Counterinsurgency was never about Afghanistan

November 4, 2013

As the U.S. military reels from budgetary battles and withdraws from Afghanistan, commentators offer post-mortem after post-mortem on counter-insurgency (COIN) – an ambitious operational concept-cum-strategy hoisted on its own petard in Afghanistan.  These sundry writers – including military officers, scholars, bloggers, and talking heads – have collectively sought, in the words of one blogger “to fire a few shotgun rounds into the recently buried corpse of population-centric counterinsurgency to prevent it from rising again.”  The specter of the Vietnam Syndrome has become flesh once more,  and now the U.S. military plans, or attempts to plan, what form it will take in the decades to come.  That is what the COIN debate has always been about – not Iraq or Afghanistan, but the future of the U.S. military.

It is likely that the outcome of this struggle will have a far greater impact on the United States and the world than America’s strategic defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Still, not only is it unfortunate that these debates are not more rooted in the theatres in which these conflicts have taken place, it is very typically American. Contravening Clausewitz, the COIN debate proceeds as if war can be divorced from policy and politics; as if the organization, training, and equipping of the U.S. armed forces can take place apart from the aims to which and the places where these forces will be applied.

It is in this context that the books reviewed here all have considerable value, showcasing different perspectives of the Afghan campaign during its most crucial and resource-intensive years: the experience of an American soldier, a brave journalist covering the war for years, and a political officer coming to know his district and its history with an uncommon intimacy.

Read the rest at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel.


Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for the National Interest. He is the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks. 


Photo Credit: U.S. Army