One of the reasons why Vice President Joe Biden is comfortable with the direction of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is because it combines two approaches that are generally said to be in tension: population-centric counterinsurgency operations on the one hand and targeted counterterrorism strikes on the other. U.S. officials have praised Gen. McChrystal for blending the two together, although they have provided few details about how special forces troops in joint task forces tend to operate.
An internal but unclassified briefing prepared for NATO defense ministers provides a unique window into the melange of tactics that forces are using to clear the Taliban underbrush in Afghanistan. The briefing was put together by McChrystal's headquarters staff several weeks before he was forced to resign as commanding general because of his staff's intemperate comments in a Rolling Stone interview.
In March, April, and May of 2010, special operations forces "removed" 121 insurgent leaders and detained 505 insurgents in a total of 22 discrete operations. 14 of those operations targeted persons of interests. The footprint left by our troops is lethal, but not as lethal as one might expect: 69 "enemy" were killed in action and 51 detainees who provided actionable intelligence are being held in custody.
The briefing notes that the country has seen an 88 percent rise in violence since last year, and a slide shows that "kinetic density" -- another word for violent encounters -- is concentrated in localized areas within the central Helmand Province and near Kandahar. NATO forces are focused on protecting civilians in eight discrete areas, including a large, salamander-shaped, population-dense region that cuts across both provinces. By June of 2011, will the economic corridor -- the main trading routes -- be protected? That seems to be a real metric.