Small Wars Journal

ISAF Campaign Plan Summary

Wed, 11/19/2008 - 1:50pm
I was struck during my recent visit to Afghanistan by an impressive understanding of counterinsurgency principles in the International Security Assistance Force and at subordinate headquarters (See In Afghanistan, 'New Spirit' To Confront The Taliban at NPR).

At the request of the small group of think-tankers I was travelling with, General David McKiernan's headquarters has agreed to release an unclassified version of the ISAF Campaign plan specifically for posting on Small Wars Journal. Things I find particularly interesting in this plan include the upfront acknowledgement that this is a counterinsurgency (vice peacekeeping) campaign (obvious to us, but hugely important in the NATO context); the addition of "Shaping Operations" to the classic "Clear, Hold, Build" COIN methodology; an acknowledgment that in this still critically under-resourced theater, ISAF cannot be strong everywhere and must therefore prioritize areas to clear and hold (a point Dave Kilcullen made well on Sunday with Fareed Zakaria); and the overt emphasis on buildling Afghan governance capability and capacity as the objective of all of our operations.


Matt Coburn (not verified)

Mon, 11/24/2008 - 2:28am

As focus shifts from Iraq back to Afghanistan, our Army and its partners must conduct a truly honest assessment of how it hopes to achieve its desired endstate. The current situation leads one to believe that there is a tremendous disconnect between the intent of our policy makers and senior leaders and the reality of what is taking place on the ground. For just one example, if one of the key lines of operation for Afghanistan is to enhance governance partly by building partner capacity in the Afghan Army and Police, then why is the Army continuing to fill out most of its Embedded Training Teams with individual augmentees and service members from the national guard some of whom receive only days of preparatory advisory training? Meanwhile, Special Forces detachments are operating often times without partnered forces being left to "make do" with any indigenous force it can find to get an "Afghan Face" on their operations. This ad hoc and unplanned endeavor leaves the Afghan Security Forces, whose capacity to protect the Afghan population is so very critical, largely untrained due to a lack of capability in the fielded embedded trainers who receive little preparatory training for their mission while continuing the poorer policy of wasting Special Forces skills on enemy focused operations rather than partner focused capacity building. When one reads of as much as 50% of ETTs and PMTs being unfilled and one knows that Special Forces are operating in Afghanistan with sometimes as small as a squad sized partner force, one has to wonder where the disconnect exists in the operation. I hope that the unique skills of GEN Petraeus can provide a focus on Afghanistan which can serve to match the tactics, techniques, and procedures to the strategic ends desired. We can start by ensuring that we put our best and brightest against the critical requirement to facilitate and assist in the building of partner capacity to protect the Afghan population and isolate it from the influence of the insurgents in Afghanistan rather than leaving it to ill prepared, ad hoc teams of soldiers from our national guard. We finally got real in Iraq, it is now time to do so in Afghanistan.


Thu, 11/20/2008 - 11:32am

While this doesnt answer the need for a credible overarching strategy with a clearly delineated end state, it does reflect a greater understanding of the environment than previously and provides substantive guidance for commanders on the ground. Translating the Key Planning Factors at the ISAF level into execution (and ultimately, success) at the tactical level is going to require a troop-to-task analysis that I have yet to see conducted. While I understand the desire for additional BOG, I personally have a hard time rationalizing any influx without there being realistic (read: achievable) objectives assigned to these units.