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.

In Focus Question

Pulitzer Center Staff

This week, the Pulitzer Center is presenting five panels entitled "Afghanistan: The Human Factor" that will focus on the ramifications of human casualties in Afghanistan.

To coincide, the Pulitzer Center will spotlight important news and issues in the series In Focus: Afganistan. We would like to hear your feedback on these issues as much as possible.

For the following question, please respond in the comments section below. We will feature select comments in a post on this site.

Afghanistan: The Human Factor, 2/22-2/25

Moderated by Jon Sawyer, Executive Director, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting


Vanessa Gezari's forthcoming book assesses the US military's Human Terrain program, which embeds social scientists and anthropologists with troops in Afghanistan. Her reporting has been featured on NPR and in The Washington Post Magazine.

Afghanistan: Virtual Tour

The Pulitzer Center is presenting five panel discussions February 22-26, featuring Pulitzer Center journalists who have reported from Afghanistan. Entitled "Afghanistan: The Human Factor," the panels will be held at George Washington University, Columbia, Yale, Harvard and Wellesley.

The video presents a virtual tour through Afghanistan, taking you to the areas from which the journalists reported.

Nir Rosen responds to critics

Nathalie Applewhite, Pulitzer Center

In his Boston Review article, "Something from Nothing: U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan," Pulitzer Center journalist Nir Rosen argues that counterinsurgency doesn't make sense. It asks soldiers, concerned primarily with survival, to be Wyatt Earp and Mother Theresa.