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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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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Marvel July 28, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Hmm, what exactly does "targeting" corrupt officials mean? That could get messy, both literally and strategically.

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Nadnerbus July 28, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I’m sure that by “targeting,” he means isolating, marginalizing, or ousting corrupt officials and players from positions of power.

I’m not sure how this differs from McChrystal’s guidelines, but I like where the General is aiming with this one. A lot of the success in Iraq came from having Battalion commanders and lower with the power and authority to perform civic rehabilitation projects, or the purse to fund them. Another huge factor was that the military was a more aggressive arbiter of disputes, and leaned heavily on corrupt or weak officials to do the right thing at the platoon and battalion level. They performed a bottom up type of nation building, making the individual villages and towns as close to whole again as possible, while remaining a a strong and fair third party to bring grievances. As Yon put it, they were the strongest tribe.

Whether that will work in Afghanistan is anyone’s guess, but it is as good a place to start as any. A loose confederation of tribes and villages is probably the best we can expect as far as outcomes go, and this is a good step toward achieving that.

Now if we could just get another Ryan Crocker to start leaning hard on and working with the government in Kabul, we might start getting somewhere.

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Thunder350 July 28, 2010 at 9:05 pm

If they want to get rid of corrupt officials, they'd need to start with Karzai.

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Nidi July 28, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Isn't the "firepower needed to win a fight" generally everything you have available?

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concerned civie November 21, 2013 at 2:08 am

yes i have done a paper on this in college. do you know why our enemies in ww2 did not use human shields? and don't think the Japanese didn't try. the reason was we would shoot through them. our attitude was its on their head. as a result human shields were, except in two cases, not used against the allies. hmmmmm. yea, you cannot win a war by befriending your enemies and turning your back on your friends. as our iconic leader has done without so much as a thought for how many soldiers blood he has on his hands.

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blight July 28, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Didn’t we try dispersed combat outposts on the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan? Wanat and Keating are what happens if we disperse to protect the people and everything goes south due to lack of troops.

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TPCAT July 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm

If it makes the mission that little bit easier to achieve without further endangering our troops it has to be good, or at least as good as you can get in a bad situation. It will be interesting to see what General Petraeus does with the new ROE guidelines if and when those are issued.

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Infidel4LIFE July 29, 2010 at 5:05 pm

YES, Karzai then his bro. They been running game for too long, and the rteality is, a-stan is just too tribal, with ethnic groups who been killing each other for ages. I think the best we can do is try and stand up an army. 2011 could stretch a long way. [Advisors, air power etc] now about "targeting" officials? We talking about legally, OR REAL JUSTICE!!!??????????

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Infidel4LIFE July 29, 2010 at 5:11 pm

im wondering if wat motivated Vietnam, $$$$ motivated the powers that be. We really ginned up the intel on WMD, and after 9/11 fear was used to sway the public. I hope Cheney and Bush family rot in bloody hell for wat is kinda "known"…no WMD, $$$ to contractors-OIL..wow, wat a snow job…

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Barb August 31, 2011 at 8:23 pm

BAD BAD IDEA. Afghanistan is NOT Iraq. These people are mostly Muslim and consider us "infidels!" This will cause more troop deaths!

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DecentWeasel August 31, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Not sure I understand. How does "mostly Muslim" and a large percentage of the population considering us "infidels" *not* characterize Iraq?
I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just …not seeing what you're getting at, I guess.

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