New US COIN Manual for AFG

The handbook, “Small-Unit Operations in Afghanistan,” strikes a tone of respect for the Taliban and other insurgent groups, which are acknowledged to be extremely experienced fighters; even more, American soldiers are warned that the insurgents rapidly adapt to shifts in tactics.

In page after page, the handbook draws on lessons from Wanat and other missions, some successful and some that resulted in death and injury for American and allied forces. The manual can be read as an effort to push the nuances of the complex counterinsurgency fight now under way in Afghanistan down from the generals and colonels to newly minted privates as well as to the sergeants and junior officers who lead small units into combat.

Copies of the 123-page handbook, produced by the Center for Army Lessons Learned, are being distributed throughout the service and are available to NATO allies and other nations with troops in Afghanistan. A copy was provided in advance to The New York Times by an official involved in the distribution, who said consideration was being given to a broader public release.

The manual includes a chapter titled “Cultural Engagements,” offering guidance to small-unit leaders on building relationships with wavering village elders and trust among distrustful village residents — a process that cannot be left to senior officers who may be back at headquarters.

Implicit in the instructions is a warning that troops are at risk if they are aloof from the locals and uncaring of their needs — and of the certain dangers if intelligence sources are used incorrectly.

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