Colonel makes case against COIN in Afghanistan

Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV (US Army photo)

Although a fan of counterinsurgency (COIN) in certain cases, I have publicly opposed the population-centric model of COIN utilized in Afghanistan for several years. But I am safe at home and feel that we should defer to those whose lives depend on how effective our warfighting doctrine is. I came across a wonderfully written letter by a former infantry commander, who is also an officially trained military historian, to the Secretary of the Army detailing why we are failing in Afghanistan.

I understand many folks in the military still support COIN in Afghanistan, but I doubt I am the only one that thinks something is wrong when the world’s most advanced military is 11 years into a war with an illiterate enemy that has no armor, navy, or air force.

An excerpt from my latest piece at The US Report:

Where did we go wrong? [Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV] said it’s mainly because our senior leaders, who have less combat maneuver experience now than perhaps at any time in U.S. military history, are “unwilling to conduct operations that reflect sound military art and science.”

Years ago, we abandoned our counterterrorism efforts in favor of counterinsurgency (COIN), a nebulous, and primarily political strategy aimed at protecting populations and addressing grievances. Killing the enemy and breaking their will to fight becomes secondary, and success hinges on an incredibly corrupt Afghan government.

Tunnell says that COIN “consists of musings from amateurs, contractors, plagiarized journal articles, etc.” and has contributed to “needless American casualties”:

COIN has become such a restrictive dogma that it cannot be questioned; any professional discussion about its strengths and weaknesses is discouraged. It has reached such a crisis that those who employ other Army doctrinal concepts do so at their own professional peril because they will be subject to censure for not adhering to COIN. This has created a dysfunctional and toxic leadership environment throughout our Army which has resulted in poor organization, unrealistic training, and indecisive battlefield performance.

Our military exists to protect American citizens, not Afghans. And if the Afghan people have grievances, that is their business – not ours. Our business should be to kill the terrorists that seek to kill Americans and then come home. The moment we quit doing that was the moment we abandoned our own best interests:

Our potential for greater coalition casualties does not have to be inevitable, but due to our flawed approach to operations we wind up enabling our enemy. The population-centric approach which places the population as the center of gravity is applied to the point of absurdity. The enemy is entrenching himself among the civilian population as we cede to him territory and lines of communication. […]

A gross lack of concern for subordinates manifests in guidance that “zero” civilian casualties are acceptable and coalition soldiers may have to be killed rather than defend themselves against a potential threat and risk being wrong and possibly resulting in injury or death of civilians…

The Battle of Ganjgal, in which Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor, exemplifies Col. Tunnell’s point that COIN and restrictive rules of engagement result in needless American casualties:

As part of our formula for success we place a remarkable amount of emphasis on the Afghan Security Forces without understanding the men who make up that force. It is very unlikely that we will be able to provide Afghans with a level of education and training to make them an independent and reliable force that can deny Afghanistan as a safe haven to terrorists.

What is troubling is that the White House and Pentagon no doubt knew this from the beginning. But the political leadership decided that the narrative was more important than the reality, so we would train the Afghan army and police for the sake of training – you don’t question COIN. Now we are approaching the point that the Afghans we train are as deadly to our troops as the Afghans we fight.

Here’s what we can look forward to when our combat forces withdraw in 2014:

The Soviet Union’s attempt to create a professional independent military collapsed as soon as the Soviets withdrew, which is what contributed to the ascendancy of the Taliban. This should provide an obviously cautionary tale.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. While our tactics, technology, and intentions may differ from the Soviets, the military that we spent countless billions of dollars creating will fall apart just as easily. Why? Because the Afghan people aren’t buying what either the US or the USSR has to offer.

Politics of Afghans and Taliban

The bottom line is that our political leaders failed to understand the Afghan people.

[A] main COIN assumption is that the population does not want what the Taliban have to offer. This is an unbelievably flawed assumption – it might be more correct to assess that the population does not like how the Taliban deliver but the incontrovertible fact is that the Taliban are Pashtu and their cultural norms are the same as any other Pashtu male.[…]

The most frequently ignored fact is that the average farmer in southern Afghanistan will appreciate far more what Mullah Omar is proposing than what we are with COIN, he just does not respond to how Mullah Omar is peddling his ideas.

We also must not lose sight of the fact that no matter how much our military has weakened the insurgents, we are leaving and the Taliban are staying. The Afghan people know this better than anyone, and their lives will be decided by the Taliban.

Americans may find the Taliban’s treatment of women and little boys to be abominable, but that is their culture. The job of enforcing human rights across the globe does not fall to the United States military. Instead of hopelessly trying to win hearts and minds in obscure countries, our military should be killing the terrorists that threaten our security and then come home.

Read the full article at The US Report

Author: Chris Carter

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