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Belmont Club

Insurgency vs counterinsurgency

February 10th, 2009 - 4:12 am

Bill Roggio describe’s al-Qaeda’s shadow army in Pakistan.  They are mobilizing locals to fight for them.

The Shadow Army is active primarily in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, and in eastern and southern Afghanistan, several US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The paramilitary force is well trained and equipped, and has successfully defeated the Pakistani Army in multiple engagements. Inside Pakistan, the Shadow Army has been active in successful Taliban campaigns in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, and Swat.

In Afghanistan, the Shadow Army has conducted operations against Coalition and Afghan forces in Kunar, Nuristan, Nangahar, Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Zabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar provinces.

“The Shadow Army has been instrumental in the Taliban’s consolidation of power in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the Northwest Frontier Province,” a senior intelligence official said. “They are also behind the Taliban’s successes in eastern and southern Afghanistan. They are helping to pinch Kabul.”

In the meantime, Fred Kagan writes about the strategic crossroads that America finds itself in in Afghanistan. It is floundering. Perhaps the key shortcoming is that it cannot protect or influence the population to the degree necessary.

Perhaps the most important lesson of Iraq that is transportable to Afghanistan is this: It is impossible to conduct effective counterterrorism operations (i.e., targeting terrorist networks with precise attacks on key leadership nodes) in a fragile state without conducting effective counterinsurgency operations (i.e., protecting the population and using economic and political programs to build support for the government and resistance to insurgents and terrorists). …

In Afghanistan, we have nothing like the freedom of movement we had in Iraq in 2006, and nothing like the force levels. We have, furthermore, been targeting leadership nodes within terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven years now, yet the groups are not defeated. Absent a counterinsurgency and nation-building strategy that leads the population to reject the terrorists, killing bad guys will not defeat well-organized and determined terrorist networks.

Thus, al-Qaeda’s “Shadow Armies” are the flip side of the lack of effective counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. If America can’t organize the population, then al-Qaeda will. The trick, Kagan says, is to find the right model. Al-Qaeda has already spent decades in Afghanistan and may have practically indigenized itself. America, by contrast, is still on the learning curve. Kagan writes:

In the current security environment, only American and allied military forces can understand those dynamics, and they can do so only by living among the people in a way that is mutually acceptable to our forces and the Afghans. Pulling back to bases may reduce local resentment of us, but it will also deprive us of any ability to interact with Afghans and their leaders at the level necessary for success. As General Petraeus is fond of saying, you can’t kill your way out of an insurgency. Neither can you defeat one long-distance. Success in Iraq required finding the right way to deploy American forces among the Iraqi population. Success in Afghanistan will require finding the right way for Afghanistan, which will almost certainly be different from the right way in Iraq.

Because of the global nature of the struggle, Kagan argues, success in Aghanistan cannot be bought by giving up gains in Iraq. Perhaps most interestingly, Kagan argues that the question of bulking up forces in Afghanistan cannot be considered in isolation from finding the right strategy. “While the situation in Afghanistan is indeed deteriorating, it would be wrong to rush forces out of Iraq this year in response. Most important, as detailed above, we have not yet established the conditions in Afghanistan that would allow a surge to be decisive. Also, the theater cannot absorb too many reinforcements too quickly.”

Clearly the US is in a race with Islamic extremism to adapt. Kagan believes that the Obama administration have a real opportunity to make a difference. Can they do it? Or will the shadows win?

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