And here we come back to a point that Schmedlap's been making lately (I think), and that a lot of us have been trying to articulate for a while without a whole lot of success: good officership (and good soldiering, really) in modern war isn't about memorizing a list of COIN precepts, but rather having the suppleness of mind to understand (to use a Tom Barnettism slightly out of context) "war in the context of everything else." It's about seeing the big picture, and understanding how your actions play a part in that.
"As I grew up I realized the military does not operate in a singular world so I started reading outside that world," he says.
His personal list of "Most Influential COIN Items" includes a collection of Afghan poetry, a study of chaos theory, and Hollywood films such as "Red Dawn," a fantasy about American guerrillas fighting a Soviet invasion of the U.S. From John Maynard Keynes, the visionary British economist, he drew the idea that by "jump-starting the economy via an initial stimulus you create a cascade."
His approach to pacifying the Logar districts, Gukeisen said, was also influenced by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, author of "Leviathan," who explored man's fear of death and his quest for security in a violent world.
"You take the theory of COIN, you take history, understand the people, make a philosophic inquiry and then you act," he says. "But you still have to be rooted in the fundamentals of military operations."
Gukeisen says U.S. Army doctrine provides only "a guide for commanders, a basis to begin, to provoke thought." He says "Clear, Hold, Build" needs to be nuanced, and he doesn't know whether it can be a model for the rest of Afghanistan. "Each area of Afghanistan is different," he cautions.
Gukeisen does drop an unfortunate reference to COIN as "graduate-level warfare" -- oh, how I wish we could banish that turn of phrase from our language, if only to put a stop to the bleating of those who consistently argue that tank battles in the Fulda Gap are just as complicated as building competent host-nation security forces from scratch! -- but I'm enthusiastic about the way he finishes his thought: "You need those collegiate thinkers. I think the Army is coming back to the soldier as scholar and statesman." We've seen the rise of several prominent "scholar-warriors" over the last few years, the Petraeuses and McMasters and MacFarlands and Mattises and so on, but it's heartening to know that this trend may be starting to take hold through the officer corps rather than just amidst it.
One other interesting note from this piece: Gukeisen makes a point of the fact that he's not executing "textbook COIN" as it's typically understood in his AOR, a 1,000-square-km patch of Logar province:
"Security bubbles" sound a bit like "ink blots," eh? Yet another example of troops on the ground having success with an approach that is diametrically opposed to what the president and GEN McChrystal have proposed for the entire country, i.e. contesting the most violent areas first. Maybe Dorronsoro is on to something.
Rather than rigidly applying the current mantra — Clear, Hold, Build — he has held back from trying to clear large, Taliban-influenced swaths of territory, focusing instead on areas he believes are ripe for change, and then injecting aid where it counts most. Combat, he says, is driven by reliable intelligence and limited to eradicating Taliban fighters.
The goal was to create "security bubbles" where life could improve, so that "the rest of the districts would want to join the club," Gukeisen said in an interview at his headquarters in the village of Altimur.
Six months later, he says, nearly half the 400,000 people of Baraki-Barak, Charkh and Kherwar districts, along with half of Puli-a-Alam, are within the bubble. He says roadside bombs, attacks and other violent incidents have dropped by 60 percent while intelligence from locals about the insurgents has soared by 80 percent.