Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

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Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Lt. Col. John Nagl about the challenges for US forces mounting a counterinsurgency in Marjah. Nagl helped write the US Army's Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

JOHN NAGL: Lawrence of Arabia said making war on rebellion is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife and that analogy really sings to anybody who's done it.

MARCO WERMAN: Lt. Colonel John Nagl has tried his own hand at implementing counter-insurgency. He's a retired US Army officer. And he helped write the Army's Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Nagl says the problems in Marjah are not unexpected.

NAGL: This is the way counterinsurgency is unfortunately and I feel for Colonel Christmas. I've been where he is. I've fought in Al Anbar in 2003, 2004. And it felt sort of like it must feel for him, like we were taking one step forward and a lot of days, two steps back. They are really struggling right now with a critical problem that I faced as well. I was in a similar phase of the counterinsurgency campaign in Al Anbar in ?04 as they are in Marjah in early 2010. They don't have enough local security forces to do the holding and there aren't enough American forces or international forces to hold everything that needs to be held. So everything really hinges on building Afghan security forces.

WERMAN: And if Kandahar is the next big campaign, what then needs to be tweaked in counterinsurgency? I mean can the military adapt its strategy to make counterinsurgency work?

NAGL: We, I think, overestimated the ability of the Afghan government at this point in time. We certainly overestimated that the capacity of the Afghan security forces and unfortunately, we are not reaping seeds that we failed to sow over the last four or five years. We've only really started properly resourcing. The training, the equipping, the building of Afghan security forces last year in 2009. And it's going to take a while for those forces to come to fruition.

WERMAN: If the Taliban is telling Afghan villagers that US forces are headed out the door next summer, why should Afghan villagers then help build local governments and participate in civil defense if the US commitment is limited?

NAGL: I don't think the US commitment is limited at all. I think that starting in July of next year we will begin a gradual drawdown process, but my emphasis on that would be ?gradual? and ?begin.? So I think you're likely to see a very long, slow withdrawal, much like we're seeing in Iraq where we still have 90,000 forces in Iraq today. We're building down to 50,000 in August. We'll have ? those 50,000 are slated to be in Iraq for the next 18 months. These are wars that have long tail kind of events.

WERMAN: So it sounds like you're counting on the American public's patience with counterinsurgency to hold out, even as it seems currently to be shrinking.

NAGL: The American people have demonstrated that they are willing to support engagement in long wars as long as they believe that there is an American national security interest at stake, which there clearly is in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think there also is in Iraq. As long as they can see progress. And so I think it's incredibly important that General Petraeus demonstrates gradual improvements in the security situation, the economic growth, and actually we're seeing pretty good economic growth in Afghanistan. It was nearly double-digit last year. We'd love to have that here coming from a low base in Afghanistan. But we've got to show progress politically and in terms of Afghan governance and Afghan security forces in particular over the course of the next year.

WERMAN: Lt. Colonel John Nagl, retired in the US Army. He helped write the US Army's Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Thanks very much for your time, sir.

NAGL: Thank you, Marco.