"When I tuned in to Obama's speech, I was hoping for a plan that did not solely resemble a conventional counterinsurgency strategy, like McChrystal's, with its traditional aims to "clear, hold and build" ground and undertake the complicated task of nation-building. While this strategy has worked in degrees in Iraq, it was preceded by a more nuanced, complex strategy of working with and through local Iraqis, principally in Anbar province. There, men such as retired Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Andy Marchal, who had fought in Afghanistan in 2001 with the first team to enter the country, instigated social change and tamped down violence by creating jobs and working with tribesmen who had decided to stop fighting alongside al-Qaeda. " Doug Stanton
"This model works tribe by tribe and village by village. It considers violence, unemployment and unrest as part of the same cloth. Special Forces soldiers may arm and train militias to defend themselves, as well as help build water systems and provide jobs and medical care. It can be slower, nuanced work, and it relies on building rapport with citizens, which is why Special Forces soldiers receive language training and believe awareness of local customs and mores is critical. Think of soldiers engaged in such efforts as Peace Corps members — only they can shoot back.
This model can be far less bloody and far less costly than deploying tens of thousands of conventional Army troops, and there are signs that a "tribal-centric" approach is gaining traction with some strategists. One signal is the buzz created by an informal paper called "Tribe by Tribe," by Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant. "When we gain the respect of one tribe," Gant writes, "there will be a domino effect throughout the region and beyond. One tribe will eventually become 25 or even 50 tribes." " Doug Stanton
"The debate about what to do in Afghanistan has often seemed a simple, binary discussion: all in, or all out. Do we flood the zone with thousands of troops and risk appearing to be imperialist occupiers? Or do we take a light-footprint approach, as in 2001, avoiding the "occupier" label but risking a longer march with the Afghans toward a peaceful society? As Obama pointed out in his speech, there is no simple right and wrong. But some answers are better than others.
One better answer is to revisit the lessons from the Special Forces campaign immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. This may not be easy. Within the military, there is resistance to this kind of warfare. The conventional Army, one Special Forces officer told me, was uncomfortable with the decentralized nature of the war effort in 2001 and with how cheap it was.
He recounted how he was once stopped by a senior officer from the conventional Army who told him, "You must be proud of what you did in Afghanistan." The Special Forces officer said he was.
"Good," replied the other, "because you'll never get the chance to do it again." " Doug Stanton
The long standing animosity of the "big army" conventional generals for US Army Special Forces is still there. The "SOF" community is full of it. Special Forces soldiers reading this know that I do not exagerate. COIN is a fad, the "flavor of the year." It is accepted wisdom at this point. Unfortunately for that fad, it is not really possible to use conventional troops to do real COIN work. The infantry fights. That is their role in life. They have no real taste for integrating their lives with those of tribesmen and villagers. A senior person in Rumsfeld's Defense Department once told me that their goal was to make the infantry more like Special Forces. He waved off my observation that Special Forces soldiers and infantrymen are two quite different breeds.
Training, helping and leading the locals as a way of life has never appealed to the big army. Stanton offers an interesting explanation for that. The Green Beret approach to war is inherently decentralized, inherently cheaper in money and an inherent threat to the need for giant budgets and massive equipment programs.
Green Berets are a self aware elite. Other soldiers, including generals, see that self awareness in the eyes of the "Greenies, the Snake Eaters." They understand that men who are not afraid to do this kind of isolated, self motivated duty judge everyone by their own standards. Perhaps that is part of the problem. pl