With all due respect to the General I would have to push back on a few comments.
The first question when you are involved in any counterinsurgency is how do we marshal the right combination of our forces necessary to limit and shape the insurgency?...So first is shape the insurgency, second is to move the host nation forces into the lead and the third is to build the kind of enduring capacities necessary within the institutions of the host state that permit, ultimately, for that nation to continue to deal with the insurgency and also to endure over the long term as a viable political entity.
I would off the first task is to gain an understand of the situation before we think about marshaling the right combination forces. As part of that detailed and thorough assessment we have to ask whether there is a viable political entity that can achieve a political solution. We need to address all these issues before we think about committing forces. In the General's defense he goes on to talk about Iraq and the Awakening and the importance of understanding the operational environment:
We had to understand the operational environment - the role of Al Qaeda, the relationships between the tribes and Al Qaeda, the inter-tribal relations, and the fact that Anbar in many respects was a closed Sunni environment that was distant from the Shia government in Baghdad. If we could understand the value systems of the tribes and how they related to Al Qaeda, then we would have the capacity to target weaknesses in those relationships
But I would offer another lesson to consider that offers a different perspective than this one:
You cannot start the planning for capacity building as you are moving out of decisive operations into sustained operations. I think this is a major problem. In Afghanistan we knew we were going to purposefully destroy the Taliban government. That was our task. But I am not sure we fully understood just how little capacity there was in the human dimension of the Afghan society to create governance in the wake of the fall of the Taliban regime. Now, Colombia always had in essence an intact government. You may not agree necessary with the politics or the politics may have changed, but the government remained essentially intact. The same happened in other insurgency challenges, for example with El Salvador or the Philippines. So while we would have programmed assistance to help the Philippines government to improve itself, we didn’t have to build the Philippines government from the ground up. There was no need for national capacity building, but there was significant need to assist the Philippines government in internal defense operations and in training and advising its forces. The fundamental difference was that there was no phase three (decisive operations) to our operations. You’ve got to start thinking about and preparing for state-building during phase zero. We didn’t get much chance to have a phase zero in Afghanistan. Iraq was different. We had more time and we have to look very hard in retrospect why we didn’t do more to think what our post decisive operations activities should have been. All in all, there is a fundamental difference. El Salvador, Colombia, and Philippines governments remained intact. But there was no government left intact at the end of decisive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that required a far different phase four.
I absolutely agree with the General that you cannot compare Colombia, El Salvador, and the Philippines with Iraq and Afghanistan. But what I would offer is that the mistakes we made in Iraq and Afghanistan are the result of policy decisions and assumptions (and emotions) that caused us to not look at things from a traditional perspective. Of course we cannot prove a negative so I accept the coming criticism for this. We failed to do something that we have done in most other wars. We failed to take the surrender of the defeated force or government in each case. We decisively defeated both Afghanistan and Iraq but instead of taking a surrender as we do in traditional war we took on the mindset of not only did you break it you buy it, we also developed the mindset that would could create whole governments, security forces, and societies out of whole cloth. An alternative approach might have been to find whomever was left to offer the surrender, we accept it, and then we say we are going to conduct conflict stability operations and the remaining leaders of the country are going to be responsible for re-establishing their government and security. Yes it will be ugly and difficult for them but I would submit (and again we cannot prove a negative) that it would not have been any uglier than it has been for the last nearly 13 years. Again our assumption is that they could not have done it themselves and we had to do it for them. But is that a valid assumption? Again I know we would not have been able to handle the criticism that we would be responsible for internal violence and strife (and we have to follow the "do something now" doctrine) but the fact remains we were not able to fully prevent it through our actions anyway. We should think real hard about how our actions as an occupying force, trying to create something in our image that was not in accordance with the countries' customs and traditions, contributed to the rise of insurgencies and violence. Rather than hold back Iraq and and Afghanistan (and later "return" their sovereignty as if it was ours to give back) we should have assured they maintained their sovereignty from the time of surrender and allowed them to figure out how to re-establish their country in their own image and not in ours. Again I fully accept the criticism that this is a should have or could have and is not based on the reality of the situation on the ground at the time. I would only counter with one question: did we really understand the reality on the ground at that time? I think probably not and that might be the root of our problems because instead of understanding the reality we made assumptions, applied our ideology, and made decisions based on emotion and not practical reality.
Last excerpt from the conclusion:
The outcome in a COIN campaign will not be determined by military operations, they’ll be determined by the political stability and economic development which will emerge over time from the security purchased by the foreign intervention and indigenous security forces. Understanding that success in these endeavors is a function of a comprehensive, whole of government approach is essential to success over the long term. The question of whether we should educate military officers to that end isn’t the question. The question should be is how do we prepare members of the interagency … the whole of government … for the reality of what comprehensive COIN demands.
I would offer that the success of a COIN campaign (that should only be conducted and led by the nation threatened with insurgency and not by foreign intervention forces) comes from either the host nation defeating the insurgent forces militarily or the government reaching a politicalaccommodation
that either satisfies the insurgent demands (such as between the MNLF and MILF in the Philippines) or undercuts the insurgent legitimacy (such as the Huk Rebellion) or some combination of both (El Salvador).
I think we should consider the idea that the only country that defeat an insurgency is the country that is faced with the insurgency. We may be able to provide support and advise and assist (i.e. FID) but if we try to do it for them then we are going end up being an occupying power conducting a Pacification campaign (e.g., the US in the Philippines more the 100 years ago). As long as we believe we can do it for someone else I think we are going to face tremendous military and strategic problems.
Lessons from the Post 9/11 Campaigns
Journal Article | April 8, 2014 - 7:58am
Lessons from the Post 9/11 Campaigns: Small Wars Journal Discussion with General John R. Allen
General John R. Allen, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) is a distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policyprogram at Brookings, working within the Center on 21st Century Security and Intelligence. Prior to joining Brookings, Allen commanded the NATO International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces in Afghanistan from July 2011 to February 2013.
“The outcome in Afghanistan was not going to be decided by military operations alone. It was to create the security platform operating in the hard end of the hard-power spectrum that then permitted us to leverage those outcomes in governance, economic development and civil society, which was going to deliver the knockout blow to the Taliban.”
SWJ: In the past, the US military trained for high-end maneuver warfare and intensive firepower - historical key ingredients of the American way of war. Since 9/11 we’ve seen a totally different approach. What has changed, in your experience, in the nature and the character of war, in how you wage war?
General John R. Allen: War is fundamentally a human endeavor; the character of war may change, but not its nature. Conflict may be characterized by high intensity firepower and maneuver dominated operations and campaigns or we may find that the character of war is dominated by counterinsurgency operations, or even cyber operations. But the nature of war still continues to remain the same, a human endeavor. What was unique about Iraq and Afghanistan was what we undertook after the decisive phase of the campaign, because both of them were seen as part of a paradigm that emphasized the traditional application of the American way of war. In the aftermath of those campaigns we ultimately undertook the kind of capacity building and nation-building that would be necessary for that state to endure. We wanted to make sure that what emerged after the destruction of both central governments is something that we could live with. That required and caused us fundamentally to change the manner in which we conduct operations in both theaters.
SWJ: What are the core questions a military commander needs to answer and guide his decisions in a counterinsurgency battlefield?
General John R. Allen: I think there are three very large questions.
The first question when you are involved in any counterinsurgency is how do we marshal the right combination of our forces necessary to limit and shape the insurgency? Being involved in a counterinsurgency campaign would seem to indicate that the host nation at its core has limited or no capacity ultimately to address fundamental issues. So the foreign intervention has to be one that shapes the insurgency while you are doing the next thing which is extraordinarily important, building the capabilities and capacities of the indigenous force to take over from the foreign expeditionary force. Frankly, recognizing when this moment has come and orchestrating the rebalancing of the foreign forces, with moving the indigenous forces into the lead to take over operations is critically important. The commander needs to recognize that moment and be prepared to reshape and rebalance the foreign force from an essentially conventional unit into a force with strong advisory and support capabilities. This is a very significant undertaking.
So first is shape the insurgency, second is to move the host nation forces into the lead and the third is to build the kind of enduring capacities necessary within the institutions of the host state that permit, ultimately, for that nation to continue to deal with the insurgency and also to endure over the long term as a viable political entity. All three of those things have to occur in a counterinsurgency campaign. How do I keep insurgency from winning, how do I get the indigenous security forces into the fight so they become a credible solution to the problem and how do we shape and build endurance in the national institutions so they can bring an end to the insurgency at the political and economic level supported by its own credible and capable security forces and has a hope of enduring beyond the departure of the foreign forces.
One of the challenges with foreign interventions and insurgencies, especially in the kind of interventions where we are investing a lot in capacity-building, is ensuring we are building or developing capacities that are culturally, socially, economically feasible to endure over the long term. One of the things that I told to my staff, very early on when I have arrived in Afghanistan was that I didn’t want any more big ideas. As I conveyed to my leadership, I wanted to stop trying remake Afghan institutions into Western institutions. Afghanistan, Iraq, El Salvador, Colombia each of those countries has a unique social environment, history, and faith - the combination of which over time shaped its institutions for governance and government. When we seek to create them in our own image we may well be creating a social dynamic that is unnatural. What I said to my staff was there would be no moratorium on good ideas. What I wanted was to have a good understanding of what works from the context of Afghan solutions. Stop trying to impose unique Western solutions to their unique Afghan problems and needs. Within their own capabilities, we needed to understand Afghan needs and requirements and invest in giving them the capacity to solve their problems or invest in their own capability to build capacities. But if we impose a Western solution and then provide insufficient or no sustainment we can’t expect anything other than collapse of those capabilities once we leave.
SWJ: Is it reasonable to expect military commanders to acquire enough grass-root understanding and insight to influence the local social fabric?
General John R. Allen: This is an important question. I felt very comfortable when I went into Iraq, that I understood the history of the tribes of the Euphrates River and the western desert. I understood, in essence, that if I was to accomplish anything it was going to require very close personal relationships with the sheiks, with the tribal leadership, and understanding how Iraq would govern itself at the civil level. I spent months studying to prepare myself to exist in this environment of an Arab, Muslim, tribal society. At the same time I understood Saddam Hussein, the emergence of modern Iraq. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything like the same amount of time for my preparations to command in Afghanistan. The enormously complex cultural environment of Afghanistan was far more multifaceted than what I experienced in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq - the ethnicity, the religious and the tribal issues, the fact that the country had been at war non-stop for over 30 years and each phase or segment of that war was different. Each segment had its own unique effect on Afghanistan, the institutions of country, and the Afghan people themselves. These were the Communist uprising, the Soviet invasion, the post Soviet Afghan state against the mujahedin, the civil war, the rise of the Taliban and then the U.S. and Western invasion. Each of these stripes of conflict was different - each one shaped the Afghan society in a very different manner and each deserved to be understood.
(Continued at the link below)