How to beat an insurgency by killing fewer people (II)


My colleague Andrew Potter blogged a few weeks ago about Thomas Ricks’ new book, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008. The book tells the story behind America’s strategic shift in Iraq – from one where the primary goal is defeating the enemy, to the current strategy which holds that the primary objective is winning over the population.

The man most responsible for this shift is David Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq and later led its occupation of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Here he sought to engage and protect the local population, rather than seeking out and destroying every last insurgent. The city was a rare success during the early days of America’s occupation of Iraq, but was swallowed up by the insurgency when Petraeus and the 101st left. Petraeus now heads U.S. Central Command and directs U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where the United States is shifting its focus, and where Canadian soldiers have been fighting the Taliban for the last seven years.

Last June, Petraeus sent his commanders in Iraq a memo in which he outlines the tactics and philosophies he expects them to employ in a hearts-and-minds counter-insurgency campaign. This memo is included in the appendix of The Gamble, and I’ve recorded much of it below.

General Walter Natynczyk, Canada’s chief of the defence staff, shares Petraeus’s belief that beating an insurgency requires winning over the local population. He said as much in a recent speech. Still, I’d like to know how many of the tactics and strategies discussed by Petraeus are employed by Canadians in Afghanistan. Does the Canadian military have patrol bases and outposts in Kandahar city? How much time (especially overnight) do Canadian troops spend there versus back at the main base? Are Canadian soldiers living among the Afghans, or as, Petraeus would describe it, are they commuting to work? How many patrols are conducted on foot, versus from inside vehicles? How much, if any, of Kandahar city and province do the Canadian soldiers or their Afghan allies decisively control? Are they holding territory, or does their authority vanish when their patrol rolls away? Is the Canadian military working to peel away “reconcilable” insurgents from “irreconcilables”? In other words, are Canadian soldiers talking to the Taliban? How smooth are transitions from an outgoing group of soldiers to those who are just arriving? Are relationships that are built between locals and one deployment of Canadian troops carried over to the new arrivals?

These are questions, not accusations. It’s been years since I’ve been in Afghanistan, and when I was there, in the fall of 2001, Canadian soldiers weren’t. The closest I came to any Western soldier is when American B-52s bombed Taliban positions about 500 metres away from the Northern Alliance trench in which I was cowering. It’s a different war today, and I don’t have first-hand experience of it. But if any current or former Canadian soldiers can shed more light on the above queries, I’d be grateful.

In the meantime, here’s Petraeus, edited slightly, mostly to give my typing fingers a break:

       Secure and serve the population. The Iraqi people are the decisive “terrain.” Together with our Iraqi partners, work to provide the people security, to give them respect, to gain their support, and to facilitate establishment of local governance, restoration of basic services and revival of local economies.

       Live among the people. You can’t commute to this fight. Position Joint Security Stations, Combat Outposts, and Patrol Bases in the neighbourhoods we intend to secure. Living among the people is essential to securing them and defeating the insurgents.

       Hold areas that have been secured. Once we clear an area, we must retain it.

       Pursue the enemy relentlessly. Do not let them retain support areas or sanctuaries. Force the enemy to respond to us.

       Promote reconciliation. We cannot kill our way out of this endeavor. We … must identify and separate the “reconcilables” from the “irreconcilables” though engagement, population control measures, information operations, kinetic operations, and political activities. We must strive to make the reconcilables a part of the solution …

       Defeat the network, not just the attack. Defeat the insurgent networks to the “left” of the explosion. Focus intelligence assets to identify the network behind an attack, and go after its leaders, financiers, suppliers, and operators.

       Foster Iraqi legitimacy.

       Employ money as a weapon system.

       Walk. Move mounted, work dismounted. Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot and engage the population. Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting with the people face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass.

       Understand the neighbourhood.  Learn about the tribes, formal and informal leaders, governmental structures, and local security forces. Understand how local systems are supposed to work … and how they really work.

       Look for Sustainable Solutions.

       Maintain continuity and tempo through transitions. Start to build the information you’ll provide to your successors on the day you take over.

       Manage expectations. Be cautious and measured in announcing progress.

       Be first with the truth. Integrity is critical to this fight. Don’t put lipstick on pigs…. Avoid spin and let facts speak for themselves.

       Live our values. Do not hesitate to kill or capture the enemy, but stay true to the values we hold dear. This is what distinguishes us from our enemies. There is no tougher endeavor than the one in which we are engaged. It is often brutal, physically demanding, and frustrating. All of us experience moments of anger, but we can neither give in to dark impulses nor tolerate unacceptable actions by others.

       Prepare for and exploit opportunities. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (Seneca the Younger).

       Learn and adapt. 


How to beat an insurgency by killing fewer people (II)

  1. Well, developing the capacity for troop transport by helicopter reduces the opportunity for meaningful exchange of hearts and minds. Also reduces the chances of prairie kids blundering around in the intricacies of tribal and clan loyalties. And reduces cannon fodder parades on the Highway of Heroes.
    Or we could billet them all out in Kandahar neighbourhoods like junior hockey puckers and let the locals learn to love ’em as long as they live. Hard to know, eh?

  2. There have been several books written about how the Canadian military operates in Afghanistan. Petrou should read one or two of them. Canada and its soldiers understand that Afghanistan cannot really move forward unless the local population feels secure. I don’t see any conflict between Canadain views and those of Gen. Petraeus. In fact, Canada’s long experience with peacekeeping probably disposes our army to embrace more readily the views of Petrsaeus than his own US Army.

    However, with limited numbers of boots on the ground because so many of our NATO partners refuse to engage in the hot zone of Kandahar, it is difficult for the spread-out Canadian forces to provide this security. Maybe the deployment of the US Stryker brigade in Kandahar will reduce the total area of Canadian responsibiltiy allowing our people to be effective.

  3. The more I read about Petraeus the more I like him. I think his Pakistan strategy is dead on for example.

    I cannot speak to the specifics of foot patrols but Canadians have an number of forward operating bases that are specifically to maintain positions.

  4. The really great thing about a futile quagmire, for the people who profit from it, is that there IS no end. The more you fail, the more you can go to the public and ask for more money. You step in the goo then you insist that a redoubling of effort (read: cash) is the answer. A large country can take a decade or more to borrow, spend and inflate itself into bankruptcy this way, while the self-proclaimed patriots urge them on and the arms merchants and military suppliers pocket the proceeds.

    Petraeus is the perfect man of the hour, coming up with an endless stream of bland homilies about how to “win” the war (read: keep the expensive quagmire going as long as possible).

    “Maintain continuity and tempo through transitions.” This is what passes for military genius?

    “Employ money as a weapon system”. Yeah. How’s that working out for you?

  5. good luck with that tactic.
    it will never work.
    they need to kill 1,000s of them to win the war.
    if in iraq they did not see the terrorist been betan, they would of lost.
    as soon as they started kiling the terrorist & stoping attacks in the market / stoping attacks by a big %, all the people started to turn on the terrorist / sons of iraq started to work.
    same goes for afghanistan.
    if all the people in afghanistan see america starting to kill shi& loads of taliban & start to stop them attacking & lower there death rat to 10% withing 1 year, you will see everyone turning on the taliban.
    not killing the evil people will just make the afghanistan war go on for 10,000 years.
    there are 25 million people with no money, & there are not 25 million people that work forthe taliban.
    so that says it all.
    the people that do it for money are evil people that need to be kiled anyway..
    i would start to take all rehad stuff to afghanistan, this way they can fix up all there new police & army men.
    thepeople with drug problems must be fixed ASAP.

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