I grow weary of “journalists” who don’t get counterinsurgency. So I’ll try and use simple words: We kill the bad guys so that the LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT can assert its control. The key to why almost every counterinsurgency struggle fails (Vietnam and Iraq are my faves) is the absence of that legitimate government. The U.S., using massive firepower, clears a hole that is filled either by the legitimate government should one exist, or, if not, by the insurgents, or, in worse case scenarios like Libya, no one and chaos ensues.
If you are Alissa Rubin of the New York Times, or know her, or read her dumb ass piece on Afghanistan in the Times, please re-read that opening paragraph above until it makes sense. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Reporting from Helmand Province
Rubin reports to us from Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the once-to-be center of Greater Georgebushistan, when the U.S. had any plans for Afghanistan other than trying to figure out the best way to just make it all go away. It seems while we’ve been at the bar waiting for a table, 21,000 Marines have been surging the heck out of Helmand, clearing naughty Taliban out left and right. Rubin is now surprised that since the Marines have cut back to about 6500 on the ground, the Taliban are “creeping back.”
Counterinsurgency tip no. 147: Don’t fight the big guys, especially when you know they’ll only be around for a short while. Let them surge in as you surge out and then when their numbers drop off, move back in and reclaim your turf. Still not sure? Watch what cockroaches do when you flip on the kitchen light at night– do they stand on their hind legs and try to tear the insecticide can from your hands?
Now back to that legit government. Rubin does seem to have a bit of a clue when she quotes a local:
Afghan forces now control his district, he said, but will not be able to hold it unless “the foreigners manage to get rid of corruption in the Afghan government, in the districts and the province levels.”
“Before the Marines launched this big offensive, Marja was the center of the opium trade,” said Ahmad Shah, the chairman of the Marja development shura, a group of elders that works with the government to try to bring change here. “Millions and millions of Pakistani rupees were being traded every day in the bazaar. People were so rich that in some years a farmer could afford to buy a car.
“We were part of the eradication efforts by the government, and if they had provided the farmer with compensation, we could have justified our act. But the government failed to provide compensation, and unless it does so, the people will turn against us or join the insurgency and be against development, as they were during the Taliban.”
A corrupt government that fails to ensure the livelihood of its people will not win a counterinsurgency war. The Marines can hold off the Taliban temporarily indefinitely, but they will never be an Afghan government.
To wit from a half-wit:
Hajji Atiqullah, the tribal leader in Nawa, says the road between his city and the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, has been life-changing. “This road will last for many years, and I think people will remember it as one of the biggest contributions of the American Marines,” he said.
Other economic benefits, however, are dwindling as the Western troops leave. The surge brought jobs for many rural residents. There were small irrigation and construction projects, which are finished now. In Marja alone, about 1,400 people were hired to work for the informal security forces set up by the Marines at the height of the surge, according to elders in Marja. But when the Interior Ministry began to integrate these forces into the Afghan Local Police, they offered places to only 400, said Mr. Shah, the chairman of the development shura. As the rest find themselves jobless, village elders say, they will turn to whoever will protect them, even if that is the Taliban or criminals.
Counterinsurgency tip no. 672: If the government must rely on foreign troops to protect the people, it cannot be seen by the people as legitimate.
Looking for an Optimist
Rubin wonders “So why, then, was it so difficult to find an optimist in Helmand Province?”
Let’s help her figure that out by calling the Times and reading out loud to her: “Counterinsurgency will always fail without a legitimate government and Afghanistan does not have one. The Afghan government was created by the U.S. for our own domestic political purposes. It is corrupt. It cannot secure its people and cannot provide them with a way of living.”
Let us now return to the words of the best writer on counterinsurgency, Bernard B. Fall, who covered both the French and the American defeats in Vietnam. Fall said:
The French in Algeria learned every lesson from the French in Viet-Nam. The troop ratio there was a comfortable 11-to-1. The French very effectively sealed off the Algerian-Tunisian border, and by 1962 had whittled down the guerrillas from 65,000 to 7,000… It cost 3 million dollars a day for eight years, or $12 billion in French money. The “price” also included two mutinies of the French Army and one overthrow of the civilian government. At that price the French were winning the war in Algeria, militarily. The fact was that the military victory was totally meaningless. This is where the word “grandeur” applies to President de Gaulle: he was capable of seeing through the trees of military victory to a forest of political defeat and he chose to settle the Algerian insurgency by other means.
Some of these wars, of course, can be won, as in the Philippines, for example. The war was won there not through military action (there wasn’t a single special rifle invented for the Philippines, let alone more sophisticated ordnance) but through an extremely well-conceived civic action program and, of course, a good leader–[Ramon] Magsaysay.
Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.
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