Blog Link: Two Sides of the Afghan COIN.

In the most recent “Word from Afar” column at Scoop I examine the broader context in which General Stanley McChrystal was forced to resign from his position as commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Beyond the issue of his insubordination and civilian control of the military in a democracy, the incident has brought to the surface the tensions between two competing views on how the US should prosecute counter-insurgency. One involves hearts and minds and nation-building, the other involves what I describe as a “drones and bones” approach that focuses on discrete operations against high value targets using high technology weapons and special forces. Although both are in place at the moment, there is competition between the two views with regard as to which ultimately will prove more successful at countering Islamicist threats to the West. Whether or not the ISAF mission succeeds may well depend on which perspective gains greater traction in coalition circles during the next twelve months (since the timetable for the gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan begins in June-July 2011).

6 thoughts on “Blog Link: Two Sides of the Afghan COIN.

  1. “Besides the drone strike efforts, the targeted assassination of US citizens who have declared deadly intent towards the US is part of the “drones and bones” strategy.”

    Just wondering what you mean by this?

  2. Dylan: The ROE for the assassination of US citizens deemed to be a grave and imminent threat to US interests (such as that radical preacher hiding out in Yemen), is a component of the discrete, selective targeting program that is the core of the “drones and bones” strategy. As I understand it the ROE prevents assassination of US citizens on US soil, territories, embassies or military bases where the US criminal justice system can be applied, or in countries with extradition agreements with the US. But outside of those restrictions, and having been definitively identified as a threat to the US and its interests (and presumably signed off by the president himself), then such US citizens are fair game just as non-US jihadis in Waziristan would be. Think of it as a leadership decapitation/degrading strategy as opposed to a scorched earth or hearts and minds effort.

    Obviously there are legal and ethical issues involved, but as far as the alternative (drones and bones) COIN community is concerned, that is for the policy-makers to debate.

  3. My impression is that the publication of kvetching by a freelance journalist who was able to write a good story is what caused McChrystal sacking. Very far from insubordination. I am gobsmacked that anyone would expect a leadership team like his to speak in meaningless politically correct platitudes and management speak.
    Obama saw an opportunity to remove a potential rival for 2012 and took it by removing McChrystal and replacing him by demoting Petraeus.

  4. Sorry Phil, but your analysis is off the mark this time around. The direct criticism of the civilian leadership in on the record conversations with a journalist–conversations that occurred at different points in time–coupled with McChrystal’s previous public criticism of the White House (in London Sept 2009), was done precisely to force the White House’s hand on the issue of the Afghan COIN. McChrystal and his aides knew exactly what they were doing and were willing to sacrifice their careers in order to make their point. Petreus may or may not be a future political rival to Obama (I think not), but he certainly won’t be if the Afghan strategy fails, so he has a vested interest in seeing the conflict through (not that he could have refused the president’s request to assume ISAF and US military command in Afghanistan anyway).

    As I said in the post, there is much more at play here than loose lips sinking ships.

  5. Pablo.
    Let’s agree to disagree on motivation. It is not central. The inkblot strategy is doomed to failure for the reasons you hghlight.
    You are wrong to describe afghanistan as prehistoric. There is an excellent photo essay I linked to previuously that shows how developed the country was before the devestating conflicts of the last thirty years
    petraeus can only aim to get things stable enough for the containment strategy to be seen as politically acceptable
    what I do not understand is the strategic benefit to Pakistan miltary ISI of supporting the ongoing conflict. The only plausible explanation I have is that nobody is acting strategically when there is so much money to be stolen from the aid being lavished on the country

    certainly pakistan politicians are not providing a contra example

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *