by Doug Book, staff writer
“American troops are needlessly exposed to increased enemy attack, suffer unnecessary casualties, cannot secure or control the indigenous population and are not allowed to deny freedom of movement or maneuver to the Taliban.” (1)
This is a portion of an 8 page letter which a Tactical Commander in Afghanistan, Colonel Harry Tunnell wrote to Secretary of the Army John McHugh in August of 2010. Throughout, Tunnell associates what he believes to be unnecessary dangers faced by American troops with the Army’s adoption of its “Counterinsurgency” operational doctrine known as COIN.
Introduced into the Afghan theater of operations by General David Petraeus in July of 2010, COIN includes 24 “points” to US commanders in the field, all based on the belief that “alienating Afghan civilians sows the seeds of our defeat.” (2) In short, the intent of COIN is to “win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.” (3)
But the winning of those hearts and minds has come at a steep price. During the first 9 years of the war in Afghanistan, 1000 American soldiers were killed. In the 27 months since the adoption of COIN, another 1000 American soldiers have been killed. As a function of time, that’s more than a 400% increase in the number of American casualties. (3)
And in his letter, Colonel Tunnell explains that COIN is the principle reason for what he believes to be any number of unnecessary deaths.
According to Tunnell, “COIN has become such a restrictive dogma that it cannot be questioned…” “This has created a dysfunctional and toxic leadership environment throughout our Army which has resulted in poor organization, unrealistic training and indecisive battlefield performance.” (1) For example, “Afghan Army battalions were performing security operations…” and leading other operations in the field. (1) Of course, as Tunnell explains, the overwhelming majority of Afghanis cannot read or write! Also, providing Afghan troops with security information has resulted in countless deaths of American and coalition troops as Muslims trusted under COIN have turned into terrorist murderers.
“Worst of all,” says Tunnell, “COIN dogma has degraded our purpose to willingly, effectively and realistically train for combat.” “I was continually badgered to not conduct brigade maneuver live fire training before deploying because NTC leaders deemed that we were already ‘too lethal’ of an organization.” Tunnell’s unit was sent to one of the most dangerous locations in Afghanistan, yet live fire training was disallowed because the unit was already “too lethal!” The Colonel continues that, upon deployment to the field “…we were subsequently forced to conduct a brigade attack as a matter of force protection almost without delay. We had to do the attack without the benefit of the live fire training that we requested…” (1)
“Eating soup with a spoon” is how Lt. Colonel Gian Gentile has described the COIN doctrine, as it has “…removed the essence of war—fighting—from its pages.” “It is as if our COIN doctrine, with all of its seductive simplicity, operates like a secret recipe: “do this, and then this, and at the right moment add this and … you win…” (4)
Were the fortunes of war so easily predictable and controllable, many, perhaps even most of the 1000 American troops who have died since mid-2010 might still be alive.
“Leaders are willing to conduct operations at the tactical and operational levels of war to decisively defeat the enemy or they are not,” concludes Colonel Tunnell. (1) Tragically, the unwillingness of today’s American leaders to decisively win a war is responsible for the needless—indeed, criminally callous and cynically disregarded—death of countless American soldiers.
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