Will Coin work in Afghanistan?

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.” (Barack Obama)

They are coming already in coffins.” (Ari Rusila)


US President Obama finally announced his new counter-insurgency (aka “Coin”) strategy in Afghanistan – which continues mostly the strategy of his predecessor Mr. Bush. Generals and influential – if not decisive – military-industrial complex got what they want and once again USA is seeking military solution to mainly political problem. I am interested to see if the selected strategy can be implemented, against or for whom it is planed, what is the role of Europe in this game and whether there would be maybe better alternatives available.

President Obama justified sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan at a cost of $30 billion a year. US mission is seize the initiative against a resurgent Taliban while building the capacity of Afghan forces so that American and NATO forces can gradually hand off security responsibilities to the Afghans. Also, support the further development of the Afghan economy and key Afghan civilian institutions. The troops should start to return after 18 months on Summer 2011 just before next US President election.

COIN

Counterinsurgency: military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency. Political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.

A figure of Mr. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency strategist and aid of General Petraeus, describes well the different elements of Coin.


Coin theory emphasises a “population-centric” over an “enemy-centric” approach. It disinters the language of “clear, hold and build”, resonant of the Vietnam era, and describes soldiers and marines as “nation-builders as well as warriors” (to borrow a phrase from the US army’s much-lauded 2006 counter-insurgency field manual, co-authored by the celebrated General David Petraeus). Coin is predicated on the idea that it is possible to win supporters for an insurgency by providing security and basic services, and ensuring the presence of a strong, legitimate government.

Mike Whitney in his article Obama’s plan for Afghanistan gives an other perspective to new strategy:

Militarily, the goal is to pit one ethnicity against the other, to incite civil war, and to split the country in smaller units that can be controlled by warlords working with Washington. But instead of unifying the different ethnic regions of Afghanistan, the NATO occupation seems headed more toward a de facto partition of these regions. The foreign policy team that President Obama has assembled includes some of the same figures who advocated the ethnic-sectarian partition of Yugoslavia and Iraq. Obama’s Special Envoy to Af-Pak, Richard Holbrooke, authored the agreement that partioned Bosnia into Serb and Muslim-Croat republics in 1995, in effect rubber-stamping the ethnic cleansing that had forcibly removed populations during a three-year civil war. He also turned a blind eye when Serb civilians were expelled from Croatia the same year, and from Kosovo in 1999.

During his inaugural visit to Washington, new German defence secretary, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg said it was necessary to put aside “the romantic idea of democratization of the whole country along the lines of the western model” and instead “transfer control of individual provinces step by step to the Afghan security forces.” The new strategy of “regionalization” is aimed at dividing Afghanistan into individual cantons—in a similar manner to what took place in Lebanon and the former Yugoslavia. Up to now the US-NATO occupation supported the government of Hamid Karzai and sold the process to the public as “democratization”. However, occupation forces are moving increasingly to hand over power directly to regional warlords and their militias—on the assumption that such regional forces will follow the orders of their imperial masters. As soon as there is no more danger in a specific province, Guttenberg declared, then the international troops should be withdrawn from that area.

Will it work?

“It’s an expensive gamble to undertake armed nation-building on behalf of a corrupt government of questionable legitimacy.” (Russ Feingold, Democrat Senator of Wisconsin)

Leave the Rag Heads to their rocks . Close the borders. (one alternative strategy in discussion forums)

The only Afghans that will welcome US troops are the ones that can successfully exploit them to wipe out rival tribes. The rest want them dead. However the new plan hopes that U.S. troop numbers and operations will set the Taliban on its heels and give the Afghan government and friendly regional authorities the time and space they need to hold off the Taliban on their own.

The US Army Field manual (2006) emphasises the importance of “troop density”, or the ratio of security forces to inhabitants: “20 counter-insurgents per 1,000 residents (or 1:50) is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective Coin operations”.

The CIA estimates Afghanistan’s population, as of July 2009, to be roughly 28.4 million. Thus, going by the 1:50 ratio, the size of the US-led coalition force would need to be approximately 568,000 troops. Even adding in the 97,000 Afghan police officers and the 100,000-odd Afghan soldiers leaves the NATO-led force more than 200,000 counter-insurgents short of the “minimum”.

Mehdi Hassan gives even more pessimistic view over Coin numbers game in his article “Two sides of the Coin”. He claims that the Afghan National Army is plagued by desertion: 10,000 recruits have disappeared in recent months. Soldiers are under-equipped and underpaid; some 15 per cent of them are thought to be drug addicts. Dominated by Tajik troops from the north of the country, the “national” army has little or no credibility in the southern, Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, where the Taliban mainly operate, and from where they draw ethnic support.

A quote from mentioned article of Mr. Hassan:

The Afghan army is useless and the police are corrupt,” says Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies. “So what does McChrystal propose? More useless troops and corrupt police. It’s a counter-intuitive solution.” According to Plesch, there is a yawning gap between Coin theory and practice. “It’s all fine on paper, but that doesn’t translate into success on the ground,”

According to a recent statistics, one gallon oil costs the invading troops $ 400 and annual expenditure of one soldier is almost one million US dollar. They have to pay $ 30 billion more per year for the troops surge recently announced by Obama. The administration already planned to spend $73bn on Afghanistan in the fiscal year 2010. Now the total will be over $100bn.

To these numbers, add a shadow footprint consisting of tens of thousands of private contractors – 73,968 according to a September 21, 2009 Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report as of June 2009. Included are familiar names like Kellogg, Brown and Root, Fluor Corp, Lockheed Martin and hired guns like DynCorp and Xe (formerly Blackwater USA) costing tens of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan for lack of oversight so scandalous that rampant waste, fraud, and abuse go unmonitored and will worsen with more troops. Additionally the infamous Blackwater, now called Xe, is at work for the CIA, which is spearheading the covert Pakistan war, and this all costs money, big money. So, fortunately, the agency still has the opium crop to cover the shortfalls in budget or cash.

President Karzai said that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024, underscoring his government’s long-term financial dependence on the United States and NATO even as President Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops in 2011.

Against whom?

Afghanistan is no longer home to al-Qaeda (Pakistan is), and al-Qaeda doesn’t need Afghan territory to be a threat. Nor is it certain the Taliban would invite al-Qaeda back in if it had the chance. President Barack Obama’s description of the al Qaeda “cancer” in that country left out one key fact: U.S. intelligence officials have concluded there are only about 100 al Qaeda fighters in the entire country. With 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at an estimated yearly cost of $30 billion, it means that for every one al Qaeda fighter, the U.S. will commit 1,000 troops and $300 million a year.

A powerful grass roots movement has blossomed in Afghanistan, giving its people new hope, self-esteem and a sense of belonging. The problem for US is that this movement is the Taliban. The Taliban and their allies have shadow governments in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. There is a fear among Western military officials and diplomats that the Taliban insurgents are doing much more than the Afghan government to establish good governance and accountability. The Taliban aid groups also coordinate widely their activities with the Taliban in remote areas, so the Taliban can claim the credit and not the government. In the remote provinces, the Taliban’s efforts have reinforced two images: on the other hand an absent and/or corrupt Afghan central government and effective and accountable Taliban administration on the other. It seems logical that what Afghanistan needs is not solutions from the top down but from the bottom up. Now it seems that the Taliban — a dispersed people’s movement, spanning thousands of villages, through which the Afghan people can regain a sense of control over their government – is answering better the to the needs of ordinary citizens than US and their puppet government in Kabul.

If local commitment or participation to “new” strategy is weak I think that it does not have any possibilities to realize. Speaking about local motivation to help Yanks to implement their task it might be good idea to recall a couple of years old CBS documentary – “Bombing Afghanistan“- A little comparison of the Russian past and current practice of a Yank in Afghanistan. A couple of extracts:

“During the Russian invasion we have not heard of 10 members of one family being killed by Russians in one incident. But the Americans did that, “remarked a Villager.

“We used to hate the Russians much more than Americans,” replied the Villager. “But now when we see all this happening, I am telling you Russians behave much better than the Americans.”

Instead of terrorists or Al Oaeda US seem to fight against just ordinary citizens.

For whom?

If it is difficult to find the real enemy for new US strategy in Afghanistan the better question could be for whom the strategy will be implemented. Given the influence of military-industrial complex in US (foreign)policy the answer may be found from that direction.

The vital interest of US could be to ensure that Pakistan does not become a failed state with, in the worst case, its nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. Ironically the US provides one-third of the entire budget of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, which e.g. India consistently highlights as the mastermind of terrorism in the region.

One can have an reasonable understanding that the core issue in this war is not Afghanistan or “defending the American people” — but establishing a stable U.S. domination over a broad and highly strategic swath reaching from Iran (east of Afghanistan) to Pakistan (west of Afghanistan).

Equally, there is better awareness in Delhi that the war in Afghanistan is not merely about hunting down Osama bin Laden but is also a war with an agenda towards Central Asia, Russia, China and Iran.

US military-industrial complex has been shaping the country’s economy and affecting its foreign policy. the last decade of military adventurism A recent count found the Department had 47,000 primary contractors, or over 100,000 firms, including subcontractors, and if a full tally of the Federal money headed their way were made, it would lift the published defense budget by about two-thirds, or $300 billion. The avalanche of money sustains and coopts everyone from Halliburton ($6 billion in one recent year) to Electronic Data Systems Corporation ($2.4 billion) to Verizon ($277 million) to Proctor & Gamble ($362 million) Even academia is in tow, with about 350 colleges and universities agreeing to do Pentagon-funded research. Amid all this waste the Pentagon spares no effort to keep the media on its side, both in the US and elsewhere. Believe it or not, the military allocated at least $4.7 billion this year to “influence operations” and has more than 27,000 employees devoted to such activities.

Besides military industry also energy sector has its interests in Afghanistan. In his article “The Great Game – The War For Caspian Oil And Gas” Christopher Bollyn describes following:


Those that control the oil routes out of Central Asia will impact all future direction and quantities of flow and the distribution of revenues from new production, Enron, the biggest contributor to the Bush campaign of 2000, conducted the feasibility study for a $2.5 billion Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which is being built under a joint venture agreement signed in February 1999 between Turkmenistan and two American companies, Bechtel and General Electric Capital Services. Enron, a Texas-based gas and energy company, together with Amoco, British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil and Unocal are all engaged in a multi-billion dollar frenzy to extract the reserves of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.

Noble rhetoric about fighting for justice and democracy is masking a less noble struggle for control of an estimated $5 trillion of oil and gas resources from the Caspian Basin .,” The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is slated to be completed in 2014, with $7.6 billion in funding from the Asian Development Bank.

EU as bystander – Russia proposes Security Treaty


From an European perspective has it has been humiliating to wait months what President Obama will decide about Afghanistan – where is the EU alternative given the praise above in my quote? There is much talk in EU of civilian crisis management skills and soft power to resolve conflicts. If such expertise exists why there is no alternative strategies prepared in EU, why EU is outsourcing strategical planning to USA.

I am not saying that an Afghanistan strategy prepared in EU machinery or by European think tanks would be better than that now planned in Pentagon. What interferers me is that there is even try to make it. There is some civil-military co-operation models in Europe, some experience about implemented missions, some studies about “comprehensive approach”. Why EU’s machinery has not developed a program for Afghanistan with its own LogFrame methods?

How the EU’s role in international politics can grow if it does not create alternative models from EU’s own strengths. and not anticipated the initiative to implement them?

More over EU foreign policy possibilities e.g. in my article “Could EU lead the 3rd way out from confrontation

There is also possibilities for wider preparation to deal with international conflicts by developing the ideas proposed Russian President Medvedev. From my point of view his Treaty of European security -draft should be given the change. In his speech in the Serbian Parliament 20/10/2009 he summarized as follows:

Preparing and signing a European Security Treaty could be a starting point for creating a common security zone in the Euro-Atlantic region, and would provide equal and reliable guarantees to all states.

The idea is to build an international cooperation mechanism under UN Security Council responding to threads and challenges in the security sphere. I think that now it is time at least discuss about lessons learned, develop, copy and apply better practices and the forum should be much more wider than Pentagon only. Will the outcome be a new structure or updated old one shall be seen but even more important is to start process itself.

A guestion of Pashtunistan?

Pashtunistan is not on any map, but it’s where leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban both hide. It straddles 1,000 miles of the 1,600-mile Afghan-Pakistani border. It is inhabited by the ethnic Pashtuns, a fiercely independent people that number 12 million on the Afghan side and 27 million on the Pakistani side. They have a language (Pashto), an elaborate traditional code of legal and moral conduct (Pashtunwali), a habit of crossing the largely unmarked border at will, and a centuries-long history of foreign interventions that ended badly for the foreigners. Today, the enemies of the United States are nearly all in Pashtunistan, an aspirational name coined long ago by advocates of an independent Pashtun homeland.

The Americans can fight openly only in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan, and the Taliban know it. What to do with Pakistan, bomb it to stone age or what? I hope that planning of Pakistan case has started and is going on with higher standards that Afghanistan case has implemented.

Grass root approach needed instead top to bottom

A revolutionary war is 20 per cent military action and 80 per cent political is a formula that reflects the truth.” (David Galula, Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, 1964)

U.S. spending in Iraq 2003-2006 was 1.4% civilian, 98.6% military” (Dan Sullivan, Sep 2006)

The strategy which Obama now selected has been in public more than three months. I really wonder how the brainstorming during this time has not better outcome than to continue strategy which President Bush already began years ago.

In my previous article “Afghanistan – to be or not” I present other options and summarize my idea as follows:

My conclusion is that the core question is not in or out. I would see the word with as best practice for future relations between the US / EU and Afghanistan.

The civil component and its use is a core question related to further developments in Afghanistan. Normally in US operations the numbers of civilians are normally a tiny fraction of what the military surge numbers are. Capacity building is critical not just in Kabul or inside military compounds, but out there in the field at the district and local levels.

Without local commitment any solution – military or civilian – is not sustainable. Of course if the perspective is only to next U.S. election campaign then real solutions are not the core question.

Bottom line

15. Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.” (T.E.Lawrence, “Twenty-Seven Articles”, 20.08.1917)

This is a 10-year, trillion-dollar effort and does not match up with our interests,” Obama said while receiving a memo over costs of McChrystal plan. I agree and have doubts whether the new strategy will serve only to guarantee the wins of military-industrial complex.

The Taliban wrote in a statement emailed to news organizations that they have “no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantee if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan,”

Critics of the new focus on counter-insurgency theory claim it is a tactical gimmick that enables policy-makers to avoid thinking long and hard about what the endgame in Afghanistan will actually look like. It is not a recipe for winning the war in the long run, they say; it is only for avoiding defeat in the short run.

Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War following: “Strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory, but tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” I agree and would add that if there is no vision about endgame one does not even know is the road leading to victory or defeat.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people…. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. (President Dwight Eisenhower)


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