Let’s say you’re jonesing for a smoothie at your favorite hipster juice bar. Not content with the strawberry, papaya, and kiwi in your standard Mangosteen Madness™, you pony up for a little something extra. Let’s go crazy – say you drop the extra 78 cents on the counter and tell the Smoothie King to throw in a “Caffeine Charge” just to make sure the day keeps on sailing by.
That’s kind of what’s happening in Afghanistan these days. The “clear, hold, and build” of counterinsurgency doctrine may be the Mangosteen strategy, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that General Petraeus is doubling down with a “Caffeine Charge” of his own. He’s trying to hit the Taliban leadership hard, driving it to the negotiating table from a position of weakness.
As Dexter Filkins detailed in the NYT a few weeks ago, NATO military operations in Afghanistan have aggressively targeted Taliban militants with airstrikes and Special Forces operations. Well-reputed columnists like David Ignatius, Joe Klein, and Fred Kaplan all write that this marks a shift away from the counterinsurgency strategy that Petraeus literally wrote the book on. However, Paula Broadwell, a guest-author on Tom Ricks’ blog, disagrees, noting that the recent increase in counter-terrorism operations is an important subset of an across-the-board op-tempo increase in all COIN disciplines.
Despite disagreements over the shift, the important point is that it might be speeding up a potential resolution to the conflict. General Petraeus has long said that we’re not going to kill or capture our way out of Aghanistan, and he told Katie Couric over the summer that negotiations are “historically the way counterinsurgency efforts ultimately have been concluded.”
The issue is ensuring that negotiations, quietly underway, take place on the most favorable grounds possible to America. And if that goal is achieved, then semantics about COIN vs. CT won’t matter in the end.