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Rob Thornton
10-16-2008, 12:05 PM
It has has contested here several times that Afghanistan is not an insurgency. Sounded to me like a great topic for discussion.

It seems if you are describing something inaccurately, then its likely the other qualities you ascribe to it may also be wrong (or that if you got them right for the wrong reasons you still may be bad off). If you decide this "something" is something you have to interact with, or becomes the object of a policy or military objective, then misunderstanding it, and misunderstanding its environment may lead you to the wrong approach.

So what is an insurgency?

Here are three sources and four definitions for insurgency:

JP 1-02: an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict

Merriam-Webster Online dictionary
Pronunciation:
\-jənt\
Function:
noun
Etymology:
Latin insurgent-, insurgens, present participle of insurgere to rise up, from in- + surgere to rise more at surge
Date:
1765

1: a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government ; especially : a rebel not recognized as a belligerent2: one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party

Wikipedia:

An insurgency is a violent internal uprising against a sovereign government that lacks the organization of a revolution. Its definition is similar to that of "resistance," but has different connotations. Usage of the term varies widely, and is highly subjective.

None of those would seem to accurately describe the situation in Afghanistan. You might be able to shoe horn it into the Wikipedia one, but to do so might leave you assuming that either it is the Karzai government (I do not necessarily mean the idea of a centralized authority) that is the principal reason for armed resistance, or that there is some overarching counter political theme or body which has united those who oppose it.

If its not an insurgency, then can the belligerents by typified as insurgents?

If they are not insurgents, then what are they? Could they be a range of things? Does it matter and why?

Does the possibility exist that while possibly not being an insurgency, it could become one? What would it take, and do we think there are those trying to make it one -e.g. is the Taliban attempting to build a political movement in the remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan for the purpose of challenging one or both of those governments? How do we know?

If its not an insurgency, then do counter-insurgency principals apply (some or all), and will COIN TTP (some or all) work? If so, which?

What about the situation is like an insurgency, and what is unlike an insurgency? What COIN thinking can be adapted to work, and what cannot?

We may have imposed self constraints on our ability to discuss this by putting qualifiers like global onto so many things, i.e. terror, guerrillas and insurgency. There is a danger in that because we tend to infer like properties on things and group them due to geography, religion, culture & language, association by timing or event, recent experiences, etc. rather then consider them as unique and distinct. Its a natural tendency that should be resisted because it facilitates bias. I'm involved in a couple of other projects where the out of hand COAs were based on assumptions that were only applicable elsewhere. We've got to be careful less we wind up solving exactly the wrong problem(s).

Best, Rob

wm
10-16-2008, 01:09 PM
So what is an insurgency?
JP 1-02: an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict
Wikipedia:
An insurgency is a violent internal uprising against a sovereign government that lacks the organization of a revolution. Its definition is similar to that of "resistance," but has different connotations. Usage of the term varies widely, and is highly subjective.
Seems to me that both these definitions require an understanding of the intent of the opponents to the Coalition in AF. We also have the problem of deciding whether the current ruling elite in AF is a sovereign or constituted government. In other words, before we can decide whether AF is an insurgency, we must first decide whether the Karzai leadership is a legitimate AF government. Of course, who makes that call is also important. The US and other NATO nations may view Karzai and company as legit, but is that who really counts? I suspect the Taleban would not think so.

If it's not an insurgency, then can the belligerents by typified as insurgents?
Kind of hard, from a logical and linguistic perspective to do so.

If they are not insurgents, then what are they? Could they be a range of things? Does it matter and why?
I am inclined to say they are largely petty crooks and displaced power-mongers seeking to regain their lost power, but that is just an opinion. I suspect it does matter greatly what the world as a whole decides regarding what they are--otherwise we find ourselves with issues like the problems with those folks currently confined at Gitmo and what kinds of legally, morally, and politically acceptable action may be taken against them.

Does the possibility exist that while possibly not being an insurgency, it could become one? What would it take, and do we think there are those trying to make it one -e.g. is the Taliban attempting to build a political movement in the remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan for the purpose of challenging one or both of those governments? How do we know?
I suspect my point above about deciding the legitimacy of the current rulers applies as part of the answer here.

If its not an insurgency, then do counter-insurgency principals apply (some or all), and will COIN TTP (some or all) work? If so, which?
What about the situation is like an insurgency, and what is unlike an insurgency? What COIN thinking can be adapted to work, and what cannot?
Hanging the name COIN TTP on an activity does not restrict its application to COIN. I can slalom on a ski slope, in a race car, or with a canoe/kayak--very different procedures for "completing a zig-zag course." Deciding what COIN thinking will/will not work is, I think, pretty much a matter of trial and error, particularly in AF where the idea that one has a uniform nation state is largely a myth. Maybe the HTT efforts will provide some better info upon which to make COA/TTP decisions.

We may have imposed self constraints on our ability to discuss this by putting qualifiers like global onto so many things, i.e. terror, guerrillas and insurgency. There is a danger in that because we tend to infer like properties on things and group them due to geography, religion, culture & language, association by timing or event, recent experiences, etc. rather then consider them as unique and distinct. Its a natural tendency that should be resisted because it facilitates bias. I'm involved in a couple of other projects where the out of hand COAs were based on assumptions that were only applicable elsewhere. We've got to be careful less we wind up solving exactly the wrong problem(s).
AMEN

Pragmatic Thinker
10-16-2008, 01:46 PM
After a long hiatus from this blog site I have returned with hopefully something worth contributing. I just recently returned from Afghanistan and the commander of the CJSOTF calls his fight there an insurgency. Granted, the question of Karazai's legitimacy are valid arguments and I would agree that both the Taliban and even some members of the 'coalition' do not view him as anything more than the Mayor of Kabul. However, I do believe it is the intent of the Taliban to overthrow/rid/eradicate the current government (despite its lack of legitimacy and influence throughout the country) and return to the pre-9/11 days of Taliban rule. I am not a supporter of short term negotiations or discussions with the Taliban in hopes of some power sharing deal or semi-autonomy in the south while hopefully initiatives else where will sprinkle the 'fairy dust' of democracy (or its associated values) to the rest of Afghanistan in hopes the people will see the error in Taliban iedology. That type of strategy falls well short of appreciating the complex and various cultures and beliefs of the Afghan people, plus I don't see NATO or the U.S. maintaining the committment necessary (10+ years) for that to come to fruition. Long term the Taliban will rise and will attempt to take back control of the country. Although it gets no media coverage here there is plenty of evidence to support this in-country from captured and purchased propoganda the Taliban distribute throughout the country. They might settle for the south near term, but their long term strategy is the whole enchilada.

MikeF
10-16-2008, 03:39 PM
I don't have anything significant to add, but I will pose a question:

What is the difference between an insurgency and a civil war?

Is it simply ones perspective?

Wikipedia defines civil war as a war between a state and domestic political actors that are in control of some part of the territory claimed by the state.

In Afghanistan, outside of the Karzhi/TB internal fights, there are partisan actors(NATO/US/AQ) and terrorist networks(AQ). So what do we call it besides FUBAR?

v/r

Mike

Ken White
10-16-2008, 03:39 PM
to be, a conglomeration of insurgencies (plural) with several strains of 'Taliban' fighting a nominal if not effective de jure government. While Afghanistan is more than an insurgency, it is probably important not to get hung up on semantics.

Still, as Rob says:
"We may have imposed self constraints on our ability to discuss this by putting qualifiers like global onto so many things, i.e. terror, guerrillas and insurgency. There is a danger in that because we tend to infer like properties on things and group them due to geography, religion, culture & language, association by timing or event, recent experiences, etc. rather then consider them as unique and distinct."Call it what you will but be aware of what it is.

In addition to the insurgency factor, there are also several strains of 'Taliban' fighting each other. There are long standing blood feuds that have nothing to do with the 'Taliban' or the government and they can muddy the water quite thoroughly.

There is rampant criminality, most notably the poppy cultivation and drug trade but there are other criminal organizations involved in minor warfare as well. Smuggling of many things is an art form and some smugglers are more than willing to fight. These conflicts between groups of criminals can involve clans and tribes and take on a life of their own.

Add in newly created tribal conflicts and 3,000 years of tradition plus current modern power disputes and jockeying for potential commercial advantage (and other modern powers just meddling to keep the pot stirring), the spill over of the Indo-Pakistan disagreements plus Pakistan's historic concerns over the area and Afghan internal politics and feuds and there is a good deal more than an insurgency.

Call it such if that makes you comfortable but do recall it is far more complex than that.

Eden
10-16-2008, 03:48 PM
...not one war but many.

I do not know much Afghan history before 1979, but what I do know is that there has not been a legitimate government there (except in the most legalistic sense of the word) for three decades or so. This is why many of us find the term 'counterinsurgency' an unsatisfactory label, without being able to pin down exactly why that is.

Since 2001, there have been a number of factions attempting to impose order on what had become ungoverned territory. Some of these were traditional Afghan power brokers or coalitions of the same seeking to establish criminal enterprises. A handful of these went further, attempting to parlay criminal profits into governing power - not unknown in our own misty past (see the Hohenzollern Dynasty, for example). Other factions sought to extend their influence through tribalism, religious fundamentalism, or a combination of both. One faction - that would be us - initially was satisifed with an Afghanistan inhospitable to terrorists; only later did we throw in our lot with the faction from Europe looking to grow a powerful centralized government on the Western model.

My point is that Afghanistan is not a classic counterinsurgency, with insurgents attacking an established government. Rather, it can be seen as a clash of multiple insurgencies, each trying to impose its own version of order on lawless space, while undermining the competing insurgencies. A multi-polar insurgency, if you will.

This is not to say that I consider the Taliban the moral equivalent of the US or NATO; I still think we are the good guys. However, our version of governance is as alien to Afghanistan's history as the Taliban's. In some ways, those drug-running warlords are more 'legitimate' (in terms of arising organically from local traditions of governance) than any of the other competing insurgencies and may be the greatest long-term threat to our vision of stability.

Tom Odom
10-16-2008, 03:57 PM
Good posts all on the complexity

When I give an OEF pitch I always begin with the point that it is best considered a region rather than a country, one whose outlines have been in flux for centuries, and one that has never catered to central authority short of absolute conquest.

Tom

Ken White
10-16-2008, 05:23 PM
...not one war but many.
. . .
In some ways, those drug-running warlords are more 'legitimate' (in terms of arising organically from local traditions of governance) than any of the other competing insurgencies and may be the greatest long-term threat to our vision of stability.is certainly true. My personal bet is that our vision will have to be altered to accept reality.

Ski
10-16-2008, 09:15 PM
I am in the camp of those who do not believe it is an insurgency.

The wikipedia definition is very lacking. It speaks to a singular monolithic group, not to multiple groups. These multiple groups are defined by different ethnicities, religions, motivations, and tribal affiliations. As Ken said, there are fractures within each group, so even the seperate groups (such as Taliban, HIG, etc.) have factions that are seperate "reasons for being" than the overall groups. The armed factions are legion when the central authority collapses in the Middle East or Central Asia it seems.

It reminds me of the Monty Python scene in Life of Brian where the insurgent groups are arguing about names. "We're the People's Lberation Front of Judea." "Well, we're the Judean's People Liberation Front."

Perhaps multi-faceted insurgency is a better descriptor but even that lacks oomph.

In my small group at CGSC, I've been arguing consistently that there are multiple operation centers of gravity due to the distinct and diverse nature of these groups. Each enemy has to be looked at as a unique entity. My SGA wasn't buying it, but today I listened to another SGA who I'm taking an elective with who reinforced my point of view, so I feel a little less out in the galaxy.

Ken White
10-16-2008, 09:52 PM
...In my small group at CGSC, I've been arguing consistently that there are multiple operation centers of gravity due to the distinct and diverse nature of these groups. Each enemy has to be looked at as a unique entity. My SGA wasn't buying it, but today I listened to another SGA who I'm taking an elective with who reinforced my point of view, so I feel a little less out in the galaxy.I think (a) you're right on the mark; and (b) that's what we are in fact doing on the ground -- COIN where it suits, LE to include paramilitary and even military reinforcement of LE ops where relevant. CA and PsyOps where they can be applied plus full bore Intel, diplomatic, political and economic efforts to modify behavior of others and those local opponents for whom that's appropriate. It's all working, none of it is easy and it'll take a while.

That said, I still believe we'll have to modify our desires to comport the reality that is Afghanistan...

Pragmatic Thinker
10-16-2008, 11:17 PM
In my humble opinion the fight in Afghanistan is currently an insurgency from a U.S. perspective. We legitimately view the Karazai government and his armed forces as the soveriegn rulers (if you will) of Afghanistan. There are numerous violent factions (TB, HiG, HQN, IMU, IJU, et. al.) that are opposed to the rule of Karazai and his current government. They view him as a US puppet and again they truly realize his influence doesn't extend much beyond Kabul and his own Presidential Palace but that doesn't stop them from wanting to overthrow him.

I don't claim to be an expert on insurgency warfare, but the shadow goverrments the Taliban have stood-up throughout RC South and RC West are nothing more than indications of an insurgent movement that is attempting to slowly and methodically overthrow the otherwise legitimate government that is in place. They assassinate politicians, police, and military figures who are loyal to Karazai. They assissinate Imam's and other religious figures who do not prostyletize their form of radical Islam. They burn schools that aren't in line with their radical Madrassa programs and dare they teach girls how to read and write that will almost always guarantee you a death sentence. They take over markets and extort 'protection' money from business owners and farmers. All these activities are daily occurences in places in cities and villages from Tarin Kowt to Kandahar to Qalat in the west.

Again, we can call it whatever we want but the SF guys I work with in country call them (bad guys) an insurgency. They are well organized and they are not only provided sanctuary (to include financing, recruiting, equipping, and training) in Pakistan but Iran is also now actively supporting the Taliban. In my opinion the lines are extremely blurred out their on the battlefield whether you're fighting a hard core Uzbek cadre or some part-time opium smuggling scumbag they are all opposed to the western forces (US, UK, and Canada) that are there fighting them, and they actively target and assassinate members of the legitimate government.

The newly announced COMUSFOR-A which will standup in mid-November will hopefully provide some much needed structure and chain-of-command that has been missing since NATO entered the picture.

PT
SENDS

Dr Jack
10-17-2008, 01:45 AM
Perhaps multi-faceted insurgency is a better descriptor but even that lacks oomph.

In my small group at CGSC, I've been arguing consistently that there are multiple operation centers of gravity due to the distinct and diverse nature of these groups. Each enemy has to be looked at as a unique entity. My SGA wasn't buying it, but today I listened to another SGA who I'm taking an elective with who reinforced my point of view, so I feel a little less out in the galaxy.

I think the concept of Center of Gravity at the operational level -- as the "source of power" -- is not as clear when there are disparate "franchise" entities such as AQAM who are compartmented in recruiting, financing, training, etc. In this case, there is no unified operational center of gravity since each entity draws "power" from the strategic center of gravity - the ideology. Attacking these different entities at the operational level may cause a fracturing effect to further compartment operational level components of the franchise.

My 2 cents...

Pragmatic Thinker
10-17-2008, 12:44 PM
Dr Jack -

I really like the point you made about the Center of Gravity being their ideology. That is absolutely (IMHO) right on the money and having spent a lot of months in Afghanistan over the past four years I can say that it is a shared trait among all the disparate players within that country. I will add that part and parcel to that ideology is a great distrust and dislike of the western ideology.

The challenge becomes how do you kill your enemy with all the technology and destruction we bring to the fight while at the same time 'winning the hearts and minds' of the populace. It is a daunting task to kill a mid-level Taliban leader responsible for IED's that have killed coalition soldiers without using a bomb to do it. Our strategy of fighting from FOBs, Fire Bases, etc... have been a limiting factor to how much success we can make out there on the battlefield. I have witnessed large scale US/UK/ANA operations used to sweep the Tagab Valley and route the Taliban only to have no one hold that ground once we left. A year later these same villages were infested with Taliban again, so now try to convince that villager who is trying to stay out of the fight that he needs to support you again is daunting to say the least. He has done that song and dance and will not do it again...now he has thrown his hat in with the Taliban. It isn't rocket science it's simply survival out there for most of these Afghans and since we cannot hold ground and provide the hearts and minds types of services needed plus (most importantly) maintain the security gained from pushing the Taliban out this will continue to be the process...

PT
SENDS

slapout9
10-17-2008, 12:53 PM
Interesting paper from the Air Force along the lines that Dr. Jack mentions.

http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/hendersonj.html

Rob Thornton
10-17-2008, 03:20 PM
Michael Gerson had a related article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/16/AR2008101603183.html)in the Washignton Post today:

Brief excerpt...


This theory may be most severely tested in Pakistan's tribal regions, by a kind of irrational violence that defies PowerPoint summary. Pakistan's remote, impoverished North-West Frontier Province and federally administered tribal areas are administered effectively by no one. And into this vacuum of civilization has gathered a ghastly collection of killers, cutthroats and Islamist ideologues. Al-Qaeda leaders mix and marry into Afghan Taliban families. The Haqqani network launches attacks on U.S. troops within Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban issues threats against the White House and New York.

Eden
10-17-2008, 08:06 PM
...but selecting 'ideology' as the insurgent's center of gravity is just wrong, unless your definition of center of gravity is far different than mine. To me, the center of gravity is that from which your enemy draws his strength and which allows him to apply that strength most usefully. Some of the players in Afghanistan are wild-eyed Islamist radical fanatics - many are not.

This is not the thread to discuss what that center of gravity is, but I would accept their sanctuary in Waziristan, drug money, Pathan tribal support, international moneymen, or extensive network of ratlines before I would agree that their ideology is what gives them their strength.

I mean, is our COG 'free-market capitalism', or 'liberal democracy'? Could al-Qaida win if they would just get us to abandon the Constitution? I submit that if every insurgent in Afghanistan converted to Mormonism tomorrow, we would still have a fight on our hands.

This is just a pet peeve of mine. Every discussion on COG I ever had at the War College or CGSC ended by someone saying it was 'the will of the people'. Well, no kidding, but how is that a useful concept in wartime? I mean, if we could change their will by peaceful means, we wouldn't have to use force at all, would we?

Ron Humphrey
10-18-2008, 05:25 PM
But I wonder what feedack I could get on an idea that occurred to me about a year or so ago.

L&S- In order to determine what "COG" you need to focus on at the operational level you may to look much closer to home, for in your weakness or strengths might be found the most accurate foci as opposed to searching in what you think you know of the enemy?

When we seek to determine a direction for "targeting" we in essense seek to know that which is very uncertain. If instead one focus on that which you know the best(ie: your own) it may be that the sudden recognition of an enemy's weakness is not far behind.