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Counterinsurgency 101

A number of commentators such as Fred Kaplan, David Ignatius, and Joe Klein have claimed that General Petraeus is abandoning counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan in favor of a more kinetic counterterrorism approach designed to generate faster results. As evidence, they can point to an increase in air strike and Special Operations raids. This represents a fundamental misreading of counterinsurgency doctrine, which hardly eschews killing the enemy; rather, a proper counterinsurgency strategy has to be about more than simply killing the enemy — it has to have political, economic, diplomatic, legal, communications, and other elements to be successful. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the imperative to kill or lock up insurgents — and Petraeus hasn’t, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist who has written a biography of Petraeus, sets the commentators straight in this post on Tom Ricks’s blog. She writes:

Since Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan, he has increased the intensity of every element of a comprehensive civil-military COIN campaign, not just the so-called CT element. After my trip to Afghanistan last month, during which I visited at the battalion, division, and ISAF headquarters levels, it is clear to me that the “shift” is not one of focus, but of energy and increased intensity across all lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

That certainly confirms my impression of what’s going on. It is not a shift of focus but an intensified commitment to counterinsurgency in all its facets — which includes but is not limited to the counterterrorism “line of operation.” It is this sort of comprehensive approach that worked in Iraq and can work in Afghanistan, given sufficient time and commitment — whereas attempting to implement counterterrorism in isolation (as many critics want to do) is almost guaranteed to fail.



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