COIN and its manual have been much discussed (reviled) here.
Below are some of the things that Samantha Power, President Obama's nominee to be UN Ambassador, said about COIN when she reviewed the Army COIN manual in 2007 for the New York Times.
The fundamental premise of the manual is that the key to successful counterinsurgency is protecting civilians.
This is indeed the fundamental premise of the 2007 manual -- and the theory behind the US-led ISAF strategy in Afghanistan. We now know, however, protecting civilians isn't the key to anything "successful."
As spelled out by the COIN brass (Petraeus, McChrystal, Mullen, etc.), this same premise included de-emphasizing force protection -- in other words, sublimating the protection of American lives and limbs to the US government's mission of Afghan population protection.
What we want to do is build into our systems, and more importantly, build into the minds of all of our soldiers that everything that they do is important in this fight, and we're here to protect the Afghan people. And we're here to protect them from everything that can hurt them, both enemy activity but also inadvertent activity by Afghan forces or ours. So we're trying to build into the culture of our force tremendous sensitivity that everything they may do must be balanced against the possibility of hurting anyone.
From a column at that time: " `The Afghan people are the reason we're here.' McChrystal explained, weirdly disconnecting the American war machine from national interests."
I still find the fact that the USA sent its sons and daughters out to implement such a strategy shocking and abhorent. Now we know it didn't work. It turned the Afghanistan War on the Taliban into the War on Civilian Casualties while simultaneously waging the War to Force-Build a Country.
As with the flawed COIN premise behind Iraq's "surge," the extreme concern (and $$) the US showed on behalf of the "civilian" population in Afghanistan was never strictly a military strategy; it was always a see-no-Islam theory driving military strategy according to the ridiculous expectation that US-led ISAF efforts on behalf of the "civilian" population would cause mass stirrings of loyalty, if not fealty, among Afghans toward US-led ISAF. This would, the COIN theory went, mobilize all of Afghanistan against the "insurgents" -- local co-religionists on a jihad.
The history, teachings and culture of Islam, however, were never, never factored into US strategic deliberations.
"Victory in this conflict is about winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and engendering their trust," Brig. Gen. Steven Kwast, then commander of 5,000 airmen at Bagram Field, told the Air Force Times in 2009. "When the Afghan people trust us and believe us ... we will win this overnight."
Didn't happen -- and it never could have. Islam and the West are different.
Now we know that COIN's fundamental premise -- that population protection at the expense of force protection would win hearts and minds -- is COIN's fatal, see-no-Islam flaw.
In 2007, of course, Power was still trumpeting the theory, citing it as gospel. For example:
The manual notes: “An operation that kills five insurgents is counterproductive if collateral damage leads to the recruitment of 50 more insurgents.” It suggests that force size be calculated in relation not to the enemy, but to inhabitants (a minimum of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents). It emphasizes the necessity of coordination with beefed-up civilian agencies, which are needed to take on reconstruction and development tasks.
Ever since, year after year, US-led forces in Afghanistan reduced civilian casualties to stuningly low levels -- and particularly in contrast to the very high rate of civilian casualties caused by US-opposed "insurgents." Such restraint, paid for by American casualties (remember that key to "successful counterinsurgency" above), did little or nothing to mobilize Afghanistan's Islamic civilians against the Afghanistan's Islamic "insurgents."
This, again, goes back to the natural, reflexive affinity for Islam that exists among Afghanistan's Muslims which no amount of infidel blood or treasure can override -- try as we do even to Islamize our own military to make our sacrifices more attractive to the Muslims we are trying to protect. The Geniuses, however, ignored Islam at Our peril, and have never been held accountable.
Remember the Danish example. The worst collateral damage possible -- an errant Allied bomb that destroyed a school in Copenhagen during World War II -- was forgiven because Danes and Allied bombers shared a common enemy in the Nazis.
Today's "humanitarians" appear to be so consumed by their "humanitarian" ideology that they probably can't comprehend this. In all examples of Western/Judeo-Christian cultural affinity or compatiblity they see "racism" that must be "combatted"; in all culture clashes, they see differences that must be denied. Only totalitarian means can put their ends in reach -- where they will remain, absolutely never realized.
As for Power's "beefed-up civilian agencies, which," she says, "are needed to take on reconstruction and development tasks"?
These constitute an evolving bureacracy of post-American, post-nation empire-building, all according to a Marx-infused program of global or UN regulation and governance. The goal is to force-build societies. In a war zone like Afghanistan that has meant under a heavy security blanket that is not even American in name only ("ISAF"). Then again, the mission in Afghanistan isn't even American in name only, even though Americans bear the brunt of its costs, monetary and human. It would seem by now to have become another "international," indeed, "humanitarian" intervention of nation-building long disconected to any American security interest -- which, by the way, is exactly Samantha Power's preference.
Stanley Kurtz flagged Power's rare articulation of this propensity in a 2004 op-ed she wrote with Morton Abramowitz in which they call for politicians facing atrocities abroad to "take domestic political risks in pursuit of polices that do not serve their immediate interests, that can be financially costly and that provide no clear exit strategies." This 2004 CSPAN interview underscores her enthusiasm for a standing UN army.
COINdinistas and "humanitarians" consistently fail to recognize the basic markers of interventionist doom: variety in human beings' outlooks; differences in beliefs; the existence of civilizations that clash. They believe instead in global utopia. Ever acknowleging basic non-ideological realities, however, would blow their projects, their careers, their reputations, their claims on public authority, on public purses, everything, to bits.
And so they theorize some more.
The most counterintuitive, as well as the most politically difficult, premise of the manual is that the American military must assume greater risk in order to gather much-needed intelligence and, in the end, achieve greater safety.
More theory. What does it mean to the Washington bureacrat? Something different from what it means to the family of the deployed soldier. It echoes from on high to nodding acclaim inside the corridors of power but not in the thudding knock at the door breaking KIA news to next of kin.
She went on:
The emphasis of the 1990s on force protection is overturned by the assertion of several breathtaking paradoxes: “Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.” “Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is.” “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.”
The COINdinistas actually believe(d) that this "Kung Fu"-style prattle would defeat jihad in a Muslim land. It was all a PowerPoint dream. To say the very least, the nightmare persists for the survivors.
Sarah Sewall, a former Pentagon official who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (and a close colleague of mine), has contributed an introduction that should be required reading for anybody who wants to understand the huge demands effective counterinsurgency will place on the military and the voting public. “Those who fail to see the manual as radical probably don’t understand it,” she writes, “or at least what it’s up against.”
Sewall can say what the generals who devised the manual cannot. She addresses the concern that the manual is nothing more than a “marketing campaign for an inherently inhumane concept of war,” arguing that if politicians continue to put young American men and women in harm’s way, military leaders have an obligation to enhance effectiveness, which in a globalized era cannot be disentangled from taking better care of civilians. Military actions that cause civilian deaths, she argues, are not simply morally questionable; they are self-defeating.
The US military and government took this hothouse theory so seriously that it sent young Americans out to die for it. The cost of the COIN experiment in lost and broken lives of American and allied service members, not to mention the Afghans and others, hasn't been acknowledged, let alone reckoned with.
Has Power learned anything from COIN's failures? Has Petraeus? Has McChrystal?
Impossible to say. Perhaps the Obama administration's decisions not to deploy (openly?) US troops to Libya and Syria (so far?) reflects some chastening effect of COIN failures, but there is no indication that Power's enthusiasm for the basic mechanism of force deployment has waned.
But Sewall explains that even if the military can overcome the substantial challenges of executing such a counterintuitive doctrine — and here the near-daily reports of large-scale civilian loss of life as a result [sic] of United States counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are a reminder of the yawning gap between theory and practice — it will not succeed if it does not get the civilian leadership and support it needs.
The military does not have the expertise to perform the range of economic and political tasks associated with nation-building, but in Iraq and Afghanistan, as civilian reconstruction teams went unstaffed, it was forced to pinch-hit. Sewall rightly calls for the “risks and costs of counterinsurgency” to be spread across the American government, but notes this is not an overnight job. “More people play in Army bands than serve in the U.S. foreign service,” she writes.
The manual shows that the demands of counterinsurgency are greater than those the American public has yet been asked to bear. Sewall is skeptical that the public — now feeling burned by Iraq — will muster the will, even in Afghanistan, to “supply greater concentrations of forces, accept higher casualties, fund serious nation-building and stay many long years to conduct counterinsurgency by the book.”
I wonder whether Power (or Sewall) has in the years since she wrote this review studied any SIGAR reports on the billions of reconstruction dollars that are wasted every quarter in Afghanistan?
Probably not. Too busy preparing to become US Ambassador to the UN where, perhaps, this "humanitarian hawk" will be able to "muster the will" she sees lacking in Americans.
Can she be stopped?