A Necessary Shift In Afghanistan

June 22, 2010

Stanley McChrystal’s recent public criticism of the Obama administration has led many to argue that the United States needs to reexamine the debate between continuing with a counterinsurgency strategy (COIN) or cutting America (and NATO’s) losses, ending any attempt at nation-building  and simply using Afghanistan as a hunting ground for al Qaeda.  Many argue that keeping McChrystal would indicate a continuation with the former, while sacking him in favor of someone outside his circle would suggest a move to the latter option (as reportedly favored by VP Biden):


As though these writers understand what true counterinsurgency means.

Like McChrystal, they are falling into the trap of treating counterinsurgency as a monolith.  They write as if there was one true formula that guarantees success regardless of whether the conditions of the experiment change.  Counterinsurgency isn’t a mathematical formula.  It’s inputs and outputs cannot be quantified.

McChrystal should be dismissed, not simply for what he said, but because his view of successful COIN is measured in kill counts and the successful (physical) decapitation of the insurgency.  Should Obama decide to move towards a strictly “terrorist hunting” strategy, there doesn’t appear to be a more qualified person to run the job than the current commander.

But if a peaceful, stable and rebuilt Afghanistan is truly deemed a worthy goal than the firing of Stanley McChrystal will not go nearly far enough.  A complete paradigm shift in Western counterinsurgency strategy is essential to secure a better future for Afghanistan.