Thursday, July 7, 2011

Killcullen and COIN as Conventional Wackamole Ops

Checkpoint Washington reports on General Rodriguez comments on his departure from ISAF to the effect that progress is being made. Indeed, it is in the South. So terrorists shift to the east where there is now a growing problem. There has been a growing problem in the north too where terrorists have increased attacks on supply lines.

Those that criticize CT as wackamole don't seem to realize that without hundreds of thousands of troops to cover all areas - terrorists will shift operations away from NATO forces. This gives the appearance of success in areas where ops are ongoing but also results in a new problem elsewhere.

Killcullen's recent interview highlights this dynamic
So it's a bit of a mixed picture frankly. The area where the American search forces have been for the last 12 months is showing significant improvement, but the rest of the country is much more of a mixed picture. ... 
TE Lawrence assessed that the Turks against whom he was organizing would need “six hundred thousand men to meet the combined ill wills of all the local Arab people. They had one hundred thousand men available”.[ii] According to the troop ratio’s recommended by the US COIN Manual, NATO should have 560,000 troops in Afghanistan.[iii] Ninety years to the day after the publication of Evolution of a Revolt, NATO currently has 108,000. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Without 600,000 troops for just Afghanistan, trillions of dollars, decades of time, and with a series of small wars in a number of locations outside of Afghanistan against interdependent foes all requiring a US response, what is America to do? 

Killcullen's recommendation?
It really would have made more sense in a purely military way to move the forces that we're talking about pulling out now into those areas in the north and the east where things are going badly.
At which point the terrorists would infiltrate back into the South. This is just conventional wackamole. 
Why have troops not been redeployed according to Killcullen?
But that is not the plan and that is largely a reflection of politics rather than military reality, I think.
It's a bit hard to escape the politics. After a decade of war, trillions of dollars spent, and not a whole lot to show for it, the politics will matter. After an economic meltdown at a time of rapidly expanding debt,  politics will come to dominate.  The bottom line is when do you stop? Is there ever a good time to stop? What is the alternative to big, costly, long COIN?

Killcullen argues that now is not the right time to leave. In a sense he's right. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chief's Afghanistan suffered "incredible neglect" from 2002-2008. There has been a whole new war fought since President Obama took office. Had we the time, money, and nothing much else going on we might be able to do a classical COIN operation for the next few decades hoping it will turn out ok. But the facts of the situation the US finds itself in do not support traditional COIN thinking.
So most people that are familiar with the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, I think, are concerned about a too quick withdrawal, particularly after all the effort that we've put in in the last year or two. I was in Kabul when the speech was made and the Taliban came out pretty quickly after that speech and said “Oh that's interesting, the Americans are going to pull out in July of 2011, what are you all doing in August?”  You know they basically said, “we'll still be here, the Americans will be gone, you better stop cooperating with the Americans.”
The same will be true in 2014, 2020, 2030.  Obama told the NSC that a traditional COIN war lasting decades was “not in the national interest. I’m not doing a long-term nation building effort. I’m not spending a trillion dollars. I’m not doing 10 years” (Woodward p.117). The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is on the record as stating that the single biggest threat to national security is the national debt. If he's right, then Killcullen and COIN proponents need to consider the political consequences of military plans - they don't really have the luxury of wishing them away. Certainly the Commander in Chief does not have that luxury.

The bottom line is this: as advisable as it might be in purely military terms [MIL INT would argue that it is not and that alternatives exist], America cannot afford to implement a vast global counterinsurgency and nation building effort into the foreseeable future everywhere an insurgent pops his head up. The US military should undoubtedly continue to become culturally agile but it should not be turned into a global social welfare organization whose initial response to a crisis is to dig a well or build a clinic in the hope that local people will therefore choose not shoot at them.

The US still talks COIN but in reality the strategy has shifted to a global counter terror campaign aided by the incredible strategic intelligence capabilities it can tailor to individualized challenges. We have entered the era of bespoke warfare, where concern for collateral damage and its political consequences have demanded personalized strategic responses from major states.

The great lessons Lawrence imparts to strategists were not derived from the fact that he was a master of counterinsurgency. Rather he was a master of the revolt! The only option that offers the US a long-term cost-effective solution is turning the insurgent’s methods against him, namely adopting a comprehensive global CT strategy. Partnering with local enemies of our enemy, we must enhance their capacity to resist extremism in their midst, at the same time as radically reducing our footprint. We cannot make each war America’s war, we must help those who seek to help themselves resist tyranny. By helping others we will reduce safe havens from which attacks can be mounted against America. 

Reducing the US military footprint will have other benefits. As much as one might hate to accept it, to a certain extent the US has played into the enemy strategy of provoking the US to spend itself into decline. Bin Laden was clear on his strategy:


We gained expertise in guerrilla and attritional warfare in our struggle against… Russia, in which we ground it down for ten years until it went bankrupt. We are continuing to make American bleed to the point of bankruptcy. Using very meager resources and military means, the Afghan mujahedeen demolished one of the most important human myths in history and the biggest military apparatus. We no longer fear the so-called Great Powers. We believe that America is much weaker than Russia. [v]



America is not going to be bankrupted by AQ, the casino capitalism of Wall Street took care of that much more effectively than bin Laden ever could. But the cost of war, along with time, is not without domestic political consequences. Compared to major convention operations in support of COIN goals, CT is comparatively cost effective and can therefore be continued indefinitely in a number of locations around the world with significantly less effort. Reducing the US footprint also plays against the enemy narrative of American imperial domination and subjugation of local peoples, which has been such a powerful recruiting and fund raising tool. Perhaps the biggest problem with counterinsurgency is the fact of occupation.



[i] Woodward p. 251. On the cost estimate see Woodward p. 117
[ii] TE Lawrence, The Evolution of a Revolt, Combat Studies Institute reprint of an article in the British Army Quarterly and Defense Journal, Published October 1920, p.8
[iii] With a population of 28 million, NATO should have 560,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan according to the COIN manual troop to population ratio of 20:1000. CIA World Factbook 2010, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html accessed October 20, 2010, FM 3-24 COIN Field Manual, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2007, p.23.
[v] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, (New York: Verso, 2005), p.241.

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