Tactical Success, Operational Setback

Even though the US is publishing a new counter-insurgency operations manuel, counterinsurgency thinking is does not appear to be working all of the way towards the frontlines in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Force on force kinectic warfare thinking is still exhibited in both locations. I’ll start with Afghanistan.

From Forbes we learned that Taliban insurgents captured two medium size Afghanistani towns a couple of weeks ago. We also learned the following:

The second of two towns seized by the Taliban went back into government hands Wednesday with relatively little bloodshed after more than 1,000 U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops swept into the area.

Two Afghan soldiers were wounded and two Taliban were killed in the battle to retake Garmser,

Two Taliban insurgents were killed from a force that was able to take the town in the first place. This indicates that either the force that took the town were three brothers and their cousins (highly unlikely) or that the vast majority of the Taliban force followed the first tactical rule of being guerrillas — don’t fight set piece battles against vastly superior firepower, instead run away and snipe next week.

Here is where kinectic thinking on the part of the US Army comes through though:

“The Taliban appears to be bullying their way around some of the smaller towns in remote areas but they have no capability to lay claim to any piece of ground,” U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick said.

It is a core tenet of guerilla warfare to not go head to head against main force units until the very last stages of a guerilla war. However this tactical success of reclaiming a town is an operational setback in a counterinsurgency campaign because the counter-insurgent task is a very complex task of seperating the population from the insurgent, and creating credible guarantees of security from any retaliation from the insurgent force.

The insurgent force needs the population for resupply, recruits, intelligence and concealment. Some of these objectives can be gained by an appeal to primary loyalties, but other times, intimidation and violence are used to achieve these ends. The counterinsurgent force has to generate a bubble of security that negates the ability of the insurgent force to target informers, cooperators and neutrals. This bubble must be very strong for if the insurgent force can routinely penetrate the bubble, the promises of reward for cooperation with the counter-insurgent force become meaningless, for cooperation credibly means death. We have seen this dynamic in Iraq, most notably in Ramadi where after Sunni tribal shieks authorized their young men to sign up for the police force, eleven shieks were assainated in under a month. All of a sudden the Ramadi police recruitment drive collapsed because the US Marines were unable to project that bubble of safety away from their perimeter.

The news that the Taliban took two towns reduces the credibility of the counter-insurgent promise that it is the only force that can provide protection. Therefore despite the tactical success of reclaiming these towns, the counter-insurgency effort in southern Afghanistan has suffered a setback.

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