There is something palpably worse about the "hearts and minds" madness in Afghanistan than Iraq, partly because it is being promoted so brazenly by Gen. McChrystal (even before the Woodward "assessment" scoop), partly because we are identifying casualties directly related to it, and partly for less tangible reasons I am still sorting out.
Still, the Afghanistan COIN doctrine, as manifested in its de-emphasis on "force protection" in favor of "population protection," is the natural extension of the Iraq COIN doctrine, as a look back at the famous 2007 Army counterinsurgency field manual by Gen. David Petraeus tells us. A few excerpts (caps as printed in original):
SOMETIMES THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE
Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace; not the COIN force....
THE MORE SUCCESSFUL THE COUNTERINSURGENCY IS, THE LESS FORCE CAN BE USED AND THE MORE RISK MUST BE ACCEPTED
...More reliance is placed on police work, rules of engagement may be tightened, and troops may have to exercise increased restraint. Soldiers and Marines may also have to accept more risk to maintain involvement with the people....
SOME OF THE BEST WEAPONS FOR COUNTERINSURGENCY DO NOT SHOOT
... Arguably, the decisive battle is for the people's minds ... While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation and restored hope ... Depending on the state of the insurgency, Soldiers and Marines should prepare to execute many nonmilitary missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role in nationbuilding, not just Department of State and civila affairs personnel ...
Notice the assumption that something called "overall progress" will just naturally follow "security," and consider how, for example, this has not followed in Iraq.
Anyway, overall, I think we are watching a classic case of the apple (Afghnistan/McChrystal, who, amazingly, still has his job) not falling far from the tree (Iraq/Petraeus). Our troops are seen, in effect, as expendable in pursuit of a utopian academic theory of cause and effect.
More evidence of similarities between the Iraq and Afghanistan war tactics appeared in this morning's emaii. Two different Marine parents (one of whom is John Bernard) sent in the following column by The Bakersfield Californian's Ralph Bailey deploring the ROE in Afghanistan and including this outrageous ROE story from Iraq, as related by former Lance Cpl Jeremy Staat. Bailey writes:
Jeremy told me a mind-boggling story of his days in Iraq. While defending an American convey and fearing trouble ahead, he was forced to first wave a white flag at the oncoming, mobile IED.
"No, we couldn't just shoot them. I had to fire at least three rounds. The first, a tracer round left or right of the oncoming vehicle, then a second into the grill of the vehicle and when all else failed, THEN you could fire a kill shot. And we're talking about a vehicle loaded with 500 pounds of TNT and they know our rules of engagement."
Coincidentally, the other Marine parent who sent me the Bailey piece, one of whose sons is a veteran of the Iraq surge, related the following, similar anecdote in to me before she even read the Bailey column. About her machine-gunner son's experience, she wrote:
The machine gunners for the surge though, had to carry ROE cards of some type, and pink neon flags. If a suicide bomber or car was coming out they were to take out the pink flag and wave it. I don't know if they have those in Afghanistan? The machine gunners in Iraq thought it a way to get killed. Luckily he was never attacked like that.
How long does it take for Congress to become curious enough to ask the generals a question or two, starting with: Are you crazy?