View Full Version : In COIN Class, Soldiers Think Like Taliban

12-01-2007, 08:44 PM
Cultural Intel and COIN in Afghanistan is an interest of mine, and comments on this article and the Afghan COIN Academy would be appreciated, esp. from old Afghan hands.


From Dave Dilegge: "For a synopsis of the good and the bad [about article contents] please see Ad-hockery in Afghanistan by SWJ’s COIN counterparts and partners in crime . . ."


Salaam y'all


12-03-2007, 02:43 PM
I'll comment briefly, but with the health warning that all I know about the course is what I read in the attached article - the school did not exist during my tour in Afghanistan. First, I heartily applaud the establishment of the school and the appointment of a bright young captain to lead it. It is a step in the right direction - but check up on it a year or two from now and I'll bet it will have expanded, been taken over by a colonel, and be generally less effective.
Anyway, the article reflects an excellent way to approach counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: a mixture of professionals from many nations trading insights. Hopefully the course is slightly more structured, making sure that you cover those aspects not immediately apparent to those who serve in the trenches, and preventing it from becoming a mere BS session, but I like the general format.
I did pick up a few danger signals, however. First, the constant reference to the Taliban. Every turbaned thug in Afghanistan is not in the Taliban, and even those who are in the Taliban are often less interested in restoring the caliphate than they are in protecting their turf. Secondly, the implicit assumption that the struggle is between two alternatives: central government vs. Taliban. That is, that the US needs to do things that strengthen the central government while weakening the Taliban. Third, the tendency to teach things (like 'maintaining presence') that we simply don't have the strength to do, just because they fit our COIN 'doctrine'.
The problem is that Afghanistan is not one war, it is innumerable wars. Every province, hell, every valley, has a different problem set, a different set of objectives, a different history, culture, language, tribal affiliation, etc. There is no set of COIN principles that will fit the country as a whole; there is no 'good news story' that isn't a 'bad news story' for somebody; there is no way to please one faction without displeasing another.
The analogy I used with my officers is that Afghanistan is like a city infested with competing mafias, with the central government filling the role of a compliant, corrupt police force. The mafias, for the most part, are happy to maintain their turf and skirmish around the edges. They keep the population in line through a mixture of patronage and fear. They much prefer a weak center to allowing one of the other mafias gaining ascendency. Finally, most of them make some effort to appear 'legit' to keep the feds (NATO and the US) off their backs.
In other words, this isn't Iraq. It isn't Vietnam, it isn't Malaysia, Somalia, Nigeria, El Salvador, etc. Like all other insurgencies, it is unique and not amenable to the 'correct' COIN doctrine.
Bottom line, the school is a good idea that just shows how far we need to go in learning to fight bad guys without uniforms.