"One Tribe at a Time," or, When COIN Goes Bad...

Anyone read this: http://blog.stevenpressfield.com/wp-content/themes/stevenpressfield/one_tribe_at_a_time.pdf ?

It's been much hyped as a sort of TE Lawrence-meets-Petraeus solution to our Afghan woes- and it does seem awfully fun :D - but this article comprehensively dismisses it, and is well worth reading: http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/petraeus-and-mcchrystal-drink-major-gants-snake-oil/


Onward to chapter 4 and Major Gant’s personal experiences with his local friend Noorafzhal…

I will not get into the specifics of the different clans and sub-clans but there was a “highland” people and a “lowland” people. Noorafzhal’s tribe included people whose physical location is on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The highland people had taken and were using some land that belonged to the lowland people. The Malik told me the land had been given to his tribe by the “King Of Afghanistan” many, many years ago and that he would show me the papers. I told him he didn’t need to show me any papers. His word was enough.

He then told me he had given the highlanders 10 days to comply with the request or he and his men would retake it by force. Here was the critical point for me and my relationship with Malik Noorafzhal. It is hard on paper to explain the seriousness of the situation and the complexity we both were facing. He had asked for help, a thing he later would tell me was hard for him to do (especially from an outsider) and I had many options. Could I afford to get involved in internal tribal warfare? What were the consequences if I did? With the tribe? With the other tribes in the area? With my own chain of command?

I made the decision to support him. “Malik, I am with you. My men and I will go with you and speak with the highlanders again. If they do not turn the land back over to you, we will fight with you against them.” With that, a relationship was born. Malik Noorafzhal then told me he had only eight warriors on duty at the current time. I told him, “No, you have sixteen.” (I had eight team members at the time).

[...] Without going into further detail, suffice it to say that the dispute with the highlanders was resolved.

This is the stupidest, most criminal thing I ever heard a soldier admit to outside of a court martial or criminal trial. Imagine for a moment that Gant met the highlanders first. The highlanders would have given their own version of how the King of Afghanistan had stolen their land and given it to some guys from down the valley. The SF team, following Gant’s playbook, would kick the shit out of the people down the valley and then congratulate themselves on how damn smart they think they are. Bottom line: the locals played Gant and destroyed the livelihood of their neighbors. Is this a model to defeat the insurgency? No. It’s a model for driving Afghans into the insurgency.
I guess the lesson is, COIN may be fashionable, but bad COIN is as good way to lose heart and minds as anything...

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