Via Andrew Exum, we have Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s newly issued “Counterinsurgency Guidance” to U.S. and NATO units. For those who thought McChrystal’s special ops background meant he would favor “kinetic” solutions to counterinsurgency, well, the guidance is largely a collection of exhortations for troops to curtail their soldiering instincts and behave themselves while in a foreign land.
“The Afghan people are the Objective. Protecting them is the mission,” it says. “We will help the Afghan people win by securing them, by protecting them from intimidation, violence, and abuse and by operating in a way that respects their culture and religion. This means we must change the way that we think, act and operate.”
It took a few years, but U.S. commanders in Iraq came to realize that their troops’ overly aggressive actions tended to generate more insurgents than they either captured or killed. McChrystal drives home that point again and again in his guidance, likening soldier’s conventional mindset to “the bull that repeatedly charges a matador’s cape – only to tire and eventually be defeated by a much weaker opponent... While a conventional approach is instinctive, that behavior is self defeating.”
“We will not win by simply killing insurgents,” McChrystal says, an insurgency’s “supply of fighters and even leadership is effectively endless.” He says troops should not avoid a fight, but killing or capturing insurgents is not the answer. “Eight years of individually successfully kinetic actions have resulted in more violence. The math works against an attrition mindset.”
A sampling of McChrystal's guidance that is bound to give the Ralph Peters of the world fidgets:
• “This is their country and we are their guests.”
• “Conventional military action against insurgents consumes considerable resources with little real return and is likely to alienate the people we are trying to secure.”
• “Earn the support of the people and the war is won, regardless of how many militants are killed of captured.”
• “Excessive force protection is distancing, not inspiring.”
• “Think of how you would expect a foreign army to operate in your neighborhood, among your families and your children and act accordingly.”
• “Be a positive force in the community, shield the people from harm and foster safety and security so people can work and raise their families in peace.”
• “Sporadically moving into an area for a few hours or even a few days solely to search for the enemy and then leave does little good and may do much harm.”
• “Strive to focus 95% of our energy on the 95% of the population that deserves and needs our support. Doing so will isolate the insurgents. Take action against the 5% - the insurgents – as necessary or when the right opportunities present themselves. Do not let them distract you from your primary tasks.”
McChrystal urges his troops to work closely with the Afghan security forces. “Respect them’ put them in the lead and coach them to excellence.” Adaptation is also a key theme: “This is a battle of wits – learn and adapt more quickly than the insurgents.”
I’d like to see McChrystal tell his troops to leave all those books on counterinsurgency theory at home, most are less than useless. He should buy, on the taxpayer dime of course, all of his officers a copy of the Vietnam history War Comes to Long An, the best account of an insurgency I’ve come across. It explains why people side with the insurgents and why the insurgent’s “shadow government” is stronger than that of the state.
As McChrystal exhorts his troops to rid themselves of the "conventional mindset" and focus on the people, its a good place to start.