Much has been written about the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategies and tactics being used in Afghanistan and Iraq—or rather not. Back in 2007-2008, during my army days in Kandahar, I remember commanders endlessly bragging about how “we totally nail that COIN thing,” always gargling out quotes from the likes of COIN scholar David Galula. He was a French army officer who fought in the Algerian Independence War and is considered the leading COIN theoretician. He’s even cited as an inspiration to David Petraeus’ “Surge” strategy in Iraq, helping make that war a little less of a fiasco than it eventually became.
Except we weren’t. At all. This is the first in a three-part series of articles that will address serious issues about the way US, Canadian and other NATO countries conducted what they thought were COIN operations. I will suggest new approaches that, in current and future conflicts, may improve efficiency and minimize civilian deaths so that wars can no longer be, in the words of my former PSYOPS platoon commander, “about buying time.”
Part 1 : Snipers
In October 2007, a Taliban mortar team was shelling on Canadian positions near Gundhey Ghar. A reconnaissance patrol with an embedded sniper team was dispatched and they pinpointed the insurgents’ location. Carrying a .50 cal. McMillan TAC-50 rifle (designated C15 in the Canadian Forces arsenal) with a 1,970-yard effective range, the snipers requested permission to engage the enemy. Authorization for snipers had to come from the brigade, i.e. a brigadier-general. Given the caliber and 2,641-foot velocity of the weapon, taking out both insurgents and disabling the mortar tube was well within the capabilities of the sniper team, with next-to-no risk of killing or injuring civilians. Permission was nevertheless denied and a 500-pound bomb was dropped on the insurgents instead.
Objective destroyed, mission accomplished, right?