For a Sailor, CDR Salamander is pretty smart. He’s got a post today describing what the operational goals and challenges are in Marjah, Afghanistan.
He describes some of the problems we’ve had by letting NATO take the lead in operations in A-stan. Oh, you didn’t know that for the last several years NATO was running the show in Afghanistan? Well, shortly after the initial US occupation, NATO, in a bid for post-Cold War relevance, sought a leadership role in the operation, and was soon in charge of most of the fight there. The problem was, while “NATO” as a whole wanted to be in charge, individual member nations, while willing to send (sometimes token) forces, were not able to generate public support for genuine combat roles for their troops. Many forces, as a practical matter, restricted to just defending their own base, or hobbled by such onerous rules of engagement as to be rendered ineffective. I’m not knocking the troops, who were in many cases just as brave and professional as any troops we might deploy. But they were often simply incapable of performing COIN warfare to any effect. Another challenge was that many NATO troops were lacking in the supporting arms that our troops often take for granted, such as huge numbers of transport helicopters.
Without large numbers of well supported troops able to embed themselves into a community, they had no way of gaining the trust of the local population, which it the key to winning in COIN warfare.
Since the stabilization of the situation in Iraq in the post-surge environment of ’08-’09, the US has been able to increase its focus on Afghanistan, and to increase its level of operational control over troops there. One big factor has been handing responsibility of the southern province of Helmand over to the Marines. And the increase in forces provided by President Obama has finally given our troops the critical mass they need to conduct COIN warfare. As you’ll read in CDR Salamander’s post, SCHB (Shape, Clear, Hold, Build) is the same model that our troops used in Iraq (and in fact, that armies have used against insurgencies for many generations).