Fight Less, Win More
Nathaniel Fick, a former Marine captain and veteran of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, is now back in Afghanistan teaching counterinsurgency. What he’s teaching is pretty basic COIN doctrine:
Welcome to the paradoxical world of counterinsurgency warfare — the kind of war you win by not shooting.
The objective in fighting insurgents isn’t to kill every enemy fighter — you simply can’t — but to persuade the population to abandon the insurgents’ cause. The laws of these campaigns seem topsy-turvy by conventional military standards: Money is more decisive than bullets; protecting our own forces undermines the U.S. mission; heavy firepower is counterproductive; and winning battles guarantees nothing.
That’s all true, of course, even though it goes against every instinct of the American soldier. Still, actually implementing these tenets is no simple task.
Consider, for example, the question of roads. When U.N. teams begin building new stretches of road in volatile Afghan provinces such as Zabul and Kandahar, insurgents inevitably attack the workers. But as the projects progress and villagers begin to see the benefits of having paved access to markets and health care, the Taliban attacks become less frequent. New highways then extend the reach of the Karzai administration into previously inaccessible areas, making a continuous Afghan police presence possible and helping lower the overall level of violence — no mean feat in a country larger and more populous than Iraq, with a shaky central government.
Elementary, really. But the guerrillas know that, too. And it only takes a couple of well-placed, well-timed attacks to destroy months of work and millions of dollars of assets. Still, two steps forward, one step back is better than no steps forward.