Setting the Foundation
Written by Nathan Gallahan   
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 00:01

Camp Julien | Day 2 - Today I found answers and I can’t wait to share them with you. Ken and I had an incredible opportunity to talk, one-on-one, with U.S. Army Colonel John F. Agoglia the director of the counter insurgency training center here.

As I mentioned yesterday, Ken and I are in “foundation building mode”.

The interview went better than I ever expected, for starters, we weren’t stuck in his office listening to him behind his desk. He’s not that type of commander. Instead, we walk-and-talked up to the Queen’s Palace, which silently watches over Camp Julien from a nearby hilltop.

I initially asked him about counter insurgency, which

he energetically explained. “COIN is a mindset, how you look at the problem, how you see the problem and understand that given the training we’ve had as soldiers, the discipline we have as soldiers, now take that training and discipline, and instead of focusing it on an enemy, focus on protecting the populace. Win the trust and confidence of the population and use them as a means to defeat the insurgents, because this is psychological, it’s defeating the insurgents mission, its’ demonstrating that the insurgent doesn’t have anything better to offer them that we are offering.”

During my hiking interview, I also carried my notepad full of questions I wrote down earlier while surfing through the comments and forums of this Web site.

One I noted was in regard to the how this conflict was fought during the years prior to the adoption of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counter insurgency strategy.

I learned that Col. Agoglia was one of the initial planners for the invasion of Afghanistan. He told me that the primary forces were given a counter terrorism mission versus a counter insurgency mission. With counter terrorism, the focus is on the enemy. While the good guys were busy chasing down the bad guys, there weren’t enough resources invested to protect the population. This enabled drug lords and insurgents to exploit the lack of governmental capability by starting to provide governance at the local level.

“When we started seeing that we had a counter insurgency on our hands, we didn’t have the resources available because they were tied up in the surge in Iraq ,” he said.

He mentioned later how we lost the initiative, and now it’s going to take more resources to gain it back.

“In the next 18 months, you’ll see us seizing the initiative at the local level from the insurgents,” he said. “When we do that, we’ll stabilize the situation, then we’ll work on building up the legitimacy of the government, and the legitimacy of the traditional power structures and start helping them build capacity so they would rather work through a political process of compromise than a warring process of winner takes all.”

One of the first discussions on the forums (which are available to registered members of this Web site) was in regard to a report written by Major Jim Gant, titled “One Tribe at a Time.” If you want to read the full article, Erik Nemeck posted a link to the report in his forum thread titled “Question: View of COIN, Eagle versus the Mole”.

I’ll butcher the concept Major Gant spelled out in his detailed report, by simply saying his idea is to utilize small teams of specialized service members to live with, train and support tribes throughout Afghanistan over the long haul. It’s well written and very insightful. (Sorry Maj. Gant for the horrible synopsis.)

Nemeck’s question asked what the take on this report was at all levels. So I asked Col. Agoglia today. I’ll be honest, not being a subject matter expert on COIN and asking an infantry colonel from Brooklyn New York, a question in regard to the most effective counter insurgency strategy, was quite the adventure. Kin to base jumping.

He said that the concepts within Major Gant’s report are already in Gen. McChrystal’s COIN guidance, but taken to a different level.

I’ll reference a story I wrote in December to help explain. I wrote a story titled “Securing Ghabi Khail”, which talked about an ANA-led operation to root out the Taliban within Ghabi Khail Village. One major part of that operation was the constructions of “redoubts” or small forts, which protect the city and are permanently manned by Afghan Security Forces.

In Major Gant’s report, he talked about U.S. forces living with the tribes. In the current COIN strategy, Afghan security forces are the ones living with, helping and securing the tribes.

“The goal is not to do it with our forces, but to do it with their forces, they can know and understand the population and work with the population 100 times more effectively than we ever could,” he said. “Gant’s piece makes sense, he’s absolutely spot on, but our goal is to get them to do it, not us. We have to coach, mentor and help them.”

I wrote yesterday about some questions that weren’t good gauges of COIN success, and very rightfully so, cartermedicmom asked via the forums what were some good indicators of COIN success?

I asked Col. Agoglia about this and he said “One of the key ways is through the reduction of violence and whether you been able to sustain that reduction. How much are the people interacting with you? How much are the people going to the security forces for assistance? Are they listening to the government, or to the Taliban?”

He told me a story about a group of Marines who cleared a village in August and they are still holding it today. The insurgents haven’t given up on the village, so there’s still fighting, but there is still progress being made there.

I can understand now, how hard it is to see progress in this country, because a lot of it seems to be made through attitudes and relationships, which are extremely hard to quantify.

This blog has already turned out to long, and I could still keep going. Ken and I decided to split our day two into two, so tomorrow you’ll hear all about our little adventure, where we had the opportunity to walk the streets of Kabul and talk with Afghans here about a range of questions submitted on this site.

	Day 1	Home 	Day 3
Comments (11)add comment
 1 2 > 

Juicy Couture said:


I enjoy reading the report, too. It′s easy to understand that a journey like this is the biggest event in ones life.
September 02, 2010
Votes: +0

Monica said:

Be careful, rest when you can and enjoy this awesome opportunity. Thanks for all you do!!
February 10, 2010
Votes: +1

Nathan Gallahan said:

Love your inputs
Erik, I truly enjoy your inputs and comments, and really hope you stick with us throughout our journey! The questions you ask are always well thought out and relevant. I just wish I had the level of understanding and education required to keep up! I'll do my best during the journey to take notes on anything I hear and see in regard to counter insurgency as a whole, because it's so critically important to success in Afghanistan.
February 10, 2010
Votes: +1

Ken Raimondi said:


Oh I me! After about three hours of sleep in a 48-hour period I think I earned it. I'm refreshed and ready for the next challenge!

February 10, 2010
Votes: +1

Nathan Gallahan said:

In my notebook
Mr. Lenzi,
Thanks for the great question! I've written it down and the next time I'm in a shura with village elders, I'll make sure to ask!
February 10, 2010
Votes: +0

Sandy said:

President, Operation Write Home
Hey thanks so much for this project! I'm interested in following your journey. Thank you for your service!
February 10, 2010
Votes: +0

Steve Lenzi said:

Joint Logistics Insturctor
See any Starbucks yet? It would be interesting to find out what the local Afghani vision of deisireable living conditions are, since our visions are so culturally different. Do they long for things the way they were before the Taliban? before the Russian invasion? Potable water and a free flow of trade goods [sans drugs]?
February 10, 2010
Votes: +1

Wolf47ad said:

Long days
Ken, get some look tired.

February 10, 2010
Votes: +1

Bob said:


I think it's awesome you're doing this project. I just read you bios and the first two days of the blog. I was deployed to FOB/Camp Blackhorse for most of 2009, i'm back home now. Blackhorse is now a French ran FOB about 15 mins east of Camp Phoenix. I spent time as a ETT/MTT member. What a great experience. I really enjoyed reading and hearing Col Agoglia's responses to your questions. I look forward to reading what tomorrow holds for you. Be safe!
February 10, 2010
Votes: +0

Erik said:

Great report guys. I really appreciate the questions to and comments from Colonel Agoglia concerning COIN.

He [Colonel Agoglia] said that the concepts within Major Gant’s report are already in Gen. McChrystal’s COIN guidance, but taken to a different level. “The goal is not to do it with our forces, but to do it with their forces, they can know and understand the population and work with the population 100 times more effectively than we ever could,” he said. “Gant’s piece makes sense, he’s absolutely spot on, but our goal is to get them to do it, not us. We have to coach, mentor and help them.”

These are very powerful statements defining the "goal" or end-state of COIN. There are a few assumptions that go with the stated goals.

1. Legitimate government organizations exist that are capable of exercising guidance and authority at the national and local levels.
2. The Afghani military/security forces have sufficient leadership and resources to conduct security an law enforcement.
3. The Afghani military/security force are of sufficient size to fulfill security and law enforcement taskings.

We know that none of these things exist at this time. We have and are expending substantial resources to train and mentor the Afghans. As you complete your journey keep the Colonel's stated goals in the fore-front of every question you ask and everything you see. Ask, does this support "getting them to do it." Ask, does the average platoon leader or PFC know this goal and understand it.

Despite statements to the contrary and that drug testing is administered, drug usage is rampant amongst the Afghan Security Forces. Are Afghan Security Forces assigned to each village and do they live in said village? Or are they living in the COPs and FOBs with our soldiers? Do the Afghans plan and conduct their own missions? Are the Afghans fielding forces to conduct joint missions on a daily/regular basis with our forces?

The single answer to the above listed question is no. Thus I am back to the Eagle versus the Mole. Perceptions and understanding up and down the chain-of-command is clouded. The big question that has yet to be sufficiently defined is "how do we get them to do it?" This is where I am a supporter of Major Gant. It's the tribes and if a foundation is to be built that is where I feel we must start. How else do you build a legitimate national government? Remember your US history, were the thirteen states created after the forming of the United States of America or was it after towns and cities came together to create the states and then the states came together to create the national system.

Why would Afghanistan be any different?

Keep up the good work and I look forward to what you discover and report over the month. Stay safe!

Erik Nemeck

February 10, 2010
Votes: +3
 1 2 > 

Write comment
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.