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Service members call in on Afghanistan

This article is more than 10 years old.

In our show on the fight for Marjah and the surge in Afghanistan, we received calls from members of the military who wanted to weigh in on the discussion.  The first caller, Kimo, identified himself as an infantry battalion commander from Fort Drum in New York.  The second, Mike from Boston, identified himself as a member of the Air Force.  Both said they had recently returned from tours in Afghanistan.


KIMO, from Fort Drum, NY: I’m an infantry battalion commander at Fort Drum, New York. I just returned from a year in Afghanistan. I just wanted to call and comment that Mr. Bergen’s and Dr. Sepp’s analysis of the current situation is really spot on, from my perspective. I wasn’t in the south – my battalion and my task force, we were in Wardak province 30 km south of Kabul, so every district, every province, every region is different. But the characterization of the Marjah operation that you were discussing, seems to me, as Dr. Sepp said was a “confidence target.” That seems almost exactly right – taking away that safe haven with the surge, more troops going into an area, and then setting up good governance right behind security – that’s the exact approach that we need there.

JANE CLAYSON: So Kimo, as a battalion commander on the ground in Afghanistan, how would you measure success there, measure victory? What are the clear goals to your mind, the clear metrics about success?

KIMO: [In a counterinsurgency,] it’s not about the number of insurgents killed or the number of targets hit. It’s the ability, in the big picture, to stand up a government that the Afghan people will be proud of, will want to buy into, and a government that actually does what government’s do, which is care for their people. Something they don’t have. That’s one of the major root causes of instability in my mind, that did not exist in my last year there, and what we worked constantly to create. But security is the first part of that. Security is the egg before the chicken in this fight.

JANE CLAYSON: Kimo, thank you very much for your call, and thank you for your service, sir. Good luck to you. Let’s get another call from Mike. He’s calling from Boston. Mike, welcome to On Point, hello.

MIKE: Well, two things. I want to echo the previous caller on the good governance part. There is an important aspect of this that is often overlooked from counterinsurgency, and that is that, as far as good governance, there are a lot of actors on the stage in Afghanistan, and perhaps more than we saw in Iraq, or we would see in other places like Columbia. So I caution folks about talking about either “the Taliban” or “the government,” because there are a large number of disparate Taliban entities who will, if they can be reconciled or can be dealt with, will be dealt with in different fashions. And that also really applies to the government too, the province-to-province differences would be as if you were in the United States, trying to deal with fifty state governors and territorial governors in the absence of a federal government. Karzai is not called the “mayor of Kabul” for nothing, and it’s a fact that a number of those provincial governments are run by, with, and really for bad actors, which complicates our problems substantially.

Our panelist Kalev Sepp of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School was encouraged to hear these military members speaking about counterinsurgency in terms that only a handful of experts would have understood a few years ago.  He said this shows that counterinsurgency doctrine has spread throughout the American ranks.

You can listen to the full hour here, in which Sepp was joined by Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, and join the conversation.

This program aired on February 17, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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