[apologies for the delayed relevance; just realized this blog didn’t successfully post last week, probably thanks to awesome dial-up internet in rural KY]
The war waged by the United States in Afghanistan has been, to say the least, trying on the U.S. military. This conflict has taught us (sometimes through unfortunate trial and error) that counterinsurgency methods are not just a good idea; they’re essential to success. The domestic and international media has been quick to let the public know when things have gone wrong in this often-difficult transition. Officers trained in conventional warfare history make gruesome momentary decisions that leave scores of civilians dead, or convoys of American soldiers are attacked after preliminary reports from conversations with locals provide intelligence that the area is safe. Certainly, there have been many tragic mistakes on the part of the United States involved with figuring out the correct paths to take in developing a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. With the U.S. as global hegemon the Afghan conflict understandably takes center stage and therefore heavy criticism.
This narrow focus on the sometimes-painful change in the U.S. military, however, lacks a full examination of the change occurring in militaries around the world to adapt to this contemporary kind of warfare. In the past, the U.S. has asked major Middle East players to help in routing terrorist and extremist groups like Al Qaeda within their borders. Though an example of decent diplomacy, by asking states to bolster themselves instead of imposing our will directly, it is the opinion of the author that this faith has been placed rather blindly. While the U.S. has been taking major steps in changing much of its organizational structure to adapt to the counterinsurgency structure required by conflicts of this nature, many of these regional allies have been lax at best at changing their traditional methods. The Pakistani military, for example, has appeared notably unmotivated to alter its conventional style until very recently. Attacks intended to wound, trap or kill Al Qaeda operatives were often carried out in massive style with little regard to civilian proximity or similar situations with dire repercussions. As these are attacks that harm their own people and therefore do not represent an international situation, the media (and therefore public opinion) has scarcely noticed these countries’ militaries as desperate for improvement. This is also the case in other areas that prove to be less-than-hot media topics, such as Latin and South America, where evidence of the use of these rigid, conventional tactics on small, targeted groups has proved similarly disastrous. In these cases, where the military is often used to quell disturbances or to rout out drug or crime rings, casualties almost always include civilians caught in a large scale ambush where both sides often have weapons and fighting quickly becomes out of control.
Though these situations are domestic, and much of true counterinsurgency doctrine does not apply, there are aspects that these states would be remiss to ignore. The best example is that many of the locations singled out as harboring threats are in rural areas; though the troops coming into these places are nationally the same as the people living there, there are often still broad cultural differences. Understanding the people in the area in these cases is just as important for military police going after drug lords in South America as it is for U.S. troops searching for Al Qaeda hide outs in Afghanistan. It is therefore the opinion of the author that pressure should be applied (both social and political) to states such as these to adapt their methods and hopefully save lives and gain civilian trust of national military forces. Organizational change cannot be limited to states that only deal with insurgent forces outside of their own borders.