Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon’s Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.
There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.
The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.
To put it concretely, this is a doctrine in which small groups of American men and women are outside the wire in dangerous places in remote valleys, providing security, gathering intelligence, helping to establish courts and building schools and roads.
Yeah, about that Mr. Brooks:
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military officer in Afghanistan, has told his commanders to pull forces out of sparsely populated areas where U.S. troops have fought bloody battles with the Taliban for several years and focus them on protecting major Afghan population centers.
But the changes, which amount to a retreat from some areas, have already begun to draw resistance from senior Afghan officials who worry that any pullback from Taliban-held territory will make the weak Afghan government appear even more powerless in the eyes of its people.
Senior U.S. officials said the moves were driven by the realization that some remote regions of Afghanistan, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountains that range through the northeast, were not going to be brought under government control anytime soon. "Personally, I think I am being realistic about this," said Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. "I have more combat power than my predecessors did, but I won't be as spread out. . . . This is all about freeing up some forces so I can get them out more among the people."
The changes are in line with McChrystal's confidential assessment of the war, which urges U.S. and NATO forces to "initially focus on critical high-population areas that are contested or controlled by insurgents."
I'm not actually just going to type "gotcha!" with a smirk on my face to conclude this post. McChrystal has certainly not abandoned COIN and yes, protecting the population is obviously the key behind this move. But to write a column suggesting that the only appropriate strategy is to deploy American forces to sparsely populated ares and "remote valleys" only days after the U.S. senior military commander in Afghanistan has announced his intent to pull forces from such places, is just sheer idiocy. Nonetheless, I do not expect Brooks' next column to acknowledge this change in events, or more absurdly, call out McChrystal for not understanding the importance of deploying American soldiers to remote places where they both fail to protect Afghan civilians and are more easily killed.