'Destroy the Town to Save It'

Via my Atlantic colleague James Gibney, a pointer to the astonishing, deadpan final words of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's  article in the Washington Post yesterday, about the deployment of M1 Abrams tanks to Afghanistan as a ramping up and "conventionalizing" of the war against the Taliban.

>>"Why do you have to blow up so many of our fields and homes?" a farmer from the Arghandab district asked a top NATO general at a recent community meeting.

Although military officials are apologetic in public, they maintain privately that the tactic has a benefit beyond the elimination of insurgent bombs. By making people travel to the district governor's office to submit a claim for damaged property, "in effect, you're connecting the government to the people," the senior officer said.<<

Nearly five years ago, I was at seminar at Ft. Leavenworth, where David Petraeus was then the commanding general. The topic of the meeting was the new Counter Insurgency, or "COIN," doctrine, which Petraeus and the Marine Corps' James Mattis were heading an ambitious, serious, scholarly-soldier effort to rewrite.

Petraeus is now in charge in Afghanistan; Mattis is his successor at CENTCOM; their doctrine was published (PDF here, link to published book here) and received wide attention, discussion, and acclaim. And everything about it was the antithesis of bringing in heavy tanks, bulldozing families off their land, and hoping for a positive payoff when they "connect" to the government by going to beg for relief. What can he and Mattis think of the effort they now oversee? They're just past the generation that served in Vietnam, but they know every detail of its history -- and understand what stories like Chandrasekaran's bode.

Bonus: this summer, after Petraeus took over for Stanley McChrystal, a special Afghan version of COIN guidelines was briefly published on some military sites. It was quickly taken down, but it included items like these:

>>■ "Be a good guest. Treat the Afghan people and their property with respect."

■ "Walk. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population."

■ "Fight hard and fight with discipline: Hunt the enemy aggressively but use only the firepower needed to win a fight." <<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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