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Petraeus Issues New COIN Guidance for Afghan Theater

by Greg on July 28, 2010

Newly installed Afghan theater commander Gen. David Petraeus has issued new “Counterinsurgency Guidance” to troops under his command. The 24 points are largely plucked from Field Manual 3–24 Counterinsurgency and David Kilcullen’s 28 COIN principles albeit with an Afghan flavor; for example, it includes the familiar “human terrain” is the “decisive terrain” and “people are the center of gravity.”

Petraeus has brought lessons from his Iraq command experience to Afghanistan, urging troops to get out and live among the people by positioning “combat outposts” as close to the people as feasible, similar to changes he implemented in Baghdad in 2007. Troops are told to get out of their vehicles and walk, another less from Iraq. While patrolling on foot troops should ditch the high-speed shades: “Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.”

The new commander’s guidance includes many of the rules laid down by the previous commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, behave politely while in foreign lands and don’t do stupid things that piss off the locals. “Alienating Afghan civilians sows the seeds of our defeat.”

On the always hot-button rules of engagement issue, Petraeus’ new guidance doesn’t say a whole lot; it’s quite likely that a separate “guidance” will address ROE in more detail. It does say that troops must fight with discipline, using only the “firepower needed to win a fight.” As is repeated in every COIN tome, the document says killing civilians or damaging their property serves as an excellent recruiting tool for the insurgents.

To this Afghanistan specific distillation of COIN best practices, Petraeus has added “confront the culture of impunity,” identifying Afghan corruption and abuses as an enemy of the people and giving U.S. troops the mission of reforming a failing government in addition to defeating a virulent insurgency. Corrupt “networks” of Afghan government officials are to be added to targeting lists. Once identified the COIN guidance extols troops to “confront, isolate, pressure and defund malign actors.”

Petraeus’ COIN guidance continues the careful recalibration of expectations I’ve been noticing in recent official statements and briefs regarding Afghanistan. “Avoid premature declarations of success… Strive to under-promise and over-deliver.”

– Greg Grant

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