Marine Sergeant Mark Peters is setting General David Petraeus’s COIN guidance in motion as he spearheads an effort to build rapport with Afghans in Safaar on Tuesday, after his team from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment cleared Taliban insurgents from the area during “Operation Roadhouse.”
Many of the villagers in this extremely poor town, located in Helmand province’s Garmsir District in southern Afghanistan, are feeling more at ease now that the Taliban curfew has been lifted. During the clearing operation Marines uncovered and extirpated more than 50 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by the Taliban, many of which were found inside the local bazaar.
Sergeant Peters, the squad leader of Lima Company, believes his number one job is to make these folks feel safe and his thought process exemplifies COIN philosophy:
“Now during the month of Ramadan the locals here have to pray at certain times at night. With us being here and having a good hold on Safaar bazaar, we can allow these people here to move freely whenever they need to go practice their religious beliefs,” Sergeant Peters said.
Marines from Chicago are not well known for talking in such terms – but now it is part of the job description. In order to win over hearts and minds U.S. soldiers must ensure their own hearts and minds are committed to this type of fight. It’s often easier to mow down a field full of militants than it is to gain the trust of a village elder.
The COIN guidance General Petraeus issued a couple of weeks ago directs soldiers to be more curious, earn trust, ask questions and learn about the lives of the Afghans, including the social dynamics, frictions, local histories, and grievances. Petraeus wrote: “Spend time, listen, consult, and drink lots of tea.” He instructed U.S. troops to:
Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population. Take off your sunglasses. Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.
According to Laura King in the L.A. Times, the expression “Three cups of tea” has entered the official lexicon of the U.S. military as “shorthand for a trust-building chat with locals.” The source of the expression is from the bestselling book of the same title by humanitarian Greg Mortenson, who has devoted his life to building girls schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.
General Petraeus’s own wife urged him to read the book, and the expression seems to perfectly encapsulate COIN thought. Yet, it’s still fair to wonder if the belief system outlined in Mortenson’s book and in the General’s guidelines will translate into counterinsurgency success. Ms. King relates a real world example that depicts the challenge of winning over the village elder as mentioned earlier:
Abdul Shah Qul, the ranking elder of Pul-e-Kheshti, heard out the American troops who visited him last month, nodding assent as they told him of their wish to keep his community safe and help with local development. “If we see anything bad or strange, we will let you know,” he told the newcomers.
But later, contacted by telephone, he expressed doubts that an occasional visit by the American forces could keep the insurgents at bay. “Seventy percent of the people here,” he said, “believe the Taliban will be back.”
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