Kapisa Province: A Case Study in Counterinsurgency

by Joshua Foust on 3/31/2009

One of the side projects I pursued while in Afghanistan the last few months was seeing whether we there are any “lessons learned” from the past seven years of fighting. Thanks to scheduling issues — a blessing in disguise, it turns out — I spent a lot of time in Kapisa province, discussing several years worth of operations with both locals and American and French troops.

The result was actually surprising: in this province, the West has demonstrated a consistent ability to “clear” areas of insurgents, but it has no idea how to properly do the followup work that would make such progress permanent. Put otherwise, despite all the rhetoric, operations have tended to focus entirely on the “kinetic” side — killing bad guys — and the rest of the messy, difficult work of counterinsurgency, like building up government legitimacy, providing basic services like education and water, and creating local security structures to prevent a return of the militants, has been given little more than lip service.

World Politics Review was kind enough to let me explore this in their latest Feature series on “The Age of Counterinsurgency.” The article is subscription only, but you can register for a free trial and read it right away. Here’s an excerpt:

Previous waves of special operations forces in the province have shown an immediate ability to either kill or chase off most militants. But since these units are usually soon ordered to move on to other areas, militants have simply filtered back into swept areas. Similarly, numerous embedded soldiers have complained that unpredictable factors, like Karzai’s mid-2008 decision to withdraw the ANA and ANP from the Alisay and Ghayn Valleys, have frequently resulted in entire districts being abandoned to the insurgency. While there are small numbers of ANP in Alisay district, they remain ineffective due to poor logistics and few personnel.

Conversations with several current and former soldiers active in southern Kapisa made it clear that physical presence is vital to reducing the insurgency. Current operations are based primarily from the two main FOBs in the area, but rarely last longer than a few hours every couple of days. When troops, both local and Western, spend an extended period of time on the ground interacting with locals, they create a more lasting reduction in militancy.

Reduced militancy, in turn, gives the local PRT greater freedom in administering development projects.

There’s more here, and I hope you enjoy it. Comments, as always, are welcome. And don’t forget to read the other two essays in this series—one is by Spencer Ackerman, discussing how the political rise of counterinsurgency specialists in the Obama Administration is affecting the country’s foreign policy outlook; the other is by Anastasia Moloney, discussing how the U.S. has pursued the fight against FARC in Colombia, a conflict that probably has many lessons for Afghanistan.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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