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Thread: The "we need to provide security" argument and the "strongest tribe" hypothesis

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  1. #1
    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Default The "we need to provide security" argument and the "strongest tribe" hypothesis

    Many COIN theorists and pro-Afghan "surge"(tm) pundits share a common assertion; the Western forces in Afghanistan supposedly need to provide security for the local population to succeed.

    The COIN theorists tend to have a more sophisticated argument (and my mood deteriorates when I think of TV pundits), so I'll address theirs:

    The typical line of thought is like this (no quote):

    'The pro-Western powers (the government) needs to earn the local's support and allegiance by providing services and constructing objects for better quality of life. This construction work and the maintenance of public services can only succeed if protected properly against enemy (Taliban) attack (and blackmail in case of NGOs).
    Western troops need to move in, defeat (chase away) local insurgents and provide security to the pro-Western efforts to stabilize the area through popular support for the Western cause.'

    That's nice in theory, but it fails my plausibility check.

    Western troops ride in armoured vehicles and live in guarded forts, yet they still suffer casualties.


    How could Western troops - even assumed a high force density - hope to provide security for a population that outnumbers them 11 million (Afghan Pashtu) to much less than 600,000?

    This (future, dream) ratio doesn't look particularly terrible - until you consider more than half of the pro-Western troops are non-combat troops (much more among the foreigners) and remember that you would need to guard effectively every marketplace, every school, every isolated hamlet to provide real security and eliminate all safe havens.

    The security problem isn't limited to the protection of pro-Western employees and institutions, after all. You would also need to protect the general population.

    Afghanistan has a rather unstable allegiance culture: A village may be considered to be allied with a certain faction and provide fighters to that faction. Another faction may arrive, execute a show of force and can negotiate to the end that the village switches sides. A refusal could lead to a massacre.
    This fragile allegiance system is what made the then-surprisingly quick Taliban rout in 2001 possible; supposedly pro-Taliban settlements switched sides when the Taliban were losing and Northern Alliance forces were arriving. This allegiance thing is also imo the core of the talk about "being the strongest tribe" that's popular among many COIN crowd members.

    The "strongest tribe" idea means that locals ally with the strongest (and reliable) power and despise, even attack a weak or unreliable power.

    It's a close relative of the "we must provide security" and "Afghan surge" concepts because it's all at least in part about having more forces in place.

    I consider this "strongest tribe" idea to be very mislead. It's not about strength or reliability. It's about threat value instead. There's little to no booty (the classic tribal warfare motivator) to gain in the Afghanistan conflict, therefore choosing sides is either about power (relevant only to a minority) or security.
    The "strongest tribe" concept doesn't pass my plausibility check, a "most threatening power" concept could do so.

    So there's our predicament: We are past the civilization stage where taking hostages and mass murder were considered viable tactics of warfare. We are not threatening enough (still dangerous, but not in a directed, useful and predictable way). We are not able to fully protect against other threats because such encompassing protection is impossible. The enemy will always find a way how to hit his targets in his own country/region.

    This problem has its limits, of course. The Northern Non-Pashtu communities are not as much inclined to bow to the Taliban as the Pashtu communities which often share culture, political goals and ethnicity with the Taliban.
    The informed part of the pro-"we must provide security" crowd simply hopes that the difference between the Northerners on the one hand and the Pashtu on the other hand aren't that great, so imperfect security would suffice to even turn the tide in pro-Taliban communities.

    I don't agree, for I do not support warfare that's critically based on hopes and dreams.

    Some people assert that warfare should be continued until you found a way how to win. That may fit to those who remember their nation's history of first floundering and then winning in war after huge expenses. It doesn't fit my thinking, though: I expect wars to be only fought if waging war is the lesser evil in comparison to peace, which means that I don't accept high resource expenditures without having equally high expectations for the advantage gained by warfare.
    (This was previously published elsewhere, but it's my text.)

    -----------------------------------------------------------

    I understand that this text isn't exactly a niceness, but the topic is important and I'm kinda 'direct' when I want to get a message through.

  2. #2
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Thumbs up The text is nice enough.

    There's nothing to apologize for in that post. I understand it and I completely agree with it.

  3. #3
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    Default Two inadequate strategies

    Fuchs

    Great post, and while I admire our efforts to get better at COIN, I think much of our COIN doctrine is built upon false assumptions, or more accurately the assumptions are applied to broadly to too many conflicts, when in many cases they may not be relevant (using Gian's term it has become an intellectual straight jacket).

    'The pro-Western powers (the government) needs to earn the local's support and allegiance by providing services and constructing objects for better quality of life. This construction work and the maintenance of public services can only succeed if protected properly against enemy.
    Regardless of who doing is fighting the insurgency (western or eastern governments) the stated goal in our doctrine is too separate the insurgent from the populace, and generally this attempted through security/combat operations and economic reform, or hearts (my life will be better if the counterinsurgent wins) and minds (the counterinsurgent is going to win, so it is probably a better decision to side with them).

    There is some historical evident that this approach has merit, especially if you're fighting a communist based insurgency, which often focuses on mobilizing the poor masses against corrupt governments (it is a hearts and mind struggle based somewhat on ideology, but also there is generally a tribal aspect to it) with promises of economic reform (buyer beware). Let's assume the struggle isn't about economic systems, but more focused on identity, then perhaps the hearts and minds approach is ill suited?

    This allegiance thing is also imo the core of the talk about "being the strongest tribe" that's popular among many COIN crowd members.
    The "strongest tribe" idea means that locals ally with the strongest (and reliable) power and despise, even attack a weak or unreliable power.
    It's a close relative of the "we must provide security" and "Afghan surge" concepts because it's all at least in part about having more forces in place.
    I consider this "strongest tribe" idea to be very misleading. It's not about strength or reliability. It's about threat value instead. There's little to no booty (the classic tribal warfare motivator) to gain in the Afghanistan conflict, therefore choosing sides is either about power (relevant only to a minority) or security.
    The "strongest tribe" concept doesn't pass my plausibility check, a "most threatening power" concept could do so.
    Throughout history I can't recall any situations off the top of my head where working through tribes and tribe like structures has ever led to any degree of long term political stability. By enabling one tribe you simply drive the wedge in deeper between them and opposing tribes. In a historical context the stroingest tribe status is generally a fleeting moment, which may explain the push by our neo-cons to reform these governments (into a democracies), and perhaps hoping to create a tribal melting pot political system where everyone has a voice, thus there is no need to take up arms outside the established political process. I don't complete disagree with the idea since I'm somewhat of a closet neo-con at heart, but I do question its feasibility.

    IMHO If and when a society is ready to transition into a democracy we should help them with all the elements of our national power, and more importantly with the great talent and knowledge embedded in our society outside of the government. In the meantime if we feel compelled to interfere, then we should limit that interference to gentle nudges and by demonstrating the merit of our system through our successes at home. For some reason an attempt to impose democracy by bayonet is not generally effective; however, you can impose draconian forms of government by bayonet. The bottom line appears to be if the people don't want it, then you won't impose it.

    Back to the military perspective, why should we get involved in tribal engagement? First off I think tribal engagement is a necessity regardless of your goals, because we're going to have to deal with the civilian populace, but engage to what end? One aspect as was demonstrated by the CIA and Special Forces is you can form a "business" relationship of convenience (a temporary merger) to kick a mutal competitor's butt. If we limited the engagement to facilitating a punitive military engagement, then we could have left with our heads held high, and there would be no hurt feelings with our business partners if the terms were properly negotiated in the first place. Probably wise to maintain a relationship incase we need to merge again. That is a much more economically viable form of tribal engagement.

    I don't agree, for I do not support warfare that's critically based on hopes and dreams.
    That's a strong statement, but I think it is well within the bounds of being an honest critique.

    I think you achieved your goal of opening a debate.

  4. #4
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    Default Let's say the OP points win hands down.

    If so, what are the recommended options, or a recommended singular COA if there are not options, for democracies to pursue in situations where another nation-state is beset by an armed conflict with one or more violent non-state actors, or where a country (a de jure, but not a de facto, nation-state) is beset by an armed conflict between two or more violent non-state actors ?

    This question is more generic than Astan-centric. That situation will play out despite what "COIN theorists and pro-Afghan "surge"(tm) pundits" might now say about it.

    In effect, what should the "Weinberger-Powell doctrine" be for the future ?

    Regards

    Mike

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    Default Be flexible, be realistic

    Posted by Jmm99

    If so, what are the recommended options, or a recommended singular COA if there are not options, for democracies to pursue in situations where another nation-state is beset by an armed conflict with one or more violent non-state actors, or where a country (a de jure, but not a de facto, nation-state) is beset by an armed conflict between two or more violent non-state actors?
    Off the cuff,

    Rule 1 Don't Get Involved: Don't get involved unless it is absolutely in our national interest to do so.

    Rule 2 Pick the Winning Team: make an assessment of who the winning actor will be and support that actor so we have influence after the conflict. If a State government is hopelessly corrupt and refuses to address the real issues that are driving the insurgency, then the last thing we need to do is side with that government. Instead quietly support the insurgency and then recognize the new government when they win. Think of all the lives that will be saved by not dragging the conflict on for years by keeping a lame duck government alive.

    Rule 3 Limit Complexity: Limit complexity to the extent possible, don't bring in a multiple-nation coalition just for IO purposes (instead carefully pick partners). Garner international support without asking for their troops who are generally not willing to fight. You simply added another guy with a vote at the decision table who has different objectives that will further restrict your freedom of movement (big change from how we do business now).

    Rule 4 Keep the Host Nation in the Lead: Assuming we're supporting a real nation state, not one in name only, then ensure we stay in a supporting role, except when it is necessary for our troops to suppress a threat militarily that the host nation doesn't have the capacity for, but then after we suppress, roll back immediately into a support role.

    Rule 5 Conduct a Non-Bias Assessment: Conduct a non-bias assessment to ensure we understand the context of the conflict so we can develop realistic objectives (vice feel good effects) and devise the appropriates ways and means to achieve them. Don't embrace COIN and nation building unless it is appropriate.

    Rule 6 Don't Commit to Fluff: national leadership carefully avoids making any fluff statements (we'll change country X into a budding democracy with a growing economy before we go home), and only make public statements about obtainable military objectives. Then maybe make comments something like we'll assist the host nation with development and reforming their government, but I want to be clear we'll only assist as long as they are making progress, if they refuse our advice, we won't waste our assets there. It isn't our success or failure, but theirs.

    Caveat, none of these rules will necessarily get you one step closer to winning, but they may leave you in a position with options.

    In effect, what should the "Weinberger-Powell doctrine" be for the future
    Great question, and one that has been ignored too long.

  6. #6
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Default Good job Sven!

    A key element of defeating an insurgency by making insurgents fear you. I have no problem with that at all. Old as the hills and solid common sense.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

  7. #7
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Unhappy Aye, there's the rubs...

    Plural...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    Rule 4 Keep the Host Nation in the Lead: Rule 5 Conduct a Non-Bias Assessment
    Yes. Though I frankly don't think we're capable of doing either...
    Great question, and one that has been ignored too long.
    Doctrine (in that case is) dogma...

  8. #8
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post

    In effect, what should the "Weinberger-Powell doctrine" be for the future ?

    Regards

    Mike
    Modify Eisenhower's Policy of Massive Retaliation to Precision Retaliation or Precision Engagement.

  9. #9
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Thumbs up What he said...

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    Modify Eisenhower's Policy of Massive Retaliation to Precision Retaliation and / or Precision Engagement.
    Only slightly modified...

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