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Troops Want a Return to COIN in Afghanistan

December 24, 2009

Staff Sgt. Christopher Bolwell, communicates with his squad during dismounted maneuvers from a Stryker fighting vehicle in this file photo from March of 2007.

Some of the recent criticism of the Stryker in Afghanistan, that hearkens back to the original complaints of the entire LAV concept, is now becoming clearer. Recall that the initial controversy was that the Stryker wasn’t a tank, or a heavily armed and armored tracked IFV, which could ride in with guns a blazing, destroying all in its path. Stryker was more of a mindset that a concept. Instead of being a platform centric force you depend more on your infantry.

The conventional mindset would use its vulnerable infantry to go after the enemy, in so-called “counter-guerrilla” operations. This is OK if your enemy is clearly defined as on a conventional battlefield. For the counter-insurgent, it is not so simple, sending them Somme-like against such an elusive but well armed foe. Most likely if you use tanks and IFVs in such a situation, you would still need infantry to defend yourself, end up facing anti-tank weapons like missiles and mines, or otherwise blow everything up including civilians and insurgents.

Bringing us to this important post from Army Times, that the boots on the ground in the Afghan are evidently taking casualties not for their lack of certain vehicles, but because their commanders insist on chasing the enemy in the traditional Army manner, instead of protecting the population in a proper COIN strategy. Here is Sean D. Naylor’s report:

The vicious struggle in and around the Arghandab since the battalion’s arrival has killed 21 1/17 soldiers and more than 50 insurgents, led to a popular company commander’s controversial replacement and raised questions about the best role for Stryker units in Afghanistan.

It has also caused the soldiers at the tip of the spear that the United States hurled into the Arghandab to accuse their battalion and brigade commanders of not following the guidance of senior coalition commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal to adopt a “population-centric” counterinsurgency approach.

Much of the training the 1/17 learned the hard way in Iraq failed them in the Afghan theater:

“We trained [in] urban fighting in Iraq and then they give us Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Hughes, Weapons Squad leader in 1st Platoon, Charlie Company. “The principles are the same but the details are day-and-night different, and we’ve learned that the hard way over the last almost five months.”

Though the higher ups insist they have taken the lessons of counter-insurgency to heart, the casualties and the troops themselves speak otherwise:

1/17 soldiers said that a major factor behind the battalion’s difficulties in the Arghandab was the failure of their battalion and brigade commanders to adhere to McChrystal’s published counterinsurgency guidance, which states up front: “Protecting the people is the mission. The conflict will not be won by destroying the enemy.”

I would be the first to admit the Stryker is obsolete when its time comes. So far I see no evidence of that, while there is clearly evidence that massive indiscriminate firepower is no longer the answer on the battlefield. To survive on the modern battlefield, we must accept and adapt to the new ways of warfare, instead of trying to fit our 3rd and even 2nd Generation Warfare plans into the COIN concept.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe K. permalink
    December 28, 2009 3:57 pm

    Ah, here it is:

  2. Joe K. permalink
    December 28, 2009 3:46 pm

    Mike, you misunderstood.

    I meant why would the Russian Army actually conduct insurgency-style warfare, not COIN warfare. The point is that unless a country is so desperate like with Iran in the Iran-Iraq War you are not likely to see developed countries with developed militaries start fighting an insurgency-style war except in maybe small periods of time.

    That’s why you shouldn’t make the whole US military transition to COIN warfare because you are leaving yourself open for conventional threats to trump you and why we should increase our COIN efforts on the units that can already fight them which is our special operations units. I believe there was an article posted recently about such programs having some success against Afghan insurgents.

  3. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 28, 2009 12:49 am

    I would argue that Russia is really pretty capable when it comes to COIN. They’re just not very nice about it. They have the lessons of the Winter War, Leningrad & Stalingrad to guide them as well as the recent Chechen conflicts (the first two of which admittedly went rather badly for Russia). By the third round Russia had become very aware of the importance of winning the information war & had admirably reaassed their own strengths & weaknesses. Russian generalship is quite competent (squad level leadership is not so hot, admittedly) & Russia’s almost fetishistic fascination with thermobaric weapons & experience with attack helos makes them quite effective at blowing the hell out of urban hardpoints. They didn’t have too much luck in Afghanistan, of course, but who has? I mean, like, ever?

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 26, 2009 2:00 pm

    Joe K said “Besides, who sees the Russian Army converting to insurgency warfare? Or the French? Or the Chinese?”

    Joe, this is what I am counting on, as well as their continued vulnerability to asymmetric warfare, which the USA and her allies can take advantage of. Thus i see the US Army as the most experienced and effective well into this new century.

  5. Joe K. permalink
    December 26, 2009 10:50 am

    Part of the reason the military has been slow to adapt to COIN warfare requirements is because it’s very hard to define it explicitly (through all details) and train personnel to properly fight it.

    Besides, who sees the Russian Army converting to insurgency warfare? Or the French? Or the Chinese?

    You can’t modify the whole military on these two enemies (Iraq & Afghan insurgents). Certainly you can put some more effort in training how to respond more effectively, but to change the whole military scheme on one type of enemy will result in a mistake of massive proportions.

    Don’t you know that war isn’t like a chess board? There is no perfect information. When a squad is ambushed they can only take in what information is readily available and use that even if it turns out to be wrong.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 24, 2009 7:18 pm

    I understand the C-130 requirement is long dead.

  7. nico permalink
    December 24, 2009 5:04 pm

    jane’s was reporting that the Stryker was in need already of some serious upgrades which probably push it past 55,000 pounds. army was still try to get the stryker and all the armor somehow on a C130.

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