Somalia, Counterterrorism & Afghanistan
One of the defining moments of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan strategy that I covered yesterday came when Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) asked why we needed to take a counterinsurgency approach to Afghanistan when a commando raid in Somalia, without the aid of a large troop mobilization, had killed a key al-Qaeda figure. The response, from Steve Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations:
“Safe havens do not [offer al-Qaeda] real estate for construction of tent farms for training seminars,” he said, but instead they protect al-Qaeda from “human-intelligence penetration on the ground,” upon which such targeted counterterrorism strikes depend. With regard to the drone strikes in Pakistan against al-Qaeda — which the CIA claims has seriously eroded al-Qaeda’s freedom of movement in the tribal areas and which some counterinsurgents fear will ultimately alienate Pakistanis — “control of the government underneath the drones” was an additional prerequisite for success, Biddle said. Take away human intelligence and host-government complicity through an offshoring strategy, and counterterrorism would be a non-starter.
And yet the Somalia success occurred, in an impermissive environment. On a conference call this morning, Col. Daniel Roper, the director of the Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center at Ft. Leavenworth, addressed the issue, prompted by Greg Grant from DODBuzz. In Roper’s view, counterterrorism is a prophylactic measure, a treatment of the symptom after the patient has fallen ill, while counterinsurgency addresses root-cause economic, social, legal and political failures that contribute to insurgency. Counterinsurgency is about “addressing political dynamics at the local level, through existing or adapting governance structures,” Roper said. “If we focus on the symptoms we’ll never solve the causes.”
It was impossible to divorce Afghanistan from its regional context, Roper continued, citing “profoundly transnational dynamics.” To discuss extremism in Afghanistan without discussing “the dynamics in Pakistan” was folly, and you “can’t have a coherent talk about the dynamics with Pakistan without [discussing] India” and other regional players. At the same time, Roper praised “increasingly successful attacks of drones that are killing militants, not civilians.”
So all of that regional talk is well-taken. But the fact remains that the Somalia strike succeeded. I asked Roper if there was some specific condition in Somalia that allowed Special Forces to acquire sufficient intelligence to execute the strike that doesn’t exist in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Roper was justifiably hesitant to speak to the Somalia raid before all the facts were in. “Within the borders of Afghanistan,” he continued, “there are places where [insurgents] are inaccessible, for whatever reason, collectively, either getting the intelligence we need to have sufficient confidence to conduct an operation or we may not have the resource to take advantage” of that intelligence. Counterinsurgency and counterterrorism are “not either/or, and you have to have an appropriate combination of raid-type activity … to complement some long-term dynamics that [will] ultimately enable us to be successful.”