Small Wars Journal

On General Krulak's E-mail to George Will

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 5:43am
Ten years ago, the ideas about warfare expressed in General Krulak's email to George Will would have been merely disappointing. However, after eight years of war have we have learned many hard lessons at a very high price, and the ideas attributed to General Krulak are now incomprehensible.

General Krulak appears unsure as to whether al-Qaeda and the Taliban are our enemies, and whether the United States has an interest in preventing Taliban control of Afghanistan. Exactly eight years ago today, al-Qaeda operatives supported by the Taliban-controlled government of Afghanistan murdered 3,000 Americans on American soil. The answer to the general's question is yes - al-Qaeda and the Taliban are America's enemies.

General Krulak advocates the use of 'hunter-killer teams' backed by airpower governed by minimal rules of engagement to 'take out the bad guys.' This light footprint tactic has failed for the last eight years. Aircraft operating with few or no ground forces cannot distinguish between insurgents and innocent civilians. Minimal rules of engagement result in maximum civilian casualties, tacitly assisting our enemies as they seek sanctuary and support from civilian populations.

General Krulak misrepresents the manpower requirements necessary for success in Afghanistan. Most of the troops required to provide security for the Afghan people can and will come from the Afghans themselves. Indeed, the most important task for American military forces is to strengthen the capabilities of Afghan security forces to accomplish this task.

General Krulak speculates that the American people would not provide the resources necessary to prevail in Afghanistan. While every citizen is entitled to his or her opinion, it's not clear that General Krulak has any particular expertise in the area of domestic American political opinion.

What's more certain is that the American people and their elected representatives have provided virtually everything asked of them by our military leaders. If there are insufficient resources to prevail in Afghanistan, it is the responsibility of senior military officers and other leaders within the executive branch to ask for more. It is dismaying that a retired general officer would advocate abandoning the war in Afghanistan out of concern for its impact on military personnel or equipment. We must tailor our forces to meet the demands of our wars, rather than vice versa.

After eight years of war, we have learned some hard lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan, including:

* Al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates pose a serious threat to the security of the United States, our people and our allies

* Airpower and special operations forces are a necessary part of any counter-terrorism operation, but in and of themselves are insufficient to deny sanctuary to terrorist organizations.

* Developing host-nation security forces is an essential component of counterinsurgency operations. These forces are more credible, more enduring and more cost-effective than relying exclusively or primarily on U.S. forces.

* It is the responsibility of general officers to ask for the resources necessary to win our wars.

I respect General Krulak for his decades of service to our country. However, I was dismayed that any officer, active or retired, could still hold the views attributed to him on September 11, 2009.


The strategy General Krulak is recommending is not "Hunter-Killer teams" its "containment". Just like "containment" was the strategy was US strategy during most of the Cold War. If we recognize that it is too hard, too costly, and too conduct widespread COIN / nation building and we instead focus on containment we could protect our interests and not go broke which is essentially matching ends with means at the strategic level.


Wed, 11/04/2009 - 6:51pm

Will means different things to different nations. In a poorer nation with a smaller military, will is necessary to raise and sustain a military effort. In the US, indifference can suffice because we're big and rich enough to carry on with military operations without anyone noticing.


I agree with you on the national will. Unfortunately, none of the three previous administrations have asked any sacrifice from the majority of the populace.

You stated,

"Bugging out on our friends is dishonorable. It is bad business in the long run because it means we can't be trusted. And as Scott says, if you can't be trusted you will eventually stand alone, a victim in waiting."

This is a tricky one. Do nation-states really have friends or just allies, interests, and partners?

I'm inclined to think the latter. For instance, I would be hard pressed to consider Maliki or Karzai a friend. On the other hand, the boys in Canada, England, and Oz have been pretty good to us over the years.


carl (not verified)

Wed, 11/04/2009 - 3:19pm


I disagree about the will of the Americans. We have the will. Col. Yingling said that the American people have done whatever has been asked of them. That is true. But we have to be asked. The people who do the asking are the political and cultural elites. THEY are the ones who are shaky. There isn't anything wrong with the backbone of the Americans, but for some reason we keep electing a critical proportion of people who are straight out afraid to try.

I keep hearing that the American people won't do this and don't have the patience for that. I don't buy it. We've been at this for 8 years and if we are asked by someone who will lead, instead of sniffing out what the polls say, we will go another 8 years or more.

I also wouldn't mistake a lack of passion for a reluctance to persevere. Passion is hard to maintain for a multi-year effort and a persevering attitude often isn't very colorful.


Bugging out on our friends is dishonorable. It is bad business in the long run because it means we can't be trusted. And as Scott says, if you can't be trusted you will eventually stand alone, a victim in waiting.

Regarding the following quote: "We could no more easily stop the rise of the Taliban in 1992-95 than we can now- and we should not consign ourselves to an endless intervention and counter-insurgency in a vain attempt to prove that reality to be wrong. As for the terrorists being disenfranchised or oppressed, how do you explain the current crop of terrorists who have long been exposed to the West or are home-grown?"

I don't know about 92-95 but the Taliban is eminently beatable now, if we are willing to try hard. I think we should. I don't remember saying anything about terrorists being this or that but if I were pressed I would guess that the little terrs are mostly soreheaded, resentful young men whose nihilistic tendencies are taken advantage of by the ideologues.

Ryan (not verified)

Tue, 11/03/2009 - 3:28pm

Forget strategy, operations and tactics - this is all about National Will. We simply don't have it.

I've been off active duty for three years now and must attest to the disconnect between our military and the rest of our society. Right now, all people care about is the economy and whether they will ever be able to retire or not.

Few people in the general public really care about either war. The war to most Americans is no different than any other reality TV program that they can switch the channel from.

I hate to break it to everyone on active duty who still believes in this effort, but I'm convinced that a vast majority of people on both sides of the political spectrum really don't care. We never mobilized our country for war, we're still trying to do it as an economy of force mission.

Sure, surveys will show XX% of public support, but it doesn't measure passion of position. People are not passionately FOR the effort. In fact, I bet that if you defined victory that most people would say "Who cares?"

For those who think that there will be political reprecussions if we "lose" either war, I'd offer that we can't win in the historic sense of the word - or at least to the level that would convince the American people either war has been worth fighting. Iraq has relatively stabilized, yet, I've noticed that John McCain isn't President.

I've had someone on AD suggest that the current administration would be blamed if we pulled out and Al Qaeda attacked. I'm not so sure. I don't take it for granted that the American people would feel that way. It is difficult to say whether Americans would blame their President for a terrorist attack. That was Bush's goal - to protect no matter the costs, even personal freedom. What's more important is that we demonstrate moral authority among all nations - that we demonstrate that our actions have not invited attacks.

We should act responsibly in Afghanistan, but I don't think we should expect that we can build them into a country in our image of Democracy. Stabilize and hand over the keys to whoever can manage the power - hold them accountable for keeping Al Qaeda at bay and focus on other means to protect our borders.

Scott Shaw

Wed, 09/30/2009 - 11:47am


Heres my problem with what you asked and said. In another thread and often quoted is something along the lines of "we dont have friends, we have allies and interests" My question is how much longer will we be able to gain allies by continually hanging our current allies out to dry?

The voting public does not have great instincts. I am not arguing that our military has the greatest, but at least we have some commitment to something other than the next moment. Someone has to have some foresight. Where would we have been in the 1950s without the foresight of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s? Its not about polls - its about doing whats right for both the short and long term. You talk about inordinate resources and lives - heres the count of American: Iraq - 4346 (plus 179 UK and 139 other and not counting IA/IP) Afghanistan - 853 (plus 218 UK and 354 other nations again not counting ANA/ANP). I dont have the numbers for the Iraqi civilian or Afghan civilian and I want to note that they are just as important - I am just not sure where to cull the data from.

Now ask yourself what the tally might be without the two wars that we are in. I agree that we are in a culture war or are at least caught in the "Reformation" of the Islamic faith. And it's going to be bloody.

Quote As for the terrorists being disenfranchised or oppressed, how do you explain the current crop of terrorists who have long been exposed to the West or are home-grown?Unquote 1. If we keep calling them terrorists and leave it at that, then we miss what makes them into terrorists. Just because someone is exposed to the West doesnt mean that they are going to like it or that we are going to "show them the way" when they have lived another way for 20, 30, or 40 years. MikeF and John D talked about Sayyid Qutb and some of the 19 hijackers - a trip to Six Flags, MacDonalds, and then a plane ride home isnt going to change someones mind if they come to America with an agenda or even if they stay for a couple years like Qutb did.

There are a lot of disenfranchised and oppressed people in the world - not all of them are terrorists. So the questions that I would like to start with 1. "Where are most of the people that want to do harm to the United States coming from?" Then "What makes a person/group of people want to do that harm?" Then "Are we doing anything to potentially cause it?" (That might be easy to fix) and finally (to start again, other questions will surely follow) "How might we go about easing some of the tension in the region where most of the people who want to do us harm are currently located or are from?" John, that might lessen the number of "home-grown terrorists."

Im not saying that democracy is the best idea for any nation, Im just trying to get to a point where the streets dont run with blood.


John (not verified)

Fri, 09/25/2009 - 4:02am

Carl commented:
"It is in our national interest to pay our debts also. And we owe the Afghan people. We used them as a tool to weaken the USSR then we turned away. They suffered more years of war and the Taliban for that. Then we used them to chase AQ into the hills, and we paid as little interest as we could to them until just lately, because the Taliban is back. Now that things are getting harder for us we can't just bug out and leave them, again. We owe these people."

This sort of self-deprecating guilt concerning our past politico-military decisions is ruinous to our foreign and military policy. We could no more easily stop the rise of the Taliban in 1992-95 than we can now- and we should not consign ourselves to an endless intervention and counter-insurgency in a vain attempt to prove that reality to be wrong. As for the terrorists being disenfranchised or oppressed, how do you explain the current crop of terrorists who have long been exposed to the West or are home-grown? We are most certainly in a deep-seated clash of civilizations.
Our military and its civilian leadership are fundamentally limited by public opinion in their ability to devise policy and strategy. The American people do not and will not accept such large scale counter-insurgencies with such long timelines as have been seen in Iraq and Afghanistan- regardless of the reason. Nor should they. As is most often the case, the voting public has better instincts in this regard than its government and military. Such wars consume an inordinate amount of resources and lives. They also encourage a cultural arrogance within our leadership that leads them to imperially suppose we can change societies around the world merely by facilitating elections and imposing socialist statism. Without the long democratic traditions under whose shadow we in the West comfortably live, these experiments in democracy will inevitably fail. This is especially true in the Mid-East where one only needs to look as far as Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey to see that Islamic extremists have sizeable constituencies.
There are those who do not want to face the fact that in most of the world, democracy is not the best answer for our security. Instead of pursuing this false hope, let's return to the strategy that we perfected throughout the 20th century- back whichever ethnic group or politician who can best stabilize the country while remaining opposed to the fundamentalists who are our enemies. The client state system allows us to exercise control without bleeding ourselves dry in the process. The enemy is going to try and kill us regardless- whether we give him the vote, give him a green card, provide a job, or hunt him down.


Wed, 09/23/2009 - 1:38pm

All very good points. I just bought "Perfect Soldiers" about the 911 highjackers. I need to get smarter there too.

"I do want to pose this question before we look at the Iraqis and Afghans on the issue of corruption - how corrupt is our own American society and even our own Army? Just look at the officers, senior NCOs, and governmental officials that are in trouble over stealing FOO money, fuel (happened in my old brigade - the maintenance warrant was court-martialed), and parts. We have a problem too."

This is true but it's like comparing someone with a cold to someone with terminal cancer. We don't have Generals with warehouses full of metric tons of heroin (at least that I know about). The biggest difference is, as you stated, the maintenance warrant in our army is court-martialed. In Afghanistan he's usually promoted after giving some of the proceeds to the Colonel in charge.

Another thing I find disturbing is many people are disenfranchised in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and instead of fighting there for rights and opportunity, they want to kill innocent Americans. There's going to have to be much more democratic revolution in the middle east to make a difference.

Sorry I am so late to all this but another thing struck me as I was reading the posts. Gian, why is what Gen. Krulak is espousing strategy, and what Paul is saying not strategy? Boiling it down, Gen. Krulak is saying we should sit at the edges and take the occasional shot when it is convenient. That is a good way to survive a big WWII dogfight but I don't see how it will accomplish much besides giving the SpecOps guys something to do and help General Atomics. It is a sound way to get a good kill ratio but to what end?

Regarding Brig. Gen. Brewster's comment that we have no national interest in remaining in Afghanistan: Sir, I must strongly disagree. Juan Williams said that if we left, the world, and especially the takfiris would see that the Americans invaded Afghanistan and then were driven out by the warriors of the Taliban. The affect of that sight on the morale of our enemies would have strategic implications, bad ones, for the US. It is very much in our interest not to let that happen.

It is in our national interest to pay our debts also. And we owe the Afghan people. We used them as a tool to weaken the USSR then we turned away. They suffered more years of war and the Taliban for that. Then we used them to chase AQ into the hills, and we paid as little interest as we could to them until just lately, because the Taliban is back. Now that things are getting harder for us we can't just bug out and leave them, again. We owe these people.

As to the substantially reducing our forces and going the drone/commando route, wouldn't we be very much dependent for intel on what the ISI decided we should know and wouldn't they want us to know mostly what was good for the Pakistani army? I would be very unhappy to see the US armed forces essentially being directed by a few generals in Islamabad.

Knowing the Enemy ~ Habeck
The Looming Tower ~ Wright

...both are good (and readable) books about the origins of fundalist Islamic Jihadism.

I agree with the majority who believe COIN is NOT a strategy. Just like air-campaign and IO-campaign have become cleache; so has the use of the term 'COIN strategy'. However, General Krulack brings up valid questions about who the enemy is and what the U.S. purpose is in Afghanistan.

If our efforts in Afghanistan are not matched with similar efforts across the border in Pakistan, we are ultimately wasting our time and resources in South Asia. If we are unable to influence Pakistan, we would be much better off installing/influencing competing Afghan warlords that are hostile to AQ while our SOF execute the occasional hunter-killer op as intel becomes available.


I'd start out with The Sayyid Qutb Reader by Albert Bergesen. It'll take you through Sayyid's life and writings from 1930-1960. During his imprisonment and subsequent execution by the Egyptian government, Qutb begame an underground hero. His works were banned but distributed on the Black Market. From what I understand, he is the hero of Zawahari and the spiritual god-father for AQ.

Next, check out the USMA Counter-terrorism Center. They've translated seized AQ documents from the last twenty years. It'll take some time, but you can begin to see how AQ has developed and evolved it's organization structurally, strategically, and philisophically.

Hope this helps.


Seaworthy (not verified)

Sat, 09/19/2009 - 10:41am

Scott, I don't like the word assume, but I'll assume you are asking about Dr. Sayid Imam al-Sharif, known also as Dr. Fadl?

You may find his book "Foundations of Preparation for Jihad" of value in your research.

The Agency found al-Sharif in Yemen. He was "rendered" to a secret CIA facility for interrogation, and later extradited to Egypt where he's serving a life sentence - no color TV!

Scott Shaw

Sat, 09/19/2009 - 1:00am

John and Mike F,

First, my answer to the question of should we continue to ignore honor killings, murder of Afghan Christian converts, and rampant corruption is no. I hope that I didnt come off as espousing that.

Second, and Im not a September 11th hijacker expert, I think that if you look at the September 11th hijackers and planners (specifically Abdulaziz al-Omari, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Saeed al-Ghamdi, but not Mohammed Atta) I think that you will see a pattern of poverty and disenfranchisement in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Atta was definitely not poor or uneducated and I cant say what his motivation was other than hatred. Ill do some more research on the hijackers to see how many of them came to the West and for how long prior to their mission and I invite those who are much more educated on this than I am to please point me in the right direction.

I think that bringing education to a place like those two (and I acknowledge that we have to have a healthy dose of realism) would at least make a dent. As far as "We talk about giving them democracy but we ignore religious freedom and give them what I would call 'Taliban light.", I dont know what else to do other than use some of the "other than military" power to combat it.

Third, Hamas. How much of that was a vote for Hamas and how much a vote for "not Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas?" Again, I dont know, but I am sure there is someone on this site who does.

I want to tackle one issue that I have some experience with - corruption. I was a battalion MiTT chief in Diyala (Jun 07-Jun 08) and saw it first-hand within the Iraqi Army and many other aspects of Iraqi society. We are not going to change it directly and definitely not in a one year tour. Its going to take time, effort, exposure to Western systems, and exposure to a surplus of stuff (money, fuel, food) to see that it will be OK if I dont steal. I do want to pose this question before we look at the Iraqis and Afghans on the issue of corruption - how corrupt is our own American society and even our own Army? Just look at the officers, senior NCOs, and governmental officials that are in trouble over stealing FOO money, fuel (happened in my old brigade - the maintenance warrant was court-martialed), and parts. We have a problem too.

No, we should not tolerate corruption, but we need to take a dose of reality before we point a finger at an Iraqi general (or politician) and say "Youre corrupt" Mike F, I think this is at your comment of "seeing the world as it is."

Sayyid Qutb. I am still doing my homework on him and the Muslim Brotherhood. If you know a good book, I have a little time on my hands. I know that he was in America and did some time in three different colleges including Stanford, but I dont have enough detail yet to make any educated judgment on how to prevent something like that if we even can. I have read his "Milestones" but I don't think that is enough to make any kind of educated discussion on him and the Muslim Brotherhood.



Fri, 09/18/2009 - 1:18pm

"I don't think that hatred for America is the primary motivator among our adversaries."

The primary motivator is hatred for Israel. We were attacked primarily because of our support for Israel and I think it's scarey too when OBL attacks Saudi Arabia for not being "Islamic" enough. A goal is to develop a caliphate, but it is only an intermediate goal IOT build combat power to destroy Israel. Everything AQ does is aimed at separating support for Israel. Attack the Brits, the Spanish, and the Americans so they will withdraw from the middle east and not sell arms or give any other support to Israel so the Muslims can ultimately prevail against them. This is the real root of this whole conflict. Even Iran supports AQ and has gambled it's own security to meet this goal. There is almost a universal belief amongst Muslims that the root of all their problems is Israel and that they should be destroyed. A bigger problem is there may not be any room for compromise in this issue and we are simply delaying another inevitable major war in the middle east. If we intervene on Israel's behalf, we again are guilty and can expect attacks from terrorists. If we do nothing, we bear responsibility for allowing another holocaust to happen. How do you change the mind of the average Muslim in the middle east on this issue?

"I don't think that hatred for America is the primary motivator among our adversaries."

I met a sociologist that believes what we're actually seeing is the end-tail of Islam's version of the Prodestant Reformation. In his view, the struggle of Islam to define or redefine itself started at the end of World War One with the disolution of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey's transformation into a non-theological based state, and the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In his view, this struggle has nothing to do with us. If he is correct, in the next 20-30 years, AQ and other transnational terroist groups will be a threat of the past as they are marginalized by the greater Islamic community.

Additionaly, he compared these groups to the anarchist of the late 19th and early 20th century.

I think his view has some merit,however, the question remains on what should we do in the interim?




Fri, 09/18/2009 - 11:43am

I don't think that hatred for America is the primary motivator among our adversaries. Rather, it is a useful justification for them to carry out dirty work in pursuit of their goals for establishing a caliphate. Anger at America may have helped to clarify things in the minds of the intellectuals who provided the basic philosophy for the current crop of nutbars, but the objectives of organizations like al-Qaeda is to establish governance over an area that adheres to its bizarro interpretation of Islamic Law.

In other words, we should strive to see the world as it is not how we wished it to be.

Clarity gained could provide better understanding as to remedies.



"These are some of the really hard issues no one is talking about"

John, spot on. Sayyid Qutb, the god-father of modern day AQ and the young Iranians that stormed the American Embassy in 1979 were all educated in the United States. I often forget these facts as I read or discuss indirect solutions such as better governance, democracy, and education for the ME.

In this regard, Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civiilizations was prophetic. If we want to try and determine better solutions, I'm starting to think that we will have to have challenge our assumptions and conduct serious discussions on how different cultures view the world. This debate would be difficult given our propensity to shy away from discussing race, culture, and religion based off our own troubled past.




Fri, 09/18/2009 - 10:03am

I agree in principle with what you wrote, but here are some things that I can't reconcile. We argue that a lack of education is a root cause, but we see that the majority, if not all of the 911 terrorists were middle to upper class and fairly educated; many of them in the west. We talk about enfranchising the people, but when there is a vote in Palestine, they vote in Hamas whose platform is centered on destroying Israel. When I talk about changing their culture I'm labeled a "Crusader." We talk about giving them democracy but we ignore religous freedom and give them what I would call "Taliban light." Do we continue to ignore honor killings of daughters raped by sons? Do we ignore Afghan Christian converts who are murdered for fear of lossing the rest of the populace to our cause? Do we continue to ignore rampant corruption because it's their culture? These are some of the really hard issues no one is talking about. Thoughts?

Scott Shaw

Thu, 09/17/2009 - 11:11am

Here's what I don't get and bear with me while I lay out the formula:

The strategic problem is that there are a lot of people who hate America and Americans/want to do general violence. They come in all flavors from Islamic extremists to various separatists (for the sake of this discussion, I would like to focus on the Islamists).

The reason that they are angry is that they are disenfranchised (again for the sake of this discussion, I use this definition "to deprive of a franchise, privilege, or right"). Disenfranchised by the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, etc. Oh and Afghanistan. Yes, I understand that this may be a small oversimplification, but this is "strategic" and not "operational."

They are disenfranchised for many reasons with underrepresentation by the local, state, and national government being the primary however, they also include the following: poverty, lack of education that leads to poverty, being forced out of their tribal comfort zone (Iraq - but not necessarily Afghanistan), social strata that is unbreakable. This is just a stab, and I know that there are more that the J5 can think of.

I acknowledge the utility of the use of SOF to cut off the head, however, I still know that once the head is gone, it will only re-grow from the body - and that body is populated from the uneducated base. General Krulak hit it on the head with the statement "we are fighting ideas as well as warriors. You cannot defeat ideas with must defeat them with better ideas." And then he calls for a strategy (defined in FM 3-0 the art and science of developing and employing armed forces and other instruments of national power in a synchronized fashion to secure national or multinational objectives) of "defeating ideas with bullets." I don't see anything other than the operational level of war there. (The operational level of war is the level at which campaigns and major operations are conducted and sustained to accomplish strategic objectives.)

So the strategic goal should be education of the people of the CENTCOM AOR IOT prevent Islamic extremism from firming their foothold in the AOR.

The operational goals should be: 1. Creating space for the HN security force to enable itself. 2. Creating a viable political process that enfranchises the population at local, provincial/state, and national levels. 3. Creating/re-establishing an educational system that will prevent the establishment/re-establishment of a radicalized Islamic society. 4. Some sort of economic development to enable the nations people to self-sustain rather than survive on government welfare. 5. (and this was my editors addition) A healthy dose of realism - we cant, arent going to, and shouldnt fix everything and need to realize it early on.

Tactical goals are easy based on those operational goals.

But I still don't see how a "strategy" of bullets in the form of "hunter-killer teams" can solve this problem or is even a "strategy."



Tue, 09/15/2009 - 9:02am

There very well may be some confusion as to strategy and COIN, but I think it's a mistake to look at what most journalists are saying and interpret that as we have no strategy. Most journalists are completely ignorant of military terms and principles, but your point is well taken as it relates to others. To address your last point, tactical tasks should always be nested to the strategy. How would it be different if we look at WWII where conducting amphibious operations to close with and destroy enemy forces are tactical tasks, but correlate directly to our strategy? You will always conduct tactical tasks and the strategy relates to executing them at the appropriate time and place IOT ensure defeat of the enemy. Maybe I'm not clear on your point. Could you use an example of WWII strategy vs. tactical tasks to illustrate what you mean? Full spectrum operations was what we were conducting. The strategy developed was to conquer Germany then Japan. Some of the operational tasks were 1) Seize N. Africa from Axis control 2) Logisitically support the allies 3) Conduct a landing in France and drive to Germany 4) Conduct large scale bombing raids on German industry...These may appear to be tactical tasks (actually operational) and are full spectrum operations, and are nested to the strategy but are not the strategy themselves.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Tue, 09/15/2009 - 7:16am

Dear John:

Well, and actually, people say it is a strategy all of the time. How do you explain the simple term often used by experts, journos, and even practioners like our "counterinsurgency strategy" in Afghanistan? Is this just a rhetorical use of the term, or does it really indicate confusion between strategy and operations. The strategy that you say is ours reads to me like a set of Coin tasks at the tactical level, except for your last one which implies nation building writ large.




Tue, 09/15/2009 - 12:57am

I agree that COIN is not a strategy, but I really don't see anyone saying it is. It is a type of operation. Just as in Full Spectrum Operations you conduct attacks, defenses and movement to contacts, in COIN you conduct Civil Military Affairs, National Security Force Training, Psy Ops, etc. Although I'm not privy to CENTCOM Op Orders I think their strategy is clear simply by reading the news. Their strategy is 1) Use Afghan and Coalition Forces to find and destroy Taliban/AQ forces in Afstan. (we need more troops to do this) 2) Use SOF, airpower and Pakistani forces to find and destroy Taliban/AQ forces in Pakistan (obviously with mixed results but it seems to be improving) 3) Use Coalition Forces/FBI/DEA to destroy or at least limit the enemy ability to raise money through drug trafficking IOT buy weapons and 4) Promote western friendly leaders to influence the populace to abandon "jihad" against the west but remain muslim. You can argue if it's good or not, but I think the strategy is clear and COIN is the type of conflict we're in, but I see evidence of strategic planning. Their strategy is to destroy Taliban/AQ forces in Afstan and Pakistan. There are probable attempts to conduct DDR operations as well to bring former insurgents over to our side, which again is not a strategy but a technique.
The other thing I think important about why I think we can't leave is their will to fight. North Korea has a lot more military capablity then AQ/Taliban (and probably will for the forseeable future) but we basically leave them alone because they have no will to use it. AQ/Taliban need to be eliminated as an organization because regardless of their capabilities, they will continue to try to kill Americans around the world.

Ken White's comments cut to the crux of the issue:

"The strategic error was committed seven or eight years ago, all that has followed has has been and is an attempt to rectify that. The operational problem accrued from that error was compounded by poorly trained (for the job at hand) forces in inadequate numbers due to other strategic (and operational, elsewhere) errors."

Look no further than the Bonn Loya Jirgas that established the Afghan transitional gov't and constitution. U.S. finger-prints are all over these actions and they were...SCREWED up!

-The U.S. got involved in the Afghan inter-ethnic rivalries and cast our weight behind Karzai ('the only guy we can trust') which invariably altered the outcome and resulted in innumerable ripples in Afghanistan that will probably take 20years to fully manifest.

-We rushed a constitution that had little to no public debate, was extremely vague about the role Islam would play in the gov't, and it did not specify what Kabul's relations would be to the misc regions of Afghanistan.

-The final straw was letting Karzai mandate a single non-transferable vote and ban political parties for the Prov/house elections.

If we think Afghanistan is important (which I am one of those people), we need a leader to call for a 'reset' of the Afghan gov't & constitution. If we do not have a concievable Afghan gov't to work with, I agree that we should change our 'strategy' in Afghanistan to match this reality.

justin kelly (not verified)

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 10:35pm

"Today, we are fighting to prevent the establishment of the Caliphate - which is Al Qaeda's strategic objective."
Given how fanciful that objective is, do we win by default?

Perhaps it's only fanciful if you look at it as a purely military competition and assume the Caliphate requires AQ leadership. Perceived as a social, informational, cultural, economic etc competition with occasional military conflicts maybe it is not so fanciful.

Despite that, I tend to think that the AQ cause is doomed in the long term because it denies human nature. In the meantime, however, there is a need to delay, counter, resist, subvert,...much like the West's response to the Cold War.

FID in Pakistan won't resolve the future of Pashtunistan. The bigger question is: can Pakistan be made strong enough to withstand both the Pashtuns and radical Islam - which are quite discrete threats - given that solutions to one will tend to incite the other.

FID in Pakistan is a form of warfare - which war should it serve?



Sun, 09/13/2009 - 10:07pm

<I>"Today, we are fighting to prevent the establishment of the Caliphate - which is Al Qaeda's strategic objective."</I>
Given how fanciful that objective is, do we win by default?

<I>"Afghanistan is only important because if it falls it seems likely that Pakistan will fall."</I>
Is that a generally accepted assumption among the strategic thinking community? I only ask because it seems that a FID effort in Pakistan has a much greater chance of success than a COIN effort in Afghanistan - especially if we allow ourselves greater flexibility by removing resources from Afghanistan. Most of the preconditions that people say are necessary for success in Afghanistan (nation-building, host-nation governance capability, creation of a halfway decent military) already exist in Pakistan. I would think that we would also have more flexibility in our approach to FID in Pakistan, due to the fact that we would be safeguarding nuclear weapons and seeking to avert any hostilities between Pakistan and India (both of which would likely give us greater moral standing and possibly some Chinese cooperation).

Justin Kelly (not verified)

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 9:03pm

Most of the comments so far are about the character of warfare in Afghanistan rather than the nature of the war. To think strategically we need to get our thinking right.

The Cold War is a useful metaphor. There was competition in cultural, social, economic, informational and military spheres and actual fighting in places like Korea, Vietnam.... All of these aspects of competition were unified under a strategy of containment.

Today, we are fighting to prevent the establishment of the Caliphate - which is Al Qaeda's strategic objective. The US is only important to AQ because you stand in their way.

This war is seeing competition in social, cultural, economic, informational and military spheres and actual fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan.....There is as yet no public unifying strategic concept.

These wars only make sense when considered in the context of the fight to prevent the emergence of the Caliphate - this is the source of their strategic logic.

Iraq was important not because of WMD but because AQ chose to confront US power there - and lost. While losing it alienated a large slab of its support base through its unacceptable attacks on Muslims etc. This turned a local military set-back into a strategic defeat.

Afghanistan is only important because if it falls it seems likely that Pakistan will fall. If Pakistan falls..... This raises the problem that all strategy is conjectural. It conceptulises a chain of causes and their effects which is based on many assumptions and limited understanding. Such is life.

'In war the result is never final'. Each war merely re-sets the conditions for the continuation of history - we should not expect too much. Iraq and Afghanistan will both resume their histories independent of direct Western control. All we have done is deny one field of endeavor to Al Qaeda for the time being. The Taliban is a local, narrow, political movement of no import - other than that they stand in the way of our immediate objective which is to deny Al Qaeda a refuge in Afghanistan. The Taliban is riding on Pashtun identity. In the context of the wider war to stop the Caliphate, the Pashtun may bring down Pakistan but the Taliban is unlikely to. These two factors mean that our focus should be on the Pashtun not the Taliban.

Whatever actions we take in Afghanistan need to be looked at in the context of the wider war against the establishment of the Caliphate. In itself, this is sufficient justification for a continuation of the war in Afghanistan - demonstrated lack of US resolve would be a strategic defeat of the first order - in the same class as AQ's strategic defeat in Iraq.

Now to warfare. If our focus is the Pashtun, this is not a COIN. The Pashtun represents an early form of state - the borders of which are not those of modern Afghanistan. This is state-versus-state irregular warfare not COIN. It is highly unlikely that inappropriate population-centric COIN models will be efficacious in this context. We need to re-conceptualise the nature of Pashtunistan and re-define our approaches accordingly.

The next theatre in the war against the Caliphate is Gaza and the West Bank. AQ has accepted the futility of military confrontation of the US for the time being. By exploiting Palestinian grievances they can re-establish their status as the flag bearer of militant Islam, establish a state political base in a place inaccessible to US military power and exploit US support for Israel to further alienate it from the Islamic world. This is a strategic challenge of the first order for the US.

Again this can only be given strategic logic if taken in the context of the war as a whole. War and warfare are different - confusing them confuses the 'how we fight' with the 'why we fight' and threatens to get the cart before the horse.


Brig.Gen. Al B… (not verified)

Sun, 09/13/2009 - 5:14pm

It may have been 29 years since I retired as a USMC Brig. Gen. but here is another "General" who thinks that Gen Krulak is "dead right" on this issue. It is my firm personal belief that within no more than 10 years after US troops departure from Iraq that the government there will be another "elected Dictator." What will we have gained there, and at what cost?
As to Afghanstan- we simply have no national interest there that is worth the expenditure of lives and equipment currently occurring. Who ever thinks that we can "close out" every place in the world where any of our enemies might be plotting against us does not understand the limits of military power. The sooner "out" the better!


Point taken, and I do apologize. I know he has thought a lot about it... but his post and response are written with such certainty and such a lack of subtlety that I am just gobsmacked.

I just don't get it.

If Col. Yingling's contributions to this threat don't convince people about Col. Gentile's warning about there being a "COIN religion" -- accepted on faith and requiring no affirmative defense -- I don't know what will.


Some wise words:

"If you're going to play the game boy, then you got to learn to play the game right. Every gambler know the secret to survival is knowing when to hold em and knowing when to fold. Every game is a winner; Every game is a loser."

-Kenny Rogers, The Gambler.




Let's not go down the slippery slope here in regards to statements like "shocking lack of thought". Paul and others on this site - on both sides of this debate - put lots of thought into everything they write.

Stay on the subject. Disagreements are fine - that is what we are about - but we do not tolerate personal admonishments.


--Dave Dilegge

Col. Yingling:

You must realize how badly your oversimplify the issue, no? I mean, you post basically assumes that the fortunes of the insurgency and the risk posed by AQ are wholly intertwined. Do you really believe that?

Your argument presupposes that AQ sanctuary in Pakistan provides essentially no functionality, whereas regardless of mitigation efforts a Taliban seizure of power would instantly provide AQ with tremendous capabilities.

I would urge you to think carefully about these issue. What precisely do you think AQ would gain? How would these gains translate into an ability to launch plots greater than already exists? Why are you so sure that the failure of our efforts to defeat an insurgency would inherently mean a CT mission would already fail.

The last one is a real fundamental problem. Is there really absolutely no difference between CT and COIN in Afghanistan? I just don't see how that argument is sustainable, and certainly not as a wholly unexamined assumption.

I really don't want to be a jerk about it... but your posts suggest a shocking lack of thought about any of these issues.


gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 09/12/2009 - 8:07pm

sorry, the above anon post is mine

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 09/12/2009 - 8:05pm


Good to hear from you and thanks for coming up on the net for discussion.

I agree with MikeF that the options do not have to be so stark, so black and white of either total Coin commitment, or withdrawal.

It is curious to me why the advocates of this current Coin operational approach in Astan always seem, though, to present it in such maximalist terms, and often times with the moral baggage attached that we have given so much already that the only way ahead must be more, more, and more.

And the Coin Advocates also seem to assume that "defeat" of Al Queda in Astan, has to be total and their defeat is automatically linked to a rebuilt Afghani nation. Why cant we be satisfied with suppressing AQI in Astan?

The reason why Strategy is out of whack in Astan is because the Coin proponents want to push near total war in the place in terms of commitment of resources and blood and treasure, but the true nature of the war seems to be more limited, requiring a commensurate and limited approach.


Some of us are not amoungst the autumn group. For many, to include Schmedlap, Exum, Rob, and others, this struggle has shaped our 20's and will continue to define our lives. The events are very personal, and the cost in blood and treasure are very real.

I don't enjoy trying to question COL Yingling or COL Gentile much less GEN Patraeus, McChrystal, or Odierno.

I just want to get it right for the next generation.

Let's continue the debate to find the right answers.



Rob Thornton (not verified)

Sat, 09/12/2009 - 7:12pm

Mike and C4 both make good points.

I'd earlier sent Mike a note just explaining that in this case SFA (the capabilities to do those developmental tasks of organize, train, equip, build/rebuild and advise) should be oriented on developing those ANA and ANP capabilities required to do those specific tasks required to change the conditions as they relate to the problem.

If those conditions are "protecting Afgan society and freeing it from lawlessness and subversion" then our efforts to develop those ANA and ANP capabilities fit within our definition of FID.

If those conditions involve countering insurgency, then they fit within COIN.

If those conditions involve countering terrorism, then they fit CT

This does not mean that once a capability has been developed it can't be employed to other ends - e.g. there are no "COIN" bullets, only "bullets". What does matter though is since we are not there to develop "full spectrum" capabilities in the ANA and ANP, our efforts to develop ANA and ANP capabilities should be tied to the tasks they need to do in changing the conditions both we and they (GIRoA) are really interested in.

If we are developing capabilities that the GIRoA is unlikely to be interested in sustaining past our willingness to do for them, and as such are unlikely to sustain them, that's OK, just realize that you (we) are probably going to be paying that bill for as long as you/we desire that capability. Even then, there may be reasons why they don't wish to support it - it may actually run counter to their goals.

From my perspective, it would seem wise to understand where that overlap of desired capabilities is. What is most important to GIRoA (what does it need, and how/where/what role will it sustain the generation and employment of its security forces in), and where is it most likely to be successful in doing so? The answer to the second question may be similar in many other places - e.g. where might a centralized government be desired, or more tolerated, and what conditions would support it?

This is why I agree with Mike F that this is not a either/or choice. I'm not by any stretch an Afghan SME - not even close; but I do think some of the principles about securing what is critical to your interests, and establishing bases of operation and freedom of movement between those critical areas are sound things to do under most circumstances. I would also think that recruiting and the other force generation requirements might be better in more heavily populated cities and where there is "less" tribal influence (understanding that is a relative thing).

This would seem to support other alternatives for engaging beyond those cities into areas where centralized government is seen as worse, and where sustaining a presence is difficult. This would seem a better course then extending operational reach beyond what is sustainable or desirable.

After some degree of control (however it is/was established) over those critical areas can be sustained, then perhaps the GIRoA might desire some further assistance in extending its own operational reach over areas that may be more difficult for it to exercise control over -contingent on its intersts.

I guess this then is the bottom line, if there is no desire on the part of any authority to sustain the capabilities required to exercise control over areas it may not care about - particularly if there are other areas that it is more interested in, then paying for those capabilities to be developed may only lead to unsustainability, or worse those capabilities may be used against them if they are not demobilized and put to work elsewhere.

This goes back to points made earlier about our ultimately desiring to turn it over to the GIRoA - what part of our interests (current and long term) do we share with them?

Maybe we should look at that and begin from there. Where our interests do not coincide, then maybe we should consider other approaches, ideally ones that would support where those common interests do exist. This might be more along the lines of limiting challenges to that central authority in places GIRoA did/does/will care about though our targeting of opposition leadership, disrupting their resources and freedom of movement and in some cases raids that do not attempt to hold ground (more than one way to this I suspect), with an aim to making it hard for the opposition to generate enough capability to challenge GIRoA in the places they care about and choose to be strong.

The opposite approach would seem to be developing Afghanistan to the point where the GIRoA would or might have to care about all of it. In this case they'd require a huge security sector, one which they still might not be able to sustain given their GDP.

I simply don't think this (or anything like this) is something you "fix" once and for all and someone else (GIRoA) maintains it because we were nice enough to hand it off to them. This is something that has to be managed as long as you have an interest in doing so. Steve Metz recently said something over at the National Security Experts blog about needing to consider both effectiveness and efficiency in our strategy.

I'll join Gian Gentile in saying no matter what one thinks about Gen (ret) Krulak's email to G.Will, Krulak is thinking more broadly then just this problem's (and the ways we might pursue it operationally) impact on our National Security, and I hope others will as well. We need to do both.

Best, Rob

One quick edit (outside the grammar and spelling errors) of my initial post based on feedback sent via email...H/T to Rob Thorton


4. FID/SFA NOT COIN. Afghanistan is not our country. We can advise and assist the government, but we should not be doing the fighting for them.



Cannoneer No. 4

Sat, 09/12/2009 - 4:04pm

From <a href="… Robb</a>:

<blockquote><b>Role reversal.</b> This is a non-political blog, since traditional political divisions/mindsets make little sense in a post-modern world. Despite that caveat, it's interesting to see the US Defense Department embrace what is essentially a <i>liberal approach to warfare:</i> pro-active nation-building and COIN. The premise behind nation-building and COIN is a core liberal belief: that it is possible to drastically change a society, culture, and people through improvements in governance or the use of targeted force (top down mandated change -- equivalent to "Great Society" efforts). The <i>conservative approach to warfare</i> is the opposite: you can't change a society through changes in governance or targeted force in any time period of relevance, and if you do try, you will spend yourself into the ground and generate widespread opposition.</blockquote>

H/T: <a href="">deremilitari</a&gt;


I wouldn't take it personally. Currently, we don't have an answer to the problem. My concern is that we haven't properly defined the problem and many are stuck in narrow tactical arguments for taming solutions.

Check out the 1. Winning the War in Afghanistan and 2. Deterrence in Irregular Warfare threads in SWC. COL Jones (Bob's World) and Slapout are shaping potential strategies with the help from others.

We talk endlessly about finding holistic, comprehensive strategies, but in practice, IMO, we often limit the prescribed solution to refitting/remolding the GPF NOT implementing a whole-of-government response to cope.




Sat, 09/12/2009 - 3:28pm

COL Yingling wrote:
<blockquote><i>If one accepts the premises that an al-Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan is a threat to the United States and we therefore have an interest in a stable Afghan Government, then the hunter-killer approach is insufficient...
If one rejects the premises that we are threatened by al-Qaeda and have an interest in a stable Afghanistan, then the 'hunter-killer approach is unnecessary.</i></blockquote>
<p>What about the alternative premise that you omitted? One can accept that an al-Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan is a threat to our nation AND reject the premise that a stable Afghan government is necessarily in our interests.</p>
MikeF wrote:
<blockquote><I>"I do not think are options in Afghanistan should be constrained to a zero-sum game between an occupation strategy using Pop-centric COIN or a total departure with a small CT component hunting AQ. There are many other options that we must consider."</I></blockquote>
<P>Mike, I agree that our options <I>should not be</I> constrained in that manner. But were/are they? Did the strategic reassessment consider COAs other than COIN or CT? I have asked that question in numerous forums - here, Abu M, and similar sites. I have never gotten a response. Maybe people don't know the answer. Maybe nobody cares about a question posed by some random nobody posting a blog comment under a pseudonym. I don't know. But I sure am curious and I think it is a good question.</p>

COL Yingling,


I do not think are options in Afghanistan should be constrained to a zero-sum game between an occupation strategy using Pop-centric COIN or a total departure with a small CT component hunting AQ. There are many other options that we must consider.

As I continue to reflect on my experiences in Iraq, I believe I'm gaining a better appreciation for the capabilities/limitations of "The Surge." We were not surgeons operating on a gun-shot wound victim. Instead (as others in SWC helped me frame), our actions were more analogous to police intervening into a bad Domestic Violence call. We secured the property, threw the husband in jail overnight, sobered up the wife, and forced all the crazy sisters and moms to quit yelling. Eventually, we have to leave the house, and the hope is that the couple can mediate their disputes in a less emotional environment without resorting to hysterical shouting and violence. Just like a cop can't fix a bad marraige, we cannot "fix" Iraq for them.

The Surge worked primarily because Iraq was a family- albeit a broken one. They have a long history of nationalism, functioning state government, and a relatively homogeneous nation.

The same cannot be said for Afghanistan. Instead of a domestic violence situation, we may be facing gang wars battling in San Diego where the fighting extends into Tijuana just a bit outside of our legal jurisdiction. We will need a different approach than reaction to domestic violence.

Sir, you stated,
"The US has done a great deal of hunting and killing in Afghanistan for the last eight years. During this same period, the insurgency grew worse on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and al-Qaeda coordinated major attacks in Madrid and London. Its leaders continue to evade capture and plot attacks against the United States, our people, allies and interests."

In my opinion, this statement is flawed on several accounts mainly because it is too narrow. I would argue that it is akin to trying to blaime Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheme as the primary cause for the United States current recession. His actions were deplorable, but there are simply too many other factors that must be considered.

As we continue to try to define and frame this problem, I will suggest several considerations,

1. Seperate AQ and the Taliban. Two different enemies. Mullah Omar and UBL may be drinking (chai) buddies, but they have completely different priorities.

2. Civilian Surge/Civilian Lead. This surge is a difficult one. It will probably take congressional reform to help State Department overcome the significant down-sizing after the Cold War not to mention the bureaucratic-drift with the massive expansion of DNI and DHS. We need a better command and control post in Washington.

3. FID not SFA/COIN. Afghanistan is not our country. We can advise and assist the government, but we should not be doing the fighting for them.

4. AQ as a system or network. The notion of AQ having a safe-haven in Afghan/Pakistan is an extermely limited in the scope of the real problem. AQ is expanding throughout the ME and Africa. As others have noted, the attacks of 9/11 could have well been planned in Canada, Mexico, or Raleigh-Durham.



Major Michael Few

Paul Yingling

Sat, 09/12/2009 - 11:48am

Thanks to all for the very insightful debate spurred by General Krulaks comments. As Colonel Gentile and I have often discussed in private, our Armed Forces benefit from intellectually rigorous debate on the threats we face and the capabilities we need to cope with those threats.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are worth the price. However, arguments on so important a topic should be logically consistent and empirically supportable, and here the 'hunter-killer argument falls short.

If one accepts the premises that an al-Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan is a threat to the United States and we therefore have an interest in a stable Afghan Government, then the hunter-killer approach is insufficient. First, this tactic does nothing to strengthen the capabilities of the Afghan Government to deny sanctuary to al-Qaeda. Even if this approach were effective, the US would have to continue it indefinitely to achieve the desired results. Second and more importantly, this approach does not work. The US has done a great deal of hunting and killing in Afghanistan for the last eight years. During this same period, the insurgency grew worse on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and al-Qaeda coordinated major attacks in Madrid and London. Its leaders continue to evade capture and plot attacks against the United States, our people, allies and interests.

If one rejects the premises that we are threatened by al-Qaeda and have an interest in a stable Afghanistan, then the 'hunter-killer approach is unnecessary. The logical policy prescription for those who hold these views is withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan. While I disagree with those who hold this view, I admire their moral courage and intellectual consistency in taking an unpopular stand. The hunter-killer approach is the worst of both worlds, providing for a force too big to quit and too small to win. At best, the hunter-killer approach is a delaying tactic to buy time and space to permit the withdrawal of our forces and provide a decent interval before the Afghan Government collapses altogether.

A comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan will certainly include capturing or killing terrorists. The hard part is finding out who the terrorists are and where they are hiding, and then getting them away from innocent civilians. Afghans are better at these tasks than we are, but need our help in developing credible, capable security forces. Although this task is still under-resourced, developing Afghan security forces is the surest long-term means of denying al-Qaeda sanctuary and support within the borders of Afghanistan.

Those who reject these goals should say so plainly, and advocate withdrawal of our forces. Those who support these goals have an obligation to describe how they may best be achieved.



Robert Mihara (not verified)

Sat, 09/12/2009 - 12:17am

To continue the discussion of strategy, I submit that a fundamental problem is the persistent decoupling of politics and violence in the pursuit of our war aims. It is this problem that harms our current condition and darkens our long term prospects in Afghanistan.

This problematic thinking is characteristic of those who argue that winning the population over is the certain path to victory in insurgent war. Ironically, it is critics of the COIN-as-strategy approach that are repeatedly accused of clutching to this conceptual bifurcation of war. They are accused of ignoring the consequences of violence (i.e. "10-2=20"). Rather, it is many of the COIN-as-strategy advocates that are insisting on a false characterization of war by proposing that attrition doesnt matter and that it is winning over the population alone that provides the decisive means to victory in war as evidenced in the ISAF COIN guidance; these individuals diminish the consequence of security in war and exaggerate the contingent consequences of lethal violence. Such thinking helps to lead us down the path of tactics in place of strategy because it provides an internally consistent system of thought which justifies the path already chosen. It thereby divorces action from its empirical moorings and sets us on a troubled road by forestalling criticism under a shroud of deductive logic.

Seaworthy (not verified)

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 5:07pm

Paul Yingling states, "it's not clear that General Krulak has any particular expertise in the area of domestic American political opinion," may not be on target, though tactfully phrased.

As a former Commandant of the Marine Corps, the General was well aware, and indeed followed public opinion, if for no other reason, then how it affected the perception of the Corps, recruiting, its mission statement, support in Congress, and his own ability to run interference for his operational commanders in the fleet.

Couple this with the General's past experience in Vietnam - through Desert Storm, long talks with his late father, who was "somewhat" of an authority in this area, may be driving his thoughts?

It seems the direction the White House is going, is a hold-off and see approach, and may not yet be willing to commit futher resources, along with what I also see, as a deteriorating public support for our war in Afghanistan.

Taking this into consideration, General Krulak may see what he has expressed in his general overview, as the only viable option at this late date?

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 2:56pm

Interesting comments. As a long time Yingling fan and early Yingling congratulator, I read his essay with interest. Not being a strategist -- and having grown more than skeptical of those claiming to be such -- I wonder if there is not some terminal confusion over terminology here.

Strategy is an outline of a series of steps to accomplish a goal. In military terms, the operational level is that at which Politicians, Diplomats and Flag Officers dictate the disposition and structure of Troops and equipment to complete locally required steps to attain one or more strategic goals. These Flag Officers and Diplomats then (hopefully) allow their subordinates to execute various plans and actions to obtain the operational goals.

My point in restating the obvious is to suggest that there is no such thing as a COIN strategy, COIN operations are those taken by a nation -- sometimes with the support of other nations -- to suppress an insurgency. Within a given nation, COIN operations <u>are</u> the operational level of war within a given nation. Thus they are directed by that nation -- the 'host nation' -- if, as is the Coalition, intervenors are present, they are operating in support of and not as a counterpoint to that host nation. That significantly complicates roles for all involved.

The techniques used within the operational context may vary considerably and must be situation dependent; the old METT-TC effort.

I realize many commenting here are aware of that but some commenters do not seem to be and some who know better seem to forgetting a basic or two.

Thus the argument is not over a strategy inside Afghanistan today; the strategy put us in Afghanistan, said there would be an Afghan government and proposed several goals. The issue today is simply -- are those achievable goals?

If they are not, the strategy was and is flawed but COIN operations and techniques have nothing to do with it. The strategic issue is to adjust the goals to achievability. It is my perception that is being done. It is also my perception that it is a work in progress, is not yet complete and so we cannot know what is intended.

The Operational issue was and will be to define, for the US and for NATO plus other Coalition Partners including Australia, those actions required to to attain the revised strategic goals. Does anyone commenting know what those are or will be?

I thought not.

Probably those in Afghanistan are no more aware so they are doing what seems best and viable at this time. It is probably noteworthy that concerns for excessive COIN-like activities may be overstated, see this <a href=…; Letter to the US National Security Adviser</a>. Those familiar with the author will know of his biases -- and they are included in the letter -- however, the letter I think reasonably accurately dispels any concerns of excessive COIN centricity...

I agree with Colonel Yingling that General Krulak's advice is ill conceived and said so elsewhere. I agree that what we are doing in Afghanistan is unlikely to achieve the strategic goals but that is not a flaw induced by what we are doing, rather it is one induced by using the General Purpose force in a role for which it was not intended, is not trained or equipped yet for which it is doing the best it can under the circumstances. It is more critically a flaw of initial strategic goal setting and asset capability and allocation.

The strategic error was committed seven or eight years ago, all that has followed has has been and is an attempt to rectify that. The operational problem accrued from that error was compounded by poorly trained (for the job at hand) forces in inadequate numbers due to other strategic (and operational, elsewhere) errors.

The issue of Tactics, "COIN" or "war" has by no option default been a blend of both, thus failing to satisfy proponents of either school.

The hoped for lessons from this intervention are:

- Military interventions in another nations affairs are to be avoided if at all possible. The potential for a reasonable return on the investment is extremely poor.

- The US psyche is not equipped to operate at the behest of a 'host nation.' We want to be in charge and tend to act as if we are when we should not and to be surly and unhelpful if the host nation does not operate as we wish.

- Our training and education are remiss. We can not train the GPF to be a culturally aware and multi-language "COIN" force, nor should we try -- we can improve our initial entry training to better ground Officers and Enlisted person in the basics of their trade to include operations in support of civil authority.

- The bulk of COIN centric operations require extensive civilian skill input which can generally best be provided if adequate security prevails.

- Providing security in a situation that is or might become an insurgency requires a large number of competent security force personnel and the operations will be combat focused of necessity. Strategists must be prepared for that and if an adequately sized security force is unlikely to be available from the outset, an alternative to intervention should be pursued.

- Given the foregoing, avoidance of such interventions by improved intelligence, diplomacy and early commitment of assistance by possibly Special Forces and certainly USAid and other civilian elements should be a strategic goal.

Our 'strategists,' military and civilian, operated on several flawed premises -- not least that the GPF can be converted to COIN operations easily -- they cannot and will never be so capable. They can be trained to operate more effectively in a Foreign Internal Defense role and should but they will <b><i>always</i></b> remain a blunt instrument and their deployment in FID should be avoided if possible. Anyone with delusions that can be changed really needs to do some work on the history books...

Lt. Dan (not verified)

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 2:32pm

With all do respect to Gen. Krulak, I have to say that Yingling brings up a few hard truths.

A scaled down CT campaign using SOF hunter-killer teams is hugely attractive (if only because the name sounds so badass). However, it persistently ignores the fact that a standoff, small footprint approach has only produced more enemies whenever it was employed in the past. A reliance on few troops and lots of airpower is what got tons of civilians killed in Afghanistan between 03 and 08, resulting only in more Afghans supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Anyone who doubts this should read the newly declassified documents at the National Security Archive detailing how the 1998 cruise missile attacks against al-Qaeda only drove AQ and the Taliban closer.

Col. Gentile is right that COIN is doctrine and not strategy. However, a strategy can center on the use of COIN doctrine to achieve strategic goals. Would it be great if this wasn;t necessary? Of course. But a strategy that only creates more enemies for us isn't any better.


Fri, 09/11/2009 - 2:08pm

I've asked this about a dozen times in several forums and never gotten a response. In the strategic reassessment, did we ever consider any courses of action other than COIN, CT, or COIN & CT?

Dakota Wood (not verified)

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 1:51pm

Gian's original reply was spot-on. Gen Krulak appears to be gauging the extent to which the Taliban and AQ pose a threat to the US, the nature of that threat, and the level of effort the US should commit to in addressing that threat. For example, the threat posed by the USSR was existential - their nuclear inventory and conventional force capabilities posed a threat at the "survival of the US" level. At best (and while not minimizing the horrific tragedy of 9-11, especially on this 8th anniversary), AQ can take down individual buildings. Granted, if in possession of a biological or nuclear weapon, an attack would have much greater consequences, but this would apply to a broad range of enemies. The Taliban pose a threat to the US only to the extent they provide operational sanctuary to groups like AQ. One could make the argument that Taliban activities pose a more severe threat to the stability of Pakistan, and that if Pakistan implodes or is co-opted by Islamic extremists, their nuclear weapons inventory could present such a threat to us or our allies. But that's a different argument. To raise Afghanistan out of the 9th century, a substantial effort will be required, one taking a mountain of treasure, sustained commitment of large numbers of personal, and the significant attention of our Services. Our bag of tricks is not bottomless and to the extent we are embroiled in Afghanistan for years we are unable to also address other regions of the world. Eight years along, we face conditions dramatically different than 2001 - a global financial meltdown, national debt spiraling out of control, a military that will have to recapitalize its inventory at great expense, and a joint force that has had to fully commit itself to sustaining the level of effort needed for ops in Iraq/Afghan with acceptable rotational policies. Wars can (and have) bankrupted countries in the past. Gen Krulak points out that we should be practical and realistic in our assessment of the AQ/Taliban "threat" and commit ourselves to a strategy for dealing with that problem appropriate to our interests and circumstances.

Bob's World

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 1:27pm

(I posted this earlier this morning on an Afghanistan thread, but I believe it is material to this discussion)

When I wrote my War College paper several years ago, I looked at things like COG theory and the GWOT, and Ends-Ways-Means for the same. (For those suffering from insomnia, well worth the read)

But my assessment then, and nothing since has convinced me to either retreat or advance from this position, is that exactly 8 years ago today the President of the United States received two clear mandates from the American populace to go to war, and that those two mandates were therefore our "Strategic Ends" for the same:

1. To find the murdering sons of dogs who had attacked us, and to punish them for their actions. (Revenge)

2. To make us feel as safe as we had felt on September 10th.

The key aspect of both of these ends is that they are both intangible, subjective, and rooted in emotion. One is avenged when they feel avenged. Usually this takes a mix of action, justice, and time. One is never truly secure or safe either, but you know when you feel safe. America felt safe on 9/10, but we clearly weren't. It is the feeling that is important.

So, based on this I argued then that the GWOT was really over, that we had met the ends and that what we were engaged in now was really something very different and we needed to either identify it as such, or begin standing it down.

So, I ask this august group, those who feel morally compelled to hold this piece of dirt at all costs when no enemy action fixes us to it, nor does any critical interest become exposed to enemy action if we withdraw to better ground, which, exactly, of these two ends do you think we can either achieve or enhance by this plan??

America writ large feels avenged, and by my eye-ball assessment, feels safe as well. But these are things are fleeting, requiring constant vigilence and effort.

I don't think much about tactics these days, and focus on the big picture. And my big picture assessment is that while there are plenty of tactical victories to be had here; that the pursuit of them will weaken, rather than strengthen, our strategic posture.

Physical Terrain in such warfare means nothing to the enemy, be it hill 875 outside Dak To; or an entire country such as Afghanistan. We need to focus on the populace. Whatever course is most likely to make the Afghan populace neutral to America, or perhaps even somewhat pro-America is what we should seek. Occupation rarely achieves that end.