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Setting the Foundation

Camp Julien | Day 2 - Today I found answers and I can’t wait to share them with you. Ken and I had an incredible opportunity to talk, one-on-one, with U.S. Army Colonel John F. Agoglia the director of the counter insurgency training center here.

As I mentioned yesterday, Ken and I are in “foundation building mode”.

The interview went better than I ever expected, for starters, we weren’t stuck in his office listening to him behind his desk. He’s not that type of commander. Instead, we walk-and-talked up to the Queen’s Palace, which silently watches over Camp Julien from a nearby hilltop.

I initially asked him about counter insurgency, which he energetically explained. “COIN is a mindset, how you look at the problem, how you see the problem and understand that given the training we’ve had as soldiers, the discipline we have as soldiers, now take that training and discipline, and instead of focusing it on an enemy, focus on protecting the populace. Win the trust and confidence of the population and use them as a means to defeat the insurgents, because this is psychological, it’s defeating the insurgents mission, its’ demonstrating that the insurgent doesn’t have anything better to offer them that we are offering.”

During my hiking interview, I also carried my notepad full of questions I wrote down earlier while surfing through the comments and forums of this Web site.

One I noted was in regard to the how this conflict was fought during the years prior to the adoption of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counter insurgency strategy.

I learned that Col. Agoglia was one of the initial planners for the invasion of Afghanistan. He told me that the primary forces were given a counter terrorism mission versus a counter insurgency mission. With counter terrorism, the focus is on the enemy. While the good guys were busy chasing down the bad guys, there weren’t enough resources invested to protect the population. This enabled drug lords and insurgents to exploit the lack of governmental capability by starting to provide governance at the local level.

“When we started seeing that we had a counter insurgency on our hands, we didn’t have the resources available because they were tied up in the surge in Iraq,” he said.

He mentioned later how we lost the initiative, and now it’s going to take more resources to gain it back.

“In the next 18 months, you’ll see us seizing the initiative at the local level from the insurgents,” he said. “When we do that, we’ll stabilize the situation, then we’ll work on building up the legitimacy of the government, and the legitimacy of the traditional power structures and start helping them build capacity so they would rather work through a political process of compromise than a warring process of winner takes all.”

One of the first discussions on the forums (which are available to registered members of this Web site) was in regard to a report written by Major Jim Gant, titled “One Tribe at a Time.” If you want to read the full article, Erik Nemeck posted a link to the report in his forum thread titled “Question: View of COIN, Eagle versus the Mole”.

I’ll butcher the concept Major Gant spelled out in his detailed report, by simply saying his idea is to utilize small teams of specialized service members to live with, train and support tribes throughout Afghanistan over the long haul. It’s well written and very insightful. (Sorry Maj. Gant for the horrible synopsis.)

Nemeck’s question asked what the take on this report was at all levels. So I asked Col. Agoglia today. I’ll be honest, not being a subject matter expert on COIN and asking an infantry colonel from Brooklyn New York, a question in regard to the most effective counter insurgency strategy, was quite the adventure. Kin to base jumping.

He said that the concepts within Major Gant’s report are already in Gen. McChrystal’s COIN guidance, but taken to a different level.

I’ll reference a story I wrote in December to help explain. I wrote a story titled “Securing Ghabi Khail”, which talked about an ANA-led operation to root out the Taliban within Ghabi Khail Village. One major part of that operation was the constructions of “redoubts” or small forts, which protect the city and are permanently manned by Afghan Security Forces.

In Major Gant’s report, he talked about U.S. forces living with the tribes. In the current COIN strategy, Afghan security forces are the ones living with, helping and securing the tribes.

“The goal is not to do it with our forces, but to do it with their forces, they can know and understand the population and work with the population 100 times more effectively than we ever could,” he said. “Gant’s piece makes sense, he’s absolutely spot on, but our goal is to get them to do it, not us. We have to coach, mentor and help them.”

I wrote yesterday about some questions that weren’t good gauges of COIN success, and very rightfully so, cartermedicmom asked via the forums what were some good indicators of COIN success?

I asked Col. Agoglia about this and he said “One of the key ways is through the reduction of violence and whether you been able to sustain that reduction. How much are the people interacting with you? How much are the people going to the security forces for assistance? Are they listening to the government, or to the Taliban?”

He told me a story about a group of Marines who cleared a village in August and they are still holding it today. The insurgents haven’t given up on the village, so there’s still fighting, but there is still progress being made there.

I can understand now, how hard it is to see progress in this country, because a lot of it seems to be made through attitudes and relationships, which are extremely hard to quantify.

This blog has already turned out to long, and I could still keep going. Ken and I decided to split our day two into two, so tomorrow you’ll hear all about our little adventure, where we had the opportunity to walk the streets of Kabul and talk with Afghans here about a range of questions submitted on this site.

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