November 4, 2011 | FDD's Long War Journal

COIN is Dead. Long Live COIN?

November 4, 2011 | FDD's Long War Journal

COIN is Dead. Long Live COIN?

By Bill Ardolino

On a warm August afternoon, two dozen US and Afghan soldiers trudged through sticky corn fields to the village of Majiles in the contentious district of Sabari in Khost province, Afghanistan. The patrol’s original mission had been a Key Leader Engagement (KLE) to woo a local elder with influence over the area’s fractious tribal network, but it had been diverted to hunt for a recoilless rifle team that had taken part in an attack on a combat outpost earlier in the day.

As the US and Afghan team searched a series of walled compounds, conducting interviews and occasionally scanning the retina of a suspected insurgent (despite strong suspicions voiced by Afghan soldiers, no individuals were detained due to lack of evidence), a two-man Civil Affairs detachment attempted to make inroads with the community by offering agricultural assistance.

The reactions of the villagers varied: some were lukewarm, some aloof, and a few were openly hostile. The search took most of the time allotted for the mission, and the KLE, relegated to a secondary objective, was called off for another day. And at the very end of the patrol, insurgents tossed a pair of hand grenades into the midst of the American squad as it exited a courtyard, injuring six soldiers. The Afghan Army contingent returned fire but then fled to their vehicles and back to base, leaving the Americans stuck in the qalat. The US soldiers finally joined their Afghan partners perhaps an hour later, returning home to the combat outpost after treating the wounded and waiting for air cover.

The events on that mid-August patrol highlighted elements of the conflicted strategy being executed by US troops in Eastern Afghanistan. Certain components of counterinsurgency (COIN) remain on track, and a few seem relatively robust. And senior officers enthusiastically claim that COIN is still very much on the agenda in the Afghan east.

But in truth, the Obama administration's accelerated drawdown of US forces has undercut a needed infusion of forces from RC South to the Afghan east that was an unspoken second act to the US military’s 'surge' strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan. The resulting resource issue has forced US forces to short shrift counterinsurgency doctrine: instead of living amongst the locals, troops attempt to woo an apathetic and sometimes hostile population from centralized combat outposts, while members of the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), and other insurgent and criminal patronage networks continue to exercise daily influence over the population.

The result is a strategy employing muscular offensive operations (that some delineate with the label “Counter-Terrorism” – CT) with other components of Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine. The offensive aspect seems potent; most Afghan and US military officials at various levels agree that an incessant string of special operations forces night raids and conventional offensive operations are pressuring insurgent groups and bleeding their leadership, especially the ranks of middle-management. But the execution and impact of other counterinsurgency aspects are dubious. If true COIN doctrine is a delicate symphony that requires all components to be playing in time and tune, the strategy in RC East is currently missing a few instruments.

A Microcosm of Dysfunction in the East

In his briefing on his Area of Operations, Captain Aaron Tapalman, commander of Bravo Company of the 1/26th Infantry responsible for Sabari, cites the saying “As Sabari goes, Khost [province] goes.” His assessment is arguable, but it is essentially on point: The heart of the current fight in Khost province is in the northern districts of Sabari, Bak and Musa Khel, which are all provincial population centers and traditional seats of insurgent authority. Sabari specifically is a nexus of the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan: It is the second-most populous district in a province (Khost) that is the considered home turf for the Haqqani Network, which is regarded by ISAF leadership as the most dangerous insurgent group in Afghanistan.

The Haqqanis made their mark fighting the Soviet occupation; Jalauddin Haqqani, the organization’s patriarch, led the first successful sacking of a city by the mujahedeen when his forces won control of Khost City in 1991, and the man still enjoys legendary status today.  The Haqqanis then transitioned to governership of Khost under Taliban rule, and finally, after the American invasion in 2001, brutal insurgency and criminal patronage, both under the aegis of international jihad and the operational leadership of Jalauddin Haqqani’s more ruthless son, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Sabari has presented a unique opportunity for the Haqqani Network and a number of other insurgent groups, including Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) and local Taliban factions. With a bare handful of officials, the district government is nearly powerless. And an exceptionally splintered tribal network characterized by historically diminished authority and infighting fails to present a coherent alternative to official government or insurgent influence. Over the past few decades, the resulting power vacuum has been filled by criminals, warlords and insurgents who fight each other and Afghan and ISAF forces while trying to consolidate their own power and business interests.

American forces have maintained a presence in Khost, but operations against insurgent groups seemingly began in earnest within the last two years, as a surge of conventional forces was combined with a punishing onslaught of Special Operations Forces raids that have thinned insurgent leadership. Additionally, conventional clearing operations in Sabari and in the equally troublesome neighboring district of Bak (the latter a historical HIG stronghold) earlier this year have weakened the insurgency and effectively pushed rebels from operating with impunity inside the population centers of the province. One metric that emphasizes this change is a drastic reduction in rocket and indirect fire attacks on Combat Outpost Sabari, home to US and Afghan forces in the district. In 2009, the base was hit 520 times; in 2010, 390 times; and as of the end of October, 2011, the base had only been hit 81 times.

But down does not mean out, and many Afghan and US military personnel theorize that the Haqqanis and other insurgents maintain a minimum of operations in the province, while regrouping and waiting for the promised significant withdrawal of American forces. With redoubts and ISI patrons in Pakistan, insurgent groups are also believed to be focusing their attacks on Kabul in order to sap central government authority and hasten ISAF withdrawal, while patiently waiting to fully reassert themselves in traditional seats of power like Khost province.

In addition to striking hard at insurgent leadership to stop this reassertion of power, ISAF strategy is focused on defending Kabul with what one officer termed “an attack zone in depth:” essentially a network of ISAF personnel and surveillance resources blanketing the most commonly used approaches from Pakistan toward the capital, in a bid to make infiltration a daunting task.  Longer term, strategy is focused on accelerating the development of a competent Afghan security apparatus that can maintain itself independently in a protracted fight, and ISAF is also seeking to enable government and tribal alternatives to compete with the power of intractable insurgents. All of these more durable strategy components face stiff challenges, drastically augmented by the lack of resources necessary for a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy appropriate to the task.

A Skeleton Government

Apart from US and Afghan security operations, strategy in Sabari district is centered around the traditional counterinsurgency goal of building or enabling a coherent power structure that presents a viable alternative to the influence wielded by insurgent groups. Unfortunately, the challenges to effective Afghan governance in the district are significant. First and foremost, a continuing lack of security impedes more advanced aspects of counterinsurgency, such as reconstruction and economic development. But beyond basic insecurity, several steep hurdles remain: a sparse local government staff with little to no authority; a fractured tribal system that never fully recovered from the Soviet invasion; and the traditional and continuing authority of insurgent groups.

The Afghan government presence in the district is spearheaded by District Governor Quayumi, a former governor of both the Sabari and Tani districts in Khost, who was recently reappointed to head the district in May. Quayumi is described as “very capable” by a number of Americans who work with him, but their praise is qualified by the assessment that he wields a government with “zero strength,” according to Captain Aaron Tapalman.

American efforts hinge on the governor applying resources from the central government to use in his bid to legitimize governance, but some officers do not believe this is the case (“Even the chai he serves elders he has to pay for out of his own pocket,” notes one American). In addition, Quayumi leads only a handful of government officials, he has no traditional local authority, and he faces a dearth of local leaders willing to engage with the official Afghan government as a resource to address local concerns. Despite this, the governor is pressing ahead with a two-pronged strategy of engaging local leaders with traditional tribal authority while actively marginalizing others. American officials regard this attempt to legitimize the Afghan government as the most difficult and important component of their mission.

“We’ll cause governance to flourish in Sabari district by connecting [government officials] to the local tribal elders and getting the tribal shura connected to the government,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jesse Pearson, commander of the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment. “That is not easy; it is the most difficult thing we are attempting to do, but it’s the most important thing because it’s the thing that will have a lasting effect here in Sabari.”

Pearson and Quayumi’s focus on engaging traditional tribal authority figures faces a unique test in Sabari because of its bloody history and the diminution of tribal authority in northern Khost province.

“Pashtun Wali is Dead”

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and ensuing nine years of war had a dramatically disruptive effect on the traditional tribal networks in northern Khost province. The Soviets’ strategy of actively depopulating the countryside, which included killing tribal leaders, drove several local tribes from their traditional strongholds in Sabari, Bak and Terazai districts and into refugee status in Pakistan. Hardest hit were the traditionally strong Yaquabi and Sabari tribal confederations, the bulk of which fled across the border.

During their absence, much of the tribes’ territory, logging business interests, and property were encroached upon by members of the Mangal tribe based in the neighboring northeastern district of Musa Khel, and the Kuchian, a term that describes traditionally nomadic Afghans. When the Yaquabi and Sabari tribesmen returned to find interlopers squatting in their homes and cutting their wood, it precipitated two decades of sharp tribal conflict and enmity that weakened the traditional networks and authority that had provided some semblance of governance.

“[Before the Soviet invasion], you had a fairly strong tribal network, with … good strong shuras, good conflict resolution, etc.,” said Colonel Chris Toner, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, aka Task Force Duke, which is responsible for Khost province. “The Soviets came in and two things occurred: the exodus into Pakistan, their best and the brightest, you also had some attrition (via killing). And so there was a vacuum that was created in terms of leadership and, no kidding, physical presence.”

Accordingly, as the present weak district government (with few employees and less authority) attempts to plug the resources of the Afghan central government in Kabul into traditional tribal authority structures, those structures themselves are barely functioning. What remains is a heterogeneous mishmash of tribes condensed into the Sabari district, including the Musa Khel, Yaquabi, Sabari, Mangal, and Balkhel tribes. Additionally, within these confederations also exist a number of subtribes. (Note: Given the influence of the Haqqani Network, whose leaders are members of the Zadran tribe, it is reasonable to speculate whether there is also some Zadran influence in the district, though the tribe is based in neighboring Paktika and Paktia provinces, along with the Spira, Qalandar and Nadar Shah Kot districts within Khost province.)

The resulting, sometimes bloody, tribal conflict adds further complexity to the general insecurity in the area, as tribes occasionally battle over territory, political authority, and logging rights. Open war between two major tribes specifically within Sabari (the Mangals and the Sabaris) took place as recently as six years ago, and lesser skirmishes over territory are not uncommon. (In larger Khost province, another historical example of fierce intertribal rivalries occurred within the Zadran tribe between factions that supported the Soviet-backed central government and those who advocated jihad). The result: an overall dilution of tribal authority and conflict resolution in Sabari specifically, as well as several other districts within Khost.

The intertribal shuras that once resolved many conflicts in large portions of the province were on hiatus for “maybe 10 years” prior to April 2011, suspects Toner. This abdication of traditional conflict resolution and authority has provided a power vacuum for insurgent groups like the Haqqani Network and Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, who have moved in to buy off young males with the lure of money, fame, and glorious jihad. Tribesmen sometimes bemoan the loss of traditional power with the saying “Pashtun wali [Pashtun tribal code] is dead,” especially among the younger generation.

“This was an area that was absolutely ripe for the insurgency,” said Toner. “The insurgents can come in there with a lot of money in their pockets and recruit military age males, they can bring a sense of order, they can run some shadow legal systems, they can impose a justice system and rule with some authority, and that’s what they did.”

Despite this, a handful of tribal leaders maintain some relevant authority, and they have been singled out in Afghan and American efforts to enlist them to work with the government. Chief among them are two notable elders within the Rogha subtribe of the Sabari tribe, one widely believed to be the “most influential elder in the … AO (area of operations),” according to internal ISAF documents. The Americans and Afghan government officials have actively courted both men for months, and the tribal elders coyly engage them while asking for the release of “innocent men” wrapped up in night raids by special operations forces. But both individuals are also believed to actively take part in the Taliban’s shadow district government.

As a consequence, District Governor Quayumi has shifted his hopes to empowering younger, hungrier tribal leaders who are both at odds with the insurgency and willing to challenge the traditional tribal leadership. One example is his engagement of another Rogha elder and former Haqqani operative who was kicked out of the insurgent group for unspecified reasons. Afghan government attempts to concurrently recruit shadow Taliban officials while playing former Haqqani Network operatives off of them illustrates the byzantine, particularly dangerous political complexities of Sabari district. It also showcases the difficulty of making rapid counterinsurgency gains by plugging into a cohesive tribal structure, a la the dramatic turnaround spurred by Iraq’s “Awakening” in 2006-2007.   

“It’s a very delicate razor’s edge we're walking here in Sabari district,” said Pearson. “We’re trying to entice the tribal leaders to see that GiROA (the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) is the future, and [that] we’re not going anywhere.”

Training the ANSF

In light of the impossibility of quickly defeating the insurgency and establishing the Afghan government as a viable power broker in areas such as Sabari, ISAF has also devoted its limited resources to accelerating the development of Afghan security forces, including the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan National (or Uniform) Police (ANP, AUP), Afghan Border Police (ABP), and Afghan Local Police (ALP).

US officials have asserted the Afghan training initiative is on track. In an August interview with The Long War Journal, Regional Command East Commanding General Daniel Allyn described the mentorship effort as “on a glide path to success” with current troop levels. But this new (yet old) focus, which vaguely resembles the pre-surge strategy in Iraq (and Vietnamization many decades before that) is beset with challenges. Most notably, many American advisors assess that the Afghan security structure is a long way off from functioning independently, and progress, while unmistakable, is uneven.

Some Afghan security forces, such as the local militias trained by US Special Forces and border police in districts like Jaji Mayden, immediately east of Bak, are judged extremely competent by US military officials and exhibit control of their areas. But security forces in the province’s most contested districts – Sabari, Bak and Musa Khel – are arguably undermanned; they are unable to maintain logistics, intelligence and other support functions without American help; they are beset by poor senior leadership; and they are operationally incapable of holding the districts themselves.

The latter two issues are especially challenging and pervasive, and both are exacerbated by limited US resources as the Afghan units attempt to secure their areas. Leadership is uneven and plagued by tribal politics, and Americans have found themselves generally impotent to influence the removal of incompetent leaders. This problem has plagued US training efforts for many years, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but seems especially pointed in Sabari.

In one example, a perpetually hash-smoking Afghan platoon leader has remained in place due to tribal ties, despite the fact that one of his disputes with American partners resulted in the Afghan platoon pointing their weapons at US advisors. American trainers are frustrated by their powerlessness to remove such dangerously incompetent leaders, combined with their inability to promote the careers of brave Afghan standouts who may possess requisite initiative and leadership ability, but lack political ties.

“You have some real superstars who are capable, and motivated,” said Lieutenant Andrew Docksey, a civil affairs team leader who works with the ANA on a daily basis. “And then there are others, what we’re seeing with some of their officers is they are placed because of family ties. They’re lazy, incapable, they don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t care, and they drag their enlisted guys down with them when they do stupid stuff.”

Again, this is not a new issue to US nation-building efforts; most embedded American trainers in Iraq and Afghanistan have voiced similar complaints at one point or another in the past decade. But while the problem is common and navigable with time and effort, it is one that holds up the rapid development of an Afghan security structure that can function independently of US efforts. And as the number of US trainers diminishes, so will their influence.

Operationally, at such a late date in the conduct of the war, the Afghan forces are still uneven and incapable of operating independently in a particularly contentious district like Sabari. On the positive side, overall, US trainers from Helmand to Khost have generally assessed that their Afghan security partners will usually stand and fight (or “at least shoot,” according to one trainer in Sabari) when encountering the enemy. But many American advisors also believe that their Afghan partners are still less disciplined and tactically capable than they need to be in order to hold their own against the dedicated insurgents looking to slug it out once ISAF draws down.

One minor example of this was evident on another routine patrol near the Sabari district center in August. An American MRAP armored vehicle had gotten bogged down in a muddy field, and US and Afghan soldiers dismounted to pull security as it was being towed. While the Americans established themselves in a dispersed circle facing outward, the Afghans sat in clumps and looked inward and at each other, with various soldiers nonchalantly migrating from group to group in order to socialize. If they didn’t have US chaperones, they almost certainly would have been hit and likely taken casualties.

Other examples lie in the carelessness with which Afghans will operate, unnecessarily risking their lives. For instance, despite the high threat level from insurgents who regard them as collaborators, the ANA will often walk into hostile markets in small groups, or even ones and twos. This quickly marks them as easy targets, and frequently draws attacks that get many injured or killed. And a third example lies in the incident described in the introduction to this piece, where ANA fired at insurgents but fled back to base, instead of maneuvering on insurgent attackers and/or staying to protect wounded American counterparts.

I have witnessed other Afghan forces (notably in Helmand province) operate with greater competence, and the above examples in Sabari should not be extrapolated to describe the entire Afghan Army or security structure. But these types of basic deficiencies in Sabari are especially notable because it is a force responsible for one of the most contentious districts in the Afghan East, among Afghan soldiers tasked with fighting the Afghan government’s most dangerous foe: the Haqqanis. The bottom line: company-level US advisors maintain a dim view of the security forces in northern Khost, especially the ANA, and some conclude it will be some time, if ever, before the trainees meet the standard for self-sufficiency.

“If we were to leave? They’d be done,” assessed Docksey. “They’d get rolled over so fast.”

For his part, the Afghan Army officer responsible for Sabari (as well as Bak, Jaji Maidan, Khalander, and Musa Khel districts) generally concurs, with the caveat that he doesn’t believe the US will really withdraw from his province or country.

“Of course security will go bad [if Americans withdraw],” assessed Lieutenant Colonel Nasratullah Nasrat, the commanding officer of the 3rd Kandak (Battalion) of the 1st Brigade of the 203rd Afghan Army. “I don't think just here [in Sabari], I think international security will worsen. In my opinion, I don't think the US will really withdraw anytime soon.”

Development, Soft Power

Beyond security and the establishment of governance, counterinsurgency doctrine heavily relies on economic incentives such as reconstruction and economic development. But ISAF and Afghan government efforts are dealing with two big hurdles: the prospect of diminishing US resources, the infancy of applied Afghan resources (and their dilution via corruption), and local hostility to outside patronage.

Some aspects of Civil Affairs doctrine appear relatively advanced in the Afghan east. For one example, the US Department of Agriculture advisory teams and alternate seed programs have a known presence in an area where more than 90% of the economy revolves around farming. (Ironically, these efforts were barely noticeable last year during my embed in northern Helmand province, which is an area that has much greater need of such assistance. But that is another topic). In addition, the Afghan provincial government, with the aid of US Provincial Reconstruction Teams, has begun to lead some development projects around Khost City, such as the newly started Khost airport, the Khost Olympic Stadium and a proposed Customs and Revenue Center, and American PRT officials believe there is a strong project submission apparatus in the area around the provincial capital.

For every Civil Affairs component that is present, however, others are missing. While some of the slack is taken up by Non-Governmental Organizations, development needs in many of the province’s districts remain unmet. Unit-level Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) resources used to quickly execute small-scale reconstruction projects to fill the gaps are barely being employed by company and platoon-level officers and NCOs in the Sabari district, for example. When pressed as to why, small unit leaders are unsure, but speculate it is part of a general pattern of disengagement as US forces scale back their efforts while attempting to hand responsibilities over to the Afghan government. Officers at higher levels have disputed this, asserting that the funding remains intact, but cannot be smartly applied in an insecure environment. Whatever the correct rationale or availability of funds, the fact remains that officers and NCOs on the ground do not seem to be applying them, and the Afghan provincial government is only now implementing a formalized process to get funds from the central government to district-level projects.

“With the introduction of the Pilot Budgeting Program and the District Delivery program, the ministries and districts will execute top-down budgeting from Kabul based on district level inputs,” explains Commander Bradley E. Brewer, Commanding Officer of the Khost PRT. “This will add spark to the now primed Khost provincial process whereby there will be fewer projects that fall through the cracks as unmet/unfunded. Likewise there will be less CERP needed to fill gaps … [We] see this process development as a success.”

But even if US resources were to remain constant and were aggressively utilized, or Afghan government resources are applied to pick up 100% of the slack as US forces draw down (which seems unlikely), a greater challenge remains for the “build” portion of COIN doctrine: Locals in Sabari remain hostile to foreign assistance and highly skeptical of Afghan government assistance. Many tribal leaders openly reject offers of help, noting that “the Soviets tried to buy us too,” according to Tapalman.

Other tribal leaders will take resources, while simply playing the other side of the fence by courting insurgent groups. Again, these problems are not unique to Sabari district, Khost province, or even Afghanistan as a whole; US forces have navigated similar issues during the two major counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what is clear is that within portions of the current Afghan fight, American efforts to make inroads with the population via economic incentives are nowhere close to mature, and certainly not being conducted on a level that is holistic or aggressive enough to succeed in shaping the “human terrain.”

The inadequacy of reconstruction and development is partially a consequence of continuing insecurity in these areas, in addition to being a resource and cultural issue. But the insecurity itself is also a resource issue, leading one to the pivotal question: If the US isn’t going to do all or even nearly enough of the components of counterinsurgency doctrine that are required to achieve counterinsurgency objectives, why do any at all?

And if US political leadership decided to execute a surge of forces coupled with a counterinsurgency strategy as recently as 2009, why pull the rug out from under the effort less than two years later?

The Endgame

Despite the dogged efforts of small units, the fight in Sabari ultimately constitutes a microcosmic model for ISAF failure in Afghanistan, if success is defined as the achievement of near- to mid-term stability. Extrapolating from the examples of Sabari and Khost province, the following argument can be made about the fight in the Afghan East:


  1. American forces are indeed punishing the leadership of insurgent groups such as Haqqani and HIG, especially the mid-level ranks, via both incessant JSOC night raids and conventional operations.
  1. ISAF and Afghan forces have made historical progress pushing insurgent groups from open operation in the population centers of Khost province.
  1. Some components of counterinsurgency are robust.
  1. ISAF efforts to train Afghan forces are aggressive and ongoing, and Afghan forces in select areas are operationally independent.


  1. The hostility and tribal power vacuum in large portions of Khost province is exceptional, not unique to the province, and prevents the type of sweeping improvement that led some to believe Afghanistan could be quickly addressed with counterinsurgency, as happened in Iraq in 2006-2007.
  1. COIN efforts are haphazard to the point of dysfunction: Provincial Reconstruction Teams and Afghan government development efforts are of limited utility in areas that lack enough resources to provide basic security. In addition, the inability of US and Afghan Army units to project into the population with a sustained presence (as the Marines have done in Helmand with decentralized patrol bases, and the Army has executed in Kandahar), makes them fundamentally unable to protect the population from insurgent influence and intimidation, which is a key pillar of COIN.
  1. Most Afghan security forces are currently unable to maintain support operations (logistics and intelligence), and many are operationally incapable of maintaining the fight without direct ISAF combat support. Depending on the real pace of the planned withdrawal schedule, this calls into question the ISAF strategy of accelerating the development of Afghan replacements to maintain the fight. Afghan security force improvement is possible and is occurring, but obviously will take adequate time. Any acceleration of the current withdrawal schedule will likely doom this effort, and current withdrawal plans are far from ideal.
  1. The redoubts in Pakistan remain open for business. Official US government rebukes of Pakistan’s support of insurgent networks like Haqqani have stepped up in the past month, and drone strikes in the Haqqani stronghold of Miramshah, Pakistan have killed some high-level leaders. But the insurgent networks that rely on Afghan government and tribal weakness in provinces like Khost still maintain safe havens across the border, and thus have the option to wait for partial US withdrawal before redoubling their efforts to destabilize the Afghan government and security apparatus in the provinces.

In essence, Afghanistan remains a sprawling, complex problem. And US political realities, combined with waning commitment from its NATO partners, have caused strategy to settle on a scale that is clearly inadequate to the task. If fantastical success is defined as Western forces leaving behind a stable Afghan state, and more pragmatic success is defined as ISAF forces drawing down in significant numbers, but maintaining long-term support of a proxy war conducted by an allied, functioning Afghan government that continues to exist, the former scenario is impossible, and the latter is in jeopardy.

Despite the unique challenges of Afghanistan, American forces have proved that they can conduct successful counterinsurgency that shows tangible and potentially sustainable progress in the key southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand with proper resources and strategy. But the US government's recent commencement of a premature drawdown and its concurrent failure to supply necessary resources in the Afghan east, along with a high-level diplomatic failure to adequately address Pakistan’s support of the Afghan insurgency, has created fissures in strategy that may result in its failure.

Put more simply: effective counterinsurgency doctrine is more than the sum of its parts. And while current strategy that merges elements of COIN, including punishing offensive operations, with accelerated development of indigenous security forces may be making the absolute best of current resources, it remains inadequate to the task. US strategy in Afghanistan remains conflicted and lacks a clear path to success.

Bill Ardolino is a writer for The Long War Journal and an Adjunct Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has embedded with US, Iraqi and Afghan security forces in Fallujah, Habbaniyah and Baghdad, Iraq, and Helmand and Khost provinces in Afghanistan.