I have been discussing the ins and outs of COIN as a strategy for Afghanistan. Today's Washington Post reports on an instance where it has worked in Helmand Province. This is an isolated incident now, but could become an example if the President decides to support the mission.
Before a battalion of U.S. Marines swooped into this dusty farming community along the Helmand River in early July, almost every stall in the bazaar had been padlocked, as had the school and the health clinic. Thousands of residents had fled. Government officials and municipal services were nonexistent. Taliban fighters swaggered about with impunity, setting up checkpoints and seeding the roads with bombs.
In the three months since the Marines arrived, the school has reopened, the district governor is on the job and the market is bustling. The insurgents have demonstrated far less resistance than U.S. commanders expected. Many of the residents who left are returning home, their possessions piled onto rickety trailers, and the Marines deem the central part of the town so secure that they routinely walk around without body armor and helmets.
"Nawa has returned from the dead," said the district administrator, Mohammed Khan.
The report continues to point out the many pitfalls that could derail this process, but it also shows that when properly applied these tactics and the US military as a whole are a positive force. COIN is not rocket science, it is simply a change in mentality coupled with the resources to maintain security. The difficult thing in Afghanistan is the follow on of homegrown security forces and government. Corruption and incompetence have been the hallmarks of Afghan institutions and changing that will be difficult, but not necessarily impossible.