Best Defense

The military view of future policy in Afghanistan

The vibe at the Marine counterinsurgency conference on Wednesday was definitely in favor of giving Gen. McChrystal all the troops he wants. Of course, this was COINpalooza, and McChrystal is asking for more troops so he can implement a troop-intensive COIN strategy. So, yeah, so in this crowd, his request is like asking for a ...

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The vibe at the Marine counterinsurgency conference on Wednesday was definitely in favor of giving Gen. McChrystal all the troops he wants. Of course, this was COINpalooza, and McChrystal is asking for more troops so he can implement a troop-intensive COIN strategy. So, yeah, so in this crowd, his request is like asking for a cheap beer in a frat house on Friday night.

No one quite spoke much directly to the issue, which would be “inappropriate” — Washington’s favorite word. But the debate of a COIN approach, with a sustained widespread presence vs. a counterterror approach (that is, in-and-out raiding) was constantly in the background. The third option, simply playing for time while building up Afghan security forces, didn’t seem to be treated as a starter.

“If you’re taking a raiding approach … you’re really vacating the battlefield,” said the ever-quotable Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

One of the most interesting panels was made up of three Marine colonels who commanded battalions in successful counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not surprisingly, they were the most vocal people all day in support of the McChrystal plan. What you need is a force that simultaneously goes after the enemy and protects the population, they all agreed. But, observed Col. J.D. Alford, “We’re a completely enemy-centric force” in Afghanistan. Alford, who commanded the 3rd Battalion of the 6th Marines in northwest Iraq in 2005, said we need to be much closer to the Afghan security forces, living and working alongside them.

On the McChrystal plan, Alford added, “We’ve got to do some real math and tell some real truth … if we are going to do population-centric COIN.”

Col. David Furness, who operated near Fallujah in 2006, said, “I think we should get rid of those damn big bases. … We need to get the hell off them.” 

AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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