The U.S. military in Afghanistan has been trying to follow best practice counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine since spring 2007. The theory is that if counterinsurgents deliver security and connect Afghans to their government, the population will deny support to the insurgents. The assumption is that the population’s perception of the government and insurgency determines success, not body counts or capturing terrain. Our soldiers have been living in small combat outposts, patrolling on foot and at night, meeting with Afghan elders to learn their concerns and needs, and delivering public works projects in many areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan, yet security continues to deteriorate. Stepping back from Afghanistan, it is not clear COIN has worked in any conflict where the population did not support their government.
Can COIN work in Afghanistan? Does General McChrystal’s resignation as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan signal a shift in strategy?
Hudson Institute hosted a discussion featuring Visiting Fellow Ann Marlowe, who travels frequently to Afghanistan, reporting on the American counterinsurgency there as well as Afghanistan’s economy, culture, and archeology. She completed her second embed in Zabul Province and her sixth overall in late April. Her monograph on the life and intellectual context of David Galula, considered the father of modern counterinsurgency strategy, will be published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College later this summer. Marlowe discussed the merits and failures of a COIN strategy in Afghanistan on both practical and theoretic grounds.