September 15, 2009

COIN 101

It's a bad sign when Republicans arguing for war don't understand counterinsurgency. During Joint Chief of Staff Michael Mullen's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham probed the Taliban's capabilities in bewilderment. According to Slate,
"He began his questioning of Adm. Mullen by asking whether the Taliban had any tanks. No, Mullen replied. Graham then asked how many airplanes they have. None, the admiral answered, perhaps wondering where this line of inquiry was going.

Then Graham zeroed in. If that's the case, he asked, how is it that the Taliban are gaining ground? The problem isn't the Taliban, it's the Afghan government, isn't that right?

Mullen agreed. The problem, he said, "is clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government."

The problem is partly due to a lack of legitimacy, but Mullen either deliberately played down the Taliban or is disturbing naive in its capabilities. Graham, lately the right arm of Senator John McCain on his war tours, may just being coy, but his conclusion is abominable: if the Taliban has no tanks or planes then it shouldn't be allowed to gain ground. The Taliban has no need for tanks and planes, they are like heavy rocks to guerrillas unless used in a specialized attack. One must pray that Graham, an ardent supporter of deploying more troops, knows more about counterinsurgency than he's letting on.

Underestimating the Taliban is a fundamental error. This excerpt of an AP report on literacy gives a basic but pinpoint account of Taliban tactics that requires no modification:

"Most Taliban guerrillas also can't read and write, but they don't need to as much. Understanding maps and signs is important for the Afghan army, which is supposed to deploy anywhere government control is challenged.

The Taliban, however, strike on their own timetable — usually wherever government and NATO forces are weakest. They move among friendly, generally ethnic Pashtun communities and rely on local guides. Many Taliban fighters operate in areas of the country where they grew up, making maps and compasses unnecessary.

The Taliban also generally operate in small units. They use hit-and-run insurgency tactics or lay bombs along roads, highly effective techniques that don't require the same level of sophistication and attention to detail as conventional military tactics, which often use helicopters, artillery, armored vehicles and large numbers of troops."

A Shadow Army.

No comments:

Post a Comment