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Some Good Advice from the Field for Gen. Petraeus

How to improve the counterinsurgency.

9:02 AM, Jun 25, 2010 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Some Good Advice from the Field for Gen. Petraeus

Gen. David Petraeus is getting lots of advice from all quarters--public and private, wanted and unwanted, helpful and unhelpful. This, from Jason Thomas, an Australian just returned from eight months working on the civilian side of the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, was recommended to me by experts I respect as one of the best contributions. Read the whole thing at the estimable Small Wars Journal website, but here are the highlights:

“My brief advice would be to suggest five changes that may help turn the tide in Afghanistan – but they require a paradigm shift in how our political leaders decide troops should engage and how aid organisations and civilian policy makers place moral judgements on development.

1. Change Coalition Forces rules of engagement - it’s not about troop numbers it’s what the troops do – Yes, counterinsurgency is about winning the population not blazing your way through the enemy.  But Pashtuns and Hazarans are tough, resilient and stoic people and the coalition loses all respect when it does not engage the enemy when under continued attack....

2. Have Special Forces infiltrate and cement themselves in “known Taliban” controlled villages during Winter - There is an operations gap over Winter when senior Taliban go off to Quetta and other parts of the Middle East.  The Coalition needs to fill that vacuum....

3. Assemble special operation development units - They would be special force military engineers, builders and irrigation experts who are embedded in the local community, live in the key tribal areas and work outwards from the main villages where important development projects were taking place.  The Special Operations Development units would also directly take care of the labourers and population who are benefiting from the development projects....

4. New York Style Zero tolerance areas - There are villages that even the donkeys know are Taliban hide-outs....The US/ISAF forces should adopt a New York style zero tolerance for Taliban  - where a village is known to hold Taliban the Coalition forces could even move into that village and get the message to the residents they are there to protect them and to eliminate the Taliban from the village....Without the ability to provide security from the insurgents, no amount of improvement in the standard of living was going to convince local tribes to support the [Afghan government]. Once the security situation improved to the level that the insurgents could not mass on isolated villages, the conditions were set to effectively begin reconstruction projects.

5. Replicate the local militia Community Guard Program across Afghanistan - Irregular forces embedded in local communities, including the 100,000 Sunni gunmen paid by the Iraqi government to form “Awakening Councils”, played a crucial role in America’s success in the counterinsurgency war in Iraq....Pashtun speaking community guards working in Pashtun areas and would provide deeper level of intelligence than normal channels.

Finally, I would stress the need to change one of the overriding factors that permeates throughout the military and aid organisations; that is an obsession with imposing Western values on development.  The analogy is this:  whenever we contemplate life on another planet we think it should resemble humans.  Too often aid agencies make Western based judgements about what is good for Afghans and impose processes and systems that are not recognised the local tribal way of doing things.  

This approach is inhibiting the Coalition’s counterinsurgency - it’s almost as if we are running a politically correct war.  So my final piece of advice to General Petraeus is, don’t let well meaning, bleeding heart civilian advisors impose images of our own society.  It just doesn’t work.”

Gen. Petraeus wants to run a counterinsurgency that works. Hope this helps.

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