Taliban COIN Strategy: Lessons for McChrystal?
For years, we’ve been following reports – first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan – of US forces, particularly JSOC teams, using night raids and air strikes to terrorize local citizens. All too often, these attacks not only terrify civilians, they kill them.
Following each such killing, we hear that US forces are going to be more careful and will change tactics. While there are reports of fewer air strikes, the extensive use of night raids continues.
Now we learn that US forces are once again proclaiming a new improved approach that includes more “sensitivity” to local concerns. Canadian Press reports that “NATO spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith,” referencing a new directive expected soon from Gen. McChrystal said:
“It addresses the issue that’s probably the most socially irritating thing that we do – and that is entering people’s homes at night,” Smith said Wednesday at his office in Kabul.
“Socially irritating” is an interesting way to describe what has been close to SOP. As Anand Gopal describes in his important report at TomDispatch:
It was the 19th of November 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of U.S. soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they — both children — refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.
The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates, and forced open closets…
Gopal goes on the describe the detention of two men from the family, one later released, one still missing – presumably in the secret prisons Gopal describes and Jeff Kaye wrote about today.
These raids, a mainstay of US operations in Iraq as well, were called out to President Obama by Human Rights Watch back in March as a significant issue:
Afghans frequently complain about night raids that appear to use unnecessary or excessive force, insult local customs, and antagonize the civilian population. Human Rights Watch has learned of recent night raids by US forces where women and children have been killed. …
Human Rights Watch urges the United States to:
* Conduct a review of the use of night raids in conjunction with the government of Afghanistan to develop alternative arrest strategies that will not alienate the local population.
* Exercise precaution in the use of force during night raids to minimize harm to the civilian population.
* Where the circumstances surrounding the arrest reflect a policing rather than an armed conflict situation, exercise restraint in the use of force and act in proportion to the legitimate objective to be achieved.
* Improve transparency about the involvement of US personnel in raids and acknowledge responsibility where civilian harm has occurred.
While the DoD continues to ignore such sensible advice (and it’s own earlier promises to minimize night raids) the December 22, 2009 ISAF Briefing “State of the Insurgency:Trends, Intentions and Objectives” (h/t Col. Pat Lang) describes Mullah Omar’s directives to Taliban fighters in the July 2009 Taliban Code of Conduct, which the powerpoint describes as the Taliban’s “COIN guidance.” These guidelines are quite clear – and prohibit searches of houses.
Meanwhile, Afghan citizens are rightly frightened by the US surge and with news of the imminent NATO offensive in Helmand. “U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the success of the operation depends on convincing civilians that the government will improve services once the militants are gone” according to the Toronto Star but Afghans are piling up their belongings and fleeing:
Mohammad Hakim, a 55-year-old tribal leader in Marjah, said fear has risen over the past two weeks and he knows at least 20 families who had left. He himself planned to take his wife, nine sons, four daughters and grandchildren to live with relatives in Lashkar Gah…
Ghulan Nabi, a wheat and poppy farmer with seven children in Marjah, said his family planned to leave soon and wait out the offensive in a nearby district.
“We have a good house, a nice life, but now I will have to rent a home,” he said. “But we want peace and security. We don’t care who comes here. We just want peace in our village.