Friday, July 10, 2009
I have been tracking Michael Cohen's series, Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch (AMCW), over at Democracy Arsenal very closely. For everyone's understanding, Michael and I did not get along very well initially and I'm pretty sure I said some pretty rude things in very public forums, as have many COINdinistas. What a lot of people misunderstand about Michael (including some of my co-bloggers) is that he isn't a COINtra or anti-COIN in general (this is my take on it and surely do not speak for him). He's just against using it in the case of Afghanistan, for a couple of reasons. First is that we don't have any real strategic interests in Afghanistan due to a lack of existential threats that could be projected from there. Second is that with what the President and GEN McChrystal have said we're going to do and for how long in Afghanistan, we have not devoted enough resources to get the job done. So something has to give. His new series tracks this second case.
I can honestly say that he is 100% right in this case. He cites two interesting facts: that we don't have the civilian agency personnel and Afghan Army numbers to sustain any gains in the current operation in Helmand. Other than the fact that we're limiting air power and talking with local leaders (to what end I have no idea), this doesn't even resemble population-centric COIN as I have ever defined it. It's a clearing operation being sold as pop-COIN for some sort of PR/strat comms reason. And I have very serious doubts about the sustainability of any gains made during the op. The Dons at Kings of War are suggesting the same.
This all may work out and prove me wrong, but there doesn't seem to be the same urgency found before the Iraq "Surge" - especially from an interagency focus. Either the civilian agencies and the ANA cough up the folks needed to accomplish the mission or we shouldn't bother doing it in the first place. There's also the possibility that we're selling ourselves short on military personnel as well to do what we need and want, understanding the limitations there due to other commitments. This is all adding up to a half-assed attempt at COIN and if we do learn anything from Iraq it's that COIN can't be done half-assed.