There’s a lot of controversy today about Afghanistan, Obama, and GEN McChrystal’s request for more troops. Basically, the issue is that GEN McChrystal wants to shift to a counter-insurgency strategy of having our troops live among the population full time. One reason we never tried this strategy before is that there was concern about being seen as an occupying army. The other part is, it takes a lot of troops to do counter-insurgency this way. In the 24 minute video below, you’ll see a young Marine asking where the people are that would normally be at a market. The local tells them they’ve gone to a different market. In a perfect counterinsurgency world, the Marines would have enough men to cover the other markets. But they don’t. That’s part of what the argument going on right now.
There’s concern, legitimate concern, about how effective this would be. There’s also concern that logistically supporting a force would be difficult. And of course, there’s a very good chance that by spending more time with the local population, and less time patrolling the Taliban’s infiltration routes, we might face more attacks similar to the one that killed 8 American’s this weekend. It’s a real risk.
But manning an outpost in the middle of nowhere that might, or might not, interdict Taliban infiltration doesn’t win the population over. Winning the population over generates intelligence, denies the Taliban the use of the population for shelter, money, and other support. It removes the sanctuary every insurgent force needs.
The nearest analogy I can think of is convoys in WWII. The U-Boats of Germany were sinking merchant ships at a frightful rate. The British Admiralty was loathe to have merchant shipping travel in convoys, as they saw them as a defensive measure, when the warships that would escort them should be used offensively.
But that turned reality on its head. In fact, the convoy was an offensive measure. Instead of having warships hunt willy nilly for U-Boats, by using a convoy, you created a group of merchant ships that U-Boats had to attack, and therefore brought them into range of the escorting warships.
Similarly, if you can provide full time security for a village in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the Taliban will be forced to either come to you, on ground you are prepared to fight on, with all proper support, or they cede the battle.
Watch the video, make your own judgment, and let me know what you think.