Sangin: AP on USMC Approach vs UK Army Approach

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
Interesting to note one local civilian saying he preferred the gentler British approach: the article notes that the USMC move to destroy roadside cover and firing points is infuriating locals.

Even so, the marines' free hand with explosives may be a worthwhile effort, as it suggests to me that the marines are taking a long-term view and while giving 'hearts and minds' the nod, are not allowing themselves to get trapped by the concept.
Why?
Because:
(1) In a society such as Helmand's, strength, not liberalism, is respected. I don't think it is feasible to win hearts and minds without first establishing security; and
(2) Establishing security means winning (and being seen to win) at the tactical level.
(3) Ergo, the marines are doing you they need to do to create winning conditions.

Anyway, draw your own conclusions. Here is the piece:

Marines use destruction to succeed in Afghanistan
(AP) – Mar 17, 2011

SANGIN, Afghanistan (AP) — In a war where winning the hearts and minds of Afghans is the ultimate goal, damaging homes with powerful explosives and bulldozing a mosque and scores of other buildings may not sound like a wise idea.

But U.S. Marines in this key Taliban sanctuary say that's sometimes the only way to make progress, even if it risks angering the same people whose loyalties are required for success — a difficult trade-off that troops have grappled with throughout Afghanistan.

"We are here to rebuild, but sometimes that takes destruction," said Capt. Matthew Peterson, a company commander whose Marines were tasked in late December with clearing a key part of southern Helmand province's Sangin district — the most dangerous place for coalition troops in Afghanistan last year.

The Marines have used a much more aggressive strategy in Sangin than British troops who were there for four years before the U.S. took over. The contrast has sparked debate both inside and outside Afghanistan....

Read it here:
The Associated Press: Marines use destruction to succeed in Afghanistan
 
#2
Because:
(1) In a society such as Helmand's, strength, not liberalism, is respected.
A quite dangerous - although not uncommon - assertion. The combination of 30 years of conflict, the Pashtun tradition and Islam's arguably more matter-of-fact way in dealing with death could certainly give this initial impression. In fact, however, what is really respected is respect itself - respect for property, tradition and the person. Helmandi society is little different from any other society throughout the world in that having foreign troops bulldozing their way through other people's houses will largely generate resentment rather than respect.

Whilst the provision of security is clearly paramount, it is security from the perception of the population, not the security forces, that counts. We often get this wrong, I think.

That said, good luck to the Marines in the USV.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
SNIP
Helmandi society is little different from any other society throughout the world in that having foreign troops bulldozing their way through other people's houses will largely generate resentment rather than respect
SNIP

And..

SNIP
Whilst the provision of security is clearly paramount, it is security from the perception of the population, not the security forces, that counts. We often get this wrong, I think.
SNIP

Fair points, but I'd ask: Is having foreign troops crunch through your living room much worse than having local (and foreign) fighters using it as a firing point?

More broadly: I also think (and this IS merely a thought) that if foreign troops were to bulldoze my house - against my objectections but giving a reason for so doing, and paying compensation - I might form the impression that these chaps are serious players, there for the win.

And what is "the win?" In this situation: security.

Security starts with force protection: If the force is unable to manouver with freedom, it is unable to dominate either the physical or the human terrain.

By doing what they are doing, the marines are freeing up their axes for vehicle and foot manouver, they are not digging themselves fortifications.

My understanding of Sangin is that the British Army got bogged down into patrol houses, and when out of them, were under heavy threat from ambush and IEDs.

The marines' clearing of roadside obstacles seems to be an attempt to overcome these very problems.

Will the Jarheads' more ruthless moves prove more effective than our Squaddies'? We shall see when the shooting season returns to Sangin.
 
#4
Seem to remember a piece on C4 (I think). The USMC unit in Sangin at the time had lost more troops in a single deployment compared to the highest number of Brits killed on a tour. They were even re-occupying some old Brit PBs. Seems like a lesson learnt the hard way for the USMC.
 
#5
"We are here to rebuild, but sometimes that takes destruction," said Capt. Matthew Peterson, a company commander whose Marines were tasked in late December with clearing a key part of southern Helmand province's Sangin district — the most dangerous place for coalition troops in Afghanistan last year.
What kind of gash is that?

He might as well have just come out with 'to walk the path of peace, occasionally we must climb the mountain of conflict'.

There is nothing wrong with clearing dangerous areas, but wholesale destruction of peoples homes, mosques and markets is just going to annoy people.

For those who think we achieve somehting by our 'power' or lose by our 'liberalism' remember we are not Muslims or Afghanis, nor are we Pashtuns... we come under our own little rule subset. And knocking down ancient buildings of cultural, religious of family/local significance wont help our position.
 
#9
Fair points, but I'd ask: Is having foreign troops crunch through your living room much worse than having local (and foreign) fighters using it as a firing point?

Almost certainly yes - given that it is highly likely the local fighters will include friends & family, as well as tribal affiliates, and the foreign fighters at least share the same religion. The concept of separating the population from the Taliban suggests that they are different entities - the population often is the Taliban and vice versa. It is about separating the ideology of the Taliban from the ideology of the the legitimate Government within people's minds.

More broadly: I also think (and this IS merely a thought) that if foreign troops were to bulldoze my house - against my objectections but giving a reason for so doing, and paying compensation - I might form the impression that these chaps are serious players, there for the win.

You might - and hopefully others will. The Russians were similarly robust in clearing swathes either sides of roads through the country, but it didn't work for them. I am also reminded of a certain farmer from Central Helmand who didn't want compensation for his trees being cut down for arcs of fire - he just wanted the trees. He had been growing them for the last 30 years, and no (realistic) compensation was ever going to replace them.


And what is "the win?" In this situation: security.

Security starts with force protection: If the force is unable to manouver with freedom, it is unable to dominate either the physical or the human terrain.

You fall into the trap I mention - that is security from the perception of the force. Security from the perception of the population is measured by the ability to go about normal daily life - freedom of movement. SF manouevring & dominating will often interfere with this. Presence of SF is often perceived as reducing security, rightly or wrongly (as per the rest of the world, and why countries rarely put troops on the streets). There is no easy answer to this, unfortunately.


Will the Jarheads' more ruthless moves prove more effective than our Squaddies'? We shall see when the shooting season returns to Sangin.

Other than the current seasonal poppy harvest dip, I am not sure the shooting season ever really stops in Sangin. Given a reduced force density, and the stalemate of the last few years (plus the pressure for transition), I can see why the USMC try these tactics, and have considerable sympathy with them for doing so - plus I am sure they have the District Governor's blessing in doing so. I do have a general aversion, however, to the 'shown 'em who's boss' approach to population-centric COIN.

t e n c h a r a c t e r s
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#10
SNIP
it is highly likely the local fighters will include friends & family, as well as tribal affiliates, and the foreign fighters at least share the same religion.
SNIP

But they are - alas - fighters. If you can't turn them and can't fight them effectively, you are sowing the seeds of your own defeat. I agree that turning should be as important as fighting, but given the sad history of recent attempts (both UK and US) to work with turned Tali - not helped by Kabul's policy, admittedly - well, it is certainly a fight.

SNIP
The concept of separating the population from the Taliban suggests that they are different entities - the population often is the Taliban and vice versa. It is about separating the ideology of the Taliban from the ideology of the the legitimate Government within people's minds.
SNIP

Is that the case? My understanding is that you have a significant level of locals in the insurgency (not necessarily for religous or ideologlical reasons) and a significant level of non-local infiltrators (who are heavily religious or ideologically motivated).

Separating the locals from foreign inflitrators should be easier than separating them from friends and family, and if the more motivated troops from across the border dry up (along with arms, training and C&C) you have got a much better opp to establish security; then you can make a start of establishing something approaching fair local governance, building infra, permitting commerce and winning hearts and minds.

SNIP
You might - and hopefully others will. The Russians were similarly robust in clearing swathes either sides of roads through the country, but it didn't work for them. I am also reminded of a certain farmer from Central Helmand who didn't want compensation for his trees being cut down for arcs of fire - he just wanted the trees. He had been growing them for the last 30 years, and no (realistic) compensation was ever going to replace them.
SNIP

I can't argue with you (or him) but what to do? Right now this IS an insurgency, and there are certain tactical prerequisites. If the population are able to undestand the long-term benefits that security will bring about in terms of improvemed economic and social conditions, then at least they may understand it, even if they don't like it.

But that is more a government/communications issue, not a military/tactical one.

SNIP
You fall into the trap I mention - that is security from the perception of the force. Security from the perception of the population is measured by the ability to go about normal daily life - freedom of movement. SF manouevring & dominating will often interfere with this. Presence of SF is often perceived as reducing security, rightly or wrongly (as per the rest of the world, and why countries rarely put troops on the streets). There is no easy answer to this, unfortunately.
SNIP

I think you overstate the case: While foreign troops presence can indeed, inflame local opinion (thank you, Mr Bin Laden), in parts of the world where troops are seen as a protective or otherwise positive force (eg UN missions) their presence may be very welcome. And once established, troops and bases become contributors to local economies. (Look at Germany, Korea, Hong Kong, etc)

The question is one of perception:
Is the presence of troops in my interest, or counter to my interest?

Again, I think this all comes back to security. Right now, for security to be established, there needs to be a force presence and that force needs to secure itself it is to secure its area and the populace. Certainly, it is a conundrum as how far one goes to secure this, but even so, in COIN, ability to move in, around and amongst the populace it critical. And even IF (big if) we reach an 'acceptable level of violence' and pull back troops, the Afghan Plod will still have a a role.

SNIP
I do have a general aversion, however, to the 'shown 'em who's boss' approach to population-centric COIN.
SNIP

Fair comment, but on the scale of insurgencies, southern Afghan is a pretty violent one.
While counter-violence should not be the only tool in the COIN toolbox, it is clearly there.

The question hangs over degree of use and its mix with the box's other contents.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#11
SNIP
"We are here to rebuild, but sometimes that takes destruction,"

What kind of gash is this?
SNIP

Gash? It is a basic concept of the building trade: You clear areas to build on them.

Normally when this is done, the owners of the to-be-wrecked buildings are compensated, but even in the UK, when there are holdouts, compulsory purchase orders are issued "for the greater good of the community."

The marines could feasibly use this very argument: "We are sent here by Kabul to establish security for the future and greater good of your community. To do that, kiss your bungalow goodbye, pal. Oh, and cheer up: Here's some wedge."

Not nice if it is your bungalow, but if this kind of thing can happen to the average Nigel in the UK, why should it not happen to the average Abdul in Afghan?

If Nigel's bunglow is ripped down to build a bypass, that is somewhat convenient for Nigel's neighbours.

If Abdul's bungalow is ripped down to clear lines of communication, that is very convenient for marines/government forces to establish freedom of movement.
 
#12
Gash? It is a basic concept of the building trade: You clear areas to build on them.

Normally when this is done, the owners of the to-be-wrecked buildings are compensated, but even in the UK, when there are holdouts, compulsory purchase orders are issued "for the greater good of the community."

The marines could feasibly use this very argument: "We are sent here by Kabul to establish security for the future and greater good of your community. To do that, kiss your bungalow goodbye, pal. Oh, and cheer up: Here's some wedge."

Not nice if it is your bungalow, but if this kind of thing can happen to the average Nigel in the UK, why should it not happen to the average Abdul in Afghan?

If Nigel's bunglow is ripped down to build a bypass, that is somewhat convenient for Nigel's neighbours.

If Abdul's bungalow is ripped down to clear lines of communication, that is very convenient for marines/government forces to establish freedom of movement.
If Nigel's bungalow is ripped down to build a bypass, it is unlikely Nigel will cosy up to a militant and extremely dangerous organisation.

Abdul on the other hand may begin to see the Taliban in a new light, after all they haven't pulled his house down. What is more Abdul's friends, family and neighbours may also see the Taliban in a new light. After all Abdul's family have lived in the, now destroyed, house for generations. Abduls forebears have died in it, his children born in it. He's been in the community for donkeys, and is respected as such. So has his compound with its many families and generations living within.

Each generation adding to it, their livestock raised in it, the fruit trees have stood for years, and the tilled land that has been watered by the sweat of generations...

Don't try to compare the two. Likewise any similarity with the building trade is pretty thin at best.
 
#13
What is more Abdul's friends, family and neighbours may also see the Taliban in a new light. After all Abdul's family have lived in the, now destroyed, house for generations. Abduls forebears have died in it, his children born in it. He's been in the community for donkeys, and is respected as such. So has his compound with its many families and generations living within.

Each generation adding to it, their livestock raised in it, the fruit trees have stood for years, and the tilled land that has been watered by the sweat of generations...
Very well said.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#14
SNIP
Don't try to compare the two.
SNIP

You are suggesting that we should be kinder to Abdul than to Nigel? Even though we are engaged in a shooting war in Afghanistan?

Quote (from memory) of USMC general attending local meeting in Iraq:
"I come to you with open hands and with tears in my eyes in the hope that you will work with me. But if you attack my men, I will kill every one of you."

That lays it out pretty clearly: Carrot and stick, not just carrot.

COIN may be COIN, but there are still bullets flying, and there are times when needs must. So I pose a broad but important question:
In a very hardcore insurgent area - ie Sangin - how far does one respect individual and property rights?

Take Malaya: A successful - even model - COIN campaign. During the Emergency, there was forceful relocation of some half a million villagers.

The kind of resolution required to do that seems to be entirely absent - judging by some of the comments on this thread, even unthinkable - in the present situation.
 
#17
SNIP
Don't try to compare the two.
SNIP

You are suggesting that we should be kinder to Abdul than to Nigel? Even though we are engaged in a shooting war in Afghanistan?

You what? It isn't a competition, we don't have to treat everyone the same, just fairly... likewise you do remember you dreamt up these two characters don't you? They aren't real?

Quote (from memory) of USMC general attending local meeting in Iraq:
"I come to you with open hands and with tears in my eyes in the hope that you will work with me. But if you attack my men, I will kill every one of you."

That lays it out pretty clearly: Carrot and stick, not just carrot.

It does indeed. No idea what fcuking relevance it has. Knocking down homes as described in my post above (owned for generations remember) hardly falls under carrot and stick... not even just carrot. Probably not stick either. More brick to the face or kick in the balls.

COIN may be COIN, but there are still bullets flying, and there are times when needs must. So I pose a broad but important question:
In a very hardcore insurgent area - ie Sangin - how far does one respect individual and property rights?

Take Malaya: A successful - even model - COIN campaign. During the Emergency, there was forceful relocation of some half a million villagers.

It has indeed worked. It has also not worked. Would you have suggested we started clearing swaithes of the Ardoyne or Bogside in NI? Different societies, scenarios, situations and favoured results.

The kind of resolution required to do that seems to be entirely absent - judging by some of the comments on this thread, even unthinkable - in the present situation.

Seems like it is currently occuring so what you talking about? This sort of thing can go spectacularly wrong if you misjudge it, and you may as well pack up and go home now.
Incidentally if we do move people, and assuming we don't let them keep their fertile land (just in case they blow up with a shovel or something) how long do reckon it takes to make a new compound? And how long would it take to turn desert into an allotment? Mixing in manure by hand to make the land half way hospitable to plants?

Likewise, would the compounds be in a suitable location? Or as good as the last one? Not likely, as the good spots are taken, and have been for generations. It would be a bit like the Agricultural Revolution, when farm strips were turned in to fields.

This sort of stuff isn't easily compensated by cold cash. Especially as cash doesn't play as great a role in Afghani culture as things like the family home and the manliness of the patriarch, should he be forced to abandon his home.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#18
Frog:

RE: Nigel and Abdul
I was illustrating a principle and its application in two different contexts. From my reading of comments above, it seems as if people are saying, "By all means, KO Nigel's manse, as he won't join an insurgency, he will just moan to the council. But leave Abdul alone, he keeps an AK in he shed." With an insurgency, there are times when you need to be firm - firmer than with locals in the UK, even.

RE: Carrot and stick/Relevence
Carrot: Don't shoot at us or let Talib use your sitting room as a firing or blasting point and we will let your bungalow stand. And if the neigbours do the same, we will build you a new school, upgrade your power supply and put a new road through to the bazaar.
Stick. If you do, we won't.

I think it better to have big carrots and small carrots, and bit sticks and small sticks, rather than limiting oneself to the lower end of the scale.

RE: Clearing Swathes of the Bogside
Horses for courses. I personally think that the gloves-firmly-on approach we adopted to COIN in NI has significantly hampered - by precedent - our ops in Iraq and possibly Afghan. We are facing a far, far greater degree of violence in Sangin than we ever did up the Falls. That requires a more ruthless response than we ever instituted in NI.

RE: Resolution/It's already happening
I was talking us (British) vs them (US). They have the resolution, we don't (or didn't). Will it work out for the Jarheads? As you note, it could backfire horribly, and send dozens of recruits flocking to the mosque/armoury of Al Berzerk.

But alternatively....

...well, we shall see.

RE: Ancestral Homes
I am not advocating forced relocations into "protected villages," - I don't know enough about Afghan to do that.

What I am pointing out is that a strongarm strategy derided by some posters in this thread as inapplicable to COIN was, in fact, a cornerstone of successful COIN in Malaya.

The principle is simple: Remove the villagers from the insurgents by placing them in a protected and monitored enviroment. In that environment, even if the villagers are initially unhappy with their lot, the improved security permits improvements in economy and society. Hey presto! Happy and prosperous populace = no more support for insurgents. Meanwhile, outside the fence, violent solutions can be applied to the insurgent hardcore, with limited danger of collateral damage.

Simple, eh?

Alas, the idea is easy, the exectution is the tricky bit.
 
#19
Force an Afghani to do something, and he will fight you till Paradise takes him. (Even if if it ultimately better for him).

Make friends with an Afghani, and he will walk with you in to Hell.

Slightly wrong, but para-phrased from the cultural adviser (an Afghani with a Doctorate (or going for one) in Afghani studies from a UK Uni of some note). Worth remembering before you start your forced relocation of Nigel and Abdul...

I am assuming in the interests of fairness all round, for every Afghani you move, you move a Brit too ( :eek:) )
 
#20
Force an Afghani to do something, and he will fight you till Paradise takes him. (Even if if it ultimately better for him).

Make friends with an Afghani, and he will walk with you in to Hell.

Slightly wrong, but para-phrased from the cultural adviser (an Afghani with a Doctorate (or going for one) in Afghani studies from a UK Uni of some note). Worth remembering before you start your forced relocation of Nigel and Abdul...

I am assuming in the interests of fairness all round, for every Afghani you move, you move a Brit too ( :eek:) )
HAve we moved passed the "He's on your side if you keep paying or keep winning" phase?
 

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