Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan Requires New Thinking
By John House
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 23, 2009 International forces in Afghanistan must garner popular support among residents to defeat the insurgency, the director of counterinsurgency training there said yesterday.
“This is different from conventional combat, which is terrain or enemy focused,” Army Col. John Agoglia, director of Counterinsurgency Training Center Afghanistan, said during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.
“Counterinsurgency is population-focused,” Agoglia said in his update on the center’s doctrine, curriculum and methodologies. “How we operate in and amongst the population will determine the outcome more than traditional measures, like capture of terrain or attrition of the enemy.”
Making sure all involved in the war see counterinsurgency “as a mindset, and not just a training event, … and that this mindset permeates all actions they take,” is one of Agoglia’s guiding principles.
A counterinsurgency mindset that encompasses prevention of civilian casualties, fosters public trust in the government and establishes conditions for economic growth is necessary to win the war, Agoglia said.
He talked about the judicious application of military force, and emphasized that preventing civilian casualties is a priority.
“It’s getting people to understand that sometimes it is better to back away from a fight than risk killing civilians and alienating those who you are supposed to be protecting,” he said. This can be complicated, he acknowledged, “especially when you are dealing with an enemy who’s intentionally putting themselves in with civilians.”
Another key objective in the counterinsurgency campaign is fostering public trust in the government. “We’re trying to reconnect formal government at the district level with the informal government out there at the tribal, village and municipal level,” Agoglia said.
The center’s curriculum includes conducting a village “shura,” or town meeting, that emphasizes the importance of local input on decisions affecting the community.
One of the biggest challenges Agoglia sees within the formal Afghan government is corruption. “We have to work through the Afghan system to help establish rule of law to instill anti-corruption programs,” he said. The key to stopping corruption, he added, is to have a formal police force that is trained to serve and protect.
Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, headquarters for the counterinsurgency center, is helping Afghans fight corruption in its role to train, equip, advise and mentor the Afghan national security forces. Pay and rank reform, electronic banking, and biometric screening are just a few programs implemented to reduce corrupt practices, Agoglia noted.
International forces signed an agreement with the Afghan national government July 21 to commit to eliminating corruption there and increase public trust.
Partnership is an important aspect to the counterinsurgency fight, too. Agoglia pointed out that while coalition nations may have varying restrictions on their military activities, all are contributing seriously to helping the Afghans.
While insurgents garner support through intimidation and threats, Agoglia said, “we will win this war by working together with our Afghan partners to provide the population a viable alternative,” in terms of security, freedom from intimidation and conditions that will foster economic well-being.
As the counterinsurgency mindset and resources are increasingly applied, the impact will become evident, Agoglia said. “There is a lag time between resources, implementation, and effect,” he explained. “It’ll take some time, but I think we’re going in the right direction, definitely.”
(John House works in the Counterinsurgency Training Center Afghanistan public affairs office.)