May 06, 2010

Triage : Blue Steel :: Leverage : Magnum

A report in the Associated Press today mentioned a new paper that I have been working on for the past few months:

The war effort in Afghanistan suffers from a lack of attention to the volatile politics of the country, according to a former adviser to the top U.S. general there.


"The United States and its allies have not thought rigorously enough about how U.S. and allied interests might not align with those of the Afghan government," said a report from Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security. Exum had been an adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal.


"Good counterinsurgency tactics and operations cannot, in and of themselves, win a campaign," according to the report being released Thursday.

Last fall, I sat down with LTG (Ret.) David Barno and asked him what he thought was missing from our research on Afghanistan. He said that while we had done a good job talking about counterinsurgency at the tactical and operational levels, we had not tackled counterinsurgency at the strategic and political levels. He also said that we had failed to explain the war in Afghanistan in terms of our long-term regional interests. In response, I decided to tackle the former for this year's spring paper on Afghanistan, and LTG Barno -- who started work at CNAS this week -- will begin a project on the latter for 2011.

As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and as a specialist in low-intensity conflict, it's only natural that I have interest in Afghanistan. But in this paper, I try to address a larger problem:

[As] Stephen Biddle noted almost immediately following [the publication of FM 3-24], much about the doctrine is politically naïve. When the United States wages counterinsurgency campaigns, it almost always does so as a third party acting on behalf of a host nation. And implicit in the manual’s assumptions is the idea that U.S. interests will be aligned with those of the host nation.

They almost never are, though.

I argue that at the same time in which you devise military strategies to defeat the enemy, you have to also devise consensual or coercive strategies to affect the political behavior of the host nation. I argue the United States is really, really bad at doing this -- whether you're talking about counterinsurgency or security force assistance, and whether you're in Afghanistan or Algeria.

Anyway, I think the readers of this blog will really enjoy this report, and you should all download it here (.pdf).

I, meanwhile, am still in the Gulf (Dubai, to be exact, and leaving for Saudi Arabia tomorrow) but should be back in Washington, DC in time for Karzai's visit.