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Special Operations: The Afghanistan Rules
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April 1, 2010: Over the last two years, American troops have adopted a different way of waging war in Afghanistan. This is mainly because, in the last two years, a new American commander, lieutenant general Stanley McChrystal, took over. The new commander has a background in the U.S. Army Special Forces and special operations. McChrystal was not a career Special Forces officer, but spent ten years in Special Forces and Ranger units, often commanding. He got to know how special operations work, and that background resulted in new tactics for the Afghan operations.

As a result, American troops in Afghanistan are adopting techniques developed from many generations of U.S. Army Special Forces experience. From the beginning, in World War II, the Special Forces (then a component of the wartime OSS, or Office of Strategic Services), adopted a cultural approach to dealing with situations like Afghanistan. To accomplish this, Special Forces operatives had to become members of an elite force, who learned the languages and cultures of the region they specialized in, as well as being the most proficient infantry in the army.

In Afghanistan, this means the operations around Helmand province, and the nearby city of Kandahar will be more about local politics, than fighting the Taliban. Fact is, fighting the Taliban has never been difficult. Despite their fearsome reputation, Afghans with guns are not particularly dangerous to trained soldiers. Most of the Russian troops sent in during the 1980s were poorly trained, and inexperienced, conscripts. But the professional Russian troops (airborne and special operations), tore up the Afghan warriors. The Russians were not chased out of Afghanistan, they just got tired of killing Afghans. Plus, Russia was sliding towards insolvency. The Soviet Union disintegrated two years after Russians left Afghanistan. The current situation in Afghanistan is very different. The new American tactics take advantage of the fact that most Afghans would like some peace for a change, and are willing to help, if you just sit down and discuss it with them.

All this is part of a trend. Since September 11, 2001, the Special Forces have been increasingly influencing the way the army deals with irregular warfare. Thus the increase of American forces in Afghanistan is accompanied by new techniques for connecting, and working with, Afghans. This is important, because there is no cultural glue holding Afghanistan together. The country is a patchwork of tribes, each of them looking inwards, rather than outward. Thus the foreign troops find it more effective when they work with the locals on personal and tribal concerns. This is what gets the attention, and cooperation, of rural Afghans. The tribes see the national government as a necessary evil, and provincial government as a source of oppression (unless their tribe controls it.)

The local and personal approach requires, as the Special Forces puts it, "drinking lots of tea." In other words, troops enter a village as if on a social visit. Bring gifts and have a long chat. Not just with the local notables (tribal elders or wealthy families), but with ordinary people. The teenage kid who spends most of his time out in the hills looking after his sheep, knows a lot about who is moving through the area, especially groups of armed Taliban.

A little money goes a long way in Afghanistan, which has an unemployment rate of over 40 percent. Afghanistan has always been a place where you just scraped by, and died young from violence or disease. Afghanistan was always isolated, but that has changed. Young Afghans know of another world out there, and the cell phone is tangible evidence of that better place they can aspire to. Several hundred thousand Afghans a month are getting cell phones, and loving it. The spread of videos has made Afghans aware of wonders their parents could not even imagine. The Special Forces made the most of this, and have demonstrated these methods to other army troops.

Thus when foreign troops come by, with medicine and magical procedures that cure afflictions that have cursed Afghans for centuries. Magic pills and injections, plus all the gadgets from this fantasy world, are welcome. Especially since the cell phone, which is increasingly available in the most remote areas, lets millions of Afghans hold in their hands, assurance that this magic outside world really exists. The Old Ways haven't got a chance.

Many foreign governments have a hard time wrapping their heads around the alien culture of Afghanistan. This is a medieval place, where realities that disappeared in the West centuries ago, still thrive. But Afghans, especially the young ones, are eager to connect with friendly, and generous, foreigners. At that point, human nature takes over, and the troops find that all manner of useful information and cooperation is available. The Special Forces used this technique to organize armed resistance to common enemies. Since the Taliban tend to bring in alien ideas (religious and social customs from other tribes), and use terror and intimidation to get their way, it's not too difficult for American troops to gain cooperation against a common foe.

The big problem in Afghanistan is corruption, which is largely the result of people trusting family and tribe more than government. Breaking that cycle is difficult. But, once again, most Afghans are ready for a change. And enough of them have friends or kin living in the West to know that there are better ways to do things.


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LB    Past as Prologue    4/1/2010 9:08:21 AM
One certainly hopes that after Afghanistan  all these counter insurgency 101 lessons are not again institutionally forgotten exactly as they were after Vietnam.  This exact same essay could have been written vis a vis US Special Forces 45 years ago.  We need to retain counter insurgency as a core competency this time- including standing up and retaining a COIN air wing.
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BB45    All Hunky Dory?!   4/1/2010 2:52:56 PM
You make it sound as if it is so easy to do this cultural cooperation.  "It's not too difficult for American troops to gain cooperation against a common foe."  B.S.!  If it were this easy we could have done it in Vietnam, as LB pointed out.  We had a whole section of US AID, and the American Army going out and "pacifying" (as it was called then) Vietnamese villages.  The real problem that broke our back was that the government was corrupt, there was no tradition of voting, or democracy, and there were weak institutions.  Sounds a whole lot like Afghanistan today, unfortunately.  Perhaps McChristal has learned how to do this, and perhaps the Army as an institution is growing up to the power of culture in winning wars.  But we still have a long road ahead of us in Afghanistan, make no mistake about it.
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Ashley-the-man       4/1/2010 11:50:20 PM

Afghanistan like Iraq is beginning to show that the large U.S. field army is going the way of battleships, nuclear warheads and other blockbuster weapons that have since WWII been employed at the expense of a strategy that considers the foe and our ultimate objectives.


Ink is still being spilled over whether the U.S. should have committed significantly more troops in Iraq to quell the looting that followed and the rise of al Qaeda and the Baathist resistance.  What ultimately succeeded in Iraq was the employment of a COIN strategy that recognized the objective was the protection and security of the population.  A field army twice as large in Iraq would not have succeeded in preventing the succeeding violence until the required change in strategy was ultimately embraced and let by General Petraeus. 


The mindset of the military has been confronted by Generals like Petraeus who are seeding the ranks of future generals with like minded thinkers based on COIN doctrine.


The real problem that broke our back was that the government was corrupt, there was no tradition of voting, or democracy, and there were weak institutions.


General Petraeus wrote in his Counterinsurgency Manual that most of South Vietnam was largely pacified by 1971.  What led to the loss of Vietnam was an old fashioned invasion by an adjacent country, North Vietnam. 

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BB45    correct, but...   4/2/2010 12:37:20 PM
Yes, I agree that the small matter of T 72's and North Viet divisions coming south was the final tipping point, but the country was so internally weak that even the robust S. Viet forces were abandoned by the people and the government.  And maybe you don't remember how many times we were told back then how such and such a village had been "pacified" but as soon as we left the village festered anew with Cong or N. Viets. 
COIN seems to be a wise strategy, fairly similar to how the Romans worked... i.e., long term thinking, offering carrots as well as spears, eventually that resulted in territories that supported Roman democracy (sic empire).  But it requires a long term committment, and I am pessimistic that our government and people can actually think longer than the next election.  Our armed forces and some of our leaders can, thank God for that. 
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ker    Arthroscopy Counter-insurgency   4/2/2010 4:55:22 PM
Arthroscopy surgery differs from open surgery.  Opensurgery involves cuting large slices into the paitent exposing all the tissue to be treated.  When surgens needed a clear line of sight with the tissue they were working on this was nessary.  The endoscope, small camera that can be pushed into paitents body changed things.  By placing the endoscope and simerler surgecal instrements in the patient the need for open surgery is elimenated.  Risk, recovery time and expence are all reduced.
The more well known modle of war, red rover red rover send the evil hords right over, is at time like cival war erea amputations.  We have gotten out of that game by getting very very good at it.  Evil hords stay at home and stick to the domestic forms of violance..
So now the objective is to "surgically" change an area of oporatioins rather than distroy it.  So far so good.  We still send lots of people and tools and open up the place. 
In the future could we get the change with less cutting. 
Clearly things are headed in that direction.  I am not complaining that improvement is not comming fast enough because it is happening very fast by historical compairison.  I am thinking about what the future will be.
So my weird little fantacy is that in his spare time some Genaral could covertly infiltrate the Peace Corp and get it to make the changes we need in future areas of oporations.  It must be done in secret because the Peace Corp protects it self by seaming unimportant.  If the enemy though it was effective it would need the DoD to send in force protection assets.  If it looks incompetant but gets things done it could be arthroscopy counter-insurgency.
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maruben    June 2009   4/7/2010 3:15:59 PM
April 1, 2010: Over the last two years, American troops have adopted a different way of waging war in Afghanistan. This is mainly because, two years ago, a new American commander, lieutenant general Stanley McChrystal, took over.
March/Abril 2008???????
Stanley McChrystal became commander of ISAF and USFOR-A in June 2009.
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SCCOMarine    I was going to way the exact same thing   4/14/2010 8:02:11 PM

April 1, 2010: Over the last two years, American troops have adopted a different way of waging war in Afghanistan. This is mainly because, two years ago, a new American commander, lieutenant general Stanley McChrystal, took over.

March/Abril 2008???????

Stanley McChrystal became commander of ISAF and USFOR-A in June 2009.

McChrystal is doing an excellent job but lets not fudge the facts..   SP if your not going to Present the story Accurately I'm glad to know there are readers who will Catch your fabrications.
How quickly we forget what really happened & fabricate a new reality.
2&1/2yrs ago the Commandant of the Marine Corps suggested that there was a better way to conduct Operations in A'stan & that his Marines get shifted Al Anbar, Iraq.  The Marines had successfully secured up 6mths B4 the Surge had even began & 3mths B4 Petraeus was even nominated.
The Strategy behind the Surge was based on both the Strategy & Tactics used by the Marines in Al Anbar. Which was then successfully tweeked & spread to the rest Provinces in Iraq by Gen Petraeus.
Funny How History Repeats Itself.
CMC Gen Conway was ridiculed when he made this suggestion in mid-late '07 and the Corps was called everything fr/trying to Sensationalize then take over A'stan to trying to "Cut & Run" fr/Anbar. 
1-The Marines were Bored in Anbar having maintained a 95% reduction of violence for over a yr.
2-The HQMC made it clear it had no desire to take over A'stan, a) its not the function of the USMC & b) it wouldn't have the #s.
But, SECDEF Gates very rudely & very publicly chided & dismissed Gen Conway & said that the Marines were to Hold Anbar until the End of US Military Operations in Iraq.
However, Gen Conway was Persistent & due to the lack of NATO support for 5,000 new troops by Jan '08 Gates & Conway came to a Compromise:  The Marines would have the Opportunity to showcase their Strategy in a TEMPORARY One-time 7mth deployment to Southern & Western Afghanistan.

2,300 Marines fr/the 24th MEU was dispatched to Helmand as a Kick in the Door Force & 1,200 Marines fr/ Task Force 2/7 were sent to Farah Province to conduct the Marines New Strategy:
 -Population Centric: Have the Marines living in the villages focusing on tribal concerns.
-Retrain ANA & ANP & embed them w/US Marines. Two of the most successful programs in A'stan to that date were the FDD "Focused District Development"  & IDR "In-District Reform" Programs.
By Nov of '08 the Deployment had been so successful the Marines were Ordered to Draw plans to Deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade by the Summer of '09.  
The Marines Strategy was already Drawn Up & Being trained on 6MTHS BEFORE McChrystal WAS EVEN NOMINATED, drawn off the success of the previous deployment 1 year Prior to McChrystal.
The only thing McChrystal added to how the Marines were already Operating was to add the "No CAS around Civilians" rule.
I just have to ask... PSYOPS do you even the Believe the non-sense you write??
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SCCOMarine    Articles of the Marine's Strategy that Pre-date Gen McChrystal by 1yr   4/15/2010 3:36:43 PM
McChystal didn't draw up this Strategy. SecDef Gates & the Administration had adopted the Marine's Strategy for A'stan then Picked the Best Army General (McChrystal) to implement it.  He drew up the the Implementation of the Strategy across A'stan...  Big Difference!
It was the deployment of US Marines in Task Force 2/7 that was the Catalyst for Embedding US Units directly into Afghan Life, Politics, Policing.  It was Embedded USMC squads & platoons into Afghan villages to Fight a Population Centric COIN.
 MILITARY: 'Nothing won yet' in Afghanistan
As deployments ends, Marine colonel says much work remains
By MARK WALKER - STAFF WRITER | Wednesday, November 19, 2008 7:17 PM PST
CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan ---- Lt. Col. Rick Hall says that after more than seven months in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps forces "haven't won anything yet."

Hall commands about 1,100 troops who have been fighting the Taliban and criminal elements in Afghanistan's Helmand Province since May. They've also been training Afghan national police units.

While the Marines have made progress in much of the province, Hall said the way to victory in Afghanistan is similar to that in Iraq ---- convincing the population to turn away from the Taliban and the drug lords who rely on growing opium poppies to fund the insurgency.   --No, No It was Gen McChrystal who came up w/that Idea a yr later right??-SCCO

"What we need to do is to get the people to take interest in their own future," said Hall. "From the first day we got here, we have focused on having an enduring effect and getting the people to buy into positive change."

Hall's unit, which has lost 20 men, and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from North Carolina's Camp Lejeune were ordered to Afghanistan in the spring in what the Pentagon said would be a one-time assignment for the Marine Corps.

Their replacements will find more than 800 newly trained Afghan national policemen patrolling villages throughout the province, which is about the size of Vermont. They also will encounter a population embracing a growing sense that the U.S. is dedicated to their safety and economic development, he said.

That's a dramatic change from when he first arrived, Hall said. In those first weeks, he said, tribal elders and village leaders were skeptical of his offers to help.

"Why should we believe you, you're just going to leave," Hall said many told him.

By seeing his troops replaced with fresh Marines, the father of 10 children said the populace is slowly putting more faith in the U.S. commitment.

Hall said he is convinced that farmers in the region will turn away from poppy production to crops such as wheat if they have protection from the Taliban and a way to get their harvest to market. -Mark Walker

Keep In Mind that all Ops prior to that point were directed towards Hunting the Taliban & Kickin' In Door's.  This was the 1st Pop Centric "One-Time" Deployment. But the Marines Strategy Proved Successful & Gates Pitched It to the New Admin.
What's next in Afghanistan
Deploying Marines should expect more winter combat as they work to maintain stability
By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Nov 7, 2008 6:38:42 EST
It hasn't been easy for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.
Deployed to Afghanistan since March, the battalion has fought off ambushes in lawless areas of Afghan wilderness, traveled bomb-laden roads and experienced more casualties than any other unit in the Corps this year.
As 2/7's deployment winds down, however, Marine officials say the unit has made progress in bringing stability to eight districts in Helmand and Farah provinces, two of volatile southern Afghanistan's most dangerous areas. It has trained more than 800 Afghan police officers and launched a variety of out
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