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.
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
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.
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.