Type: Analysis
Pages: 10 | Words: 2978
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US Military involvement in Afghanistan has raised a lot of debate since it started in 2001, but most of this is focused on the military strategy they have been using which has been mainly described as “kill and capture”(Johnson & Mason, 2007). Counterinsurgency is a strategy the US army has been using which has also raised opposition.  A US Army colonel, Gian Gentile, who is opposed to the use of this strategy in Afghanistan, said in October that the US army is using this strategy without serious examination of it and its extent (Jones, 2008). In order to understand the concept of Counterinsurgency or simply COIN as it is simplified one must understand what insurgency is. An insurgency is defined by Gordon, (2009) as an armed rebellion by guerilla groups against an established government or authority. The department of defense defines this as “an organized, armed political struggle whose goal may be seizure of power through revolutionary takeover and replacement of the existing government” (Nyberg, 1991). Counterinsurgency on the other hand is defined as a military, paramilitary, political, economic. Psychological and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency”  (Kilcullen, 2007). A comprhensive counterisurgency strategy can be employed Afghanistan successful, if it is well understood and given its necessary support.


The word insurgency originated from a Latin word insurgo which means to rise up (Gordon, 2009). Insurgency is mainly meant to weaken the control of established governements or authorities while amassing this power to the insurgents. Insurgency is therfore the political struggle between the authority in power and a challanger that uses violence as a tool of struggle. In order to provoce and gain power from the established authority. Insurgents use severa tactics (Cassidy, 2006). The include porvocatoon of the authority by nihilistic attack on civilian targets such as the case of the 2001 twin tower attacks on World Trade Center in New York. This was to provoke the country to use military force  which is what happened when Goerge Bush attacked Iraq after promising that whoever was behind the bomb blast will hear from America (Price, 2009). Another tactic they use is exhaustion measures.

They try to get the counterinsurgency forces to adopt measures or actions that do not necessarily advance their mission but only use a lot of effort such as garrisons, conveys and gurds among others. The insurgents draw their support in terms of food, water, ammuniation and intelligence supply from the population of civilians in their communities. These may not be willing participants and therefore they terrify them through violent acts and threats in order to make them cooperate. They might also play this tactic with security forces and civil administration. Insurgents also prolong the conflict so as to exhaust the counterinsurgency forces, control their loss rtates and try to match setbaks with strenghts. They might lie low for a while as they recruit and train after a loss and also replace a leader immediately when one falls (Department of the Army, 2009).

The first and the most natural response after an attack on civillian targets such as the bombing of kirkuk Girls’ school in Iraq on 2nd April 2007 by Alqeida is that authorities send troops to find and capture or avenge the people (Jones, 2008). This is obviosly a trap and is meant to provoke them. The force is seen as an effetive counter measure and also internal political among the government supporters want that.  This is counter productive in that insurgents have managed to convince their communities in which they are fighting from, that they share their grievances which are political, economic or religious which the government have ignored. Counter attack measures reinforce this propaganda in the minds of the peopleon how the government is not willing to listern to them or are against them. This is the reason any strategies taken to counter insurgency must be well thought out (Gordon, 2009). This is where counterinsurgency strategy comes in.


The pepetrators of violent attacks aginst civilians must be pursued and wiped out  completely but ,with measured application of force (Metz & Millen, 2003). This means minimum effective force of arms that puts emphsis on ‘effectve’ since failure to respond will encourage more attacks and wavering in the face of attacks on civilians will be interpretded as weakness.unlike the insurgents with no responsibility, the counterinsurgency forces have the power and responsibility.  Political proipagandas perpetuated by the insurgensts must be dealt with in all means.  Counterinsurgency as a military strategy provides for this since it provides opportunities for political peace, econimic opportunities and displays respect for the local people and engage them in finding lasting solution.

In another report by Gordon, (2009) says that counterinsurgencvy does not involve only military units but it also involves establishing and solving the underlaying issues that bring disatisfaction in the curreent government among the population. This will involeve many aspects such as dealing with land issiues, unemployment, oppressive regimes and ethenical conflicts or tensions, all in the menu for finding a lasting solution. The officers involved will find themselves negotiating political deals, dealing with nonmilitary organisations and other countries, providing basic serves such as water and health care, speaking a language that is foreign to them and communicating the progress to the interested parties.

Counterinsurgency outlines a long range plan that combines tactics of offensive, defensive and stabilitity poperations as the Department of the Army, (2009) manual outlines. In order to achieve a balance between these functions, the tactical units must divide their efforts well in seven lines of action. These are to establishing security of the population, establish civil control, support the government forces, support governance, restore or provide basic services, support economic and infrustructure development and conduct intelligence or information engagement. This is refered to as unity of effort which is very important in defeating the insurgennts, offering security to the population and gaining the support of the people. This is not a mean feat but US forces doing the battle in Afghanistan must exercise tactical patience, good judgement and innovation in order to beat the insurgents in the country.

Counterinsurgency involveds five tactics as discussed by (Joes, 2004). These include: Population control or what is refered to as “drain the water.” It is a tactic that involves relocating the population where insurgents are getting support to another area which is more secure. By isolating the insurgents they are left with no supplies and cover and this makjes their capture easier. This tactic was widely used in South Vietnam by the US forces. Rural populations wre relocated to secured camps known as strategic hamlets and crop land sprayed with agent orange spray to destroy resources for Viet Cong. Other such measures used by the Australian army to control population are vehicle and personnel checkpoints and national identity cards. The second tactic is the oil spot which refers to concentrating counterinsurgency forces in a secured region that they are continually expanding. This also was used by the US in Vietnam again as Stategic hamlet program. The third tactic is cordon and search. In this tactic, an area or a premises is codned off and searched for insurgents or weapons.

This is used in recent times as a principle called Stability and Support Operations (SASO) where there is no enough intelligence to warrant an intense search. It is mainly used in neighbourhoods in urban areas and aims to cause as little inconvinience to the inhabitants as possible. Air craft operation is another tactic used which involves use of aircrafts in intelligence gathering, survilliance, transportation oif both commbatants and civilian and supplies and reconaissance. Finally, public diplomacy is used to secure strong relations with the local population of natives. One goal of COIN is to defeat the insurgents and rendering them uninfluencial and uneffective. This is accomplished by winning over the popilation that supports them. This is done by a complete understanding of the natives, their culture, their relationship[s with insurgents, nongovernmental organisations in the area and their views and opinions of the insurgency and the authority in power.

Human Terrain System

The countersurgency strategy as explained above requires a lot of public diplomacy. This is a gap that had been missing in the army operations in the battlefields around the worl and was inspired by the US army experience in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. It wa first suggested in 2005 by Montgomery McFate and Andrea Jcackson in their article “An organisational Solution for the Department of Defence’s Cultural Knowledge Needs” (Human Terrain System, 2011). According to the HTS website this team of experts is deployed to conduct empiricals research and analysis on the socio-cultutral environment of the specific social groups on the ground of operation and maintain a current and  relevant knowledge base . This knowledge guides the commanders’s millitary decision making. This program is not involved in the combat operations of the military but help in understanding the local population to deployed combat teams (Gordon, 2009).

According to Human Terrain System, (2011), the work and purpose of the HTS is outlined in the contractor memo the HTS in Afghanistan and Iraq helpn the commanders understand why the people were guiding the enemy and their hostility towards the US army. The contact also specifically pointed out that HTS team  would not accompany the Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) in their patols but they would remain in the Green Zones and work on the findings of the experience of BCT from the field patrols for their analysis. The HTS was integrated into the Army as part of the intelligence or information funtion. It is now designed to specifically to guide brigade commanders and their team understand and address cultural aspects of the population in Afghanistan and Iraq in the operational and tactical levels.

This focussesd on social, ethnogtrphic, cultural, economic and political elements of the host communities and in which the insurgents operate. This has revolutionalised the traditional inteligencesystems by bringing focus to cultural dimensions such as language, values  of the local community in preparation of staff on mission (Gordon, 2009). A social scientist, Montogemery McFate joined the army HTS team in 2007 and has heplped develop a CPE database that allows gathering of information on local populations and regular updates. In Afghanistan the program has been able to create databases for local leaders, tribes, political disputes, economic issues amd social problems.

Criticism of the program

The HTS have encountered its share of criticism. The biggests criticism has come fromanthropologists no less, citing ethical concerns regadrding the reports generated by the program (Metz & Millen, 2003). The concern are that the reports can be used by military and intelligence agencies in a manner that make the subjects of the research susceptible. They cite that the program lacks ethical safeguard for the population researched such as the leak of the Human Terrain Systems handbook that wikileaks got  access to (Price, 2009). Another criticisim is leveled on the reources it is using.  By 2009 bthe program had 400 employees orperating under private contractors thought it has been a part of the army. In 2007, the US Defecnce Secretary authorized a $40 million expansion program for HTS amid accustations of financial mismanagement. Vepisonage and deaths of staff is another thing being leveled agnist HTS program. By 2009 three wmembers of staff of HTS were killed in course of their work while one of them was chraged in a court of law for killing an Afghan who attacked his coleague, a social scientist paula Loyd (Price, 2009).

Insuregcny and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

Insurgency began in 2002 in Afghanitan as groups such as Taliban began a sustained effort to overthrow the government. Since then they have contually undermined the government in its efforts to establish a national government. The most active groups are the Taliban which Al Quida backed and the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s faction of the Hizb-i-Islami HiG which mostlt operate in the South and East part of the along the Parkistan boarder  (Barno, 2006). The attacks by these groups are mainly aimed at provoking the American Army to counter their repraisals “kill and capture” manner whiuch are consistently failing (Cassidy, 2006) suggests that the best way to deal with the insurgents in this country is adopting a strategy that will focuse on recontruction and massive economic development. This will enable the pupulations in these area experience tangible benefits from president Karzai’s government which will make more legitimate to them.

Metz & Millen, (2003)reports that insurgency in Afhanistan origintates fron three basic problems in the country. First is the lack of state structure and the inability to of the Karzai government to reach or create presence all over the country, thenthe failure to secure rural area so that economic development and reconstruction can take root and finally lack of improvement in the lives of themost of the people in the sourthern part of the country. In another report (Mazzetti, Perlez, Schmitt, & Lehren, 2010)says that there is clearly a lack of understanding of the Taliban in the western world. To the west they are robed, bearded men wielding guns and Qurans and generally instituting  cruel policies and angry at the whole world. No effort was made in the start of occupation by the America and NATO to understand them. there was no understanding of the soviet ocupation of Afghanistan and its influence, islamic traditions and the ethnic, tribal and lingustic phenomenon of the Talibans. In the mixture of all this is the effect of the Parkistan boarder on the Taliban and their rise.

Though the American soldiers and Marines and NATO forces have been in the country up to date, a lasting stability is not something that has been experiecned. Reports of 2006 indicate that more than 340 soldiers and Marines have been killed. In The fisrt five months of 2006 insurgency attacks increased by 200% as (Jones, 2008)reports compared to those of a similar period in 2005. The years have also seen insurgency groups organise themselves into big attack groups of abpout 100 fighters carrying out assults on secured government posts. It believed that the group had abiout 12,000 fighters by 2007 in areas of Oruzgan, Helmand,Zabol and Kandahar.  This is why a report by Afghanistan ambasdor to the United States, Siad Jawad, was quoted in a report confessing thet the government has lost a lot area of control especially in the East of the country (Mazzetti, Perlez, Schmitt, & Lehren, 2010). This could only mean that insurgents are movingg freely.

Another phenomen that is alien to the culture of Afghnanistan is increased suicide bombings. Suicide is abhored in afghanistan and the adoptionof the Improvised explosives devises (IEDS) show that the insurgents are cordinating with those in Iraq and that there is growing technological sophistication. The suicide bombs and other gargets used have shown evidence that they are being imported from Parkistan and foreign islamists. The unsecured tribal areas in the Northern part of Parkistan are safe havens for the insurgents leadership, provide recruits and training ground for all insurgents groups including  Al Qaeda, Taliban and HiG (Jones, 2008).

The US depertment of defence and the Kabul government failed to take advantage of the rural Pashtun. The Taliban capitalised on this and have gained a lot of support from them. The US army approched the insurgency in the south as a deductive maths of reducing the insurgent group to zero as Mazzetti, Perlez, Schmitt, & Lehren,( 2010) says which was a complete failure and played the fighters game instead. In the southern side the insurgents intimaded the rural folks by telling those who wanted to support the Us soldiers and Karzai government they will be back. This was done throught night letters and a common saying “ the Americans have wrist watches but we have got the time” (Jones, 2008).

Another thing that is not working well with the Americans trap set by the Taliban where they fight in villages to provoke them. they sacrifice the lives of a few fighters to get sympahty from the local community leaving no space fot the Americans even to start diplomacy. Entangled in this is the elemnet of the local culture of Pashtumwali and badal  or revenge as an obligation. This is a phenomen the American do not understand (Price, 2009).


The American and NATO soldiers and marines in the Afghanistasn can still win the war in Afghanistan even faced with such odds. There is need to adopt and implement an effective counterinsurgency strategy. This will require a major boost to manpower, equipment and reconstruction resources. The forces of this change which includes to an extent the commitment  and involvement of the Kabul government to patiently develop a stable country that is free of terrorism. The involvement of the HTS program cannot be overstressed as the actors in the counterinsurgency need a comphrhensive understanding of the country, Taliban and the comminities that support insurgency.  They need to consolidate a comphrhensive understanding of the culture, language and tribal hierachies in Afghanistan. Support for the insurgency also come from the notorious Parkistan boarder and the sorrounding communities which an HTS should study. This will require support even from the Parkistan authorities which will present problems of its own. The form of support needed here will not come in form of support from the president to the United States, but in taking a decisive step to exercise control of his country. He will need to shut down the border as it also threatenss his country’s stability.

The United States have been playing in the Talibans game plan of “kill nad capture” and this needs to change in order to allow counterinsurgency measures to work. They must start training their soldiers well taking time to teach them the language and culture of the people. This has started with HTS teaching soldiers eating manners and observing Ramadhan, all they need to do is put more effort.

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