WASHINGTON – People are at the center of the counterinsurgency guidance the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan issued Sunday.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said the guidance will take “learn and adapt” to heart as the mantra for counterinsurgency and added that he will learn and adapt his guidance in the weeks and months ahead.
Petraeus issued the Army’s counterinsurgency manual when he was commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He refined that strategy when he served as the commander of Multinational Force Iraq and later as commander of U.S. Central Command.
The guidance recognizes that the decisive terrain in Afghanistan is what the military calls the the “human terrain” – the population where counterinsurgency operations are taking place.
“The people are the center of gravity,” Petraeus wrote. Separating the Taliban and other enemy groups from the people and protecting them from threats is the way forward, he said.
Meeting and understanding the people is the main mission for military forces and international civilian organizations in the country, the general said. He wants servicemembers to conduct foot patrols and talk with the people. “Take off your sunglasses,” Petraeus wrote. “Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting face to face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.”
NATO and Afghan forces have to live among the people to carry out the counterinsurgency strategy, the general’s guidance states. “We can’t commute to the fight,” he wrote.
The idea of NATO troops living among the people and with the Afghan units they support is key. For example, a U.S. military police unit partners with Afghan police in the southern city of Kandahar. By living with them, the unit’s members understand the people they work with and can adjust as needed, Petraeus explained.
The general also addressed the need for effective government and for countering corruption. “The Taliban are not the only enemy of the people,” he wrote. “The people are also threatened by inadequate governance, corruption and abuse of power – recruiters for the Taliban.”
The counterinsurgency guidance tells servicemembers and Civilians to work with the Afghan government to strengthen the institutions of the state and make them responsive to the needs of the people.
But the guidance is not all velvet glove; it also calls for NATO and Afghan partners to pursue the enemy relentlessly.
“When the extremists fight, make them pay,” Petraeus wrote. “Seek out and eliminate those who threaten the population. Don’t let them intimidate the innocent.”
Protecting the population means doing just that, the guidance says, but killing and injuring civilians works to the enemy’s advantage. Petraeus called on troops to fight with discipline and to respect Afghan property.
“If we kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations, we will create more enemies than our operations eliminate,” he said.
The guidance also says that taking territory and then leaving it will not win the battle. Coalition and Afghan forces must take and hold an area to allow international and Afghan government organizations to stabilize the area. Jobs and good government will win the battle in the long run, the general wrote, and servicemembers and Civilians must think in the long run.
Money is ammunition in a counterinsurgency, the guidance notes. And just as aimed fire is more effective than spraying rounds, so too is investing in the right places with the right people, Petraeus said.
The general said he wants servicemembers and civilians to show the Afghan people the values the international community holds dear.
“We are engaged in a tough endeavor,” he said. “It is often brutal, physically demanding and frustrating. All of us experience moments of anger, but we must not give in to dark impulses or tolerate unacceptable actions by others.”
Finally, Petraeus said he wants people to use their heads and to use initiative. “In the absence of guidance or orders, figure out what the orders should have been and execute them aggressively,” he wrote.