LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A new program designed specifically to help undermine local support for the insurgency is being taught now at Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan’s Logar province. The program, called the COIN Academy, is a new line of reasoning and planning requiring battlefield commanders to rethink the use of conventional warfare tactics.
On FOB Shank, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Ault, commander of Task Force Brawler, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, formally began the COIN Academy, which stands for ‘counter insurgency,’ more than a month ago.
The setup for the COIN Academy is simple: A conference room, a few PowerPoint slides, and a whiteboard with markers. The meetings typically last an hour and are open to all task force members. To keep the discussion moving, each COIN meeting covers one particular aspect of the task force’s involvement in combat.
The main topics of each COIN session vary. One week covers a Public Broadcasting Service documentary showing a behind-the-enemy-lines view of how the insurgents receive aid from a local villager and how the insurgents use psychological warfare to undermine support for the government and the coalition forces.
The next week entails a walk-through on how detainees are handled, processed, and eventually released, stressing treatment of detainees and how their treatment impacts whether or not they will rejoin the insurgency once released. Each topic is designed to have the participants of the meeting involved in open discussions.
“Having an actively participating group is one of the key aspects to a successful COIN session,” said Ault. “It keeps these meetings flowing and gets everyone interested.”
Ault, or another member of the command staff, acts as the session’s moderator, keeping the conversations going while writing key points on the dry-erase board. Ault encourages all servicemembers to express their opinions throughout the meeting. This engaging dialogue has a dual effect: First, it allows key leaders to understand how their subordinates feel and think. Second, the attendees are given a chance to voice their agreement or disagreement with any new direction the task force is taking.
“I believe that in the short term or immediate, COIN can work,” said 2nd Lt. Erik Bernard, platoon leader for Company C, 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, TF Brawler, 3rd CAB, TF Falcon. “It is the long-term effects that are unclear. (Counter insurgency) has worked in other conflicts; we will see if it can work here.”
The overarching goal of the COIN Academy is to have key leaders understand there are more effective ways to undermine the enemy and possibly win over the population’s opinion of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the International Security Forces. With the realization that every action taken on the battlefield has both good and bad consequences, commanders will have to rethink certain decisions, such as when the use of deadly force is necessary.
“The Soldiers of Task Force Brawler face a challenging time ahead,” said Task Force executive officer, U.S. Army Maj. Larry Halsey. “Counter insurgency tactics have the potential to work, as displayed by its success in Iraq. But, COIN can only work if both leaders and Soldiers apply it with every mission. With each one of these sessions, the Brawlers realize that to do their part to help win the war in Afghanistan, the COIN principles are the way to go.”
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