Small Wars Journal

Stability Operations: Lessons from Afghanistan

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 3:41pm

Stability Operations: Lessons from Afghanistan

Charles T. Barham

The time period from 2010 to 2012 arguably saw the zenith of Counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Afghanistan.  These operations were comprehensive, full spectrum COIN, and certainly had a kinetic or lethal side, but they also had a nonlethal or Soft Power side which included COIN Development.  This paper seeks to identify lessons from the Afghanistan “COIN Development” experience at the strategic level that will inform leaders who might find themselves planning or executing operations requiring a development or soft power component in the future.

The principle threat in Afghanistan following the initial removal of al-Qaeda, was the Taliban.  The Taliban were and continue to be an insurgency (although they have used terrorist tactics from time to time).  Root causes or motives for most insurgencies include; insecurity, political marginalization, and economic marginalization.  Imbedded in these motives one might find poverty, unemployment, economic inequality, inadequate essential services, political marginalization, and repression.  

In addition to combat operations, the NATO/ISAF COIN Campaign Plan sought to address the root causes of the insurgency through a combination of soft power options; governance and socioeconomic development initiatives & projects which helped provide basic social services to the Afghan people and thereby add legitimacy to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA).  Collectively these governance and socioeconomic development activities were known as Stability Operations.  The staff organization responsible for developing and managing the Stability portion of the campaign plan was the office of the ISAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Stability Operations, and included its embedded Development Directorate.

The Salang Tunnel , Critical Economic Infrastructure on Highway 1

The Development Directorate was a unique organization comprised of both military and civilian personnel from across the coalition.  Some were soldiers with engineering skills, or soldiers who had economic infrastructure backgrounds such as rail.  Some civilians were economists, others were educators.  The Directorate’s focus was on strategic level socioeconomic development projects.   It worked with members of the international community to advocate for the execution of projects with the greatest positive COIN effect.   This coordination was absolutely essential when one considers that the Development Directorate had no development budget at all and therefore had no ability to implement any projects or programs of its own.  The Directorate tracked projects, gathered information, conducted analysis, and made recommendations to ISAF leadership with respect to development activities and the campaign plan.

The ISAF COIN campaign plan sought to ensure that the kinetic activities such as clear (usually military) and hold (usually police with some military support when required) were supported by non-kinetic or soft power build activities (usually international community developers, to include a robust U.S. effort under multiple funding sources which included the Afghan Infrastructure Fund and the Commanders Emergency Response Program).  The various strategic socioeconomic activities and projects needed to be captured in a strategy, and then articulated in the ISAF Campaign Plan. 

The Counterinsurgency Socioeconomic Development Strategy was designed to execute Line of Operation #6 of the ISAF Campaign Plan, “Enable sustainable economic growth and a population with sustainable access to basic social services.” To that end, it focused on ensuring that a requisite amount of; social infrastructure— enough to make basic health and education accessible to the people;  and economic infrastructure—enough to support sustainable economic growth, were in place or planned; as well as creating within GIRoA the legal, regulatory and policy conditions for sustainable economic growth.

Two of the Three Hydro-electric Power Turbines at Kajaki Dam

However, by the end of 2011 many of the members of the coalition were tired of the war and were no longer interested in either fighting COIN (although COIN had only been underway for two years), to include its Stability component, or to continue to resource development projects in general.  The rush was on for “Transition”, the transition of the lead for security operations to GIRoA with a target of 2014.  The fight in Afghanistan was being turned over to the Afghans, but would it be a true COIN fight?  The answer was no.  The lead for security operations did transition to the Afghans, however, there was no corresponding effort to transition a Stability capability.  Stability operations would terminate.

Although full spectrum, comprehensive Counterinsurgency Development in Afghanistan had only been in effect for three years we can glean lessons from it.  This author suggests there are at least three significant lessons worth consideration prior to committing to future COIN operations and their stability component.

The first lesson one should take away from COIN in Afghanistan is a commitment to finish the job.  COIN, to include stability, takes time.  JP 3-24 cites studies that indicate the estimated average time for an insurgency to end successfully for a Host Nation is 12 years.  As previously mentioned, full spectrum, comprehensive COIN was only conducted in Afghanistan for about three years before the lead for combat operations was transferred to the Afghans and the stability operations were terminated.  COIN operations were having good effects, and some aspects of COIN Development were progressing apace.  However, much of COIN Development (or simply “Development” once the COIN operation is terminated) can be generational and take decades.  So leaders, both military and political, need to be prepared from the outset to commit to supporting these development activities in some form or fashion for the long-term.

A second lesson should be “dual transition”.  In Afghanistan NATO/ISAF rushed to a security transition before the insurgency was defeated. They cited that the Afghans were prepared to continue the fight in the lead (although one might argue that they were not ready).  However, there was no provision for a corresponding stability operations transition.  The Afghans would now lead the fight, and a large part of the international community was still executing development projects, but there was no mechanism to stand up a Deputy Chief of Staff for Stability Operations “like” organization within the Afghan Ministry of Defense or anywhere else in GIRoA.  Therefore, the critical task of coordinating and synchronizing development projects with security operations melted away.  As the Afghans continued to conduct clear and hold operations, there was no build.  There was no flow of basic social services, or the infrastructure to support it.  Therefore the Afghans have found themselves clearing and trying to hold the same Districts over and over again.

A final lesson should be to take a more realistic approach to COIN stability and specifically development operations.  Consider the country and its population, and perhaps not force too much change too fast.  In Iraq, Stability operations sought to reconstruct a country that was already fairly well advanced, to 21st century standards.  In Afghanistan the distance from where the country and the population were prior to Operation Enduring Freedom, to the vision expressed in documents such as the Afghan National Development Strategy, was significant as was the breath or scope of the effort required to achieve it.  This was particularly true of the resources, such as time and money required in implementing these projects.  Leaders planning future COIN development operations might consider focusing on fewer projects or groupings of projects that the population really needs and can eventually operate and maintain on their own, and then actually delivering it.  By studying the population and its needs COIN Development should attempt to align the right project at the right place and at the right time, usually in coordination with a military or security operation, in order to add legitimacy to the Host Nation Government in the eyes of the population and to marginalize the insurgency.   Placing cleared members of the host nation military and or government on the staff would also be helpful in terms of ensuring that the development activities being planned are actually needed or desired, and to better understand the COIN effects that these efforts are likely to generate.  These efforts would allow for a more scalable version of COIN Development, a “COIN Light” approach as opposed to full spectrum, comprehensive COIN / COIN Development.  

Given the current and projected threats around the world such as the Islamic State it is likely that there will be opportunities for leaders to plan and execute operations that will include soft power options.  This is particularly true of the trans-regional area centered in Southwest Asia.  But this is the subject of another paper.

About the Author(s)

Charles Barham is a retired U.S. Army officer with 29 years of service (1981-2010).  He also served for four years as a Department of the Army Civilian Management and Program Analyst in the Afghanistan/Pakistan Hands Program (2010-2014).   He currently serves as a Department of the Air Force Civilian Management and Program Analyst at USCENTCOM in an Interagency Planner capacity.  He served for more than three years in Afghanistan as; Assistant Director of the Police Reform Directorate, Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan 2006-2007, Senior Socioeconomic Advisor in HQ ISAF-DCOS/STAB under Generals David Petraeus and John Allen 2011, as Deputy Director of the NATO/Afghan Transformation Task Force, HQ ISAF under General Joseph Dunford 2013, and as a Senior Planning, Programing and Budgeting Advisor to the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command.  He has served for over five years in HQCENTCOM in positions including Senior Socioeconomic Advisor and Interagency Planner.  He has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Richmond, a Master of Business Administration from Oklahoma City University, and a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.



Wed, 02/17/2016 - 12:40pm

I have read the entire article and corresponding comments, while I poses none of the qualifications of the author or those commenting when it comes to education I proudly claim to have a BA (Bad Attitude) for BS (Bull Sh$t) and proudly served for 30 years in the Army and a real BSBA degree. I deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Kosovo and Africa. During my tour at the Joint Staff I worked in the J7 on JOINT ENDEAVOR exercises and made several trips back to AF to be able to provide realistic training opportunities for units deploying to AF.

In my humble opinion we were able to loose thousands of lives and Trillions of dollars on our first COIN misadventure (Vietnam although not officially called COIN then) and then trillions more (albeit less loss of military life) on our instant replays in both Afghanistan and Iraq where we installed puppet (corrupt) governments, Armies that couldn’t/wouldn’t fight the insurgency, corrupt police forces all the while touting their achievements and professionalism. To the locals who could see thru all of this crap the disdain for us grew quicker than their poppies. It sounded great being reported here at home and in Europe where without popular support we couldn’t have carried on the charade for as long as we have.

Our most successful days combating the insurgency occurred when we employed unconventional SOF to combat the unconventional insurgency. Those days when the SOF guys rode horses and lived with the locals dedicated to removing and DESTROYING the insurgents. OBL could/should have been killed in late 2001 or early 2002 but those dang conventional guys had already infiltrated into operations and we were to slow. I do not fault the conventional Army it does what it does however, in an unconventional setting its command and control is too cumbersome and targets are too time sensitive.

As stated in the article the local population did not want or understand democracy, if we would have let it develop over time say a hundred years maybe they would have accepted it. We totally missed the ability to understand and influence the target audiences who could have and might have accepted us if we would have been more diligent in understanding them and capitalizing on conditions and vulnerabilities to effect behavior change in the local populations.

The only difference between Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq was in Vietnam we pushed helicopters off navy vessels into the ocean, in AF and IZ we simply left them. In all three of these conflicts there was always one thing in common, we were never in it to win it!

Bill C.

Thu, 02/18/2016 - 7:26pm

In reply to by charles.barham


Thank you very much, also, for the opportunity to comment on your work.

The heart of your paper, I believe, relates to suggesting, re: "stability operations," how (a) the better use of "soft power" and, specifically, (b) the better use of "socioeconomic development" might (c) better serve our, and our host-nations', future counterinsurgency needs.

What I have attempted to suggest, in sum, is that this will only be true if the individuals involved in the insurgencies -- and indeed the populations of the world as a whole -- do not:

a. Continue to (rationally and rightfully?) associate our such initiatives (however we hope to disguise them and however better they are done) with

b. Our grand political objective (which is: to radically transform their states and societies more along our modern/secular political, economic and social lines.)

Minus this (current and correct?) understanding, then such things as our "soft power," and our "socioeconomic development" initiatives -- both undertaken in "stability operations" name -- will (a) continue to have the potential to be seen in negative terms and, thus, will (b) continue to have the potential to fuel, rather than quell, insurgency fires.

Now, as I sign off also from this thread, thank you again for your very patient, and for your very thoughtful, consideration of my such thoughts.


Wed, 02/17/2016 - 3:52pm

In reply to by Bill C.


Our discussion back and forth has greatly exceeded the length of the paper itself. And as I pointed out on several occasions, many of the points fall outside of the parameters of the paper. So forgive me if I choose not to continue this dialogue further. Should SWJ elect to publish another paper of mine, I look forward to future exchanges. Thank you.


Edited and added to a little bit:


From your paper above, I note the following:

"However, by the end of 2011 many of the members of the coalition were tired of the war and were no longer interested in either fighting COIN (although COIN had only been underway for two years), to include its Stability component, or to continue to resource development projects in general. The rush was on for “Transition”, the transition of the lead for security operations to GIRoA with a target of 2014. The fight in Afghanistan was being turned over to the Afghans, but would it be a true COIN fight? The answer was no. The lead for security operations did transition to the Afghans, however, there was no corresponding effort to transition a Stability capability. Stability operations would terminate."

My thinking is that the reason why "stability operations terminated" is that these such efforts came to be understood, in countries such as Afghanistan, as being more likely to fuel, rather than quell, the insurgency fires.

This, due to a now-confirmed lack of the requisite pre-condition, which was, and still is, "universal (for example "western") values," and/or the overwhelming desire for another civilization's (for example "our" such civilizations') way of life.

Minus this necessary pre-condition, the natives (rightfully?) came to see and understand our, other "modern" countries, the World Bank's and the Asian Development Bank's "stability operations"/"socioeconomic development" initiatives -- not as being undertaken independent of the U.S./the West's/the modern world's grand "transformational" designs for them (and, thus, as being undertaken only for simple, innocent and humanitarian reasons) --

Rather, the natives rightfully saw our such actions (much as they rightfully saw the Soviets/the communists such actions in the past century?) for exactly what they are, to wit: part of a larger, more sinister plan; one designed to:

a. Separate the natives from their preferred way of life, separate them from their preferred way of governance, and separate them from their time-honored and preferred values, attitudes and beliefs. And to, simultaneously,

b. Attach these natives to our alien and profane (think modern/secular) such attributes.

(Note that when you say that "stability operations" are designed, for example, to "support the [present attempt at a "strong central"] Afghan government, then you confirm the native's such beliefs. Why? Because a "strong central government," I believe, is neither consistent with, nor a constant in, their history.)

Note that my "reading of the situation and the natives" here appears to be similar to the understanding of our State Department (who, re: "transformation," is concerned with much, much more than "democracy"); this, as per their email that I earlier linked in a comment below. In this regard, here is the critical excerpt:


Conclusion: COIN is a badly flawed instrument of statecraft: Why?

- The locals ultimately own the country being fought over. If they do not want the "reforms" you desire, they will resist you as we have been resisted in Iraq and Afghanistan. ...

- COIN theory is predicated on the ability of the counterinsurgents to change the mentality of the "protected" (read controlled) population. The sad truth is that most people do not want to be deprived of their ancestral ways and will fight to protect them.


Thus to suggest that "stability operations," as outline in your paper here, and in such cases as Afghanistan, seem to have been terminated based on the fact that:

a. Such things as "universal values," etc., had not -- as we had hoped -- obtained. And, thus,

b. The natives saw our (and the World Bank's and the Asian Development Bank's, etc.) "stability operations"/"socioeconomic development" initiatives as -- not being separate from a grand foreign scheme (and thus benign) -- but, rather, as being part of the foreigner's overall sinister plan; one designed to adversely (in their mind) "transform" them.

As such, we can understand why and how "stability operations," in places like Afghanistan could, and would, come to fuel, rather than quell, the insurgency fires. (Thus the insurgencies, that both we and the Soviet's dealt with, did not end when "stability operations" were undertaken. Rather, they went on and on; this, in large part, and in both instances, DUE TO, as I explain above, such operations?)

Thus we, finally understanding this unfortunate dynamic, and finally accepting and admitting that "universal values" had not obtained, rightfully (a) dropped this counterproductive "stability operations" hot potato and (b) moved on to try to find other ways and other means to achieve our "transformational" goals and designs?

This explanation helping us understand why "stability operations were terminated?"


Mon, 02/15/2016 - 12:11pm


Your comments suggest to me that I need to clarify a point. We should be clear here that the objective of the socioeconomic development activities used as part of the ISAF COIN Stability program were often different from objectives of the various nation states and non-governmental organizations funding and or executing those projects (notice I am not just talking U.S. here). What ISAF did under their COIN campaign was to leverage projects or initiatives that were focused within a specific geographic area, in combination with security operations, in order to support the provision of basic social services, support the overall stability objectives, and promote the Afghan government. In some cases the U.S. military was able to resource these projects on their own, but in many cases we simply leveraged projects being executed by other sources whose motives for executing those projects I did not know nor was it that important. We leveraged many sources of socioeconomic development during our COIN stability operations in Afghanistan, not only U.S., but other nation states as well as non-governmental organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Again, this had a narrow and clear end state, what we called “positive COIN effect” as described above. This is different from the socioeconomic development activities you point out, and that we had (I thought) somewhat agreed to in previous comments - where organizations such U.S. Department of State and other U.S. agencies like USAID use these projects in an effort to spread democracy. Again, to me we should less focused on the spread of democracy and more focused on attaining and maintaining regional stability. It also gets back to my comments that the people of each country ought to have a say in what help they get and where they want to go with it. Your points as to how we might do a regime change better in the future are well taken, but again fall outside the narrow parameters of this paper. I hope this helps to clarify my position. Thank you again.


Bill C.

Sun, 02/14/2016 - 7:21pm

In reply to by charles.barham


"Socioeconomic development" concepts, I believe, suggest that:

a. States and societies that are organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western political, economic and social lines; these such states and societies (1) have a high standard of living and, thus, (2) do not present with the maladies (insurgencies, genocide, poor preparation for and poor response to natural disasters, terrorism, etc., etc., etc.) of states and societies that ARE NOT organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western lines.

b. Thus, the goal of "socioeconomic development" is to, quite logically, organize, order and orient these "outlying" states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines; this, so as to (1) raise the standard of living of these "left behind" populations, thereby, (2) eliminating the "root cause" (a non-western orientation) of the above-described such maladies (see insurgency, terrorism, etc., etc., etc., at sub-paragraph "a" above.)

The central problem with this concept, of course -- and both today and in the future -- is that:

a. "The locals ultimately own the country being fought over. If they do not want the 'reforms' you desire, they will resist you as we have been resisted in Iraq and Afghanistan." And

b. "The sad truth is that most people do not want to be deprived of their ancestral ways and will fight to protect them."…


Q: What to learn from Afghanistan (etc.) -- so as to be able to do things better in the future?

A: Should invasion and/or regime change again be necessary then:

1. Install -- not an "alien" World Bank "socioeconomic development" specialist such as Ashraf Ghani -- but, rather, a ruler closer to the (ancestral?) hearts and minds of the subject population. (Thus, reducing greatly the chances of an insurgency?)

2. Thereafter, and over time, work with this ruler (much as we did with the rulers of the former Soviet Union and pre-capitalist China) to achieve the acceptance of some, if not all, of the massive state and societal changes that we require. (Thus, eliminating, substantially, the requirement to do stability operations?)

(Thus to note that, by taking our time and working accordingly with such closer-to-the-hearts-and-minds rulers of the former Soviet Union and pre-capitalist China [a] neither we nor they had to deal with an insurgency and [b] neither we nor they had to perform stability operations. And yet the "socioeconomic development" profile of these countries, and many of their former satellites, via this method, were [1] significantly enhanced. And, accordingly, the actuality of, and/or potential for, the "maladies" outlined at my first sub-paragraph "a" above were [2] significantly reduced?)


Sun, 02/14/2016 - 12:36pm

In reply to by Bill C.


I am glad this article has generated significant interest from you. However, I would ask that you not forget that this was only a 1,500 word article, focused on Stability (and inside of stability – socioeconomic development) operations as part of a three year COIN effort in Afghanistan, and gaining some insights on how the United States might do this better in the future (as I do not see how we can avoid future such operations). So to me an issue such as why the United States invaded Afghanistan (or any other country) really falls outside the parameters of this article. To one of your points, perhaps the best application of stability operations in Afghanistan would have been upon the exit of the Soviets, vice walking away from the issue as we did. However, back to the here and now, the “whys” and “hows” of any future such invasion/operation is to me clearly an important issue (an issue in which our lessons from Afghanistan should help inform) and an issue worthy of an article of its own if not a much larger and comprehensive paper on the subject. As I stated above, I am confident that we will have do this again. But we must do a better job. Thank you again for your feedback.


Bill C.

Sat, 02/13/2016 - 8:52pm

In reply to by charles.barham


Above you said:

"Stability Operations as discussed in this paper were used as one component of a plan to defeat the insurgency by depriving them of support from the local population."

Should we not understand, and agree, that there is probably no better way to bring forth, fuel, feed, support and ensure the victory of (but certainly not the defeat of) an insurgency than for:

a. A totally alien and profane (think "modern"/"secular') foreign country (think the Soviets/the communists cir. 1978 or the U.S./the West cir. 2003) to:

b. Intervene in a country such as Afghanistan (arguably a "stable" country prior to both of these interventions?)

c. Oust the standing rulers and governments therein. And

d. Replace same with "puppet" governments -- essentially hand-picked by the foreign intervening power; this,

e. So as to institute the alien and profane (think "modern"/"secular") political, economic and social changes/reforms that the foreign intervening powers desired (those of the Soviets/the communists in the past century; those of the U.S./the West in this century).

(Such things as "Line of Operation #6 of the ISAF Campaign Plan" to be seen in THIS light.)

Thus to suggest -- whether we are talking the Soviets/the communists in the 1980s -- or the U.S./the West in the 2000s -- that our or their such "stability operations" had -- obviously -- nothing to do with (a) quelling the insurgency, (b) depriving the insurgency of local support and/or (c) providing for stability of Afghanistan.

Rather, these such initiatives were undertaken as per THE DEEP POLITICAL CONVICTIONS of the foreign intervening powers.

Foreign powers who were driven to distraction, disgrace and near ruin (or real ruin in the Soviet's case?) by their irrational beliefs in such things as "universal values," "the overwhelming appeal of one's way of life, way of governance, etc.," and an "end of history" (and their similar compulsion to "help" transform other states and societies accordingly).

If either of these countries (the Soviets/the communists; the U.S./the West) had not been so driven by their such DEEP POLITICAL CONVICTIONS and had, accordingly, taken the time to work with the pre-intervention Afghan governments, and with the Afghan people, there is no telling what either of these foreign intervening powers might have been able to accomplish; this as per their respective state and societal transformation goals.

My bottom line:

We cannot discuss "stability operations" -- in either the Soviet or our case -- without addressing "the reasons or motives as to why we (or they) invaded Afghanistan."

Herein, to understand that one's "political objective" (such as transforming other states and societies more along one's own political, economic and social lines), rightfully, must be seen as driving the "stability operations" train also.

(And, thus, must be seen as being directly "hand-in-glove" connected -- rather "separated from" as you seem to imply -- the overall goal and plan?)


Sat, 02/13/2016 - 12:07pm

In reply to by Bill C.


Thank you for your comments and your perspectives on this issue. I see Iraq and Afghanistan as similar, but different experiences. My direct experience has been with Afghanistan, my five years of experience with Iraq was indirect support during my five years at CENTCOM, so I will only address Afghanistan in my comments on several of your points. Likewise, my paper is not concerned with the reasons or motives as to why we invaded Afghanistan, so I will not comment on that.

I agree that we (the U.S.) are often on a mission to spread democracy around the world. To me it would be better to seek to spread stability regardless of the political system a country uses. Of course there are limits as to what the U. S. can support, but as long as a country operates within the left and right limits of certain human rights, etc., then who cares as long as the people are content and there are no threats to the U.S. or the region.

Also, I think it is important to keep in mind that Stability Operations are not exclusive to COIN. They can, and should be employed in order to in prevent situations like insurgencies from developing in the first place. Stability Operations as discussed in this paper were used as one component of a plan to defeat the insurgency by depriving them of support from the local population. These efforts would also create the framework from which Afghanistan might move forward in the coming decade. However, as we both mention, what that future look likes is subject to debate and the Afghans should have/have had a large say it in (one of the lessons).

I do fully agree with you on your final point. Any future operations like this need to be fully thought out, especially with respect to how stability is to be regained, who will do it, how long will it take, how much will it cost, who will pay for it, etc. Unfortunately I see many opportunities to practice this in the coming years. Again, thank you for your thoughts.


From the author's second paragraph above:

"Root causes or motives for most insurgencies include; insecurity, political marginalization, and economic marginalization. Imbedded in these motives one might find poverty, unemployment, economic inequality, inadequate essential services, political marginalization, and repression."

None of these "root causes or motives," I suggest, adequately explain our COIN problems in Iraq or Afghanistan. In this regard, consider my alternative explanation below:

The central goal of the United States/the West in Iraq and Afghanistan was to (1) use the opportunity presented by these conflicts to (2) step in and transform these states and their societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. (Note: We believed then, and we still believe now, that the "root cause" of most of the world's problems come from states and societies not being organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western lines.)

Given the "universal values and "overwhelming appeal of our way of life" thinking that was present in certain circles of the U.S./the West at that time (Cir. 2003), we believed that these transitions -- following regime change -- would be achieved quickly, easily and mostly by these populations themselves. (The U.S./the West, thus and for example, envisioning the military, police and intelligence aspect of COIN, in this new "end of history" era, as only having to deal with a few remaining "dead-enders.")

When it became apparent that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan ( (a) had no great desire for our way of life, our way of governance, etc., and that they, instead, (b) had many other, generally conflicting, and often more-indigenous ideas as to how they wished to, post-regime change, organize, order and orient their lives, then whole reason for the U.S./the West going into Iraq and Afghanistan (etc.) and for overthrowing the regimes therein, were understood to be totally wrong and, thus, to be grave error.

From that point on, we have just been trying to keep up appearances; this, so that we might, and as in Vietnam where we made similar mistakes(?), leave the region, and the field of battle, with some degree of dignity retained.

Q: Thus, as per my alternative explanation above, and re: "stability operations: what are the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan"(etc.)?

A: Never again undertake operations on such poorly thought-out premise as those outlined above (see "universal values," "overwhelming appeal," and our western version of "the end of history.")

Why? Because minus such careful scrutiny of one's premise, no acceptable amount of hard and/or soft power can, thereafter, bail you out of your, thus, self-inflicted, and often horribly tragic (for all concerned), predicament. (In this regard, see the Greater Middle East today.)


Fri, 02/12/2016 - 11:20am

In reply to by Warlock


Thank you for your feedback. I tend to agree with everything you have laid out. Winning the war is usually easy. Winning the peace tends to be a lot harder and longer process. In Afghanistan we had a rush to transition what had become a COIN fight to the Afghans, and then didn't transition the entire COIN effort. Stabilizing Afghanistan would have take years if not decades if we had tried to do it right. Given our ongoing approach this is likely to fester for much longer period of time. Thank you again.



Fri, 02/12/2016 - 10:33am

Consider -- and this is just an evolving idea -- that our problems in Afghanistan and Iraq aren't that we didn't do COIN well enough, but that we approached both as a COIN problem at all. After all, we didn't go in to either country to aid the existing government in fighting an insurgency. We invaded both countries, destroyed the existing governments, and after a very abbreviated occupation, replaced those governments with something else. Insurgencies developed against those governments, and we've been dealing with that ever since. But our problem isn't that we failed at COIN...before we got to that point, we failed at *occupation*.

Look at the comparisons with Germany, Japan, or even immediate post-war Korea. The latter -- ostensibly territory liberated from the Japanese -- was governed by U.S. occupation forces until 1948. The Federal Republic of Germany wasn't formed until 1949. And Japan didn't resume self-government until 1952. By comparison, the transitions in Afghanistan and Iraq were breathtakingly quick. We installed a new civilian government in Afghanistan within two *months*, basically by handing it over to a group of anti-Taliban insurgents who'd been camping in Pakistan, regardless of perceived support in the population. In Iraq, we proceeded at a somewhat more deliberate pace, but suffered from the strange military-civilian hybrid before throwing up our hands and turning the government over to a hastily-elected group. In neither case did we first restore infrastructure establish physical and economic security.

In short, we tried doing the occupations fast and cheap (especially cheap), and sacrificed "good".

If we'd occupied both countries for an extended period -- assumed all responsibility for governance and security -- that *may* have blunted the secretarian conflicts that almost immediately fueled insurgencies against the new governments. At the least, it would have given us more time to understand the fractures before we attempted to form new local governments in a palatable image.