Help for a Masters dissertation - COIN tactics, conventional philosophy: Afghanistan 2001-2014.

#1
Hello all, long-time lurker but first-time poster here.

I'm a currently serving reservist about to complete a Masters degree in War Studies and I'm writing my dissertation on the Afghanistan campaign, titled, "'Clear, hold, build': the evolution of counterinsurgency for the British Army in Afghanistan, 2001-2014". (I imagine some personnel on this forum from my unit now know who I am.)

I do not claim to have any real knowledge of the campaign personally as I have not deployed and am still just a dirty stinking crow, having been in battalion for just three years as a student-soldier doing my bachelors degree and now my masters. I simply wish to gain a little perspective from the ARRSE community on the progress of the campaign. I have read a few other threads in this section, and they have been very insightful. I'm hoping that you can all collectively shoot this down in flames or offer a little advice which may be useful to add to my dissertation.

To sum up what I've written so far, here's my abstract:

"The British Army has amassed a wealth of operational experience in two theatres of conflict in the last thirteen years. In many ways, the conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan have highlighted the strategic shortcomings of those in charge, and yet highlighted the enduring tactical excellence of those charged with fighting the battles. In terms of organisation and equipment, the British Army has modernised itself, and introduced new tactics, techniques and procedures to deal with the reality of the contemporary operating environment. This work seeks to track the British Army’s developments in counterinsurgency doctrine and practice from the conflict in Afghanistan up to the end of its offensive operations in 2014, and also the ways in which its natural orientation towards conventional war-fighting and the “corporate philosophy” therein does not lend itself well to waging counterinsurgency successfully as a matter of routine. This work also seeks to highlight how the campaign in Afghanistan has been plagued by the lack of a coherent strategy, enabled partly by what has been described as short-tour syndrome (amongst other factors) and their implications both for the campaign itself and for future military operations."

Bottom line up front: As armies, we aren't trained to fight counterinsurgency; our job is to fight major war. Prior to 2006 the job was small and outside of the more dangerous south, where we worked with the ANA to provide training and security in Kabul. That was realistic and achievable in regards to troops to task. We ignored SF advice in 2005 not to deploy to Helmand, where the Provincial Reconstruction Team was doing very careful and to some degree successful work on reconstruction projects, despite the presence of a Taliban shadow government. When we did deploy to Helmand, we were under-manned for the platoon house strategy in 2006 and the need to compensate for lack of manning with heavy fire support led us causing many civilian casualties and alienating the local population - still very much in the conventional mindset, as evidenced in all the deliberate ops from 2006-2008. We switched gradually to more COIN-centric methods around 2009, largely under the overall command of US General Stanley McChrystal, but operational methods are not a substitute for clear strategic direction, of which we were still lacking (six-month tour syndrome, constantly changing command structures, signature Bde-level ops etc) in Helmand. Perhaps realising this, we gradually scaled down our offensive operations and switched our emphasis back to training the ANA, in order to allow them to take responsibility for providing security and give us an opportunity to get out. The return to contingency is now a way for us to forget all about COIN and re-orientate to what we like to do best: conventional war-fighting. This brings the danger of having to learn these lessons all over again the next time we are called upon to do COIN.

Have I missed anything? No, I am not a journalist, but I would like to put views from this thread in my dissertation. All points will be kept strictly anonymous.

Alternatively, if anyone wants to keep messages to PM, please feel free. I welcome all contributions and advice, or simply being told to **** off and get back in my box.
Thanks to all for what will hopefully be a civilised thread. If this is perhaps not deserving of its own thread / more appropriate to a different one, my apologies.

Edited to add select bibliography:


- Jim Storr (The Real Role of Small Arms in Combat, High Explosive: Shock Effect in Dismounted Combat)
- David Galula (Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice)
- David Kilcullen (Counterinsurgency)
- Carl von Clausewitz (On War)
- John Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife, Knife Fights)
- Frank Ledwidge (Losing Small Wars, Investment in Blood)
- Mary Kaldor (New and Old Wars)
- John Baylis et al. (Strategy in the Contemporary World)
- Hew Strachan (The Lost Meaning of Strategy, British Generals in Blair's Wars, The Direction of War)
- Douglas Porch (Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War)
- James Fergusson (A Million Bullets)
- Richard Kemp (Attack State Red)
- Patrick Hennessey (The Junior Officers' Reading Club, Kandak: Fighting with Afghans)
- Toby Harnden (Dead Men Risen)
- Richard Connaughton (A Brief History of Modern Warfare)
- Various articles and papers too numerous to cite here.
 
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#2
Without being dull about it - can you tell us what you've read on ARRSE (and elsewhere) on this? You are covering some oft-repeated ground, with lots of truth from blokes who were in theatre, and had just come back, which can be found across ARRSE threads.

Also - is this going to be an UNCLASSIFIED, OFFICIAL or OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE (or above) thesis? There's lots and lots of stuff on DII about this as well. You could FoI it if you wanted, which might be an interesting exercise.

There are loads of people on here, much better qualified than me to talk about this, but it's been talked about lots!
 
#3
My favourite threads are the one by MrBane - "the reality of Herrick", which I started following a few years ago, as well as the short tour syndrome thread a few postings down from this one. I usually follow the threads in Current Affairs. Other threads and posts such as Stonker's views about the Army and Mission Command are also of significant interest and also our approach to C2 in general; for example how the orders process for Telic was perhaps too lengthy and detailed for Mission Command to be able to flourish as a practised command philosophy. Reference the thread C2 and Battle Procedure, and this document http://www.dodccrp.org/events/9th_ICCRTS/CD/papers/068.pdf on its first post, which would appear to suggest that we have issues at the strategic but also the upper end of the operational level when it comes to campaign planning.

I can't remember all the other threads which I've mused at but it has influenced a lot of my thinking and reading for this particular piece of work as well as for other assignments throughout my studies. The approach to strategy, particularly the stuff that Frank Ledwidge highlights in Losing Small Wars seems to be the big issue, as well as our apparent fundamental unwillingness to embrace COIN methods en masse, perhaps largely influenced by our training emphasis and culture ingrained from day 1 of phase 1 training.

Yes, it is all unclassified and I am enrolled as a civvy on a civvy course. The Army has had no involvement in my work to date. I am going to be conducting a few interviews with a few officers both inside and outside of my Bn, and nothing sensitive will be included. All other sources are from the public domain.
 
#4
You might want to read up on the hearsay that the British, having been involved in counter-insurgency in NI for so long, were masters at it and that American alarm at our attitude towards it in Iraq was unfounded.

Not from where I was standing it wasn't.
 
#5
sweet - and you're reading the small wars journal (www.smallwarsjournal.com and the council.smallwarsjournal.com which is their forum) as well? That was a real genesis of COIN thinking in the US, which obviously tracked across to the UK.

There's lots of stuff to be FoI'd...
 
#6
I am signed up to SWJ but I have to admit I haven't looked at it much. Will have to give it a look later tonight. There seems to have been a lot of hubris surrounding COIN in the British Army ref. NI, Cyprus, Malaya etc but did not translate into success in Iraq or Afghanistan, and our performance particularly in Iraq did not endear us to our international allies. (Ledwidge again.) "Baghdad is not Belfast", etc...

What I'm very interested in is whether the return to contingency is just like what happened to the Americans after Vietnam; institutionally forgetting all about a type of warfare that they didn't like, luckily being vindicated for their choices in the Gulf in 1991 but then having to learn small war tactics all over again for Iraq and Afghanistan. What do they say about not learning from history...?

Edit: Malaya, not Malaysia, damn autocorrect.
 
#7
You might want to read up on the hearsay that the British, having been involved in counter-insurgency in NI for so long, were masters at it and that American alarm at our attitude towards it in Iraq was unfounded.

Not from where I was standing it wasn't.
Agreed, but it would have made very little difference if we had applied a different strategy. By 2006/2007, Basra had a population of over a million and we were trying to keep a lid on it with two battlegroups.
 
#8
DeltaDog,

This is a common theme in every chapter. If COIN prescribes the need to clear, hold and build, then it needs saturation by infantrymen to both flood the centres of population and be able to dominate the outlying terrain by continuous aggressive patrolling. Force multipliers such as artillery and air cannot be used as a substitute due to their impermanence. Soldiers must be stationed in an area permanently to allow them to recognise the tiniest changes in the local atmospherics.

The surge in Iraq is the most oft-cited indicator of the importance of manpower.

Is it as much the price of having a small army, as much as the lack of continuity of purpose between units from one tour to the next, that we haven't been able to establish the right level of security required to hold and build, not just repeatedly clear?

Edit: lack of continuity of purpose.

Sent from my SM-N9005 using Tapatalk
 
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#10
Agreed, but it would have made very little difference if we had applied a different strategy. By 2006/2007, Basra had a population of over a million and we were trying to keep a lid on it with two battlegroups.
What DD said. Recommended force ratios in expeditionary operations is approximately 20 security personnel (military and police combined) for every 1000 inhabitants. In 2003 the population of Iraq was over 25 million. Given US and other international troop numbers in Iraq in 2003, the force ratio of troops to inhabitants was approximately 6:1000. You get what you pay for.
 
#11
Looks like a good reading list in there Spode, thank you.

Discussion as to whether COIN is an operational method or in fact a strategy is also a point of contention. Lt Col Mark O'Neil, Australian Army, argues that COIN should be developed as a strategy (Strachan, 2013: p229) and is not a military doctrine at all, merely a sub-component of a multi-agency, multi-national activity, just as that PowerPoint presentation explains in slide 3.

Perhaps it is thinking about COIN as a primarily military activity, rather than as a sub-division of a wider political engagement with a high level of civilian primacy, that leads to troops getting bogged down in an "unwinnable war". Therefore, should we embrace COIN in strategic terms rather than trying to impose it as an operational method? And to that end do we need to place more emphasis on teaching officers how to engage with IGOs and NGOs?

walrusboy: Yes, and not to mention the importance of the density of those troops; to be able to achieve the right ratio of troops to population in the areas where they live. A seemingly obvious point, but if soldiers are stationed in bases far away from the population, then the ratio decreases even further. Therefore it becomes important to concentrate those troops in areas where the population lives, rather than confine them to isolated outposts away from villages and towns? (This of course subsequently requires a high degree of tactical mobility to be able to patrol isolated areas. An increased emphasis on support helicopters perhaps? David Galula is a strong advocate of tactical air power in COIN.)
 
#12
I always thought Stan mcrystal's coin strategy as great. What I didn't find too great was seeing some of our top brass rave about it and not realise it was the Malaya counter insurgency handbook re written.
 
#14
I'd suggest comparing British COIN doctrine pre-2001 and current.

I don't know but I'd expect that they are very similar
Agreed.

The only difference to the American model is that the American model lives in la la land.

I remember the brilliant planned and executed haqqani attack on the intercontinental hotel in Kabul being described as 'a sign of desperation.'
 
#15
Good wishes on your thesis. I would hope that you've clearly identified the mindsets operating at all the levels involved - the various command and decision-making military and civil priorities from village to nation, and how they actually interacted with the global theorists and decision-makers peering into the very long term.
I get the feeling that no-one in control at the moment has...
 
#16
AfghanAndy,

Could you please offer some insight into the attack? All I know is the stories off news sites and Wikipedia. What indication can you get that it was not a sign of desperation? (Not wishing to peddle a point either way, I just don't know anything detailed about it.)

Whiskybreath,

Thank you.
My strategic level insight: At about 2006, the impending strategic defence review and perceived British failure in Iraq (particularly by our American allies) leads the push to increase scale of operations in Afghanistan beyond what we could realistically achieve. Use-it-or-lose-it mentality with threats of inf Bns being cut to save money. No real goal other than to win the favour of international allies by restoring operational credibility and to be seen to be doing something, preserve the size of the armed forces.

Operational level: Brigade commanders wish to demonstrate their effectiveness at their one chance of command in that post, execute signature operation, win operational honours. If officers don't make the cut they will be cut. Issues of career management seemingly more important than achieving cohesion between operations and units. Not helped by having a top-heavy Army of senior officers, certainly out of proportion to that of the US or Israeli equivalents.

Tactical level: Try and make some sense of it all and stay alive.
 
#17
AfghanAndy,

Could you please offer some insight into the attack? All I know is the stories off news sites and Wikipedia. What indication can you get that it was not a sign of desperation? (Not wishing to peddle a point either way, I just don't know anything detailed about it.)

Whiskybreath,

Thank you.
My strategic level insight: At about 2006, the impending strategic defence review and perceived British failure in Iraq (particularly by our American allies) leads the push to increase scale of operations in Afghanistan beyond what we could realistically achieve. Use-it-or-lose-it mentality with threats of inf Bns being cut to save money. No real goal other than to win the favour of international allies by restoring operational credibility and to be seen to be doing something, preserve the size of the armed forces.

Operational level: Brigade commanders wish to demonstrate their effectiveness at their one chance of command in that post, execute signature operation, win operational honours. If officers don't make the cut they will be cut. Issues of career management seemingly more important than achieving cohesion between operations and units. Not helped by having a top-heavy Army of senior officers, certainly out of proportion to that of the US or Israeli equivalents.

Tactical level: Try and make some sense of it all and stay alive.
The attack was just a well planned attack. There's released telephone intercepts of the attackers speaking to Jalalludin Haqqani. That was when ISAF started PySOPING itself.

As was previously mentioned. Good luck on the thesis.

For me though, the biggest failure was a failure to set up a permanent HQ over there. PJHQ and CentCOM attempted to fill that role and failed dramatically . Had we been able to cut the phone lines back home and had a permanent HQ we would've done a lot better. 6 month has do f*** all.
 
#20
For me though, the biggest failure was a failure to set up a permanent HQ over there. PJHQ and CentCOM attempted to fill that role and failed dramatically . Had we been able to cut the phone lines back home and had a permanent HQ we would've done a lot better. 6 month has do f*** all.
Are you saying that neither Northwood or CENTCOM were well placed to command operations in Afghanistan due to their out-of-area locations? Or the length of time that officers served in those locations?

Centralised doctrine, decentralised command

The key failure was not deploying enough troops to hold the ground!
Manpower is a recurrent theme that I've identified. Saturation seems to be a prerequisite for successful COIN if you subscribe to the US' FM 3-24, and we don't have an Army big enough to be able to do that.

Disagree. We created an insurgency in 2006 when we dropped 16 air assault into helmAnd.
Arguably the insurgency was already present as the Taliban shadow government present in Helmand at the time fulfilled all the requirements to be classed as such. 16 AA Bde simply stirred up the hornet's nest, despite advice from 22 SAS not to deploy to the province.
 

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