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For those of you who think that it’s high time that we march south of the border and get our COIN on in Mexico and points south because you think that’s going to be a better option than what’s going on here in Afghanistan, I’ve got bad news.
It’s more complicated than that.
A) We’ve been conducting COIN in those areas in one degree or another for decades. Foreign Internal Defense (or FID) is one of the key components of Special Forces missions, and they’ve had teams doing just that in those countries for a couple of minutes so far. Actually lots of minutes.
B) FID in these sorts of places has been successful (to varying degrees…we still have a bad habit of propping up Dictator A because “at least he’s not THAT guy” which is pretty much the premise on which most anti-establishment political movements are based, but once they come into power, they realize that they have to behave like “that guy” because the system is bigger than any one guy and in order to stay on top of things, you need to adapt and be “that guy,” otherwise you get voted out again…I’m looking at you, Tea Partiers.) because, after all, FID is executed by small groups (Operational Detachment Alpha‘s, aka “ODA’s” aka “Guys with beards and Oakleys carrying M4′s riding ATV’s, so naturally they blend”…if you’re SF and reading this, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m a little jealous, but nothing about that particular operating method helps you blend. Which probably isn’t the point, it’s to help you look awesome, which, it does.) training troops of a particular nation to do the actual fighting. Technically, “FID” is not intended to be a Direct Action (DA) activity, which is another tenet of SF doctrine, and which gets most of the press because it looks cool and you get dead bad guys at the end of the day.
What’s happening in Afghanistan is a convoluted mix of FID, DA, COIN, CT (counter terror), night raids, drone strikes, humanitarian aid (HA) drops (read food and Beanie Babies…hate me later, USACAPOC), key leader engagements or “KLE’s” which being interpreted is “hang out with village elder and drink chai,” and “reconstruction.”
All of which sounds terribly cool and if you start spouting numbers of dead bad guys (like today’s CNN story that details how 50 members of the Haqqani network were killed in an action in eastern Afghanistan…find that story here) it makes it sound like you’re winning.
While there are those experts out there that will argue that COIN today is different from COIN yesterday, the key challenge with a COIN effort in Afghanistan is this: this land is their land.
From Jalalabad to Herat, from Dand Wa Patan to the Arghandab Valley, this land was not made for you and me.
Unless you’re somehow a native Afghan reading this, then it was, and I apologize.
However, if you’re an American, then this is not for you, and arguments about Mr. Guthrie’s subtle jab at manifest destiny aside, this is not our land.
Here’s where that gets complicated.
Anyone remember Dave K and the ATF Waco Follies?
Remember how people were horrified that the “jack booted thugs” of the ATF would dare to infringe on the Constitutional rights of Koresh and his followers to stockpile weapons against Armaggedon as they saw fit? And until ATF managed to put together the idea that he was responsible for harming children that no one was a big fan of the raid?
That happened in the heartland…buckle of the Bible belt…it doesn’t get any more Americana-y than Waco, Texas.
ATF’s actions ended up with a burned down compound and dead civilians.
The fallout took months for them to recover from, and in some ways they never really did.
Anytime your actions get G. Gordon Liddy to advocate aiming for the head when ATF comes calling, you done screwed up.
Now, instead of Waco, it’s Random Afghan Village.
Bad guys live there.
Coalition forces (in conjunction with their Afghan counterparts) conduct a “night raid” on bad guy’s house.
Bad guy’s family is there.
Bad guy’s brother, not knowing that the men kicking in his door in the middle of the night aren’t bad men themselves, jumps up with the AK-47 he’s kept by his bed ever since the Russians were here (which, by the way, he’s allowed to have), and points it at the guys kicking in the door.
They shoot him.
And then they arrest the bad guy.
Who, in actuality, is a genuinely bad guy who decided to stay the night with his family.
This is complicated on a few levels.
1) Dead brother was legitimately protecting his family from harm.
2) It doesn’t matter if an Afghan pulled the trigger that killed bad guy’s brother or not. Since the locals in these areas where night raids are conducted often don’t trust the government to begin with, they see it as the oppression of the people of Afghanistan by a detached, corrupt government.
3) The soldiers conducting the raid in conjunction with that Afghan are foreigners.
Put yourself (again, this is directed at the non-Afghan audience) in that position — door gets kicked in, someone’s in your house, your brother, who you have some idea what he does with his non-family time is staying overnight, and you get shot trying to defend your home.
How would your neighbors feel?
Would it help if it were your own people conducting the raid? Maybe, maybe not…but it would help if someone on the other side (read: Taliban) couldn’t point to that event and say, “See, the foreigners started this…they’re the problem. Them and the President. At least we’re not THAT guy.”
Right or wrong, whether we should be here or not, we’re not countering our insurgency.
We’re countering THEIR insurgency.
And, unfortunately, they (the Afghan people) often think that we’re an occupying force with imperial leanings.
And, at least according to reports in 2010, 92% of Afghan men surveyed had no idea why the coalition was here in the first place.
Since the local Taliban, running on the “see, we’re not THAT guy” are more than happy to explain to them that the strangers who just killed their neighbor and arrested their brother are here to take over their country for their own particular evil aims, it all adds up to…complicated.
Next: More Complications