Tag Archives: counterinsurgency

Can Stop and Frisk be part of a ‘civilianzied’ COIN strategy

The Atlantic has a article in their latest issue that talks about the policy of ‘stop and frisk‘.  It’s a tough issue to handle because on the one hand it pretty clearly subjects minorities (mostly young, minority men) to scrutiny by law enforcement, often on pretty shaky grounds.  It does so much, in fact, that a judge recently declared the NYPD’s program unconstitutional.

On the other hand, there appears to be evidence (although, by no means universally accepted) that the rise of ‘stop and frisk’ coincided (and perhaps was the reason behind) the dramatic decrease of crime we’ve seen over the past couple of decades (contrary to what your local Eyewitness news team might lead you to believe, crime is and has been going down for years).

I highly recommend the article.  As I was reading it I was struck by it’s applicability to COIN.  A lot of the objections to ‘stop and frisk’ revolve around the idea of arbitrary use of force and coercion by law enforcement.  This, in turn, fuels an undermining of the legitimacy of state institutions.  Really, a fundamental problem in counterinsurgency situations.  What we know from COIN operations is that the answer is rarely increased coercion and/or decreased transparency.

Supporters of the program tend to talk about efficacy.  Usually some form of the ‘you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs’ justification.  This argument tends to be directed at the people who a) vote and b) almost never find themselves being stopped and frisked.  Therefore, the discussion can be kept on a theoretical level (‘If it means I don’t get robbed, I won’t mind answering a few questions to the police’) without really addressing the real issue.

Some of this controversy reflects real and deep understandings of the role of government and race in our society.  But…there is a real opportunity here.  The article points out something that I’ve heard anecdotally for some law enforcement officers over time.  In the very same neighborhoods where coercion and heavy handed law enforcement actions occur and often cause tension, there’s a realization that something like ‘stop and frisk’ might actually be necessary for order and stability.  From the article:

In Shabazz’s Dream Lounge, I asked the three teenagers about how they thought stop-and-frisk might be improved.

I posed a more general question. You’re the police director: What would you do about stop-and-frisk?

“It’s not cool,” Kiairus said. “I don’t think they should do it at all.”

“I think the whole stop-and-frisk thing is kind of bad and kind of good,” Roman said.

Extending the hypothetical, I asked them what they would tell me if I were a rookie cop. Smiling minimally, painfully, Roman said, “I’d tell you to look for black people. We’re the reason this happens. Think about it. The main people who are locked up, wind up dead, or are doing nothing with their life—it’s black people. It’s not just a stereotype. We’re committing most of the crimes. We do dumb things, rob stores, kill our own friends.”

So, what if we took something like ‘stop and frisk’ but made it more population-centric?  Is that even possible? The article hints at it but what might it look like? More community outreach?  Conducting stops in a less antagonistic way?

I don’t know if it’s a good analog but I think back to my time in Afghanistan.  There certainly were times when people were ‘wrapped up’ but those were clearly identified individuals, the equivalent of having an outstanding warrant on someone 1.  In the regular course of business (patrolling, visiting elders, humanitarian assistance or presence patrol missions) we wouldn’t roust people like that.  It seemed a pretty clear way to guarantee the loss of the population’s support.

And yet here in the U.S., we seem to dismiss similar considerations out of hand.  To entertain them is to somehow be seen as being ‘soft’ on crime.  Maybe, if I may continue the COIN analogy a bit more, something like ‘stop and frisk’ is a on the more ‘kenetic’ part of the spectrum of available tools for a population-centric operation.  Perhaps it’s reserved for particularly lawless, violent areas and its implementation would require some pre-identified metrics to determine when the program would cease.  That’s probably a bit too cut and dried but some sort of mechanism to make sure an policy which could easy be seen (and actually morph into) a special ‘tax on minorities’ seems essential.

And, of course, the information operation accompanying this would be equally important.  We’re not very good at all at doing information operations in the law enforcement/homeland security realm.  We still rely overwhelmingly on 20th century ideas of communication.  If you don’t watch the local news, get the local paper or (maybe) attend the town meeting you simply aren’t going to know the official word about what’s going on in your neighborhood.  Some have moved to more alternate forms of media but we’ve yet to embrace that widely or move much beyond just posting the old press release on a little used website or twitter account.

But, of course, I’m looking at this from the position of a privileged, middle class white guy.  Talking about hypotheticals is one thing.  This article describes some of the concerns that would need to be addressed.



  1. Granted that’s not a perfect analogy and certainly there were times when someone was mistaken or incorrectly picked up but I think it works well enough for this point.

Kvick Tänkare

I was never a devout Christian but when I was, as they say, ‘in the fold’ I always found the Book of Job weird.  How this story doesn’t undermine everything we’re told about god today is beyond me.  One can see how Nietzsche called it a ‘slave-religion’ if you cherry pick parts like this.  Joan Acocella from the New Yorker recounts the efforts scholars throughout the ages have attempted to reconcile that book with their understanding of their religions.

Does human evolution owe a debt to sabercats?  Amazing article about the diversity and impact of these creatures.

It’s been 500 years since Machiavelli wrote The Prince and to mark the anniversary, there have been a spate of articles about his impact.  Most have been derivative and phoned in but some have been interesting.  I found this article from The Diplomat to be in that category, particularly if you apply it to the intelligence community.

Now think about big institutions, bodies made up of — and led by — individuals prone to linear thinking. Institutions like governments, armed services, and companies tend to transcribe dramatic events — great victories or traumatic defeats — into bureaucratic routine. Structuring policies, doctrines, and career incentives on the assumption that past triumphs can be rerun or setbacks avoided strips flexibility out of decisions and actions.

Written with a slate and, I suspect, maybe some liberties with some details but both entertaining and disturbing in turn.  Vice’s ‘Year in Bad Cops‘ wrap up (be warned, there’s NSFW content on this site).  I am very concerned how our culture deifies authority figures who share a monopoly on the use of violence whether its law enforcement of the military.  They aren’t all brave, honorable, selfless, etc.  Some are.  And some are despicable, sadistic and parasitic.  Fetishizing them with a broad brush encourages abuse and exploitation.  They should be held to a higher standard than everyone else, not given a pass for their transgressions by saying ‘Well, they’ve got a tough job.’

This article feels about six years too late but I’m a sucker for ‘Lessons from the ancients’ stories.  What can Tacitus’ Agricola teach us about successful counterinsurgency campaigns?  Hmm…sounds remarkably like FM 3-24.

COIN and law enforcement

You may remember (although if you do, you spend entirely too much time scrutinizing this blog) that over the past few years I’ve written a number of posts about the applicability of counterinsurgency doctrine (at least a ‘civilianized’ version of it) could be quite useful in domestic law enforcement settings.  Certainly, things like ‘community oriented policing’ or ‘intelligence led policing’ touch on some of the same themes of COIN but don’t embrace it fully.

So, it was with both surprise and appreciation that I saw this recent 60 Minutes story about Springfield, Massachusetts and the attempt by one law enforcement officer to implement COIN in a neighborhood suffering from endemic gang and drug crime.

Now, I’m not totally thrilled with the image of the SWAT team all kitted out like they’re on patrol in Helmand (after all, why do they need desert camouflage? Can’t they have blue tactical uniforms that are less evocative of a military operation?) but other than that, this looks pretty good.  A focus on intelligence collection, trust building and reestablishing rule of law and legitimacy in institutions ahead of the old game of arrests and seizures.

For more, I’d recommend checking out this post I did from way back in 2009 (!).

Reflections on counterinsurgency (audio edition)

So, a bit belated but the Kings College War Studies podcast had two great episodes recently that focused on Counterinsurgency and I highly recommend them.

The first is an interview with Lt. General Jonathan Riley and Professor Theo Farrell. The General is from the UK who has lots and lots of experience in combat zones all over the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the deputy commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2007 which makes his candor in this interview all the more interesting.

Here are some of the highlights I thought were particularly interesting:

Campaigns in Iraq vs. Afghanistan: ‘A lot of people went to Afghanistan thinking it was Iraq with mountains.’


0989436-R1-013-5 (Photo credit: iago18335)

Obviously, it’s not but it’s interesting that even around the 2006-2008 time frame (which appears to be when he was talking about) there must have been many senior people who were that clueless about Afghanistan. Not surprising…just interesting. He further remarks that Afghanistan is much more like Africa than Iraq in terms of looking for mental models of how to conceive of the operating environment. I don’t think I’ve heard of that before or the idea that operations in Africa might provide better insight into Afghanistan than lessons learned from Iraq but it makes sense. I suspect the Iraq/Afghanistan equivelance issue was due to the following in some mixture:

  • the were occurring concurrently
  • there were lots of US troops in both
  • we had lumped them under one catagory (war on terror) and so assumed they must have operational similarities

British deployment into Helmand in 2006 was a jumble of misunderstandings that hampered any real progress. Those misunderstandings include ones that seem a bit out of place for a modern army:

  • size of the operating area (bigger than many planners thought)
  • the size and number of populated areas within the province
  • the scope of narcotics trafficking across the border

The first two, at least, appear fairly straightforward and should be within the capabilities of the coalition to acquire and absorb. Yet, apparently that didn’t happen.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams don’t work. They don’t report to ISAF but instead report back to their individual national command structures which essentially precludes any sort of unity of effort.

The second podcast addresses the issue of counterinsurgency more broadly. In particular they talk about the concept of counterinsurgency and how COIN chic has evolved and where it might be headed. There isn’t anything specific I’d like to pick out here but it’s a nice primer on COIN, the debates surrounding the concept and how COIN theory might evolve post Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the broad back down to the specific, the New Yorker has an interview with Dexter Filkins and Steve Coll about Afghanistan and what it will likely look like after 2014. Let’s face it, there aren’t many ways to paint Afghanistan in a good light today and these guys don’t try. It’s a mess and as Steve Coll says, what we leave behind isn’t going to be pretty and might not be any better than when we found it.

They have a brief discussion about ‘when did things go wrong’ in Afghanistan and I have to agree with Coll that to answer that question we really need to look at the very beginning. The rot began way back in ’01-’02 which is why I think the sense of being adrift was (at least to me) firmly established by the time I got there in 2003. Coll points to specific decisions that were counterproductive:

  • the question of whether to go in ‘light’ (which we did) or ‘heavy’. The idea was that we could primarily fight this war through proxies. Tora Bora was the first big, red flag that wouldn’t work but it took years before anyone actually did anything about it. That’s because…
  • the focus on Iraq. Planning for Iraq clearly began early and even if no ‘official’ decisions were made, the US was keeping its powder dry and wanted to be able to pivot quickly to Iraq.
  • Whether to engage in ‘nation-building’. There was a general reluctance to help build governing institutions or coordinate aid programs. That was either seen as somebody else’s job or…who knows…a bunch of liberal do gooderism?
  • Underestimating the Taliban and equating them with al-Qaida. This esentially eliminated the opportunity for any negotiations and encouraged the insurgency to rebuild their strengths and capabilities. This also led, in some parts of the country, into the Taliban beginning to morph into a national liberation movement.
  • Failure to account for Pakistan. Both the overt support of elements of the Pakistani government but also the pourus border. Obviously, pretending the problem didn’t exist was not a winning strategy.
  • The Afghan government we established (or, as Dexter called it, a ‘Vertically Integrated Criminal Enterprise’). Just a mess from top to bottom. Our weak attempts to claim early on that Afghanistan was soverign and therefore the U.S. didn’t want to meddle too much in internal affairs wasn’t effective because everyone knew that we were the only thing keeping the Afghan government going, both with military and financial support. Who believes we’d give all that money and then not demand some sort of accountability? In the end, they have a corrupt, inefficient government and it looks like we’re the puppet masters.

The ‘surge’ of 2009 didn’t do much other than check the Taliban’s momentum from 2007-2008 leaving us in a stalemate. We therefore failed to break the Taliban’s back which we thought would establish our own momentum for nation building and drive them to the negotiating table. The unfortunate thing about these hail mary pass type moves is that if they fail your opponent can now be confident that they’ve taken your best shot and they can now wait you out.

In 2014, expect news stories from Afghanistan (if anyone will be writing such things) to be all about the new civil war and the wisdom of the pundits will be ‘well, that place is just naturally ungovernable…nobody could build a state there.’ It’ll make everyone feel better but it won’t be true.

Coll makes the interesting observation that ‘nation building’ was easier in the 19th century than today. I wonder if that’s just because it was easier to use brutal methods then, if there was some cultural component (from the point of the occupiers, the occupied or both) or something else.

The depth of goodwill most Afghans had upon our entry into the country is hard to overstate. Even by 2003/2004, you could feel it among the population. We had it for years and refused to capitalize on it and by 2009 had to build a population-centric strategy in order to win the population over. For me, that’s one of the key missteps of the war that demonstrated an inability to see the critical components of this war.

Dexter thinks a ‘best case’ scenario (in terms of trying to prevent Afghanistan from sliding into chaos and civil war) will involve a commitment of approximately 15,000 troops for 20-25 years. That might work, provided casualties stay low but if insurgents can pull off a Kobar Towers-like incident I imagine the patience for continuing that mission would be pretty limited (which will play in well with the pundit narrative I mentioned above).

COIN – Back to the future

It seems that for the past year or two Counterinsurgency (or COIN) as a way of fighting small wars has lost some of its luster in U.S. military and political circles.  In fact, depending on who you listen to, you might come to a conclusion that COIN is in its death throes (much like those Iraqi insurgents of 2006).

So, it was very interesting to listen in to the latest briefing of the Combined Arms Center COIN center where they discussed updates to 3-24, the field manual which guides military operations in insurgency conflicts.  Now, granted, the COIN center is likely to be a bastion of COINdinistas and, as such, to defend the doctrine to the death so enthusiastic statements on their part need not accurately reflect where the Army (or the defense establishment generally) is headed.  Still, what came out of that meeting was interesting and may indicate that the COIN dream isn’t going to go with a whimper.

The new edition of the COIN manual will not have any ‘fundamental changes’.  It appears there will be no surrendering of ground in the face of critiques by the Gentileites.  It will be interesting to see if the manual uses (or ignores) the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts as examples of COIN doctrine.  Do they isolate individual ‘successes’ and ignore evaluating the wider conflict as a success or failure or do they try to craft an overarching narrative of those two wars being a ‘victory’ due to the impact of COIN?

It’s been awhile since I’ve read FM 3-24 but I’d suggest (Oh, the pretension! Please, go on. I’m sure the JCS are on the edge of their seats.  eds.) a bit more emphasis up front about the nature of this war and what ‘victory’ does and does not look like.

What can we expect from the new manual?  The speaker(s) identified a need to get more detailed about metrics and assessment without straightjacketing forces in any future conflict.  It sounded like they were still thinking through how that might work.

They did say that the authors were considering a change of focus of the new manual away from ‘COIN’ to ‘Army Support of COIN’.  That may or may not be a good thing.  While there is something to be said for getting the military out of the nation building business as it’s not really in their skill set, it’s not readily apparent who would take on that role.  So, who exactly will the Army be supporting?  We’re kind of right back to a discussion I wrote about several years ago where a historical review of American involvement in insurgencies reveals that the military inevitably takes over that role either because no one else will (or can) do so.

Or perhaps we’re moving towards some sort of Barnett-esque ‘Sys Admin’ force?  Although, I think that’s unlikely as well.

The least good option would be one in which the military says something like ‘We’ll provide security and it’s up to a player yet to be determined to provide everything else and coordinate actions.’  I’d be surprised if that happened but anything is possible.

As an aside I will say it was VERY refreshing to see how this process was going along.  Realizing that an updated version of the manual needs to be done, the COIN center has allocated an 18 month time frame with which to put together the policy.  In that time, they’re soliciting numerous partners and (it seems) will be wrestling with some weighty issues and potential consequences of any new policy.

That’s a breath of fresh air to me who’s recently had to wade through a host of policies thrown together by person(s) who appear to work from a sensory deprivation chamber and neither consulted those who had responsibilities under the new policy (Oh, and tell me how tasking people who belong to another agency is going to work out. Especially since they aren’t even aware that they’ve been tasked.) or considered the potential consequences.  Box checking at its finest.

Forgive me.  I get a bit carried away when I see an organization that doesn’t think ‘planning’ is a dirty word.

The talk ended with a brief swirl of discussion about how the new COIN message should best be transmitted, especially among enlisted and junior leaders (up to the platoon command).  Everyone recognizes that very few people actually read 3-24 and there’s little reason to think that a similarly constructed manual will attract a much larger readership.  There was, of course, the obligatory demand for an app and other technology solutions and while I’m sure they can be valuable we shouldn’t get too seduced by technology for its own sake.

Realistically, most soldiers (regardless of whether you have a cool app or not) are going to be exposed to only as much of COIN doctrine as is required by training doctrine.  Right now, pre-mobilizing soldiers are mandated to receive four hours of COIN training.  It’s generally considered to be slightly less interesting than watching cars rust.  I’ve had considerable success, however, by using scenario training (either ‘table-top’ or live action simulations).  They can be low cost/low resource affairs, requiring little more than a classroom and an interested instructor.

Or, another option is some variation of the very good set of videos by Stanley McChrystal titled ‘The 8 Imperatives of COIN’

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Pivoting on the same subject, Jill Sargent Russell has a post up at Kings of War about how the War for American Independence can provide some insight into COIN.  She begins with some wonderful letters between Generals Washington and Howe that’s vaguely reminiscent of the ongoing twitter war between ISAF and the Taliban.

She also makes the following observation as a researcher who finds herself in the U.K.

I also have to add a few words on the fact that the American War for Independence is largely AWOL within these shores…although I understand the reticence to wade into the events of a disappointed past, that’s not a good enough reason for the silence…what has been foresworn in military knowledge by this avoidance? The pragmatic decision regarding North American Colonial policy – to cut losses in a conflict not bound to bring strategic and political benefit – might have benefited the generals of later wars.


She then delves deeper into COIN and the concept of what today might be called ‘population-centric operations’

The exchange clearly proves that both Howe and Washington made the matters of their armies’ interactions with the civilian communities and how they were treated as strategic, operational, and tactical concerns in their respective commands. And in fact, both generals (and armies) were engaged continuously in activities to sway, coerce, protect, and make use of the populations local to their quarters and battlefields. Dislike it though you might, this concept has historical legs.

When I taught COIN doctrine to deploying soldiers I’d usually begin by asking the students to name examples of that type of conflict (other than Iraq or Afghanistan).  Vietnam comes pretty quickly but after that the responses die out and it’s very rare for the American Revolution to be mentioned.  Everyone gets it after I explain but it’s clear the whole idea of this type of conflict doesn’t have a lot of stickiness.

As concerns COIN, I think there is a sense (a willful deception? desperate hope?) that these are modern, 20th century constructs, and are thus disconnected from the institutional and experiential legacies of contemporary armed forces – and certainly won’t remain important.

The genie is out of the bottle, ladies and gentlemen.  While images of sugarplums and conventional warfare can dance in our heads, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that insurgencies will be going away.  Connectedness and the power of networks will mean that ‘hearts and minds’ work will be even more important and have to occur throughout a much wider theater of operations.

COIN is here to stay.

Let loose the twits of war!

I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not but the Washington Post and NY Times both recently had very different articles about enemy forces (terrorists or insurgents) using Twitter and our response to it.

The first Washington Post article is actually a retread of a story (which even I wrote about back in September) about the twitter battle between the Taliban and ISAF. I have no idea how the people at ISAF managed to convince the powers that be to allow them the freedom to use Twitter for a real tool of engagement but a big TwShiloh thumbs up for getting it done.

U.S. military officials say the dramatic assault on the diplomatic compound convinced them that they needed to seize the propaganda initiative — and that in Twitter, they had a tool at hand that could shape the narrative much more quickly than news releases or responses to individual queries.

“That was the day ISAF turned the page from being passive,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Badura, a military spokesman, explaining how @isafmedia evolved after the attack. “It used to be a tool to regurgitate the company line. We’ve turned it into what it can be.”

And that’s really the key AND the lesson that I predict will be overlooked by just about everyone.  Whether we’re talking about military engagements or terrorist and criminal activity in our neighborhoods, the tendency is to clamp down on information flowing out.  It’s not just the more you say, they more you’ll be liable for being wrong.  I can’t help shaking the feeling that the public (or, the center of gravity, if you will) is still seen as essentially a nuisance if it’s thought of at all.

I’ve written about this subject quite a bit in the past and I think remains a key indicator arguing that very little we do domestically is ‘intelligence led’.  When we refuse to engage an opponent we cede the initiative on that field to them.  Maybe that’s a good strategic move and sometimes is the appropriate reaction but that would require some evaluation process by which consequences are determined and a determination is made.  I’m not convinced most of our ‘decision makers’ have sufficient orientation to issues like this to even ask the right questions.

And so, what have the results been since ISAF began battling with the Taliban over Twitter and loosening up from the standard ‘Latest press release here’ sort of post?

“If you look at the chronology over the past six months, it does look like there have been some changes in their content and claims,” Badura said. “They realize that we pay closer attention and are going to call them on it when we realize there is something completely sensational or inaccurate.”

On the flip side of that is a NY Times article about our reaction to the use of Twitter by al-Shabab in Somalia.

Most of the Shabab’s Twitter messages are in English, not Somali, and are clearly meant for an outside audience. American officials said they were worried that the Shabab might be using Twitter to reach potential recruits in the West.

It doesn’t appear anyone has made any sort of decision about what specific action to take but the jist of the article appears to lean towards strong arming Twitter to shut down al-Shabab’s account.

Because shutting down web sites worked so well in Egypt and Libya.

There is an appropriate time to shut down web sites.  If, for example, you know a terrorist is going to activate a sleeper cell and launch an attack via a tweet or a comment in a web page, it might be worthwhile to shut that page down, disrupting that communication.  But shutting it down simply because you don’t like the content and without a complementary strategy to prevent it fro resurfacing on another account or webpage (either via artful hacking or a well placed drone strike) you aren’t going to be able to do much more than temporarily halt communication.

Otherwise known as whack-a-mole.

It is disappointing, therefore, that there doesn’t appear (based on the article) to be any consideration for engaging in a counter-campaign.

We certainly won’t win or lose a war via Twitter but it costs us virtually nothing to ‘fight’ there.  And, if you believe that, at least in part, we’re fighting over the uncommitted middle (the majority of people who aren’t deeply committed to one faction or the other) and their support, why would we abandon an opportunity to present our message to them?  Especially, when our opponents are spreading their message?

TSA does a pretty good (if thankless) job on their blog in attempting to communicate with the livestock traveling public.  Why don’t more law enforcement/homeland security agencies do so?

Kind of related, in a non-conflict way, is the recent decision by the Swedish Tourism authority to hand over the official Twitter account (@Sweden) to ‘regular’ Swedish citizens.

“No one owns the brand of Sweden more than its people. With this initiative we let them show their Sweden to the world,” says Thomas Brühl, the CEO of the country’s tourism agency VisitSweden.

Think about that for a minute.  Who among us works for a company or agency that would let any employee run their Twitter account (assuming they even have one)?  And why not?  Are our overlords convinced that they’ve hired a bunch of  foul mouthed sociopaths that have been simply biding their time for the opportunity to say offensive things?

An alternate view of police/citizen interactions…

I’ve been witnessing a growing number of articles about the increased militarization of police forces here in the U.S.  Along with that, I’ve danced around the subject of a sense of paranoia among some in the law enforcement community which sees an abundance of threats and encourages officers to retreat into anonymity rather than interact with their communities.  And let’s face it.  Many law enforcement agencies just don’t do a very good job of communicating with the population.  Apart from the occasional press release championing the latest bust or asking for assistance (in media platforms fewer and fewer people use) when do law enforcement agencies connect with the public to explain threats, procedures or anything else?
Leave aside questions of accountability or whether it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.  If you don’t spend time trying to win the allegiance of the populous you risk losing it to someone else.
In Manchester (U.K.), the police took a novel approach to this question by inviting 70 people (from students to business owners) to witness a raid on drug dealers that had been plaguing (or serving – depending on your point of view I guess) the local community.
Called Operation Audacious (twitter feed here) it allows the police to deliver their message (official but probably achieves little penetration into the public consciousness) as well as the public to provide their ‘I was there’ stories throughout the community -virtually and in person (unofficial but having much more ‘stickiness’ in the public mind).
Is it me stuck in a rut or is this exactly the sort of outcome you’d want in a textbook COIN campaign?  You can provide your official ISAF message all day long but what you really want are the key members of the community to spread that message.  Even if it gets garbled a bit as it becomes second or third hand information, the credibility of the message bearer provides huge benefits.

Balko has an (unconfirmed) report of another example of smart law enforcement techniques…this time right here in the U.S. of A.  The short version is that the St. Louis PD broke up the local Occupy camp.  Rather than moving in like Stormtroopers on Hoth they use a number of techniques to both reduce the risk of confrontation and still clear the area.  No injuries, the protesters get to make their statement, the police get to do their job and everything works out.


The experience of ‘New Europe’ in Afghanistan

This concludes my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

I combine the chapters on Poland. Lithuania and the Czech Republic not as a slight to the contributions of the three nations or any indication of fault with the  chapters but just that so many of the themes discussed throughout the book show up in these chapters and I don’t want to repeat myself too much.  So, please take as a given the general domestic and foreign considerations I’ve discussed in the earlier chapters as applying here as well except for the following.

Oddly enough, Poland seems to have resisted initial requests to join the war in Afghanistan and used its presence in Iraq as an arguement as to why it could not contribute forces to a second conflict.  This seems to be the opposite reaction most nations took and given that we are talking about the time period of 2003-2005 this sounds like a bad Polish joke (How’d the Poles avoid the dangers of going to war in Afghanistan?  They volunteered to go to Iraq.)

When they did decide to play a more active role in Afghanistan, the Poles sold it to their people as fulfilling their NATO obligation.  Despite all the nonsense spread here in the U.S. about ‘New Europe’ being more enamored with freedom than their Western counterparts, the Eastern Europeans were making a calculated play.  They were either new or perspective memebers of NATO and the prospects of a resurgent Russia was (and remains) a serious concern.  So, many adopted the strategy of participating in NATO’s wars as a way to ensure NATO protection.

Since the alliance hasn’t been tested (although the events in Georgia in 2008 must have made everyone quite jumpy) it’s not clear how effective that strategy was/is but it’s probably the best option they’ve had at guaranteeing their nationhood.  (btw, did you know that Baltic states don’t have any jet fighters in their inventory?  Shocking!)

Poland’s story seems to be one of coming to the party but not getting a seat at the table.  Despite having more than 2,500 hundred troops in country, they’ve not been able to parley that into direct influence in NATO.  That may be because Poland’s Afghanistan strategy has been (pure conjecture here) so explicit in describing it as a quid pro quo (at least in their eyes) for a guarantee to secure Eastern Europe.

The Czechs may be the one nation examined in the book to place economic considerations at (or near) the top of their list of reasons for taking part in Afghan operations.  The Czech Ministry for Business and Industry lobbied for a PRT in Logar to gain access to copper deposits there.

The Lithuanians seemed to bite off a bit more than they could chew, volunteering to run a PRT in Ghor province that they believed would be safe from the worst of insurgent and criminal activity.  They were disabused of that notion by 2008 and have also found that they weren’t able to provide the civilian component to the PRT and unwilling to pony up the cash required for reconstruction projects.

But, in one case their experience was similar to many other, larger coaliton partners:

On 19 Auguest 2009 (four and a half years after LIthuania made up its mind to establish and lead a PRT), after four and a half months of preparation and active discussions and adjustments by various institutions, the government of Lithuanaia finally endorsed [a national strategy].

Overall, the book is a well done look at the experiences of different national approaches to the war in Afghanistan and the domestic and international dynamics which shaped them.  While this book is probably aimed primarily for academic audiences, almost all the chapters would be a worthwhile read for those interested in the subject.  A hearty TwShiloh thank you to Peter for the opportunity to review this…definately worth the time.

Hungary in Afghanistan

The chieftains. Detail from the cyclorama of Á...

Image via Wikipedia

This continues my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

“Hungary…was never really eager to do more than just go through the motions.”

That’s how Peter Marton and Peter Wagner end their overview of Hungarian policy towards Afghanistan.  Most of the rest of the book looks at what was (in)famously called ‘New Europe’ when the Bush administration threw a hissy fit when most of Western Europe had the audacity to question the Iraq War.  Those ingrates! If it weren’t for us they’d all be goosestepping to ‘Deutchland Uber Alles!’ [What is the statute of limitations for throwing allied participation in a war in someone’s face?]

The two Peters provide a nice overview of the Hungary’s goals in their post Warsaw Pact world:

  • Euro-Atlantic integration
  • good, neighborly relations
  • promotion of the interests of ethnic Hungarians beyond the country’s borders

In order to best accomplish those it had a choice:

[Should Hungary] dare be small, or if it should dare be big? [S]hould it sacrifice opportunities to assert its special interests even in some promising moments, or should it accept less than immaculate relations with its most important partners as a price for asserting its special interests with regularity, and possibly in a confrontational manner?

When Hungary first became eligable to become a partner in NATO and the alliance of Western nations, it had probably hoped to act as many such ‘small’ nations do when they join such efforts.  The two Peters make the case that Hungary was a great example of ‘alliance-exploitation’, where small countries can gain significant security benefits without really having to do anything.  Unfortunately for Hungary, before they were able to enjoy the good life of benefits without responsiblity, 9/11 happened and it was clear everyone would have to ‘pony up’ and contribute to the various wars that resulted.

But here’s the thing.  There’s never really been anyone in Hungary for whom service in Afghanistan was in their interest.  The general public met the mission with skepticism.  The political establishment have generally discussed in terms as a means to the end of strengthening their status within the alliance and the military wasn’t really prepared to take an active role in a complicated insurgency campaign.

As an aside, they reference an poll from 2007 in which Hungarians were asked what the main role of their national military should be.  Hungarians thought the top priority should be disaster management with protection of national borders and territory coming in third.  Anti-terrorism came in forth and cooperation with NATO peace support operations came in a distant 8th place (!).

I can only wonder what a similar poll of Americans would look like.

So, you have an apathetic public, governement and military AND growing pressure by 2005 for partner nations to do more.  So, the Hungarian government makes what looks like a brilliant decision.  They volunteer to take over the Baghlan PRT.  Running a provincial reconstruction team would be a significant contribution in anyone’s eyes and Baghlan seemed to be a quiet little province where the Hungarians could while away the war without much risk or commitment.

Unfortunately, the insurgents had a different idea.  Baghlan is the home of the Salaang Pass which was becoming an ever more important supply line for coalition supplies.  Convoys from Pakistan were increasingly under risk and new supply routes through Russia and Central Asia were becoming prominent.  Those routes required the Salaang Pass.  The insurgents knew that and began stepping up their activity in the province.  Combined with counterproductive political maneuvering from Kabul which exacerbated ethnic tensions, and a clear lack of focus and coordination from Budapest, by 2010 Baghlan was ‘left worse off than it was in 2006′.

A particularly facinating part of the chapter is the description of the Hungarian government’s lack of interest in the Afghan mission.  That lack of interest manifested itself in ways large and small:

No Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs has visited Afghanistan since 2006, and no Prime Minister has ever visited Afghanistan…

The MFA’s (Ministry for Foreign Affairs) Department for International Development Cooperation is working with a meagre budget that will amount to a mere [1 million euros] for the purpose of bilateral Official Development Assistance in 2011.

Nevertheless it…was charged with outlining a development strategy for Baghlan province…[even though it] had only one person within its staff assigned to work on Afghanistan and even this person’s portfolia included several other Asian countries.

Whew…could you imagine being the person responsible for developing (by yourself) a development strategy for your county’s biggest military deployment in decades?  Good luck with that.  But no worry, I’m sure you could rely on accumulated knowledge gained by being at the post for awhile and really getting to understand the issues surrounding it, right?

In 2006-2007, three Ministry officials succeeded each other in this position…In this early period there was no coherent strategy, and it is hard to establish exactly who or what determined the allocation of resources in 2007-2008…

And so what happens when you don’t have a strategy or capabilities to do much yet still have responsibility?  Well, you substitute activity for achievement.

As its activities have gradually contracted, the PRT has become overbureaucratised and its administrative staff doubled in size.

Would they ever end a war due to lack of interest?  Apparently not…

Finnish contributions to ISAF

Ah, the Finns.  We’re partial to the Finns here at TwShiloh so it was with a great deal of interest that we finally got to the chapter on their experience in Afghanistan in my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

The Coat of arms of Finland

Image via Wikipedia

The Finns have had a small total presence of troops in Afghanistan, currently hovering around 200 troops so they’ve had to piggy back on the missions of larger contingents (currently the Swedes).

The chapter by Charly Salonius-Pasternak has some really interesting observations that didn’t come to mind as I was thinking about Finland and their approach to Afghanistan but are worthy of some deeper attention.

Case in point:  Finland has “no culture of expeditionary warfare”.  That has significant ramifications for how the Finnish military (and government?) sees its role and how it uses it personnel.  All Finnish soldiers deployed in international operations are volunteers, for example.

Pretty interesting, right?  Hold on, because it gets even more so.

Historically a considerable majority of Finnish soldiers serving in international operations have been reservists, with 70-85 per cent of the total troops having a civilian reservist background…The average age of Finnish soldiers serving in Afghanistan is over 30 years.

Wow.  So, we’ve got a group of soldiers, the majority of whom bring some hefty civilian skills along with their military domain knowledge and given their age and experience, they’re (presumably) also are going to approach problems and solutions a bit differently than your average 18 year old.

Is this the SysAdmin force Barnett wrote about?

Apart from that, it’d be pretty interesting to see how or if a force composed like this stacks up against a more traditionally staffed force if you could control for unit size and mission.

The Finns have been generally in the North of the country serving with the Norwegians in Meymaneh and then with the Swedes in Mazar-e Sharif.  In both cases the Finns identified the biggest threat in their area of operations to be criminal networks and warlords.  To be honest, that finding is a bit refreshing to read since when I was there in 2003-2004, getting command to see either of those as a threat (let alone anything we should even consider addressing) simply was a non-starter.

We hear a lot of training local security forces but an important question is if we’re training those forces to a standard that can’t be sustained or perhaps isn’t even appropriate.  In this category, the Finns had something to bring to the table.

Seeking to make up for numbers and insufficient air support, Finland has since the 1930s developed methods and a doctrine of using artillery support that differs from approaches used in larger militaries.  Despite not requiring advanced technology, the system is able to concentrate artillery fire very effectively.  This, and the fact that Finland has artillery pieces in its arsenal that are similar to those owned by the Afghan military, make it easy to understand why Finland could provide artillery training.

I’m not an artillery guy but I’d really like to read a bit more about that.

While I won’t go into detail here I strongly recommend reading the section of decision making and policy coordination within the Finnish government.  It sounds wonky and it may be, but it’s totally worth it to those of us who grew up in a society that has an executive ‘commander in chief’.

I also found it interesting that it wasn’t until 2010 that the Finns bothered to create a formal ‘lessons learned’ process.  Until then, knowledge between deployments was passed along through informal channels which isn’t a particularly good thing.  Still, better late than never I suppose.