Friday, November 20, 2009

The essence of counterinsurgency strategy (COIN), integral to defeating Sept. 11, 2001-type extremists infecting various Middle East countries, is building confidence among the population.

The key is working hand-in-glove with the respective military and civilian authorities to help stabilize their combustible nations so they might be free of the specter of extremist violence, thereby enabling the buildup of family, community and nation, according to each culture’s unique and beautiful character.

This new, irregular warfare is fought largely on human terrain, about which Gen. David H. Petraeus has written in the COIN bible, aka “FM 3-24” - Field Manual 3-24. He recently affirmed for me during the American Veterans Center conference that official Washington - far from bloviating when asserting what they would do to win these wars - “gets it” on the fundamentals of COIN and that it is reflected in Situation Room deliberations on Afghanistan.

Fortunately, given the high stakes, especially vis-a-vis nuclear Pakistan, when it comes to executing COIN - not just bloviating, er, talking about it - Gen. Petraeus is an impresario.

To wit, “our job [in Pakistan], our task there,” he said, “is very much to support our Pakistani military counterparts. … They’re the ones who are doing the fighting. … They have taken very significant losses in the course of their campaign, but there’s a very impressive level of determination.”

To alleviate Pakistan’s fear about the durability of our commitment in this fight, Gen. Petraeus said, “we’re providing somewhere around $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year in a variety of forms of security assistance, including … coalition support funds and foreign military financing and others and … the Kerry-Lugar [Senate] bill now … will add another $1.5 billion per year for the next five years.” Other officials are clearly less expert in COIN execution, evidenced by leaks from an increasingly leaky administration.

In a letter to Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, Mr. Obama said he “expected Mr. Zardari to rally the nation’s political and national security institutions in a united campaign against extremists threatening Pakistan and Afghanistan, said an official briefed on the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential” (New York Times, Nov. 16). That’s a leak we could have done without, given that it’s more finger-wagging than confidence-building.

According to Gen. Petraeus, there’s much to praise. “The major development in Pakistan,” he said, “… was a true shift in popular opinion [10 months ago] - all of the citizenry virtually, all of the political leaders including the major opposition figures … and the vast majority of the clerics, all coming together to oppose and to confront the extremists - the internal extremists - and seeing them as … the most pressing threat to the existence of the Pakistani state, to the very writ of governance. That is a hugely important development … very, very significant.”

This united resolve, he said, has resulted in “very determined” operations, starting with the Swat District of the Northwest Frontier Province, that he characterized as a “very commendable, very impressive job … clearing that large … dramatic valley of the insurgents, of the Pakistani Taliban - not be confused with the Afghan Taliban” - this time complemented by rebuilding, with leaders “intent ultimately on transitioning to local security forces with police and so forth.”

More recently, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas - the border areas of Western Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan - the Pakistani military got to the root, killing Baitullah Mehsud, who led an extremist organization that “killed Benazir Bhutto” and has “blown up markets in Peshawar … carried out attacks on visiting cricket teams … killed countless innocent Pakistani civilians and then military and governmental officials.”

This ongoing operation, Gen. Petraeus said, comprised of three divisions converging on the major strongholds of these organizations, has gone “quite well.” Albeit, he characterized the whole effort as “heartening but tough” given the rugged terrain - e.g., in FATA “operating at probably some 5,000-7,000 feet … [now] in the early stages of winter … [in] a tough, tough area - proceeding at light infantry speed … against enemies who are dug in and fighting from very rugged structures” and given extremists’ nature: “They lash out, they try to counterattack and they blow things up indiscriminately.”

Yet, Gen. Petraeus said, “The hope is, frankly, that this will expose even further to the Pakistani people the very nature of these organizations … their indiscriminate violence, their extremist ideology and their very oppressive practices, as well.”

All the while, the president, traveling in Asia, has “quietly” dispatched his national-security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, to let the Pakistanis know “the new American strategy would work only if Pakistan broadened its fight … and went after the groups that use havens in Pakistan for plotting and carrying out attacks against American troops in Afghanistan, as well as support networks for al Qaeda” (New York Times, Nov. 16).

Why not instead seal the Afghanistan border? That way, Pakistan, focusing on “the internal extremists who have so threatened the fabric of Pakistani society and governance” can continue stabilizing their country by cleaning out their own extremists.

That, after all, is the point of counterinsurgency strategy.

Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based writer.

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