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February 24, 2009

CT, COIN, and Working out the Difference
Posted by Patrick Barry

One of the maddening aspects of Afghanistan and Pakistan's worsening security environment is historical overlap between insurgent and terrorist elements, but different, even contradictory responses for addressing the two threats.

You see this chiefly in the way people sometimes confuse the Taliban with al-Qaeda, despite one being a localized insurgency, and the other a transnational terrorist group. Past relationships, and our own questionable assumptions make it difficult to separate the two, even though they have have different motivations, share different goals, and require different responses.  That said, I think George Packer's concern over yesterday's revelation that the U.S. Special forces are training Pakistan's Frontier Corps is somewhat misplaced:

In other words, now that we’ve had to learn to fight insurgencies (again), we need to help the Pakistanis do the same. If so, this piece in today’s Times, about American military advisers in Pakistan, contains worrying news. Not the revelation that seventy mostly Special Forces troops are training the Pakistani military and providing advice and intelligence on operations in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier province. That’s neither worrying nor particularly surprising, though the news is sure to spark protests in Pakistan, where our popularity is at an all-time low. What’s worrying is the nature of the help American forces are giving: intelligence for Pakistani air strikes and commando operations aimed at killing or capturing Taliban and Qaeda leaders.

What’s wrong with this picture? Have a look at the Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual, written under the leadership of General Petraeus. What experts call the kill-capture model was exactly the wrong approach to take during the early years of the Iraq war. This kind of emphasis always ends up creating more new enemies than it can eliminate old ones. Only when the military changed its strategy to protecting the population did the war in Iraq take a turn for the better.

There's a real need to disaggregate here. Kill-capture is the wrong way for the U.S. to fight a full-blown insurgency, but it does occasionally fall within the kit of counterterrorism practitioners after more effective law enforcement options have been exhausted. I'll never know for sure without the full details, but there are a few reasons to believe that what was outlined in yesterday's New York Times was really a pilot program aimed at targeting al-Qaeda (and irreconcilable elements of the Taliban), and not a COIN training program to address Pakistan's worsening insurgency.  For one, the size and composition of the force in Pakistan - Special Forces mixed with medics, communications specialists, and other technicians - suggests something other than a COIN training. Compare that to Afghanistan, where the Afghan National Army is fighting an insurgency -  there are 10-20 U.S. soldiers to assist each of the ANA's 49 battalions along with NATO-ISAF Operation Mentor and Liasons Teams, consisting of 12-19 participants. Clearly two different models.  Furthermore, by developing a Frontier Corps "commando" unit,  US trainers appear to be building Pakistan's capacity for targeted CT operations, rather than the full-spectrum missions typically used against insurgencies. 

The best indication that the training program in Pakistan has a CT, and not a COIN purpose, is a simple one - we appear to be getting better at CT.  In the late 1990s the U.S. tried very hard to kill\capture Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but a perfect storm of absent ground intelligence, untrustworthy proxies, bureaucratic inertia, insufficient technology, and broader political constraints foiled those efforts. Today's Pakistan is a different story.  CT operations directed at al-Qaeda appear to have been successful enough for DNI Director Blair to significantly downgrade the threat posed by the organization. Combine that with separate reporting on the tactical efficacy of predator strikes, along with the increased desire of the Pakistanis to become partners in that policy, and finally speculation that the better HUMINT cooperation from Pakistan's military is at the source of this newfound success, and it's not tough to discern a substantial shift.    This military program, which extended across roughly the same timeline, is likely related to the change. 

Packer is right - the U.S. will have to sort out its insurgents from its terrorists and adjust policies accordingly. In Pakistan that's an especially daunting challenge.  But it's wrong to say that a program is failing at counterinsurgency, when it seems more oriented toward something completely different. 


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I'd guess it's a way to induce you to buy a shoe and see if it turns up.

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I am very interested in it, could you please tell me some more imformation? Thank you!

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