"Is Counterinsurgency the Right Path in Afghanistan?" (US News)

Is Counterinsurgency the Right Path for Afghanistan?

By James Danly, U.S. News Weekly, Edited by Steve Angelo, October 23, 2009, Volume 1 Issue 40



Counterterrorism certainly has its role in Afghanistan, but it must be viewed as but one tool in our toolbox. In order to declare victory, we need to aid the Afghans in establishing a legitimate government whose population does not effectively support terrorist networks. Although it may be attractive to envision an operation that puts fewer livesat risk and costs less money, simply put, a pure counterterrorism approach does not go far enough. The only viable course is to commit the resources necessary to conduct a full-spectrum counterinsurgency of the kind employed to such great effect during the surge in Iraq.

Though both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies seek to impair the enemy’s capacity to harm us, only counterinsurgency has the ability to offer long-term solutions in Afghanistan. Counterterrorism is akin to getting rid of an ant infestation one ant at a time, while a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy is closer to digging up the entire anthill. Counterterrorism strategies focus on terrorist networks, employing the military’smost elite assets to kill or capture key leaders.

Counterinsurgency, on the other hand, focuses on eliminating the medium in which insurgents live and conduct their operations, the safe haven provided by civilian populations among which they hide.

We know for a fact that the counterterrorism approach of solely targeting terrorist leaders is, by itself, insufficient to degrade insurgent networks. In the summer of 2006, our counterterrorist elements in Iraq succeeded in killing Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. An operation of this kind is the best a proponent of a counterterrorism strategy could hope for. And yet it had no measurable effect on the overall course of the war. Zarqawi was immediately replaced by a subordinate, and as the year wore on, Iraq plunged further into chaos.

Insurgent networks are, by their structure,largely immune to disruption through the elimination of individual leaders. There will always be lower-level terrorist leaders prepared to assume their boss’s role as long as the population provides a hospitable environment. Consequently, the process of targeting and eliminating newly promoted terrorist leaders becomes a never ending cycle...

To read James Danly's full opinion piece, please visit the US News & World Report website.