End of Counter Insurgency Operations? Don't Bet on It!

by JOHN BERNARD June 11, 2012

Now that a politically survivable solution has been accepted to end the current conflict in Afghanistan, the discussion of COIN (Counter Insurgency ) doctrinal viability has begun.  Even though the debate over this doctrine has raged since its inception, this last ten year ordeal is forcing the visionaries and philosophes to re-engage in the discussion of strategy.  

On June 5th, Stratfor issued a prequel to what promises to be a long, arduous, soul searching event where the differences between one viewpoint and another will be measured and perceptions established after gleaning after-action reports and US foreign policy philosophy.  While AA reports and Foreign Policy statements reveal information relevant to understanding the outcome of specific engagements, neither after-action reports nor the political establishment's vision will answer why the overall strategy succeeded or failed.  In order for there to be any substantive knowledge gained from these discussions, those involved will have to look a lot further back to find the real reasons the desired outcome may not have been achieved.

Revisiting those original meetings and discussions that filled out the analysis that was used to write the Op Order and plan the strategy will require honest introspection.   It is absolutely vital that those involved in these post operation discussions be as transparent and honest about what wasn't done and what was ignored as they are about what transpired on the battlefield because this is where the legitimate answers lie. 

Of course the intent of these following discussions is to determine how best to engage enemies in the future because it is becoming more apparent by the day that our involvement in this region of the world is far from over.

It is almost ironic that Stratfor should break ground for these discussions on this day because the same morning, the Syrian government expelled all Western diplomats.  This move would normally be seen as just another step in a third world diplomatic process that is replete with these kinds of retaliatory acts had the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands not already expelled Syrian diplomats several days earlier.  Western nations have been trying to decide what course of action to take to staunch the bleeding in this latest chapter in the saga of the Arab Spring, while simultaneously trying to convince the Syrian government and their President Bashar Al-Assad to, essentially, surrender. 

My question remains the same; why do we care?  In every single similar episode in this Arab Spring "adventure", the combatants have had a shared ideology, shared culture and have been just as brutal to their fellows as the opposition. Neither side has any particular love for the non-conforming, infidel western world. The outcome of these poor excuses for elections has certainly not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the cheering section on this side of the big pond and one would argue has done little more than energize a people already belligerent to our very right to exist.  Given our incredibly poor batting average to date, why do we insist on supporting one side or the other when in reality, they are the same?

What is certain in Syria is that Al-Assad is unlikely to bend to the whims of the largely western infidel hand-wringers and, the rebel force facing off with Al-Assad's military is unlikely to back down.  This leaves the western diplomatic visionaries with few options and if a military strike is chosen, the likelihood of an air offensive a-la-Libya only, is slim.  This suggests the possibility of our witnessing US and Western forces making yet one more incursion into one more predominant Islamic nation. 

Not likely you say?  When we were looking at Libya, many believed "reason would prevail" and our visionaries would simply sit back and advise. They didn't and I don't believe there is anyone left who truly believes Libya will have improved their vision of the infidel world or that Libyans are likely to lead a better life because of the revolt or our support of it.  Remember the desecration of British World War II graves?  Does someone really want to defend that act as the reasonable response to the unintentional burning of books?  Is this how normal, moral, peaceful, recently freed people respond to those who helped them?

At this stage in history, the prospect of sending more US troops into yet another Islamic regime operating within the same COIN paradigm should give pause to every red blooded American.  If anything has been proven to date it is that the proponents of COIN are far more interested in the success of their vision than they are the outcome of combat action. 

America's War Fighters deserve better than that!  They are trained not simply to follow orders but to apply the skill and tenacity infused in their very being by years of very specific training intended to allow them to deliver victory to the nation they are serving! 

COIN does not envision victory. COIN envisions low kinetic peacekeeping operations in the midst of a "reasonable people" beset by an outside, unwanted, destructive asymmetric force that neither the reasonable people nor their government can dislodge without help.  It is not much different than the way law enforcement operates in bad sections of town overrun by gang violence.  However, unlike these domestic law enforcement operations, conducting operations within the sovereign space of another nation creates a tension between the general population and the foreign counter insurgency force in the best of situations.  Infidel western forces working in the midst of an overwhelming Islamic culture however is far from ideal and the likelihood of confrontation is a given; and this is where the COIN proponents failed.  Absolutely no consideration was given to the probability of unresolvable tension between the people of Afghanistan and ISAF's largely western, non-Islamic force due to the doctrines of Islam and the dedication of its adherents. 

To date there has been absolutely nothing to suggest that either the politicians in this country or the martial architects of either the Iraq or Afghan campaigns have been willing to revisit their conscious and politically motivated decision to ignore the "elephant in the battle space"; the Islamic religion.

In a world that has no stomach for conflict, those entrusted with the safety and security of nations have decided that big wars are avoided by smaller wars which are essentially best handled without fighting per COIN doctrine.  In this brave new world, the Small Wars Manual of 1940 is not just another tool in the magic bag of war planners it has become the holy grail of conflict resolution.

COIN isn't going anywhere and our War Fighting community will have to come to accept that the heady days of vanquishing the enemy, his capability, his morale, his will to fight and forcing him to take a knee are relinquished to old dusty volumes sitting atop rotting stacks in forgotten libraries.

Such is the "vision" of our morally bankrupt Politicians and their General Grade minions.

John Bernard is a retired Marine First Sergeant who writes on Counter Insurgency Doctrine, Islam, Rules of Engagement and Middle Eastern culture, in his blog: Let Them Fight or Bring Them Home.


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