Journal: COIN Meets Reality in Hindu Kush

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Kelly Vlahos Full Story
Kelly Vlahos Full Story

Antiwar.com
July 21, 2009

by Kelley B. Vlahos

Listen closely and you can hear the slow release of hot air. There’s a leak somewhere, and it appears to be coming from the giant red, white, and blue balloon set aloft some months ago by the counterinsurgency experts who convinced everyone in Washington that Afghanistan was one “graveyard of empires” that could be resurrected for the good of the world.

In fact, anxiety over the latest major U.S. offensive in Afghanistan is increasing among military officials and policymakers every day, sources tell us. News reports coming in from Helmand province and repeated public complaints from American and British leaders bear that out.

And the story is this: in order for so-called “population centric” counterinsurgency to work in a place as vast and geographically unrelenting as Afghanistan, there must be a lot of counterinsurgents (more than 600,000, according to the current Army counterinsurgency manual). Right now, there is a lid on the number of coalition forces approved for the mission, and worse, there are pathetically few Afghan troops and police available to do the most important work, which is to collaborate with the foreign forces to fight the Taliban and successfully hold areas on behalf of the Afghan government over the long term.

Even as 10,000 Marines pushed into the Hindu Kush bearing the talisman of David Petraeus and his patented COIN doctrine this month, it was clear to top U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal that something was amiss.

“The key to this is Afghan responsibility to the fight,” he told the New York Times on July 15. “As a team we are better.”

His anonymous lieutenants were much blunter. “There are not enough Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police for our forces to partner with in operations … and that gap will exist into the coming years even with the planned growth already budgeted for,” an unnamed U.S. military official told the Washington Post four days earlier.

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