Thursday, February 9, 2012

Understanding the kind of war on which we are embarked, etc.

The enemy in Afghanistan is resorting to IED attacks and other tactics that endanger civilians with increasing frequency, says the UN. That means we're winning, says LTG Scaparotti.

Spencer wrote about this yesterday; he was the one who asked the general how to square increasing civilian casualties with claims of coalition pogress. Here was Scaparotti's curious reply:
Their – you know, what little bit [civilian casualty numbers are] up – I would tell you that across the battlefield, when you look at Afghanistan, for instance, there is a freedom of action that [enemy forces] have, and it's particular places. But the freedom of action they show today is increasingly in IEDs and suicide bombing.  They don't have the capability to take us on directly.  In fact, they've changed their TTP because they're unable to do that with either us or the ANSF.  So I don't know that I would say it's an increase freedom of action.  I think it's actually reduced, and it's pushed them into a certain TTP, which isn't ideal. 
Now, in doing that, they've increased the use of suicide bombers, for instance.  And if I recall right – correctly – it was about – it went up about 80 percent. 
And those caused civilian casualties.  One in three of their IEDs -- or one in three of the civilians injured, Afghan civilians, were caused by, you know, enemy IEDs.   
So, you know, what I would focus on is the fact that you've got an enemy who has stated that he is concerned about the people, that he doesn't want to harm the people in his actions, and yet over these years you've seen a steady increase in that happening.  On the other hand, we work very, very hard to drive down the – you know, the civilian casualties.  It did go down 4 percent this year.  And we'll continue to try and drive that down as well.
So far as I can tell, this is an answer that is based wholly in an effort to support information operations objectives—that is, to communicate to the Afghan people that the enemy is a liar and does not care about their welfare. (I find it difficult to believe, though, that any significant portion of the Afghan populace is basing its judgment about whether to support the government or the insurgency on such pronouncements from ISAF.) I can't detect any operational logic in this statement.

Proponents of the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan have consistently indicated that the level of civilian casualties inflicted by the enemy could serve as a useful metric for the performance of ISAF's mission. By their logic, the more effective coalition forces proved to be in keeping the enemy from killing civilians, the more likely those civilians would be to support the coalition's and the government's efforts to stamp out the insurgency. Even if protection of civilians is not an operational priority, there is an inescapable truth at the heart of this: if the enemy cannot operate, that constitutes some form of success.

LTG Scaparotti has turned this logic on its head by suggesting that the enemy's refusal to operate in ways that make him more prone to destruction by coalition forces constitutes progress for ISAF. This is exactly backwards. If coalition forces and the ANSF were proving capable of stanching IED attacks and suicide bombings, restricting the Taliban's opportunity and degrading his capability to terrorize individuals and plausibly challenge the government's claim to provide security to its people, then the enemy would be faced with a choice between two paths to continue his resistance: forego violence and enter the political process, or escalate violence and confront security forces directly. If the enemy cannot get at the people, he has to fight the army. That he chooses not to do so clearly demonstrates the very opposite of what LTG Scaparotti contends: the enemy is not desperate, he is not running out of options, he does not feel as though his freedom of action is reduced.

The general plainly recognizes this when he says that the enemy has been "pushed ... into a certain TTP, which isn't ideal." The enemy has adopted methods that render him less vulnerable to destruction by massed firepower, which isn't ideal. I completely agree.

Reliance on irregular tactics and terrorism allows the enemy to sustain his campaign against the Afghan government and its impermanent international enablers while reducing his exposure to their most effective weapons. It is inconceivable to me that there are people who still believe, at this late stage in the war, that the enemy's "refusal to come out and fight" constitutes success for the counterinsurgent.

The enemy doesn't need to fight us—he just needs to keep blowing people up.

1 comment:

  1. The best part? If the insurgents do accidentally kill an Afghan civilian with an IED, they just tell the locals it was a NATO air strike. Prove them wrong. It's the perfect tactic against a Western military: foolproof, really.

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