Afghanistan: The Limits of Counterinsurgency

Counterinsurgency, or COIN, is viewed by its practitioners in the military as the methods of warfare used to divide a civilian population's political and sentimental allegiance away from a guerrilla force. It can also be viewed as a method to suppress national liberation movements.

The wars in Iraq and have Afghanistan have created a COIN community in the US defense establishment made up of serious intellectuals who are also veterans of these wars. They urge their military and government to embrace COIN to fight the global war on terror, or GWOT, and to view it as the war of the future. The so called "Surge," in Iraq and its alleged success in reducing violence has led to the ascendancy of this young cadre, represented most visibly by General David Petraeus. Petraeus is credited with authoring that plan, and along with several other officers, of authoring the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, a seminal text for the COIN community known as FM 3-24. But there is a debate within the defense establishment, and it concerns the lessons of the war in Iraq. Those who oppose the COIN-centered intellectuals warn that the US military is neglecting its conventional war fighting ability and ignoring the limits of US military might.

Nir Rosen embedded with American troops in Afghanistan to observe the COIN strategy first-hand, and to explore how, and if, it is in fact working.

An Ugly Peace: What has changed in Iraq

In December 2008 I flew Royal Jordanian from Amman to Iraq's southern city of Basra. Because of the Muslim holiday of Eid, embassies were closed; a contact in the British military promised to obtain visas for me and a colleague upon arrival. The Iraqi customs officials were offended that we did not follow procedure, but a letter from the British commander got us in. It might not have been necessary: when the five Iraqi policemen who examined luggage at the exit saw my colleague's copy of Patrick Cockburn's excellent book on the Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, they turned giddy.

Nir Rosen on Iraq and Afghanistan

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With the new administration, the focus of U.S. interests in the Middle East seems to have shifted from Iraq to stabilization of Afghanistan. But periodic suicide bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere remind us that while we may have moved on, the ethnic and religious struggles in Iraq continue. Nir Rosen has recently returned from the region under the auspices of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. He shares first hand accounts of what he's learned.

Afghanistan: Vetting the Embeds

This past July I was embedded with American soldiers in Afghanistan for a Rolling Stone Magazine article, with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. I was looking at American counterinsurgency and the declining security situation in Afghanistan, but first I had to get the military's approval to even embed with them.