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Drop Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, Part 1

Posted by dcrowe on March 26th, 2009

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(Cross-posted from Return Good for Evil and Daily Kos, where I blog about current events from a perspective of Christian nonviolence, hence the religious nature of this first post in the series.)

I’ve written quite a bit about the challenges inherent in counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. In this series of posts, I want to go further and argue that the U.S. should abandon the paradigm of counterinsurgency altogether with regard to its dealings with Afghanistan.

I oppose this paradigm on several levels, including a moral/religious level and a strategic level as well.

I object to counterinsurgency on religious grounds because counterinsurgency doctrine, like any other war doctrine, asks participants to abandon Christ’s methods and agenda for the methods and agenda of a violent state. The basic strategy in Afghanistan would look something like this:

  • The U.S. would send massive numbers of troops into localities to “provide security” and to deepen local relationships to facilitate better intelligence gathering. These troops would also serve to “hold” territory, i.e. prevent reinfiltration of the area by opponents.
  • Deployment of these troops would ideally be accompanied by an effort to provide basic services and rule of law in localities.
  • In addition to this “clear and hold” strategy, U.S. forces would attempt to create an effective “seal” along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to prevent opponents from escaping U.S. firepower. (The “seal” is metaphorical…if past behavior indicates future strategy, this seal would materialize by strengthening the integrity of the border, using unmanned drones to kill opponents over the border, and by enticing Pakistan into closing their territory to the U.S.’s opponents.)
  • Victory comes when the local population within the sealed area consents to rule by the faction we support and expels the U.S.’s opponents from their midst. U.S. forces would then capture or kill as many of these opponents as necessary to force them to acquiese to a settlement on terms favorable to the U.S. agenda in the region.

Despite bromides from Gen. Petraeus that “you can’t kill your way out of an insurgency,” the basic philosophy of counterinsurgency can be boiled down tothis, from Lt. Col. J. Nagl, one of the counterinsurgency manual’s authors:

“If I could sum up the [counterinsurgency doctrine] book in just a few words, it would be: Be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill.”

[h/t Tyler E. Boudreau]

Hard to imagine those words on Christ’s lips, isn’t it?

This dichotomy between the counterinsurgency doctrine and the teachings and example of Jesus has led Jim Wallis–now one of the president’s spiritual counselors–to call for a course change in Afghanistan:

“Afghanistan is a different story. The war there has dragged on for more than seven years and, by all accounts, is getting worse. We believe only a surge in funding for diplomacy and development — not more military escalation — will bring long-term peace to the troubled region.

Call on President Obama to continue supporting more economic development, not more military escalation, in Afghanistan.

“I will personally take this petition to the White House, expressing our opposition to further military escalation, and our support for diplomacy and non-military assistance. Simply sending additional troops will not provide security and stability for the Afghan people.”

Recognizing that not everyone shares my religious persuasion and that even those who call themselves Christians differ profoundly on matters of violence, in the subsequent posts in this series I’ll offer some very secular reasons for opposing counterinsurgency as our paradigm in Afghanistan: Counterinsurgency doctrine ignore human psychology, and pursuing counterinsurgency in Afghanistan will severely undermine an economic recovery while leading to increased violence in the region. This spike in violence will come both as a direct result of increased violent contact between U.S. forces and Afghan nationalist forces and, less directly, due to the effect of U.S. Afghanistan policy on Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Next: Effect of Counterinsurgency Deployment on Troops Undermines Counterinsurgency Premises

What you can do until then:

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to “Drop Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, Part 1”

  1. Friend of Afghanistan says:

    Re: video report:

    Pakistan has no intention of fighting all the insurgents in their NW Provinces etc.

    Especially when it comes to the Taliban, who I believe they will support not fight, as they believe the Taliban will come in handy once the US abandons Afghanistan.

    Regarding the post's comments–I agree that investment in peace (i.e. reconstruction, education etc.) is the way to go.

    The notion that we can bomb the Taliban or al Qaeda away is ridiculous.

    All that said, until they have enough of their own security force, they are going to need our military help.

  2. Friend of Afghanistan says:

    Re: video report:

    Pakistan has no intention of fighting all the insurgents in their NW Provinces etc.

    Especially when it comes to the Taliban, who I believe they will support not fight, as they believe the Taliban will come in handy once the US abandons Afghanistan.

    Regarding the post's comments–I agree that investment in peace (i.e. reconstruction, education etc.) is the way to go.

    The notion that we can bomb the Taliban or al Qaeda away is ridiculous.

    All that said, until they have enough of their own security force, they are going to need our military help.

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