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The Tragedy of Counterinsurgency

By Taylor Marvin

“I don’t care about the apology. The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG or a suicide vest to fight.”

Mohammed Bismil, brother of two Afghan boys killed in a NATO helicopter strike this week.

Miscommunications like this are going to keep happening. As tragic as they are, they’re a product of fighting a hot war in an environment full of civilians. While scaling back NATO air missions to the lower levels seen under General McCrystal would help, such a reduction would likely mean more dead US soldiers. Air power is an important asset, and restricting its use restricts one of NATO troops’ biggest safeguards. Of course, as long as air strikes kill civilians more Afghans will be pushed into the insurgency by justifiable grievances. There isn’t a way out of this trade- it’s inherent to counterinsurgency, and military power in general. Military operations kill people, and create enemies where there weren’t before. This is important to remember when considering the value of a no-fly zone over Libya.

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Daniel #

    Airpower is an important asset, but keep in mind much of the benefit in a general counter insurgency is not necessarily from strikes as much as from surveillance and transportation capabilities.

    The keys to a successful counterinsurgency don’t lie in simply effective killing. More important is engaging the population, giving them incentives and capabilities for promoting security and giving insurgents incentives to lay down their arms. In no way are airstrikes inherent to counterinsurgency, and as mentioned they are often counterproductive.

    There is a saying that when you have commanders unbutton from their tanks for better visibility, you save a lot of tanks, but you lose a lot of tank commanders. Higher casualties are a cost of many succesful counterinsurgencies, which require troops to leave safety, whether it’s a base, vehicle, or the skies, in order to mingle with the populace.

    March 5, 2011

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