wish to hold others to that standard -- what they have done inadvertently is foster mediocrity and fear of error. Anything that kills that is welcome.

The obvious solution I hope to your very valid point:<blockquote>"If the error the leader made was egregious enough to merit a letter of reprimand, it would seem to me that that leader should probably just be relieved of duty."</blockquote>is to properly define "egregious" and that, regrettably, will in combat generally be a subjective call -- Congress and the Per community <i>hate</i> subjective calls. Too bad, they are a harsh fact of combat.

I could answer your last paragraph but I will defer to others with more recent experience -- I'm a dinosaur and grew up in an era when a Commander was allowed to make his own decisions about subordinates. The current process seems to be a Committee process involving the immediate Commander, his Mentor(s), the next senior Commander (or two. Maybe more...) and a level or two of JAG advisors with a leavening of the Personnel gurus. I suspect the Equal Opportunity folks also get involved on occasion. That way no <b><i>one</i></b> is responsible and the system made the decision.


Fri, 02/05/2010 - 3:27pm


As always, thank you for being the gracious voice of reason. These events could easily be anecdotal blips, although the level of consternation suggests that something out of the ordinary is going on. Historically, it was far from unusual for large numbers of field commanders to be relieved from duty as military organizations transitioned from peacetime to wartime and weeded out those unable to make the grade. This did not seem to be the case with the U.S. military and the GWOT.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but my impression is that a letter of reprimand is tantamount to a career ender in the contemporary hypercompetitive, zero-defect U.S. military. If the error the leader made was egregious enough to merit a letter of reprimand, it would seem to me that that leader should probably just be relieved of duty.

Out of curioisty, how are failures of leadership evaluated and by whom? Presumably this is done by a particular leader's immediate chain of command and is a matter of professional judgement. How are mistakes and errors that do not merit reprimand or relief handled? What does a field commander have to do to get a reprimand or relief?

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 02/05/2010 - 2:42pm

<b>Phil Ridderhof, Yadernye:</b>

Valid comments both but I, for one, have not seen enough adequate reportage on which to base an even vague determination. I suspect though, that the system is doing its best to do the right thing but that as bureaucratic and large as it is, it errs slightly in all directions on occasion.

Add to that that 30 plus years of Armed Forces "Do not make waves" and "You are responsible for <i>everything</i>..." has created a risk averse culture that is not at all comfortable with dispersed operations and delegation to very low levels. The system is in transition and some low performers that were tolerated in peacetime will be shown the door. Regrettably, a few good guys will get caught up in that as the system recalibrates -- as it does in every war.

Though it certainly was slower to adapt this time...

I think the point in reprimanding field grade officer, as is true for reprimanding anything from ones children to Privates to Lieutenants or to Flag Officers is to reinforce to them that they erred (as they almost always know...), that it got noticed and to suggest nicely that it not happen again. Or else...

No one can do the right thing at all times and the vagaries of combat mean that errors will be made. That HAS to expected and accepted. Relief or more severe punishment should be reserved for the really egregious errors. That way, we will not show the door to too many good guys while allowing or forcing the bad to exit.


Fri, 02/05/2010 - 12:28pm

Good comment, Phil. Similar thoughts occurred to me after reading that article.

What is the point of reprimanding field officers? If they are incompetent or incapable, why not simply relieve them? Holding them responsible for the vicissitudes of war seems like a perscription for operational paralysis.

This seems like either an ominous breakdown in the military chain of command or a completely counterproductive effort by the political leadership to shift the responsibility for the repercussions of policy decisions to the military.

Im sure this Washington Post article, "U.S. commanders in Afghanistan face tougher discipline for battlefield failures" (…) will get some discussion. What jumps out at me is the question of how this interacts with stated COIN doctrine and guidance in Afghanistan? Is that the lens being applied to these investigations? It seems that the physical realities of the Afghan battlespace means that our forces will be spread out more in order to "embrace" and protect the population. Especially as compared to Iraq, ground reinforcements and even external fire support will take longer to arrive to outposts and patrols.

So, are the commanders being faulted because they did not rely enough on the "traditional" means of force protection--such as ensuring either adequate organic combat power or timely fire support/reinforcement in these dispersed locations, or did they fall short in developing "COIN-based" force protection of garnering support of the population to provide better intel and insight prior to the adversary massing forces? Is it a combination of both?

The direction touted in our current COIN approach is to assume more risk on our forces in order to better engage and protect the population. Depending on how these investigations are handled, it could either have a positive or negative affect on operations. These types of actions provide real incentives that shape commanders decisions and actions, sometimes even more than what is contained in mission and intent statements. And by the way, how many commanders are explicitly held accountable for failing to protect the population, not via collateral damage incidents, but by adversary operations? What if friendly casualties go up as civilian casualties go down? Is that still success?

Seaworthy (not verified)

Sun, 10/18/2009 - 12:49pm

Boatspace - Being late to this discussion, perhaps I'm missing an in-joke? But becasue it's Sunday, I thought I'd show-off and state your coded message is in a "rail fence cipher" format.

To anyone else passing-by, how prevalent do our Soldiers and Marines train at humping full combat loads on foot prior to deployment to Afghanistan "off road," to include approximating ammo and ordance weight as well?

In addition, are small units commanders given the authority to drop what they see as unnecessary gear once the tacticl situation and terrain are familiar to them?

JP (not verified)

Sun, 10/18/2009 - 11:02am

Perhaps a more fundamental question which people do not seem to want to answer: Are institutions affiliated with the Kabul regimes the ones we should be working to strengthen in the first place?

Which leads to a related question: Can you really expect local cooperation when you are trying to link local institutions/customs/etc to discredited central institutions?

By firmly siding with the central authorities we have placed ourselves on the losing side of this conflict. COIN needs more than force. To be on the side of the people, you must support institutions that relate or come from the people.

Ken White's incisive comments on the crux of the problem Bing West brought up:

"As you say:
'If the enemy (1) initiates contact, (2) breaks contact as soon as - or before - you begin to orient your force in reaction to the attack, and (3) has a well-covered withdrawal route that he plans for in advance, then how can you hope to assault through him, regardless of how much weight you carry or he carries?'
That's the crux of it. He will almost always do (3) and is pretty good at determining whether and when to do (2). That's because some of those guys, not the hired kids but the leaders and cadres, have been fighting for 20 or more years. No one in Iraq had nearly that much combat experience; those guys are good at what they do. We are the most combat experienced Army in the world -- they have some of the most experienced fighters in the world. That's why they dominate (1).
The only real solution is to take (1) away from him.

That implies better trained troops trusted to be out in smaller batches and moving (NOT in COP here and there). IOW, heavy patrolling in Squad and Platoon sized elements on foot and in light unarmored vehicles, US units who do the initiating..."

I agree with the prescription of more patrols. With fires as a combined arms option severely limited, we need to add more manuever options.

I'd add that it might not guarantee we will always initiate, but if the patrols are coordinated, it could result in multiple maneuver options to trap the insurgent as he withdraws from one patrol (similar to the U.S. multiple column approach with the the Indians in the 19th century).

Also, if we remain too slow to directly pursue on foot, this is where a combination of tactical UAVs to keep contact with insurgents, while an airmobile reserve could move into some sort of intercept position.
I understand there are constraints to this approach that I'm probably not aware of.

peter_ga (not verified)

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 5:44am

I'm an Australian civvy reading up about Afghanistan. The COIN efforts appear to be somewhat quixotic. Consider Oruzgan. There are about 600000 people, with 2000 coalition troops. The road in is opened once per month for a truck convey. The Afghan unit that does this has taken hundreds of casualties. Outside the base it is extremely dangerous. Patrols go out and provide coloring books for children. Winning hearts and minds in this situation can only be described as extremely unfair to the civilians. The Taleban will only terrorize them back.

Why practice COIN when hopelessly outnumbered? Its bound to fail.

Boatspace (not verified)

Tue, 08/25/2009 - 2:15am

Now that's funny. Having married a former Legionnnaire's daughter I must comment traduit on deja vu ca en anglais "an already seen feeling."


Think you can decipher?

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 08/24/2009 - 10:36pm

Nothing meaningless or macho about it, carrying 50 plus pounds is work, pure and simple. All the above comments are people discussing their work, no more no less. As for your comments:

1. True. There is no win in any insurgency, all you can do is achieve an acceptable outcome. No reason at this point to think than won't happen. To be acceptable, it can be an outcome that is fine with many and disliked by many. We'll have to wait an see which side you fall on.

2. We aren't Russians.

3. 'Our' people? With a son involved, I don't share your sentiment. He doesn't either.

4. True. A coherent statement.

5. Your predictive abilities are either awesome or terrible. Too early to tell which.

6. Probably true but then it always was going to be true. In any event, it's not the issue now. That issue is we said we would stay and fix it. We probably should not have but we did. You used the word 'we' repeatedly; <u>we</u> gave ourselves an obligation and <u>we</u> have to give it a decent try. Enjoy.

7. Been to both nations, people and terrain -- as well as issues and warfare -- are totally different. Not deja vu but rather Vuja De -- haven't seen that before...

Brown Derby (not verified)

Mon, 08/24/2009 - 1:31pm

I have read the verbiage above and find it to be meaningless macho prattle.

1. We have no goal for "winning".

2. We are no more capable of success, however it is defined, than the Russians and they could resort to brutality for all the good that did.

3. Our people are getting killed for absolutely no purpose. My impulse would be to throttle the poor guy who attempts to explain to the widow as he hands her the folded flag off the coffin that she should feel proud because her husband died "protecting" his country.

4. Winning the hearts and minds of the people is hard to do when innocents are being killed along with purported enemy personnel.

5. There is no question but that we will eventually lose heart and withdraw. It is not if, it is when.

6. After we are gone Afghanistan will revert to age-old tribal governance and pose not threat to our security.

7. Review Vietnam and just feel the deja vu.

martin (not verified)

Thu, 08/20/2009 - 4:22pm

I think, right now, the mission is about stealing the opium and securing the election. Then, we can go about killing bad guys. It's Afghanistan. We can't get them all. We can't pretend to rack up scores and call them wins. We can't even be sure that the body counts should count as enemy KIAs.


Tue, 08/18/2009 - 10:21pm


I'm not suggesting that we will, can, or should be able to run as fast as a guy carrying 50 pounds less than we are. My point was simply that the reason that these engagements usually end with the guerrillas breaking contact is because that is how the guerrillas plan it. Be design, the guerrillas initiate in a manner that allows them to fire off some rounds, try to kill a few Americans, and then disappear. It is only when they make a mistake or miscalculation that a US force is able to regain the initiative, fix, and finish them. If we suddenly grounded all of our equipment, the enemy would still not desire decisive engagements with us and would continue to mount harassing attacks like this.

The key is the initiative. And that, I do agree, is not just a tactical hurdle. It is operational. But the amount of weight carried distracts us from that. Not to pimp my blog, but I discussed it in a little more depth there.

In regard to PT, I probably shouldn't have even mentioned it. My only point was that, if Soldiers have done adequate physical training, then 70 pounds of gear distributed in some reasonable fashion on one's body is not an issue. If, for some reason, it seemed as though troops were having a difficult time functioning with what everybody in my company lugged around just fine, then that would indicate inadequate PT prior to deployment. But I see no evidence that any of these Marines are out of shape, so it's a moot point, imo.

Ken: you state things so well I am all the time jealous. Lots of small patrols out ambushing and initiating contacts is exactly what Mr. West I think is getting at. And as you say, will the Army do that?...Who knows?

Schmedlap: I am an always civilian so I go way out on a limb with my comment.

I am very skeptical that a group of soldiers, of any army anywhere, carrying the loads Americans presently carry, can PT themselves fit enough to compete with the Talibanis. Those guys have spent their whole lives PTing in steep mountains just living their normal lives. And some of those mountains are tall so they have been getting a lifetime of high altitude training for free, without a health club membership.

Going further out on a limb, and if I am out of line, tell me. If you fail to suppress him so as to stop or slow his reteat, and there are no assets available to fix him, will you be able to move fast enough to effectively pursue him? (keeping a good watch not to get ambushed of course)

It just seems to me shaving 1/2 or 1 hour from the time it takes to climb to the top of a ridge because you can move almost as fast as the Taliban would confer some advantages.

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 08/18/2009 - 7:47pm


While I agree with the thrust of both your posts and acknowledge that in a halfway decent -- much less a perfect -- world, you're right on target, I do think three factors affect what you say.

First and foremost, the caliber of the average rural Pushtun as a fighter versus the average city Arab. Not as a soldier; as a fighter.

Secondly, the terrain in Afghanistan offers more opportunities for those that know it to use it to advantage. Those born there are used to it, can spot minor inconsistencies that no westerner without long experience there will note. As they are able to see us before we see them they have an advantage. If you are used to curling up behind a rock, it's an easier thing to do than if you aren't -- much less with a Ruck or even just a Rig and a Vest. Fighting in mountains has difficulties and a strangeness all its own.

Those two thoughts lead to the third factor. As you say:<blockquote>"If the enemy (1) initiates contact, (2) breaks contact as soon as - or before - you begin to orient your force in reaction to the attack, and (3) has a well-covered withdrawal route that he plans for in advance, then how can you hope to assault through him, regardless of how much weight you carry or he carries?"</blockquote>That's the crux of it. He will almost always do (3) and is pretty good at determining whether and when to do (2). That's because some of those guys, not the hired kids but the leaders and cadres, have been fighting for 20 or more years. No one in Iraq had nearly that much combat experience; those guys are good at what they do. We are the most combat experienced Army in the world -- they have some of the most experienced fighters in the world. That's why they dominate (1).

The only real solution is to take (1) away from him.

That implies better trained troops trusted to be out in smaller batches and moving (<u>NOT</u> in COP here and there). IOW, heavy patrolling in Squad and Platoon sized elements on foot and in light unarmored vehicles, US units who do the initiating...

There is little doubt that some units are doing just that. Probably many more would if they could, however, given a lack ability to use light unarmored vehicles and of adequate numbers of those better trained troops, that's a risk I don't think the US Army is prepared to take.


Tue, 08/18/2009 - 2:30pm

I thought about this a little more. If the enemy (1) initiates contact, (2) breaks contact as soon as - or before - you begin to orient your force in reaction to the attack, and (3) has a well-covered withdrawal route that he plans for in advance, then how can you hope to assault through him, regardless of how much weight you carry or he carries?

If he fails to do one or more of those three things, what does weight have to do with it? Suppressive fire impedes retreat, whether the enemy is wearing flip-flops or 200 pounds of lightweight gear. A Marine should be able to lay down suppressive fire regardless of how much weight he is carrying, so long as the enemy is within range.


Tue, 08/18/2009 - 4:47am

<p>Caveat up front: all of my experience is in Iraq, not Afghanistan. But I've led men carrying 60, 70, 80 pounds or more against jerkoffs wearing flip-flops, t-shirts, and AKs. I'm just not buying the concern of 70 pounds versus 10. An old cadence call comes to mind from many a company run back in garrison...</p>
<blockquote><em>PT! PT!<br/>Good for you!<br/>Good for me!<br/></em></blockquote>
<p>It was hot, uncomfortable, a little tiring, and somewhat restrictive. But bullets travel faster than people. And we did a lot of physical training prior to deploying.</p>
<p>We also realized that half of the problem was that the enemy was initiating. His mobility advantage was not derived from weight nearly so much as the advantage derived from the initiative and his ability to blend in. So we opted to neutralize his mobility and retain the initiative when he let his guard down and did not blend in. When a guy is emplacing a roadside bomb - he ceased to blend in and gets shot. When a group of armed men are spotted on a UAV feed coalescing and moving toward a dismounted US patrol, they cease to blend in.</p>
<p>In regard to the previous post on this issue, I still say that if you are close enough to the enemy for an RPG to fly over your head, then you are close enough to lay down suppressive fire to either slow his retreat and get more assets to bear upon him, or to fix him and maneuver upon him.</p>
<p>Also, a related thread from the SWC:</p&gt;

I think most of the comments are missing Mr. West's primary point, or points; our forces aren't out in the countryside day and night, and, the Taliban can engage and disengage at will. Ergo, our light forces can't decisively engage them. If we can't decisively engage them how are we going to beat them? The reason we can't decisively engage them at the micro level is because we can't move as quickly as they can. So the question is, and it is one that has strategic implications, how to make it so our light forces can move as quickly as the Taliban can? How do we bring about a situation where our guys are out in the countryside day and night and how can we make it so they can move as fast as the Taliban?

Cavalry and co-operation between vehicles and dismounts is great but an awful lot of Afghan is too rough to allow that, which brings us back to to Mr. West's point. We gotta do something to let our individual infantryman move faster.


You asked - "Do we achieve our objectives (ah what are they) by securing the population through a nation building or enemy focused approach?"

I believe both are necessary and they are not mutually exclusive. Knowing which approach to apply with whom and at what time is truly the art of effective COIN leadership.

For Marines, I think the 7 month BOG is not enough time for a Company Commander to effectively design and implement a campaign plan for the human terrain. To get around this, the RCT (13 month BOG) should own and closely direct actions that shape the human terrain. Most Battalion Commanders will NOT agree.


One more quick note...

If you've exhausted your operational resources in expansion, and you can no longer recruit, train, and deploy indigenous forces to continue to secure, then you have a potential strategic problem.

That's when the grand theory and policies become truly tested.




I don't disagree you. In fact, I think we're on the same page just using different words. I'll attempt to explain.

While the lines of operation are valid, I find them to ambigious to use for planning and execution purposes. That's why I used terms like control. It is much more specific when you move onto things like commander's intent.

Granted, no one can ever absolutely control any terrain or population.

I think that anyone would be hard pressed to find a military commander that ever proclaimed that he had been given too many people and resources for his mission. In my worst case as a company commander, I had forty men to control a population of 100,000. That was not fun, and I was extremely limited on my capabilities. Thankfully, it was short-term in duration.

I think that you are correct in choosing the main effort. After a series of reconnaissance and surveillance efforts, the higher command can determine where they can gain the highest return on investment given their current task organization.

One can then move in and take control of the immediate situation. Then, the ink-blot theory can be applied...Sequentially trying to expand one's sphere of influence.

That's a start point anyways. Once you find yourself too bogged down to advance further within your given AOR, then I would suggest it becomes an operational problem.



Morgan (not verified)

Sun, 08/16/2009 - 5:15pm

I 100% agree. The Company Commander must design his own campaign plan that is nested with the Battalion's plan, etc... This should be conducted by line of operation.

With Battalion AO's covering hundreds of square miles, the human terrain covers multiple tribes, languages, insurgent groups etc. There is no way a Battalion can focus its limited resources on all aspects of the AO. It must identify a main effort and focus resources accordingly. That means companies must pick up the slack and maintain company level intelligence and operations resources that facilitate the planning and execution of their longer range plans.

Campaign planning at the company level is the first step in the process, because it obviously focuses the effort of the companys own resources.

Your categories of population, terrain and intelligence would work. Another option may be by line of operation. It would reduce simplicity but could help when it came to info management on the site. For instance:
- Security
- Essential Services
- Tribal/Political Leadership engagement
- Security Force Development/Training.


Rigs (not verified)

Sun, 08/16/2009 - 4:58pm

These are all good points, but I would like to add to what Sven was talking about.

These tactical disadvantages our soldiers face (making the assumption that Bing West is accurate) are the same problems the Soviets faced. They developed the "bronegruppa" or "armored group" where BMPs and BTRs would fight without their normal infantry squads, and the infantry would fight independant of their vehicles. To quote a <a href=" ">random PDF</a> I found on google: "The bronegruppa concept gave the
commander a potent, maneuverable reserve that
could be used for flanking and envelopment
operations (obkhodiashchii otriad), serve as a
mobile fire platform to reinforce elements in
contact, perform patrols, and provide convoy

That description proves accurate from what I remember in "The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan" (full text available <a href="…;)

The vehicles developed to counter the IED threat seem to be moving in a disadvantageous direction if the goal of our combat troops is to fix, flank, and destroy the enemy. They'll get the troops there, but won't help them cover the last 100 yards to those illusive Taliban fighters.

Excellent observations made by both Coeus and Morgan. I'll attempt to address Morgan's second point.

"The tactical issues. How does the rifle squad/platoon defeat the enemy in the field?

I think there is far too much focus on "technique" and "procedure" at the expense of "tactics" in the TTP model used by the Marine Corps and Army...One simple example is counter IED training."

Well said, and I would take it one step further. In a company commander's area of operation, he must transcend the tactics portion and develop his own strategy and campaign plan. Today's junior leaders must be able to think long-term.

IEDs are just one example. I prefer to look at IEDs as a minefield with different intents- disrupt, block, or deny.

There are many on-going discussions in the SWJ Council over how to approach these problems, but a simple guideline would be:

1. Terrain Control.
2. Population Control.
3. Intelligence Collection.

Starting from this lens, shaping and decisive operations become much easier.



Morgan (not verified)

Sun, 08/16/2009 - 3:37pm

Bing's analysis is accurate.

Typical of our military institutions (and I am part of it) we fall in love with our doctrines and are quick to apply them and resistant to change. Now that FM 3-24 is part of the canon, breaking from its theology is near heresy.

I do think that Bing raises two distinct issues:
1. The operational issue. Do we achieve our objectives (ah what are they) by securing the population through a nation building or enemy focused approach?
2. The tactical issues. How does the rifle squad/platoon defeat the enemy in the field?

There are plenty of posts regarding #1. However I think there is a company grade officer discussion that must begin regarding #2.

I think there is far too much focus on "technique" and "procedure" at the expense of "tactics" in the TTP model used by the Marine Corps and Army. This focus on technique and procedure focuses training on discrete actions that are often not integrated into their tactical entirety during training. One simple example is counter IED training. We spend countless hours teaching soldiers how to identify and react to IEDs. We dont take the time to integrate the tactics of killing the IED installer(s) or triggermen on either the left or right side of the "boom" timeline. This focus on techniques may be okay in Iraq where IED's are often laid randomly and as a singular attack. However, in Afghanistan, IEDs are just the first step in a complex ambush/attack.

The bottom line: tactics matter and we better bring our A-game when fighting Pashtuns. Our enemy is certainly not unbeatable; however they have an appetite for combat unlike our Arab foes in Iraq. Tactical training to include force on force field exercises, decision games, and situational exercises need to make a comeback in our training approach. Our equipment for these small unit engagements is good to go. Technology is not the answer - hard training and a willingness to close with and destroy the enemy using an ambush mentality is probably closer to the solution.


Mr West surfaces a valid point. By defintion, war is ugly and violent. However, I do not agree that today's Generals are emphasizing non-kinetic solutions for liberal-driven public relations reasons. In my opinion, the leadership is trying to apply an Anbar Awakening cook-book in Afghanistan...on the cheap.

In reality, the US military misapplied the Anbar Awakening cook-book throughout most of I shudder to see the mass effort in Afghanistan. In his book "The Gamble", Mr Ricks did an excellent job portraying strategic factors that led to Gen Patraeus' rise to command in Iraq. However, he completely missed documenting how the Marines and Soldiers in Anbar artfully converted their ability to control tactical violence into a movement that empowered local governance and completely cut-off the insurgency's ability to operate safely among the populace. Instead, Mr Ricks told anecdotal stories of Baghdad strong men/insurgents being enticed to call a truce largely through the use of monetary incentives. THis is not what happened in Anbar.

In order to protect a populace, a Commander needs to earn the respect of that populace. A necessary step to earning the respect of a community is demonstrating that you (as the Military Commander) can detect, deter, and defeat the local threat. There are several implied tasks in this statement:

-First, you need to be present to find the insurgents (driving through a community daily or weekly does not equate to 'presence')

-Second, your presence needs serve as a deterrent for insurgent activity

-Third, when challenged, you need to have the ability to be more lethal and outfight the enemy in a manner which does not destroy the community you are supporting - i.e. if you are being shot at from the local water treatment facility, do not call close air support on it! (just an example)

The above described ability is only the foundation for the respect required to conduct effective COIN operations. Once a Commander's ability to deal 'violence' is established, over-reliance on the use of lethal force takes on diminishing returns. A local military Commander will close the final hundred yards of a local insurgency through leadership engagement, reconciliation, CMO, and winnig the information fight.

At the operational level, local Commanders need someone to establish the national Afghan institutions that the provinces can plug into in order to sustain progress.

I, for one, do not believe we have earned the respect of many of local populace groups that we are trying to protect but are trying to fast-forward to all the non-kinetic solutions.

Must we learn these lessons again?!?!?