Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sonic Must Die: Death To The Hedgehog!

GEN McChrystal has taken command in Afghanistan, and one of the first things he began to do is look at the way that troops are currently disposed and the planned dispositions of incoming "surge" troops around the country. Under the former commander, existing FOBs were being expanded to make room for the influx of new troops. This often had unintended but not completely unforeseen consequences. This was a continuation of the Big Box FOB behavior which has proven unsuccessful in the past. When you look at it, it looked almost like the French "Hedgehog" strategy which led to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. While the Taliban are incapable of the type of offensive tactics used to reduce the French hedgehog at Dien Bien Phu to the point of surrender, the hedgehog strategy was another failed counterinsurgency behavior. It would prove no less so in Afghanistan.

As the truism states, "The proof is in the pudding."

Amid a nearly slanderous outcry from opponents of his appointment, some of which makes him sound like a former concentration camp commandant, GEN McChrystal headed back downrange and assumed his new command. He stated that his objective was population-centric, or pop-centric counterinsurgency.

McChrystal cited additional NATO troops who will deploy this year to key regions of Afghanistan, providing the manpower required to conduct “population-centric counterinsurgency operations.” These forces will partner closely with the increasingly capable Afghan security forces. (via Defenselink)

One of the first things he began to talk about appears to be a move away from the hedgehogs to a more distributed and comprehensive, yet focused, approach to the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan. This from the Washington Post:

"We are going to look at those parts of the country that are most important -- and those typically, in an insurgency, are the population centers," McChrystal said in an interview shortly after pinning on his fourth star.

Many people will assume that McChrystal seems intent on focusing on the cities, but that's not evident. As GEN Petraeus noted in his recent remarks at CNAS,

"Two-thirds of all the attacks in Afghanistan are concentrated in about 10 percent of the country's districts, areas where more than 20,000 new U.S. soldiers and Marines are flowing in to pursue insurgents and provide greater security for Afghans."

It has been pointed out before that in order to provide the accepted optimal level of counterinsurgents to population, hundreds of thousands more troops would be needed in Afghanistan. What this fails to consider is that large portions of the country are not under significant pressure from the Taliban. This doesn't mean that there should be no efforts in those areas to improve governance and work with the ANP, but the same ratio of troops/population would not necessarily be needed in those areas. Improvements in governance, the professionalism of the ANP and economic development and construction would go far in such areas to separate the Taliban, or criminal elements who borrow the name of the Taliban for credibility or fear's sake, from the population. GEN McChrystal's commitment to nationwide mentoring and development of the ANP remains to be seen.

However, by separating the insurgents from the population in the most violence-prone areas, progress will begin to be seen. With McChrystal reevaluating the planned dispositions of troops, it appears that troops will be expected to remain closer to the populace. GEN Petraeus, quoted in News said,

"A comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy is what is required to keep Afghanistan from becoming once again a sanctuary for transnational extremism, as it was prior to 9/11."

Petraeus said the principles underlying the counterinsurgency in Iraq – having troops protect and live among the civilian population, for instance -- can apply to Afghanistan.

GEN McChrystal also notes the effects of an effort that is too diluted.

"We've got to ruthlessly prioritize, because we don't have enough forces to do everything, everywhere," McChrystal said. He added that he would be especially reluctant to commit his forces to rugged areas where it would be difficult to extend the reach of the Afghan government or spur economic development. "If you are not prepared to come in with a reasonable level of governance and a reasonable level of development, then just going in to hold [the ground] doesn't have a strong rationale."(via Washington Post)

Clear, hold, and build. This is a strategy that both GEN Petraeus and GEN McChrystal have been talking about. The insurgents will respond by going elsewhere, of course. It's what insurgents do. In the meantime, establishing the local security apparatus and providing governmental and developmental improvements will help to prevent re-infiltration as the military effort eventually responds to the migration of the insurgency. However, the migratory opportunities for the insurgents are not unlimited. Migrating into a Hazara-dominated area, for instance, would be suicidal for Taliban unless done in significant strength. The Taliban insurgency would not do well attempting to migrate into the Panjshir Valley, either. The disposition of troops will eventually need to change, but in the meantime, having a General with the juice to say how things are to be done speaking of pushing out of the Big Box Hedgehogs is very significant.

GEN McChrystal also notes that some areas may not be worth messing around with right now. The Korengal, for instance, is an area that has produced more American casualties than any other similarly-sized area in Afghanistan. GEN McChrystal is reevaluating the current operations in the Korengal. It has been stated before on this blog that what is being done in the Korengal is more a counter-guerrilla campaign than a counterinsurgency. The Korengal does not appear to be amenable to counterinsurgent influence. If there is no hope of establishing Afghan governmental control over that valley, then what value is there to tying up resources and losing lives in a valiant but currently futile effort. Is the purpose merely containment?

"The question in the Korengal is: How many of those fighters, if left alone, would ever come out of there to fight?" McChrystal said. "I can't answer it. But I do sense that you create a lot of opposition through operations" by the military. "So you have got to decide where you are going to operate."(Washington Post)

GEN McChrystal appears to be willing to challenge assumptions and question accepted patterns of behavior. Moving out of the hedgehogs and out into the villages and valleys to be close to the population would produce significantly different results than have been seen to this point. Logistics are going to become complicated, and Green Beans Coffee is going to lose some business... but that's the price of counterinsurgency. Perhaps Pizza Hut will form a partnership with Jingle Air to deliver pizzas to the smaller outposts by helicopter.


  1. At last a move away from Big Box Fobbitry! A man with a plan to secure the country and defeat the enemy! There is reason for optimism.

  2. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/18/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  3. We always train to fight the last war we had...then when we're actually in a war, we can't change methods or tactics until it's approved by a bunch of chairborne pukes....


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