I've got no problem at all with thoughtful study, and tactics and methods of operation should absolutely be adapted to local circumstances. But I fear that LTC Malevich's post is suggestive of a sort of misconceptualization of the mission, and of a confusion of means and ends. To wit:
In our construct, we are used to and take for granted a system of government that is “of the people, for the people, by the people.” We assume that everywhere we go we are dealing with the same construct. We also assume that all leadership that we deal with has its community’s best interest at heart.
In Afghanistan, in our efforts to reach out to the people, we are dealing with “village elders.” We assume that these older, white bearded men speak for their community’s and share our goal of a greater Afghanistan with freedom and liberty for all. Have we asked ourselves if this is true or have we just assumed that by some sort of custom or tradition we are dealing with some sort of representational government? I would question not our motives but our approach. I think we need to take some time to examine the “Elders” and determine whether they represent “population-centric” COIN or if they stand in the way of it.
By ensuring that all government affairs pass through them; the Elders can skim commission money for themselves, decide who will and who will not pay taxes and decide who works and who does not. In earlier eras, they decided who was drafted and who was not. This seems like an awful lot of power that is given to an unelected body. If I was going to compare it to our society I was say we are empowering rural elites, local power brokers and land owners. Where is the population-centric COIN we are supposed to be conducting? [emphasis mine]To be frank, though hopefully not glib: who cares?
Population protection is a means to gain intelligence, isolate the insurgent, and make conditions inhospitable to his comfort and success. While building a claim to legitimacy is important for long-term governance, the counterinsurgent's primary goal is population control, not popular support.
And so if our methods appeal to what we may believe are "illegitimate" intermediaries but those folks are able to deliver the goods, to mobilize their "constituents" in the service of coalition objectives, then what difference does it make whether they're popularly elected or rule by force? Whether they're wildly popular or popularly resented? I would've thought one of the lasting lessons of the Sahwa in Iraq is that "the people are the prize" is more sententious wordsmithing than operational guidance; the real prize is the man or men who can deliver the people.
The rejoinder, of course, would be that this approach lacks long-term legitimacy and thus is bound to fail. But considering our timelines and objectives, isn't it more realistic to approach the problem this way than to imagine that we can remake Afghan social structure in a more "just" fashion over the next 18 months, even if we accept that our conception of justice is even meaningful here?