The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Friday, 26 March 2010


I just came across a lecture by Gen. McChrystal called the "8 imperatives of COIN" (Counterinsurgency). Good effort by ISAF to explain what the strategy is, although the attention of the public has some room to improve (the lecture had between 250 and 300 viewers on youtube).

McChrystal explains what COIN is all about. A lot of it sounds like he lectures about a basic human emotion that should not be needed to be lectured at all, called empathy. It might come as a surprise to some but Afghans do have a family, insurgents have a reason to fight and winning the war means taking care of the local population. Killing an insurgent very likely produces more insurgents instead of reducing their number; 10-2=20, as he explains it.

However, it is quite disturbing that the lecture of the Commander of the coalition forces is all about the need to acknowledge the humanity of the people in Afghanistan. However, CENTCOM Commander Petraeus and McChrystal seem to have understood that COIN requires more than killing the enemy. Having said that, the question remains whether this approach can trickle down the ranks to the gunner behind his .50 cal patrolling the roads in an MRAP.

What makes insurgencies so successful is the understandable reaction of frustrated soldiers on the ground, harassed by IEDs and ambushes and unable to get a hold of the evading enemy. They tend to perceive and consequently treat the entire population as hostile. And that in turn will antagonise the population.

The warrior's creed of the US Army introduced in 2003 is surely not helpful to induce a decent behaviour of US soldiers towards the population, which they are supposed to respect. It reads:

I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
In contrast, here is the older pre-2003 version:
I am an American Soldier.
I am a member of the United States Army -- a protector of the greatest nation on earth.
Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation it is sworn to guard.

I am proud of my own organization. I will do all I can to make it the finest unit in the Army.
I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I will do my full part to carry out orders and instructions given to me or my unit.

As a soldier, I realize that I am a member of a time-honored profession--that I am doing my share to keep alive the principles of freedom for which my country stands.
No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country.
I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform.

I am proud of my country and its flag.
I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American Soldier.
History shows that a decent conduct of soldiers towards the local population and restraint in applying force greatly improve chances to pacify an insurgency. When McCrystal does not succeed to get this message across to his soldiers, a success of its COIN strategy could be unlikely.

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