Putting the Horse Before the Cart

I keep finding myself drawn back to thinking about this Afghanistan/COIN diagram that I wrote about in a previous post of mine ‘Godins and Generals‘.

I’ve isolated one small section from the picture, the section where it shows the 5 ‘stockpiles’ of people playing a role in the stability of Afghanistan:

Each rectangle is like a tent with a certain number of people in it. On the far left is the ‘Population Actively Supporting Gov’t & SF’ (where ‘Gov’t’ means the government of Afghanistan and ‘SF’ means ‘security forces’). On the far right is the ‘Population Actively Supporting Insurgency’. The ‘pipes’ that connect the rectangles indicate the flow of people from one category to the next, either from right-to-left, or from left-to-right, as the case may be.

Each of the 29 million people in Afghanistan fit into one and only one of the 5 boxes and, to win the war, the Afghan government and foreign security forces need to get as many people from the right-most box into the next box ‘Population Sympathizing w/ Insurgents’ as possible. Why? Because sympathizers are not active combatants. They agree with the insurgents, but don’t shoot guns or plant IEDs.

The common expression for this process is “winning hearts and minds”. If you can change your enemy’s mind, then you will change his actions and thereby win the war.

But look very closely at this diagram. It does not suggest that by changing minds we will change actions. Just the opposite. It says that to end the shooting and bombing, we need to move people from ‘actively supporting the insurgency’ to ‘sympathizing with insurgents’. That is, rather than “winning hearts and minds” to stop the attacks, we first need to stop the attacks before we can begin turning sympathizers into being Neutral/On The Fence. (It’s hard to win a heart or mind when someone is actively attacking you.)

In other words, “winning hearts and minds” is a cyclical sort of process. First, you need to change an insurgent’s actions to get them to be a non-active sympathizer. Then, change their mind to get them to be neutral. Change their mind again to get them to be an non-active supporter. Then, change their actions once more to get them to be an active supporter.

At the very least, get everyone out of the active insurgent box. Doing so won’t be the end of building a stable society, but it would be the end of combat.

There’s a second thing in this diagram that’s very interesting to me. Notice that the only way that’s being considered as a path out of the ‘Population Actively Supporting Insurgency’ box is the pipe leading to the ‘Population Sympathizing w/ Insurgents’ box.

I can think of another way to stop insurgents from being active: hunt them down and kill them. The number of active insurgents is probably not millions, but more like tens of thousands. Kill enough and there will be no more insurgency.

But this diagram does not even consider that as an option. Not that it does not consider killing insurgents to be a good option. It does not consider killing insurgents an option at all. (Think real hard about this: Is there any single person you can name who might be in Afghanistan or that area whom the US might really, really want to kill, if we had the option?) (UPDATE: He’s dead now.)

Now, I’m certain that there are plenty of people in the US Armed Forces who spend their days tracking down insurgents and killing them. But for this analysis, this might be the first war in history where one army is giving serious thought as to how to defeat the enemy without killing a single one of them, even their top leaders. That, to me, seems pretty amazing.


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