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Afghan soldiers stand guard following weeks of heavy clashes to recapture territory from Taliban militants in Baghlan province, March 15, 2016 (AP photo by Massoud Hossaini).

Is the Afghanistan Debate the Beginning of the End for U.S. Counterinsurgency?

Friday, Aug. 11, 2017

Washington remains consumed by America’s long military involvement in Afghanistan. Many policy experts, members of Congress and government officials favor continuing the existing approach, while others—including President Donald Trump himself—are unconvinced. Whichever side prevails this time, one thing is certain: This is not an isolated debate. Rather, it is the beginning of a deeper reconsideration of the role that counterinsurgency should play in U.S. security strategy.

The United States first took on counterinsurgency, known by its military acronym COIN, in the 1960s out of fear that the Soviet Union was exploiting nationalist and leftist insurgencies to weaken the West. The U.S. military, along with other agencies, eventually developed elaborate counterinsurgency doctrine. After Vietnam, though, this hard-won knowledge was largely forgotten, only to be rediscovered in the 1980s as insurgencies threatened pro-U.S. governments in places like El Salvador. But after the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the U.S. military and the rest of the government lost all interest in counterinsurgency. ...

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