The Trinity of modern war at work in Afghanistan (more evidence that amnesia is a required to be an American geopol expert)

Surprise!  We’re recruiting milita to help in Afghanistan.  It’s a new tactic, just as it was in Iraq and Vietnam.  It’s a direct violation of the COIN manual (FM 3-24), with its tiresome emphasis on building the legitimacy of the local puppet government.  But then that was just a facade anyway, a trick to build support for the war.

Some of the recent articles about supporting militia in Afghanistan:

  1. Afghan Militias Battle Taliban With Aid of U.S.“, New York Times, 21 November 2009 – Superficial.
  2. US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan“, The Guardian, 22 November 2009 — Reminder of our 1980’s efforts to build militia.
  3. All Politics Is Tribal – Obama’s Afghanistan strategy should team our soldiers with their militias“, Fred Kaplan, Slate, 23 November 2009 — Cheerleading.

Despite these largely amnesiac articles, use of militia is a core component of America’s standard playbook for insurgency warfare.  As described in this 13 July 2009 article from the FM archives.

The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan

Clausewitz spoke of a trinity of the people, the government, and the military.  The rise to dominance of fourth generation warfare has made this conceptually useless, providing only a perspective from which to see how the world has changed.  During the past 60 years a new trinity of modern war has emerged for armies fighting in foreign lands.  Chet Richards discovered it, looking at the similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars — but it applies to most foreign wars. 

Modern armed forces, whether of developed or undeveloped nations, tend to rely on a trinity of operational methods.  None of these are new of course (almost nothing is new in war, it’s all a matter of combinations and emphasis).

  1. Popular front militia
  2. Massive firepower on civilians
  3. Sweep and destroy missions

Also interesting is that armies tend to re-discover these 3 methods, dressing them up in the fancy terminology befitting radical innovations.  Let’s take a quick look at each.

(1)  Popular Front Militia

Popular front militia were a core component of our fighting in Southeast Asia, but when we recruit local militia in Iraq it’s COIN — new, new, new.   And of course that’s a staple of our fighting in Afghanistan, as seen in these posts by Joshua Foust at Registan (an essential site for following the increasingly important conflicts in Central Asia):

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