Best Defense

Book excerpt: Afghan war vet Daniel Green summarizes the ‘Characteristics of Successful Village Stability Operations’

Some good, if unsurprising, strategic advice.

In the Warlords' Shadow by Daniel R. Green
In the Warlords' Shadow by Daniel R. Green (

This (excerpted from Daniel Green’s new book, In the Warlord’s Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight Against the Taliban) is good thinking. On the other hand, I suspect that the British political officers on the Afghan frontier a century ago knew this stuff below by their second week on the job. I am not denigrating Green’s conclusions, but I am surprised that they are still news to us:

— Develop the ability to have a sympathetic understanding of the concerns, fears, and hopes of villagers as well as seeing things from their perspective.

— Harness community leaders (for example, tribes, religious, business, civil) to create a network to expand your white space and resist Taliban intimidation.

— Enlist the community in its own defense.

— Build stability through regular meetings between the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and Afghan local police leaders.

— Think unconventionally; the enemy does and so must you.

— Move beyond your comfort zone.

— Build institutions and processes and think about how things will function after you depart.

— Multitribal situations require robust tribal engagement so no group feels left out.

— Fight the insurgency’s soft-power strategy and use your enablers.

— Live embedded mentoring (working and living alongside your indigenous allies) and actively partner with your Afghan colleagues.

— The Afghan local police are your first layer of defense; treat them as such.

— Do what is required, not what’s comfortable.

— Sometimes the greatest action is inaction.

— It’s about what the population does, not what we do.

— It’s about moving Afghans from a culture of “learned helplessness” to one of “educated empowerment.”

— Think indirect action, not direct action.

— We protect the Afghans, the Taliban controls them.

— Let the Afghans be themselves, be humble about how much and how quickly we can change them.

— Treat others with respect and dignity; this is their country, not ours.

— Relentlessly pressure the enemy on all fronts.

Reprinted, by permission, from Daniel R. Green, In the Warlords’ Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight Against the Taliban (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, © 2017).

Photo credit:

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 Twitter: @tomricks1

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