Friday, February 26, 2010

Afghanistan: Hearts & Minds vs Security

Today's bombing in Kabul illustrates both India's investment in the Afghanistan Enterprise(tm) and the tradeoffs of waging a proxy war. I have previously commented on the neighbors' involvement in Afghanistan, so I will focus on this low-intensity side war for this article.

As I said before, Afghanistan is a war on multiple levels. Like Shakespeare, warfare theorists of all stripes can draw a favored conclusion from the Afghan war. China and India are waging a low-intensity war of influence in Afghanistan, and today we see the limitations of that approach.

All of the neighboring states have a strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan. India in particular needs a moderate and prosperous government in Kabul to both contain Pakistan and contest Central Asian states [against China]. However, due to its "Third World, Non-Interventionist" ideology, India is afraid of a direct intervention in Afghanistan. (A phobia China shares.) Therefore, India wages a war of proxy means, with money, tribes, and merchants. To date, India appears to have a moderate success in buying allies, though it has no better luck (than NATO) at fostering governance in Kabul. Therefore, we can charitably grade the Indian Campaign a C- at meeting their strategic goals. [The Americans, on the other hand, get a D+ for its Afghan governance goals, and a C for its counter-terrorism goals.]

In waging this proxy war, India accepts certain vulnerabilities. India cannot guarantee security of its embassy staff, let alone that of its citizens in-country. Without its own military boots on the ground, India has to rely on its allies and mercenary proxies to provide mediocre security. [India's own ridiculous gun laws also mean that Indian mercenary/security firms have difficulty training in India, instead must go to, say, Afghanistan, to get firearm training.] [ITBP's deployment is too small to meet all security needs.]

Therefore, India is literally paying the price for the American failure to stabilize Afghanistan, in terms of both the security "tax" its development projects and business pay, and its casualties thus far.

This isn't to say that India will stop losing people only if it deploys the Regulars. Or that allies and mercenaries cannot provide effective security. [See Xe] To meet its strategic goals, India must get close to the Afghan people. Which means that Indians must get off secure zones and into villages and bazaars to do business. Which means that they face risks of ambushes and kidnapping. India's security problem is its secured zones, or what Americans would call Forward Operating Bases.

A secured zone is where your people live and sleep, such as the hotel attacked today. The biggest reason India lost people today is because their security posture is too open. India's desire to be a "non-intervention, self-determination" soft power in Afghanistan dictates a low-profile, open, passive security posture. India's effort at pioneering "Third Way" diplomacy and differentiating themselves from the hardened American FOBs made them vulnerable to an attack like this.

[Of course, in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the competence of Indian security services is an open question.]

The point of my analysis is that an open, passive security posture is foolish and does not contribute toward your "Hearts and Minds" political goals at all. It just helps your enemies to kill you faster. Letting your guards slouch at their post and waving people through the checkpoint does not win you any points. An alert guards who pats people down with respect and a smile, however, does.

"Hearts & Minds" politicians and consultants often fail to realize that it is not the macro-level initiatives, such as blast barriers, check points, gun-toting security, etc, that turn the natives against you. It is the micro-level, man-to-man details that gets you, like yelling at people, manhandling through a pat down, etc. Soft power is all well and good, but security is the enabler for your soft power capabilities. Being aggressive in your security posture allows you to complete your projects and help people.

As Bryan McGrath has pointed out, "Hearts & Minds" are nice, but it easily degenerates into slogans and feel-good seminars. You are not going to make people like you, if they hate you to begin with. However, you can build trust and respect, even with enemies. Pussyfooting around security will not change anybody's minds.


boom said...

how is this conclusion "[Of course, in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the competence of Indian security services is an open question.]" arrived at ?

Jimmy said...


Following the Mumbai attacks, the media revealed multiple deficiencies of the Indian security services in responding to the attacks.

For example, we saw footage of Indian security officers, crouching behind barriers, raise their weapons over the cover, and shoot blindly in the direction of *suspected* terrorist location, without raising their head to sight in. Gangsta style, you might say.

Many other security officers also were immobilized behind cover, whether by terrorist fire or their own fear, and did not emerge until long after the shooting stopped. Their lack of aggressive action was roundly criticized in the Indian press.

And then you have that gem of a quote from an Indian police official, where he said that, [paraphrasing] his men were severely out-gunned by the terrorists' MP-5 sub gun and AKs, compared to the police's Lee-Enfield rifles. Anyone familiar with the terrorists' level of firearm training would have laughed out loud at that statement. "Spray and pray" will never be more effective than good rifle marksmanship, even with a bolt-action rifle like the Lee-Enfield.

So in general, we cannot take for granted that the Indian security services have sufficient tactical sense. Even though the Indo-Tibetan Border Police is marked as "Elite", you can't take that label at face value.

boom said...

you are confusing between the mumbai police armed with .303 with the actual security forces like the MARCOS and NSG who are actually tasked with CT duties.
that's like comparing little league with MLB !

city police in India is very lightly armed and rightly so, because unlike in the US, for example, stringent gun laws mean very few criminals have access to guns and even then most of these are notoriously unreliable and inaccurate hand-made ones.
if you consider India as a whole, incidents like mumbai are quite rare, in places where they are not rare, like J&K and north-east, the police are appropriately armed.

what hurt the operations in mumbai was the dragging of feet by the political overlords who made a mess of things in requesting the NSG to fly in.
once the CT forces were in place they performed admirably, in what was arguably the most complex CT/HRT operation in world history. 3 simultaneous operations against SSG trained terrorists armed to the teeth in 2 large 5-star hotels and a multi-storied building dwarfs even beslan.

gangsta style shooting is needed in some cases (if you are talking of the NSG in the chabad house operation), to distract/pin down the enemy in order to allow the other commandoes to move in undetected, which was exactly what happened. if it was the police (in khaki if you have problems identifying) then as I said it's not their job to face ak-47 armed terrorists.
the lack of a QRT in the metro cities was a problem, which has since been rectified by creating additional NSG centres around the country and the city polices have raised their own QRT teams. mumbai has one called 'force 1' for example.

So in general, we cannot take for granted that the Indian security services have sufficient tactical sense.

pardon me, but that's a remarkably asinine comment to make on the basis of the performance of police forces performing what is not even their job !
whe clearly the forces tasked with the job performed quite well.

in J&K for example, army and J&K police forces have been performing against a terrorist campaign for well over 2 decades and did it far better than what US and allies have done in iraq or afghanistan. mind you, they don't have the luxury of calling in air strikes at the drop of a hat or flatten entire villages on the suspicion that a terrorist is hiding there.

coming to ITBP, it used to be elite but that classification no longer stands. it's SIPRI that continues the mistake and other sources proliferate it.
that said, majority of their men
are fully mountain trained and are as such much hardier than line infantry, physically and tactically they will be at par with many run of the mill 'special forces'.
one such vaunted 'special forces' failed to complete the CIJWS course in early 2000's, which most Indian Army men and a significant amount of paramilitary forces clear as routine. ;)

Jimmy said...


Yes, the mountain is tough. Some people, even the "special" people, forget that sometimes.

City police is lightly armed, but that does not excuse an absence of tactical sense. A .303-armed police may be better armed than the AK-47-wielding terrorist. It's not the weapon that makes you effective, but marksmanship. Certainly a trained marksman can bring out all of the potential of the AK or the INSAS, but he would not stop to mourn his "weapon inferiority" if all he has is a bolt-action. Tactical competency allows the trained marksman to engage his targets effectively. An absence of tactical sense gets people killed, and there's no excuse for that.

It is also important to bear in mind the difference between physical toughness and tactical competency. For example, the US Navy SEALs have a reputation as the physically toughest people in the world. However, their operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have repeatedly demonstrated their tactical ineptness. Just because you survived "Hell Week" and can swim miles does not automatically make you a tactician.

The US Army has the Ranger School, which is supposed to be a higher-education-level training in small unit tactics. However, they starve their students in the field and subject them to severe sleep deprivation. How are you going to learn anything when you are likely to fall asleep in the middle of briefing your squad? You learn about two things in Ranger School: 1.) Ranger Buddies are crucial; and 2.) chewing tobacco can help you stay awake.

So in general, I don't put too much stock when people describe themselves as "elite". Let actual performance be the judge.

Room clearing used to be a special operation only task. However, Op Iraqi Freedom put an end to that. Now most combat arm soldiers are as good at room clearing as the Delta Force. The only difference today is the level of marksmanship, where the Delta "Operator" shoot hundreds of rounds everyday to maintain his surgical accuracy, whereas regular joes can only shoot center-mass. Just because a task is reserved for the "special" people does not necessarily mean it's difficult.

Tactically speaking, hostage rescue in a domestic environment is not very complicated. You get to control the environment and there are few surprises.

Columbine, Colorado showed that, in an active-shooter scenario, you do not have time to wait for the "special" people. Police officers on-scene need to start saving people immediately. I hope that India is learning that lesson while they work on the SWAT teams.

Jimmy said...

Boom, [cont'd]

Raising your arm high and shoot while you hide your head under the barrier, without looking to see where you're shooting, is never excuseable. You need to aim your fire. You can work against a sniper by minimizing your exposure time, but you still need to aim your weapon. Gangsta-style suppression will not scare, nor suppress, the opposing sniper.

If you read my past articles, you will find out that I hold the American military in an equally low opinion of their tactical competency, as a whole. Like I said before, there are islands of excellence, but the vast majority are not competent. They can perform a few tasks to standard, but the Army in general does not know how to teach and train small-unit tactics.

Generally speaking, absent frequent combat operations to force the natural selection of tactical competency, most armies and paramilitary organizations are not tactically competent. The German army, up to WW2, was almost unique in inculcating tactical initiative in its sergeants and lieutenants, a trait few armies nor paramilitary have duplicated since.

Where you have an active campaign like J&K, natural selection forces the issue of tactical competency. It is difficult to tell if the lessons from J&K (and elsewhere) have propagated to the rest of the Indian security apparatus; whether the bureaucracy has learned to take tactics seriously.

Yes, the ITBP is probably on par with other "elite" organizations, but that's only because the average is pretty low. Humping a rucksack in the mountains does not translate into tactical sense, unfortunately.

boom said...

you make some excellent points, I'll chose a few of them to add my views.

# lack of tactical sense in city police a fact of life in India, I was never arguing against that. what I'm objecting to is extrapolating their performance to draw conclusions about security forces(which come from paramilitary) to be deployed in afghanistan.

the two are completely different forces, with completely different standards, different intake and training policy, mandate, weapons and of course overall control. police forces in general are highly politicised and hence corrupt and incompetent. not so the military or the paramilitary. this is not to suggest that they are perfect, far from it, but as far as counter insurgency goes, they are quite competent, I daresay as competent as any other force, due to plain and simple darwinism.

# gangsta style firing

sorry to say but you are missing the point. the object was not to 'frighten' the terrorist (it wasn't a sniper, it was a terrorist who was holed out in chabad house armed with frenades and Ak-47) the object was to distract him long enough to allow the other commandoes to move in from the opposite end. and that was successfully done. the location of the terrorist inside a room meant careful aiming impossible, even from an open window.
I don't think you are aware that windows in India tend to have very dense network of cast-iron grilles. for example :

it is not trivial to accurately shoot through those from across the road with a MP-5 sub-machine gun. any attempt to do so is futile. it's the lack of awareness of local conditions like these that make many so-called experts form entirely unreasonable assumptions about the mumbai ops.