COIN Strategy vs. COIN Tactics

By Andrew Lubin | 51 Comments

The photo in Laura King’s Los Angeles Times article “‘Three cups of tea’ a byword for U.S. effort to win Afghan hearts and minds” shows why the war in Afghanistan is not going well for the United States. As Ms. King so aptly explains, the phrase “three cups of tea” has been adapted from the Greg Mortenson best-seller of the same name by the American military as the basis of how to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign.

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Karzai’s Counterinsurgency Strategy

By Mac McCallister | 30 Comments

Marc Ambinder, politics editor of The Atlantic, explains that there exists a general perception among theorists and policy planners in the Pentagon’s policy shop that General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy has failed to sustain Hamid Karzai’s government in critical areas and is therefore destined to ultimately fail. “This is not how the war is supposed to be going. . .” So, why isn’t the war going as planned? Maybe we should assess the counterinsurgency effort from President Karzai’s perspective and focus less on our Americo-centric point of view. What is President Karzai’s counterinsurgency strategy? President Karzai’s “clear-hold-build-consolidate” approach to counterinsurgency is…

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Little Governors

By Mac McCallister | 34 Comments

Two recent articles in the Washington Post and Time magazine describe the political realities faced by the U.S. military, when participating in local politics in Nangahar province, in eastern Afghanistan. Both articles go to great length to describe what many would perceive to be another example of a failed local engagement strategy—and both articles fail to shed light on the grassroots political dynamics in play. According to both, in late January, select elders of the Shinwari, a Pashtun tribe in eastern Nangarhar province, approached U.S. military officials and offered to confront militants operating in their territory. They would also punish…

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Noah Coburn’s “Connecting with Kabul”

By Mac McCallister | 30 Comments

Read Noah Coburn’s Connecting with Kabul.  The information contained in this report is invaluable for the practitioner of population-centric COIN looking for insights into the importance of local patronage networks in Afghanistan. While Coburn’s work focuses strictly on Afghanistan, similarities in patterns of social networking behavior can be found in other traditional societies. I personally witnessed many of the same characteristics highlighted by Coburn in the patronage networks of the Anbar tribal awakening movement while serving as the Tribal Advisor to the Multi-National Forces-West in 2005-2007. Coburn explains: Afghan parliamentarians are first and foremost members of local patronage networks, which…

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Interview With A Tribal Chief Update

By Steven Pressfield | 7 Comments

“Interview with a Tribal Chief” is one series  that ran on the “It’s the Tribes, Stupid” blog. It featured interviews with Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai. Freerange International has a report up about Chief Zazai being ambushed by Pakistani Taliban this past week.

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The Reality

By Mac McCallister | 5 Comments

Reality in Afghanistan (or in any other country for that matter) isn’t a template of do’s and don’ts. Reality is something that military units and the local inhabitants in specific areas create for themselves. I recently read a number of manuscripts by the constructivist scholar Alexander Wendt. The takeaway from Wendt’s work? The only reality that exists is the one we socially construct for ourselves and others of like mind. There exists no one reality that can be accessed through empirical research. And, we can’t be sure that the reality we observe exists independently of our observation of it. All…

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Tribal Engagement Tutorial: The Jirga and the Shura

By Steven Pressfield | 1 Comment

The following is another installment of the Tribal Engagement Tutorial series, written by Major Jim Gant and MAC McCallister. It is a long post, so stick with it. It describes key differences between a shura and a jirga, as well as guidance on when to call for one, how to prepare, how to act, what to say, and so on. Thank you to both of them for pulling this together. According to NATO’s military chief of intelligence in Afghanistan, the Taliban now maintain shadow governors in thirty-three out of thirty-four provinces. While we like to see the world in black…

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Tribal Engagement Tutorial: Mental Models

By Steven Pressfield | 4 Comments

Having your head in the game requires accepting that your perception of reality might not be correct. Sun Tzu wrote:

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Gifts of Honor: A Tale of Two Captains

By Steven Pressfield | 0 Comments

[Friends, with apologies, a stomach virus has laid the blog low.  Here’s a re-run of a post that has been a reader favorite. We’ll be back on Wednesday!]

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