One of the tertiary benefits to Iraq's surge -- aside from the military victory -- was the birth of a group of military thinkers informally called the COINdistinas. Though sticking counter-insurgency on the front burner of Armed Forces combat doctrine remains a hot debate inside the Pentagon, there's no question that the ideas pushed out by these razor sharp strategists saved Iraq.
In yesterday's New York Daily News, one prominent alumnus of that lauded brain trust, Dr. John Nagl, laid out a must-read on how to translate the success from post-2007 Mesopotamia to the Hindu Kush:
The war in Afghanistan is winnable for three reasons: because for the first time the coalition fighting there has the right strategy and the resources to begin to implement it, because the Taliban are losing their sanctuaries in Pakistan and because the Afghan government and the security forces are growing in capability and numbers. None of these trends is irreversible, and they are not in themselves determinants of victory. But they demonstrate that the war can be won if we display the kind of determination that defeating an insurgency requires.
COIN doctrine is like geology, in that it's an examination of two key elements: pressure and time. During the Iraqi insurgency, the Army's traditional understanding of the utility of pressure was tossed out the window. Our hyper-technological fighting force failed us, as $100 bombs killed million dollar weapon systems. Fighting units were forced constantly to retake conquered neighborhoods, as militants swiftly reoccupied areas after they were vacated by American soldiers -- a deep betrayal of General Patton's sage aversion to paying for the same territory twice.
The U.S. realized, albeit slowly, that the traditional mechanisms of violence were inadequate to meet low-level threats, and finally adjusted fire. Doctrines shifted, military gadgets were swapped out for boots, soldiers flushed from massive forward operating bases into Iraqi neighborhoods, and the insurgency faded.
The American people likewise have to reevaluate their understanding of the time it takes to fight nasty little wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. We've become accustomed to lightning fast campaigns like the Gulf War and the initial invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, where nations and armies were toppled in weeks. But a historical study of COIN, as thinkers like Nagl have spent their careers doing, demonstrates that time and endurance are as important as manpower and logistics.
Victorious colonial counterinsurgency campaigns, particularly 20th century fights like the Malayan Emergency and the Mau Mau Uprising, were successful because the British had the staying power to slowly suffocate the enemy. In Afghanistan, NATO has the right strategy and will shortly have the right resources to prosecute effectively the fight. The American people must do their part, and prove that they have the endurance to see the war through to the end.