There’s a disquieting article today in the New York Times describing a Red Cross account of “dozens of civilians, including women and children, [who] have been killed during bombing raids by United States forces in western Afghanistan.” Now, I understand that wars are prone to collateral damage, and that it would almost preternaturally naive to expect a civillian casualty free effort, but I think this latest miscalculation speaks to the tension underlying the Af-Pak mission, and COIN more generally. That is, COIN requires “population security” as its “first requirement of success”, so even on a superficial level, it’s difficult to see how one accomplishes this when calling airstrikes on villages. More importantly though, it’s worth thinking about the reason that population security is critical in successful counterinsurgency: namely, to allow space for the development of civil society. This is, of course, tacit acknowledgment that insurgencies arise from political grievances, and that their ultimate resolution can arise only from political reconciliation. Obviously, this is something that both sides understand, but is also unquestionably the most arduous part of the mission, and indeed, might be hamstrung by politicians in the United States before it begins in earnest.
I suppose the bottom line here is that I’m not particularly sanguine about our prospects in the “Af-Pak” region, and though it’s probably too late, I think these realities warranted asking questions about the strategic objectives in Afghanistan and elsewhere.