An Analysis Of Counterinsurgency Doctrine In Afghanistan Politics Essay

Fighting and winning battles in countries where insurgencies thrive such as Afghanistan takes more than just superior military and conventional combative capabilities; the armed forces must be able to learn and adapt. Counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan are one of the methods applied to overcome insurgencies. Counterinsurgency (COIN) refers to those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency. COIN is more than just a laundry list of possible actions intended to thwart insurgency. It is a campaign that uses a variety of means to secure the population of a territory and restore or create the functions of government over that territory. In 2001, the United States waged a rapid military conquest in Afghanistan overthrowing the Taliban regime in fewer than three months. However, this initial success was quickly succeeded by the emergence of a prolonged insurgency as various insurgent groups such as the Taliban, local militias and criminal organizations started a sustained effort to overthrow the new Afghan government. This paper discusses what exactly what is counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine and Human Terrain Systems (HTS) project in the context of counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan. It will also review the likelihood of a successful result of the COIN doctrine in Afghanistan as well as the ethical issues surrounding the recruitment from the universities, social scientists and scholars for the US military’s Human Terrain Systems (HTS) project whose work will be used in the COIN process.

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Counterinsurgency Doctrine in Afghanistan

Counterinsurgency doctrine can be defined as those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency. COIN is more than just a laundry list of possible actions intended to thwart insurgency. It employs a variety of means to secure the population of a territory and restore or create the functions of government over that territory. At a minimum, these goals require the government to possess a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and the disruption or elimination of insurgent forces and infrastructure. Therefore, COIN doctrine ought to provide a general guide to the conduct of a campaign that both results in effective security and governance of a certain population and territory and attacks the insurgency. The ultimate success or failure of counterinsurgency operations depends on effectiveness of the intelligent effort. COIN is an intelligent-driven endeavor; the role of intelligence in COIN is to facilitate understanding of the operational environment, with emphasis on the populace, host nation and insurgents. Commanders require accurate intelligence about these three areas to best address the issues driving the insurgency. Both insurgents and counterinsurgents require an effective intelligence capability to be successful because both attempt to create and maintain intelligence networks while trying to neutralize their opponent’s intelligence capabilities.

Insurgency in Afghanistan is a political-military campaign adopted by various groups including the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami, foreign fighters, local tribes and criminal organizations, which cannot attain their political power through conventional means or by a quick seizure of power (Jones, 2008). They use it because they are too weak to do otherwise. It is characterized by protracted, asymmetric violence, ambiguity, the use of complex terrain i.e. the mountainous parts of Afghanistan, psychological warfare and forced political mobilization- all designed to protect the insurgents and eventually balance power in their favor. These insurgents have tried to seize power by toppling the new afghan government as well as employing other tactics such as terrorism, separation, autonomy and alteration of particular policies (Corum, 2007). They have are strived to postpone any major decisive action and to avoid defeat while sustaining themselves and expanding their support with the hope that, over time, the power balance changes in their favor.

The COIN doctrine and strategy of the United States has been rewritten after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Nagl, 2007). It is now simple, powerful and radical. To overcome the insurgencies in the Afghanistan conflict the US has had to come up with a more creative and aggressive strategy. The principles of the new COIN doctrine are simple but fundamentally radical. Owing to past loses and mistakes by the US in the Vietnam war due to lack of such as clear counterinsurgency strategy, the US military has had to learn again and institutionalize those lessons from the Vietnam war (Kilcullen, 2010). According to Nagl (2007) the tenets of the COIN doctrine include a greater focus on protecting residents over killing the enemy; taking up greater risks and utilization of the most minimal force as possible instead of maximum force. The immense military strength and superiority of the United States has hard-pressed radical militants and opponents fighting against them in Afghanistan to result in insurgency to accomplish their objectives. Today the world has entered another period when sustained, large-scale conventional war between states is unlikely, at least in the near term. Therefore, the rewriting of the COIN doctrine and rethinking of the war strategy has been inevitable and will not only shape the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq but also future battles of the US military.

In the Afghan insurgency, the U.S. military along with other U.S. and military partners are only more likely to be successful in counterinsurgency warfare if there are more capable and legitimate indigenous security forces, if they better the capacity of the local government and cut off external support to insurgents there (Pilon, 2009). This is because a significant direct intervention by US military forces may undermine popular support and legitimacy. Besides, the United States is also unlikely to remain for the duration of most insurgencies. Studies indicate that it takes an average of 14 years to defeat insurgents once an insurgency develops (Koontz, 2008). In the Afghan insurgency, the competence and, in some areas, incompetence of the indigenous government and its security forces has been critical factors. Research points out that the success of counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan revolves around three factors.

The first factor should be the ability of the United States and other international actors to help build competent and legitimate Afghan security forces, especially police, which was not accomplished during the early stages of the counterinsurgency. Studies conducted in the regional police training centers in Afghanistan as well as research done on police in the field indicated that the Afghan National police were corrupt, incompetent, under resourced and often loyal to local commanders rather than to the central government (Gonzalez, 2009). Indeed, the Afghan police received little attention and were a low priority in the early stages of the counterinsurgency. This was a mistake. The police are the primary arm of the government in a counterinsurgency because of their presence in local villages and districts. The US military made significant changes in the police training program beginning in 2005 and 2006, but persistence is the key to police reform (Corum, 2008). Based on the low quality of Afghan police when Taliban was overthrown in 2001, police reform in Afghanistan will take at least a decade (Cassidy, 2008).

Second, the United States and other international partners need to improve the quality of local governance, especially in the rural areas of Afghanistan. Field research in the East and south indicates that development and reconstruction did not reach most rural areas because of the deteriorating security environment (Kilcullen, 2010). Even the provincial reconstruction teams, which were specifically designed to assist in development and reconstruction projects, operated in pockets in the East and south because of security concerns (Koontz, 2008). Non Governmental organizations and state agencies such as USAID and Canadian International Development agency were also not involved in reconstruction and development in many areas of the south and East (Jones, 2008). The irony in this situation is that rural areas, which were most at risk from the Taliban and where unhappiness with the slow pace of change was greatest among the population, received little assistance. The counterinsurgency in Afghanistan will be won or lost in the local communities of rural Afghanistan, not in urban centers. This means the counterinsurgency must find ways to reach these rural communities despite security concerns.

Lastly, the United States and other international actors need to eliminate the insurgents’ support base in Pakistan. The failure to do so will cripple long-term efforts to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan. Every successful insurgency in Afghanistan since 1979 enjoyed a sanctuary in Pakistan and assistance from individuals within Pakistan government such as the Frontier Corps and the Inter-Services intelligence directorate (Galula, 1964). The Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups enjoyed a sanctuary in the federally administered Tribal areas and Baluchistan province (Galula, 1964). The Taliban regularly shipped arms, ammunition and supplies into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Many suicide bombers came from Afghan refugee camps located in Pakistan, and improvised explosive device components were often smuggled across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The leadership structure of most insurgent groups such as the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami, the Haqqani network and al Qaeda was based in Pakistan; the recent killing of al Qaeda’s top leader in Pakistan is a true testimony to this fact (Zambernardi, 2010).

Most policymakers including those in the US repeatedly ignore or underestimate the importance of locals in counterinsurgency operations. Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan requires not only the capability of the United States to conduct unconventional war, but, most importantly, the ability to shape the capacity of the indigenous government and security forces (Cassidy, 2008). All military and civilian efforts should focus on leveraging indigenous capabilities and building capacity. Some functional areas that need to be developed are police, border security, ground combat, air strikes and air mobility, intelligence, command and control, information operations and civil-military affairs. In some of these areas, such as civil affairs, the US military should not be the lead agency and will need to coordinate closely with other states, international organizations and NGO’s. Indeed, the success of any counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan over long run ultimately requires a combination of military, political, economic and other efforts.

The US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual

The Counterinsurgency Field Manual is a distinctive combined effort between the US Army and Marines to develop a doctrine to aid their personnel as they deal with various challenges of asymmetric wars (Nagl, 2007). The manual entrenches an imperative message regarding insurgencies: it takes further measures other than the military to triumph. There numerous more than just lethal actions and measure necessary in a counterinsurgency campaign. The manual is informed from experience and lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq; however it still can be used in other areas and battles (Jones, 2008). The manual underscores the importance of interagency collaboration in order to deal with counterinsurgency fights. The military force forms only one part of the solution; to ensure success in counterinsurgency, numerous different partners and organizations- host nation and international as well as non-governmental organizations must be involved. There are many groups who are involved in order to make counterinsurgency successful. Each of these organizations plays a significant part to ensure the success of the campaign and one has to ensure unity of effort for the counterinsurgency campaign to be effective.

Chapter three of the counterinsurgency field manual highlights the importance of intelligence in counterinsurgency (Nagl, 2007). Effective, accurate and timely intelligence is essential to the conduct of any form of warfare; similarly the ultimate success of failure of the counterinsurgency mission depends on the effectiveness of the intelligence report. Intelligence is very important in COIN doctrine; it facilitates understanding of the operational environment, with emphasis on the populace, host nation and insurgents. In the COIN doctrine, intelligence is about people. US forces must understand the people of Afghanistan, the insurgents and the local government.

According to Jones (2008) Afghanistan lacks strong central governance. It has no substantial natural resources and is generally more rural as compared to other battle zones such as Iraq. Its terrain is also quite different and extreme in terms of weather and mountainous terrain. The general literacy levels are quite low and hence the human capital is underdeveloped with high rates of unemployment. The economy is weak, for instance, the most significant cash export earner is illegal and the country faces considerable drawbacks of corruption. Lastly, it has inadequate levels of basic amenities such as electricity, clean water, and education. The focus of the COIN doctrine is to improve the competence and legitimacy of indigenous actors to conduct counterinsurgency operations.

It is quite clear that there is a considerable disparity between the nature of Soviet participation in Afghanistan in comparison to that of the coalition armed forces in Afghanistan, particularly in the situations that caused their respective involvement, and in the relative demeanor, of the armed forces there. First, some of the dissimilarities are the goals of the coalition’s forces: not only do they plan to aid the Afghans institute defense and prevent the founding of rebel safe refuge, but also to sustain economic growth, autonomous institutions, democracy, infrastructure, and education. To be precise, the coalition forces encounter some of the similar problems that any of the preceding forces in Afghanistan have dealt with: the alike severe landscape and weather conditions, ethnic elements that delight themselves on combating and inadequate infrastructure. In such circumstances, it is incredibly imperative to be perceived as serving the inhabitants, as well as protecting it. This is why the COIN doctrine is vital in counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan, as compared to simply effecting counterterrorism operations.

Intelligence and operations feed each other. Effective intelligence drives effective operations. Effective operations produce information, which generates more intelligence. Similarly, ineffective or inaccurate intelligence produce ineffective operations, which produce the opposite results. All operations have an intelligence component. All soldiers and marines collect information whenever they interact with the populace. Operations should therefore include intelligence collection requirements. Insurgents are local and vary greatly in time tact and space. In Afghanistan, it is impossible to achieve any tangible long-term results without considering and dealing with insurgency across Pakistan (Jones, 2008). COIN occurs in a joint, interagency, and multinational environment at all echelons. Commanders and staff must coordinate intelligence collection and analysis with foreign militaries, foreign and US intelligence services and other organizations.

Before any action plan, there must be intelligence preparation of the battlefield. This will involve determining the operational environment, describing the effects of the operational environment, evaluating the threat and determining threat courses of action. One cannot take the strategies, policies, and measures that were effective elsewhere such as Iraq and use them in Afghanistan. For instance, the means of communication with the Afghan people is unique, very different and difficult. There are significantly few televisions and other communication media in Afghanistan; besides about 70 to 80 percent of the Afghan natives are illiterate (Jones, 2008). The populations in the rural areas and outside urban centers do not have access to television; satellite dishes, internet, electricity and radios are unavailable. Therefore, communication with the Afghans is quite difficult. Moreover, you cannot accomplish any communication effect with flyers, brochures or through local print media since majority of the Afghans cannot read them. Communication only feasible through tribal leaders by the use of via special hand held radios devices getting transmissions from local radio channels, through Shura councils, and such other approaches (Jones, 2008).

Merits of the COIN Doctrine in Afghanistan

Owing to the military strength and superiority, it is highly unlikely that the insurgents can take on the convectional military combat against the US army and Marines. The insurgents have been fighting to ensure the collapse of the Afghan government and to ensure that they recapture the country if the coalition forces withdraw out of Afghanistan (0. Insurgencies are the combat techniques of the future since the thoughts of combating the US army to army or navy to navy is remote, considering the US conventional expertise. Thus, COIN doctrine will be utilized in many more battles to come. Regardless of the military triumph in Afghanistan, counterinsurgency is the only way to ensure the long term sustainability and success of the Afghan people. A counterinsurgency campaign is much more complex than a traditional military-on-military conflict.

The COIN doctrine will aid to develop a local solution to the Afghan problem which is much more viable than a foreign occupation by international forces. A principal merit of the COIN doctrine is that we have to accept the reality that military campaigns are some combination of offensive, protective, and stability and support operations (Corum, 2008). Considering all the factors in Afghan insurgency, it is imperative to acknowledge that military combat cannot solely achieve victory and sustainability in Afghanistan (Corum, 2008). Besides, victory in traditional combat may be diluted by ill preparedness for the campaigns that are often required in their wake. Senior military officers and national security officials have all hailed the need to rethink the war strategy in Afghanistan.

The success in counterinsurgency operations is largely a function of an external foreign military’s ability to adapt its organizational structure and strategy to win the support of the local population and directly defeat insurgents. In Afghanistan, COIN doctrine is the most viable means to achieve this. As Zambernardi (2010) writes, experiences from military officials such as General Frank Kitson, who has participated in several counterinsurgency campaigns in Africa, Europe and Asia, stresses that a successful campaign needs to take into account three groups; the insurgent groups’ political structure, the insurgent groups military structure and the population. Zambernardi (2010) argues that external forces need to focus on defeating the insurgent’s political and military infrastructure and winning the support of the population The key to success is adapting the external military’s ability to directly defeat insurgent groups. Without the COIN, adapting to Afghanistan would be a very difficult task to achieve. Besides, US army colonel Timothy Deady argues that the United States was successful in the Philippines because of direct US action (Jones, 2008).

Another merit of COIN doctrine is that it helps to develop the indigenous forces; most counterinsurgency campaigns are not won or lost by external forces, but by indigenous forces (Callwell, 1996). The quality of indigenous forces and government has significantly impacted the outcome of past counterinsurgencies. Shaping a successful counterinsurgency is not just a matter of adapting the organizational structure of an external military to unconventional war. The COIN doctrine overcomes the dangers in focusing too heavily on a lead US role and improving US military capabilities to directly act against insurgents. The US forces are unlikely to remain for the duration of any counterinsurgency effort, at least as a major combatant force (Kilcullen, 2010). An analysis of all insurgencies since 1945 shows that successful counterinsurgency campaigns last for an average of fourteen years, and unsuccessful ones last for an average of eleven years (Hosmer, 1990). Many also end in a draw, with neither side winning. Since indigenous forces eventually have to win the war on their own, they must develop the capacity to do so (Callwell, 1996). If they do not develop this capacity, indigenous forces are likely to lose the war once international assistance end. A lead US role may be interpreted by the Afghan population as an occupation, eliciting nationalistic reactions that may further hamper the counterinsurgency efforts. COIN doctrine helps to tackle some of the important aspects of the counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan.

Demerits of COIN doctrine in Afghanistan

One of the reasons advocated by critics of COIN doctrine is that it is an expensive and slow strategy that may ultimately bear the perceived benefits. Additionally, it is a strategy that needs couple of years to determine if there is any substantive and significant progress. Full implementation of COIN doctrine in Afghanistan needs massive US commitment to Afghanistan, one that the American citizens cannot put up with, especially in the face of various other domestic problems such as economic crisis and massive healthcare plans. The COIN doctrine requires enormous support and aid to help the Afghan and regardless of this the local population is still unsympathetic to the Americans and their international partners. Regardless of the support and perceived benefits, the natives who collaborate with the foreigners are always viewed by their fellow citizens as traitors and the continued occupation of Afghanistan by the foreign troops seems to be somehow boost insurgent recruitment (Cassidy, 2008).

Apart from these limitations, arguments have been advanced that Afghanistan is not yet ripe for COIN success. Based on the COIN manual it can be argued implicitly that the strategy may not succeed after all. Foremost, the massive size of Afghanistan makes the feasibility of this kind of operation difficult. The manual evidently affirms that effective COIN needs one counterinsurgent for each a thousand Afghan inhabitants that are being protected (Jones, 2008). This simply means estimated COIN personnel of 660,000, a figure so considerably above what will ever be available to be disqualifying in and of itself (Cassidy, 2008). Subsequently, the doctrine indicates that the centre of victory is the political conversion of the locals, but it falls short to talk about who is charged with doing the conversion (Cassidy, 2008). If the U.S. counterinsurgents are charged with this daunting task, the battle is lost. As the doctrine depicts, an extra measure for victory is an excellent government the inhabitants can be loyal to. It is not at all apparent Afghanistan has or is in any danger of acquiring such a government. Lastly, as earlier explained, the manual acknowledges that COIN process is time-consuming effort and that its success will call for substantial perseverance. US commitment and obligation to Afghanistan extending to decades more is often suggested; there is a likelihood that the American public may not support an Afghanistan war still going dragging on for decades (Jones, 2008).

The Human Terrain Systems

The Human Terrain Systems (HTS) is a project led by the army whose principal objective is to recruit academic socio-cultural teams who will accompany the combat personnel in the field. Its goal is improving the understanding of the local inhabitants so that this understanding can be used in the Military Decision -Making Process (MDMP) (Pilon, 2009). Human Terrain Teams (HTT) started in 2003 and they mainly recruit anthropologists and other social scientists; however, in Afghanistan it was initiated in 2006 and they help the coalition tacticians in the ground to comprehend local cultures (Stanton, 2009). These social scientists in the HTT assist troops to comprehend pertinent cultural history, to connect with locals in a means they can appreciate, and integrate facts about ethnic traditions in conflict resolution. The HTT are made up of five members; human terrain research manager, the team leader, a cultural analyst, a regional studies analyst, a, and a human terrain analyst (Stanton 2009). All serve as skilled cultural advisers to the brigade commander.

There are various ethical issues that have been raised about the HTS. Some sources have come out declaring that the United States Army brigade commanders, personally do not consider the Human Terrain System a need (Stanton, 2009). The use of academics in the military combat may not be the best option and the millions of funding used up for the HTS project may perhaps have been channeled to develop and better the training of Special Operations fighters or perhaps to procure better equipments. For instance, experienced analysts and specialists wait for their deployment, either to Afghanistan or to Iraq, whilst still being remunerated with a complete salary and lodging expenses package (Pilon, 2009) .Nonetheless, some may decline these overseas deployment. Since the assignments are randomly, instead of on a schedule or on a budget basis, many are sent throughout the states and overseas to attend conferences.


The COIN doctrine is a viable counterinsurgency strategy. However, it must be acknowledged that each war front environment is unique and different. For instance, COIN doctrines and policies that have worked previously in other countries such as Iraq may not achieve the same success rates in Afghanistan. The counterinsurgency doctrine if Afghanistan may need some re-evaluation and restructuring to best fit in into the unique context of Afghanistan.