The cliché that you must "protect the population" in order to win a counterinsurgency has now become entrenched in conventional wisdom. This is especially so of the war in Afghanistan, where civilian casualties have become a deeply polarizing issue. It has become so important that, during a recent trip to Helmand Province, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, declared that Coalition forces must make a "cultural shift" in Afghanistan, away from their normal combat orientation and toward protecting civilians.
But protecting the population requires knowing where it lives. Here, the Army's conventional wisdom fails.
In Iraq, the population was heavily urbanized, so spreading out into the cities made sense. The Surge, for example, was almost entirely focused on Baghdad. Now the consensus seems to be that the Army should focus on securing Afghanistan's major cities as well.