Thursday, November 26, 2009

Anticipating Obama's Strategy

With President Obama expected to announce a 30,000 – 40,000 troop increase for Afghanistan on Tuesday night, it seems likely that Obama has cast his lot with the COINsters. The amount of troops expected would seem to rule out the “Biden Plan.”

It will be interesting to see what sort of a strategy Obama announces at West Point on Tuesday. Indications are that troops may pull back from remote areas to more concentrated, urban areas to focus on the ink spot strategy of creating secure areas that spread as their neighbors observe the benefits of cooperating with the coalition forces.

Karl Slaikeu devised a plan he calls the Oil Spot Plus that addresses the specific difficulties of conducting counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Slaikeu’s contribution to traditional COIN is including specific elements of Afghan culture in his calculus. He says we should start with an endpoint in mind at every level of the operation – the endpoint for American troops, the endpoint for the Afghan government, as well as the endpoint for tribal famers. Keeping these considerations in mind will help focus American forces on the incentives and means that are useful in reaching those endpoints.

Slaikeu also focuses on selecting “oil spot” villages with regard to security conditions and service needs. Forging early victories will shift the center of gravity away from the insurgents. Slaikeu hopes that the success of the oil spot villages will entice Taliban forces to stop fighting and negotiate with the Afghan government.

Slaikeu’s contributions to COIN strategy, especially in tailoring it to the specific conditions of Afghanistan, are worthwhile. However, the center of gravity argument has a troublesome parallel with Iraq. In Tom Ricks’ “The Gamble,” Ricks quoted General Ray Odierno in late 2008 as saying that the Americans had picked the low-hanging fruit in Iraq. The remaining areas were more heavily divided, and would be harder to secure. While shifting momentum in our favor would be an important step in the right direction, it leaves the potential for a situation in which American forces begin to pull out before the “oil spot” has spread to the most troublesome areas.

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