Sangin: AP on USMC Approach vs UK Army Approach

Discussion in 'Afghanistan' started by Andy_S, Apr 10, 2011.

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  1. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    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.
    (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. 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.
  3. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    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.

    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. 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.
    • Like Like x 1

  6. You sound like a Nazi Julie Andrews
  7. Climb every mountain, Fight every foe...
  8. We had to destroy the town to save it...?

  9. t e n c h a r a c t e r s
  10. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

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

    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.
  11. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    "We are here to rebuild, but sometimes that takes destruction,"

    What kind of gash is this?

    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. 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. Very well said.
  14. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Don't try to compare the two.

    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.
  15. Cold_Collation

    Cold_Collation LE Book Reviewer

    That's my quote of the day.