Academic journal article Military Review

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: Lessons Learned by a Brigade Combat Team

Academic journal article Military Review

Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: Lessons Learned by a Brigade Combat Team

Article excerpt

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THIS ARTICLE DISCUSSES some important lessons for brigade combat teams (BCTs) in the Afghanistan fight and those preparing to go. It is based on my observations and actions during leader reconnaissance, training, and the execution of COIN in the Nangarhar, Nuristan, Konar, and Laghman (N2KL) provinces from December 2007 to July 2009 by Task Force Duke, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which I had the privilege of commanding.

Hope and Faith

We in the military, and maybe even those in the press and civilians who analyze our COIN efforts, define the decisive effort in counterinsurgency as winning hearts and minds. However, based on my experiences, I would argue that this is an improper mind-set around which to base operations. As a goal or end state, winning hearts and minds provides the wrong focus for operations for a variety of reasons.

First, this focus lays on a requirement to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. This is the wrong approach. Our ultimate goal is to leave Afghanistan. We must maintain good enough relations with the people, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but we don't have to win hearts and minds; we have to leave and turn the effort over to the Afghans. The Afghans have to win the hearts and minds.

From the standpoint of a foreign force aiding the Afghans in their internal fight against the Taliban and other threats, it is better for us to focus on hope and faith. The Afghan people need to have hope that their future is going to be better. This at least gets most of them on the fence and lessens support for the insurgents. We do this ably now by our current efforts in population security. They allow development to proceed. The people, for the most part, do not then support the insurgency--life is better than it ever has been. Security is acceptable, and roads, clinics, schools, micro-commerce, and job opportunities develop. In these areas, the insurgency has to fight using asymmetric methods and is easier to target and interdict.

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However, the harder piece is giving the people faith that they are going to get a better future, that things will continue to improve, that we, the United States, will not leave prematurely again (as we arguably did in 1989 when we stopped supporting the mujahedeen) and the situation will not revert to the chaos of the 1990s. The people must have faith that the ANSF and government are going to be there when the coalition leaves, that the conditions that have begun to improve will continue to improve, and that their lives will be better. (1) This is the hard piece of the effort in a country that has little tradition of government beyond the major cities and where strife and chaos have existed for the past 30 years. Corruption, the drug trade, warlordism, and cross-border issues add to the problem, but for the Afghan people to support the government instead of the Taliban and other insurgent elements, the people must have faith that the government will at least give them the future they see in other parts of Afghanistan. If we shape our operations to give the people hope--population security, good developmental projects--and faith that their government is going to pick up the ball in the future when we do leave, then we are aiming in a better direction than just winning their hearts and minds.

Notice that unlike a focus on hearts and minds, the hope and faith effort focuses on what the center of gravity, the people, feel about their future and their government. The focus is on the people's relationship to government, not the international force. Hope and faith lead directly to better key tasks and end states for units and are the basis for a better "mission narrative" to describe and direct our operations. (2)

ANSF Development

The hardest part is developing the capacity of Afghan institutions to stand on their own, carry on the fight, and deliver the essential services expected of a government. …

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