In an old-fashioned war, you don’t tell the enemy where and when you’re going to attack. Counterinsurgency is different. The WaPo reports:
For the upcoming Battle of Marja, the element of surprise has already gone by the wayside.
NATO ministers and commanders, gathering Thursday and Friday in Istanbul, could barely contain themselves about a major military offensive set to launch 2,000 miles away in southern Afghanistan. Ignoring the usual dictums about keeping battle preparations secret, officials were keen to talk about what they touted as their biggest joint operation since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The Post’s opening grafs make NATO officials sound like incompetent clowns. But exactly the opposite is true (at least this time around). Gen. McChrystal has explained exactly why he’s going public with his battle plans:
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, said the offensive would start “relatively soon.” When asked why he and other commanders were being so open about their plans, he said it was partly to try to persuade as many Afghans as possible in Marja to throw down their arms and side against the Taliban.
Individual insurgents often fight for pay or for other personal interests. If they know they’ll be facing a major offensive, the odds of getting hurt or killed may keep them on the sidelines.
In addition, ample warning gives civilians a chance to protect themselves or leave the vicinity. As McChrystal rightly decided, reducing civilian casualties is imperative.
The Post also makes the following point:
The conventional wisdom among U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan is that killing large numbers of enemy fighters leads to more blood feuds, more violence and a longer war. “The best victories are those you win without firing a shot,” a senior military official said.
Exactly. Counterinsurgency is not about fighting the enemy. It’s about securing the population. Killing is inevitable, but it’s not an objective.
The real test of the coming offensive will be whether the Coalition and the Afghan government can hold onto Marja after it’s over. The publicity around the offensive is turning it into a key test of McChrystal’s strategy, at least in the public eye.
Marja’s neighbor, Nawa, has been a poster-child for McChrystal’s strategy. The Marines liberated the town, which McChyrstal and President Hamid Karzai visited just recently:
“President Karzai, with no body armor or anything, walked through the bazaar, talked to people, had tea,” McChrystal said. “He told me he had not been in a bazaar like that — he was there about 40 minutes — that long since he’s been in power, or at least for several years.”
Keep your eye on Marja.