Gen. McChrystal and Adm. Olson Actually on the Same Page

Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency guidance has taken what many considered to be a very, very soft approach to combating insurgents as laid down in the COIN manual, and softened it even more.

Protecting the population, respecting their culture and sitting and drinking lots of tea with local leaders to gain their trust basically by doing no wrong is the basis of what has been labeled the “population centric counterinsurgency” approach in Afghanistan. The Economist called it “the least violence-oriented military document you’re ever likely to see.”

“We will not win by simply killing insurgents,” McChrystal wrote; the supply of willing insurgent foot soldiers in that part of the world is infinity. He then explained his version of COIN arithmetic which turns the conventional mindset of wearing down the enemy through attrition on its head.

“From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: 10-2=8. From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance… Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: 10 minus 2 equals 20 (or more) rather than 8.”

According to some reports, the highest ranking Navy SEAL and the commander of Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric Olson, believes this whole counterinsurgency thing is getting out of hand. He called the prevailing COIN doctrine an “imperfect template,” crafted as an Iraq specific doctrine, that should be discarded. “Counterinsurgency should involve countering the insurgents,” he said.

At an appearance at CSIS last month, Olson actually laid out a very detailed narrative of how his forces counter insurgents and terrorist networks; a campaign strategy contained in the highly classified Concept Plan 7500 (he said it was 750 pages long). His description of that “guiding plan” calls for a “balanced” strategy combining both “direct” and “indirect” approaches.

The direct approach is capturing, killing and destroying terrorists, their organizations, networks and facilities. “It’s urgent; it’s necessary; it’s chaotic; it’s kinetic and the effects are almost always near-term and short-lived,” he said. It is “a holding action that buys time and space for the indirect approach to achieve its long-term results.”

Decisive results, he said, comes from the indirect approach, small teams of special ops advisors partnering with foreign militaries to boost their effectiveness. It also involves addressing the underlying causes of insurgency such as economic depression and religious extremism: “it is the concept of draining the swamp rather than attempting to capture or kill all the alligators.”

While the military, and specifically special operators, form the core of direct action, they have somewhat reluctantly been forced to assume ever bigger chunks of the indirect approach because: “the mass and the money reside within the DOD.”

“While the ability to conduct high-end, direct-action activities will always remain urgent and necessary… We acknowledge that it is the indirect actions that will have the most decisive and enduring the effects. The balance and intertwining of direct and indirect are key.”

It doesn’t sound like there’s a huge gulf between the two on countering insurgents. I think what Olson is doing is trying to restore a bit of balance to thinking on irregular warfare.

That is, shift the prevalent COIN thinking away from this idea of sending large constabulary forces to occupy foreign territory and pursue grass roots economic development and capacity building, which is definitely not a military specialty, and more to the original SF mission that uses small highly trained units to train and advise foreign militaries to defeat internal enemies.

— Greg Grant

  • Kristian M Lewis

    That sound you hear is the a gigantic DUH coming from my mouth.

  • Kristian M Lewis

    Also I am thinking what idiot put a SEAL in charge of SOCOM? Those guys are known to be all brawn and very little brains, at least operationally.

    • David

      Known by whom? Have these people actually met any SEAL never mind a large cross section to make a valid judgment.

      Or are you just being prejudice? Allowing stereotypes to make your judgment for you.

    • Day

      you are obviously unaware of the SEALs IQ requirements. for sure the seals are highly agressive as are all special forces, but you apear to have very little knowledge of how the seals operate amd how complex their missions are.

  • Sev

    SEALs are very intelligent Kristian. They have to think of solutions to unexpected problems on a dime and carry them out. Who ar eyou to say they’re stupi? Who’s the idiot who thought civilians could lead the military in a war when they haven’t been in war themselves. The lack of respect you show for our SEALs is appalling.

    • SGT

      yes kristian you sound like a very intelligent warfighter yourself with years of experience in the feild contributing to the success of untold missions to know so much about others in that community.

  • Tom

    The fundamental problem facing us is….Islam.

    We will never “win the hearts and minds” of these people, but they will always take our money, our aid and happily watch the infidel soldiers die.

    The very nature of Islam means it is incompatible with western concepts and ideals, but our “leaders” have shown a complete lack of understanding in this regard, BUT of course they have no idea and apparently no interest in learning about what is actually written in the Koran. You should read it and the accompanying Suras. You have to know your enemy in order to defeat him. “We” do not know our enemy.

    Some will no doubt call me ignorant or “racist” (by the way, Islam is NOT a race).
    But we should leave Afghanistan and Iraq right now. We should end ALL aid to any Muslim Country. These countries are endless sink holes….

    • Luke

      A big 10-4 to that Tom! Right on the money!

    • blight

      With regards to “end all aid”:

      -Then our dibs on their oil go down the drain. Then our ability to influence the rich Saudis declines (if we had any, haha!). Madrassa money goes up, terror goes up.

      -I think we ought to start a coup in Saudi Arabia. A secular revolution, like in Turkey. Someone who will safeguard the holy cities for Shias, Sunnis, Sufis, etc and will discourage people from sending money abroad to madrassas. Kill the terrorists with the pocketbook instead of the Predator.

  • blight

    Our issue is that we have zilch soldiers that “look like them”. The army is already dominated by whites (because they’ve been here the longest, and have developed traditions of military service that other minorities do not have, or have yet). And immigrants who come here are not well-represented in the armed forces (though IIRC Hispanics have actually done pretty well when it comes to military service). But anyways. Lack of soldiers that look like the locals=foreigners=aliens=do not symphatize with=enemy.

    We can’t tell who looks like who, because we’ve never lived there. Just as a tourist from Norway cannot identify individual street gangsters in Los Angeles, we are basically running blind and dependent on local informants to tell us who’s who.

  • Dick

    SEAL brains may appear small compared to their brawn, but SEALs have learned to operate much better on land since JUST CAUSE. You have to ask yourself, why are SEALs in Afghanistan anyway? There’s no ocean there. In the first few months it made sense because of our ability to respond to crises. But at this late term in OIF and OEF-A, why are SEALs still there conducting purely land operations? They must be doing some things effectively. And ADM Olson is a good example of the new perspective a frogman can bring to a role that is normally for a soldier.

  • William C.

    In less than the time you took to type that slop Kristian a SEAL could have sneaked into your house and used a spoon to kill you.

    • Day

      a spoon would be overkill.

  • Maxtrue

    Its not the eternal enemy thesis. It is that the secular root with Nasser and Assad, Saddam and the Shah didn’t work for the Muslim street so the radical element took power.We even helped in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the people could very likely be won over, the head of the snake must be cut off. I am not sure that going after leadership while working the street is a bad thing. Neither one separately seem to work. It would be nice if we could afford squad B to do the neighborhood watch.

    Quite a build up there in the Gulf. Israel conducts bombing runs to Crete. Dolphins and a US nuclear Sub. How many carriers? I guess Obama’s gonna have a try at the stick. Now what would that mean if hell breaks out to our soldiers in Afghanistan and the Gulf?

  • Bob

    If we kill some of the opposing force, it might make the rest mad at us. So, we should not try to kill any of our enemy? Is this what I read? Only in the age of Obama would this be happening. What do the Marines have to say about that warfighting theory?

    • DualityOfMan

      The point is that you can’t win by trying to kill all the insurgents.

      • William C.

        But we have been trying different degrees of “more friendly” strategies for the past 8 years. All it seems to be accomplishing in Afghanistan is putting our soldiers in greater danger.

        • TMB

          Everything we've tried in Afghanistan has been what the military calls “economy of force” because we haven't had enough troops to make any particular strategy effective.

    • TMB

      Bob, we’ve been discussing the merits of that theory long before Obama took office. Its not just killing the enemy, its accidentally killing nearby civilians. In their way of life they are honor-bound to seek some kind of retribution for the wrongful killing of family.

    • Steve B.


      Why do you right wing nut jobs always need to blame Obama ?. The theory’s being formulated by Olson and McChrystal are a result of 9 years of war not getting us any closer to a solution, not something that came down from above. Recall that for 7 of those years it was Bush/Cheney not getting any results either. Olson and McChrystal are merely applying their own experiences that civilian casualties matter. This is not something that Obama is dictating to them. If anything, Obama is going along with what the military chiefs are recommending, witness the build up of troops in theater, something we should have done 7 years ago, except for the friggin mess Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld got us into in Iraq, something few in the military wanted the way Rumsfeld forced it down their throats. Obama’s cleaning up the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld mess as usual (Hell, Obama’s now doing that as well in the Gulf of Mexico).



  • Jack R. Holbein

    I worked with Adm Olsen for several years and trust his judgement and dedication to the entire Special Operations Community. He is smart, brave., intelligent and has the pulse on the current situation. Trust Him and the Commanders who have the boots on the ground. Jack R. Holbein, Maj Gen USAF (R)

    • Tim

      Thanks for the input sir! nice to have a reasonable voice in the somewhat chaotic choir here.

      • blight

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody with stars post on the DT…

  • galloglas

    Ah No Shi’ite! guess what a$$ holes the taliban are on the same page too.

  • Christopher Baxter

    I believe that Adm. Olson, a very bright decent professional, and Gen McCrystal were always on the same page.

    As Admiral Olson said about two years ago” We are not going to kill our may to victory, but rather we are going to behave our way to sucess”

    The Canadian way in Afghanistan as very well articulated by Dr Lee Windsor in his book “Kandahar Tour” is also of the same page and the sucesseses speak for themselves

    More and more, Afghanstan is not just about Afghanistan but also about how we deal with the situation after all in the International community squandered the oportunitity to rebuild and stabilize on the cheap after the Russians left. At this stage our handling of Afghanistan now is a genuine reflection on who we are as a country and as a people

  • John Hansen

    In support of Admiral Olson, ‘hard-power’ and lethal action is being taken every day against the Taliban and al Qaeda. According to information provided by Gen. David Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, in just the past 90 days the elite Special Forces units have captured or killed 365 militant leaders, detained 1,335 insurgent foot soldiers and killed another 1,031 insurgents on top of that. This is more than any three month period since 9/11.

    The Predator Drones and Reapers are also eliminating dozens of mid level Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan, but unfortunately cause some civilian deaths. Admiral Olson is one of few top military commanders who also has been in direct combat in Mogadishu and the longest Navy Seal still in service, called the ‘Bullfrog’.

  • Daniel

    Understanding insurgency not technology, is the key to winning in Afghanistan. That is how I prepared my website, You would not even need the drones and can do the pull out by July 2011 initially at 80% of total troops.