Cliff May

As COIN experts in Afghanistan explain, successful counter-insurgency requires four discrete steps: shaping, clearing, holding, and building. Shaping implies such tasks as sitting down with local leaders to ask their consent before bringing in troops. Clearing is the "kinetic" part - eliminating the enemy through the application of lethal force. Cleared areas must then be held - security forces need to stay on to prevent the bad guys from returning. Short-term, these forces can be foreign, but - as soon as possible - responsibility should be transferred to indigenous authorities whom our troops have trained for the task and whom we advise as long as necessary. Finally, there is a development component: building the local economy and helping establishing governance so that communities liberated from terrorists can stand on their own two feet.

This is a long and arduous process. But it has worked against tough insurgencies - while other approaches have not. For that reason, American officers and troops are working hard to master the range of skills needed and to adapt what has been learned in Iraq to the different - and in many ways more difficult - conditions in Afghanistan.

However, to achieve success will require additional manpower and equipment: everything from helicopters to body armor. Obama, during the campaign, pledged to provide such resources. Gen. Petraeus and the commanders on the ground in Afghanistan should tell the President-Elect exactly what they need. Obama should listen. If he does, Republicans as well as Democrats should support him.

Afghanistan will be Obama's war but it also will be America's war - just as Iraq was both Bush's war and America's war (though many people refused to acknowledge that). A robust COIN is the change we need to win it.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.