[T]he counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that McChrystal championed and Petraeus virtually invented may be fatally flawed, at least as it’s practiced in Afghanistan.At the risk of playing the kid in The Emperor's New Clothes, I would point out for the hundredth time that COIN tactics haven't been delivering in Afghanistan because the bulk of the perceived insurgency is a proxy war mounted by Pakistan's military that's cleverly disguised as an insurgency. That's the same playbook Pakistan's military used in Kashmir against India's government.
This grim new reality in Afghanistan in turn has given new life to a kind of insurgency-against-counterinsurgency thinking inside the military. Critics say COIN has gone too far in supplanting traditional war fighting in U.S. military doctrine (this is something of an irony since it wasn’t that long ago that the COIN types were saying that they were being ignored). These dissidents lament the “atrophying” of traditional fighting skills, and they say the COIN virus has infected the Israeli military as well because it has done little but that in years of conducting ops against the Palestinians. The critics are targeting Petraeus and leading COIN thinkers like John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, which the journalist Tara McKelvey has called “counterinsurgency central in Washington.”
If critics of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan don't soon differentiate between proxy warfare and insurgency they'll end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Population-centric COIN worked just fine in Iraq because there was a genuine insurgency there. To ask it to fight a proxy war is asking it to do something it wasn't designed for -- particularly when the enemy is treated as an ally.