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13 September 2009


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Iraq gave us the "search for sadamms WMD", "the surge", and "the sons of iraq"

afganistan has given us COIN

a recent post on the columbia journalism review
discusses the current role of Tom Ricks, author and former Washington Post Iraq War correspondent

the article is part of the growing discussion of the US Afghanistan strategy and COIN in particular


Cover Story — September / October 2009
Too Close for Comfort?

Tom Ricks and the military’s new philosophical embeds

By Tara McKelvey

".... Over the past three years, Ricks has been an enthusiastic supporter of counterinsurgency and has engaged in robust discussions about its theoretical foundation and current tactics on his blog. He writes and researches in his office at the Center for a New American Security, which has become counterinsurgency central in Washington. The center is home to the top proponents of the doctrine, a group of one-time military dissidents who have become in many ways the core of the new military establishment. The organization was founded in 2007 and has close ties with the Obama administration, providing much of the underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia.

The center is headed up by John Nagl, the charismatic author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, who has, for example, promoted the idea of a military advisory corps as a way to enhance the military’s ability to assist government leaders in other nations. President Obama has embraced Nagl’s proposal, explaining that an advisory corps “will enable us to better build up local allies’ capacities to take on mutual threats.” Another important figure at the center is CEO Nathaniel Fick, who wrote a book, One Bullet Away, and has taught classes in counterinsurgency in Kabul. Meanwhile, Army Captain Andrew Exum, whose blog, Abu Muqawama, has been described as the “go-to for the coin set,” has also become part of the organization. And David Kilcullen, the handsome, highly-quotable Australian who was an adviser to Petraeus, is a close friend of Nagl’s and also a member of the center’s board of advisers.

President Obama has embraced the doctrine of counterinsurgency for Iraq and Afghanistan and has hired a number of people from the center, including one of its co-founders, Michèle Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, along with two former fellows, Shawn Brimley and Vikram Singh, Flournoy’s advisers. Kurt Campbell, who had been the think tank’s chief executive officer, is serving as assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. In addition, James Miller, a former senior vice president at the center, is principal deputy undersecretary for policy at the Defense Department, and Susan Rice, a former member of the center’s board of advisers, is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

As often happens in Washington, a number of prominent journalists have also become attached to the think tank, and in a relatively brief period of time: Robert Kaplan, who writes for The Atlantic, is a senior fellow. David Cloud, a former New York Times and Politico journalist; David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times; and Greg Jaffe, Ricks’s replacement at The Washington Post, all spent time with the center as writers-in-residence. Ricks fits easily into this world, giving interviews, working on policy papers, blogging, researching a new book on the history of American
generalship, and attending events at which journalists and the new military establishment seamlessly mix, from panel discussions to softball games...."

N. M. Salamon

With respect to the author:
1., The USa does not have the manpower for COIN
2., The USA does not have the funds for COIN over the foreseen time line [10 yeasrts or so]
3., Insistence on COIN will probably destroy NATO, as most NATO members have important domestic economic issues which demand the costs of the Afgan occupation to cease.
4., Lengthy COIN in Afganistan will inevitably involvr more interference in Pakistan, possibly IRAN and possibly in the various STANS -the VIETNAM CREEP, which history clearly indicates to have VERY BAD EFFECT ON USA MORALE.
5., THE USA CITIZENS will oppose any nonsense of 10+ year COIN operation while the USA economy is in VERY POOR CONDITION.

ERGO SUM, get out of Afganistan!

F B Ali

These people who push COIN (whether as strategy or tactics), especially the military men, are a well-known type – the ‘table-top generals’. They excel in spinning strategies and tactics that work beautifully on a table-top model, where one can place and maneouvre the ‘enemy’ or other elements as one pleases. These beautiful schemes invariably break down in the field when they encounter live players with their own goals and interests.

COIN works with people. The first question to ask is: what do the people of Afghanistan want most? The unequivocal answer is: peace, an end to the fighting. Not freedom from the Taliban, or good governance, or economic development, or anything else. After decades of war, death and destruction, all they want is for it to end. The best solution for them is for a negotiated end to the conflict. The next best is for one side to decisively defeat the other.

They know that the foreign forces fighting in their country are not willing to do the first, and are incapable of the second. Everything else that these forces try merely prolongs the conflict, and they are against that. They also know that after a few years of fruitless campaigns these foreign armies will leave, as so many have done before them. But the Taliban will still be there. The Afghan people may tolerate the foreign soldiers where they have no choice, they will never support them.

The other peoples the table-tops ignore are the American. Anyone who speaks of 10-year wars is smoking something potent. In a year, max two, they will pull the plug, and all these beautiful table-top schemes and these heady pipedreams will be flushed down the toilet.


I believe we have reached a point that we should re-look at why the Russians decided they had enough with Afghanistan. Cause we do not want to get to that point as they seemed to be the Dog in the War of the Fleas.

If you use COIN as a tactic versus a strategy then what is your strategy. To me the only reason we are there is to capture/kill Bin Laden plus reduce the ranks and effectiveness of Al Qaeda. Nothing more, nothing less. You think more??? Then why on earth would you/we want to prop up a government that has never been effective for its people and most likely never will in our lifetimes.

I wish our military the greatest success in their endeavors but our politicians will quickly need an effective message to tell us why we are spending a King's ransom on this massive dirt pile.


"if you have recommendations, make it in the context of the new strategy. This -- we have learned one thing in six years, we -- this is not just about troop strength," Jones said on CBS." Seems like the two take aways from General Jones. Obama has a strategy, and don't bother asking for more troops.

It is too bad America's new-new think tank (Center for a New American Security) is not staffed by men like the brigadier.


You go with the COIN you have, not with the COIN you wish you had. Fill the skies with colored kites, paint & decorate some jeeps & fill the air with some of the Afghans great ethnic music--sitars, tablas, it's beautiful & mesmerizing. Turn them on to some Sufi poetry. "If your enemy is quick to anger irritate him", while reminding the civilians of all the romance of their culture that is missing due to the austerity of the bummer Taliban.

William R. Cumming

My guess is despite labels the President knows that by Labor Day 2010 unless markers of success exist the DEM majorities in both Houses may well disappear. Why, the economy and war in my opinion. Neither does he control. Again a President may well be brought down by the ego and hubris of himself personally and his adminstration. Did the American people get change? Yes, but only in the players and not really in the substance. Expending the nations blood and treasure on DOD programs, functions, and activities and restoration of the FIRE sector [finance, insurance, and real estate] of the economy is not a way to bring American back. Can it be brought back to some standards of justice economically and diplomatically. Yes but it is a long uphill "slog"! And you cannot cruise on the uphill. A woefully incompentent Congress remains and will remain as long as corporate giving is treated as though it has the same rights as individuals. It is also interesting that the Judiciary after hammering Bush is now hammering Obama. Not sure what this means.

R Whitman

There is an old South Louisiana saying: " When you are up to your ass in alligators, its hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp".

According to Silverman, Afganistan is not a country in the modern sense. Do we need to make it one to deny it to Al-Quaida which was our original goal?


From Sun Tzu to Lao Tzu:

There is an old saying:
"It is better to become the passive
in order to see what will happen.
It is better to retreat a foot
than to advance only an inch."

This is called
being flexible while advancing,
pushing back without using force,
and destroying the enemy without engaging him.

There is no greater disaster
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means loosing your greatest assets.
When equal forces meet in battle,
victory will go to the one
that enters with the greatest sorrow.

Mark Stuart


I followed this thread like any others with enthusiasm. And didn't have anything to add.
But today i stumbled upon this article and i thought it useful to reframe the debate insofar as it begs the question:

Who's Afraid of A Terrorist Haven?

Any thoughts Sir?

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