To proponents of counterinsurgency warfare, this strategy represents the best chance the US has of achieving some sort of enduring victory in a country that has denied invaders for centuries. More than that, they see it as the archetype of how the US should fight the "long war" against terrorism around the globe.
Yet critics say the US is discovering in Afghanistan that counterinsurgency is no silver, or even lead, bullet. Many worry that the US has tilted too far toward a trendy new type of warfare that is eroding its conventional capabilities and might lead it to commit to more expensive, open-ended conflicts 40 years after Vietnam.
AS RECENTLY AS SEVEN years ago, counterinsurgency tactics, or COIN as it is known, was an arcane debating topic among academics, military tacticians, and the denizens of think tanks. One among the cognoscenti was John Nagl. In 1991, he was a young officer in charge of a tank platoon that helped crush Saddam Hussein's conventional forces in the Gulf War.