Civilians Missing From Action

Originally appeared on The Washington Independent.

During his 2003-2004 tour in Iraq's Anbar Province, a leading Army counterinsurgent officer named John Nagl confronted many frustrations -- from improperly trained Iraqi soldiers to the combat deaths of his own men. But one problem was as acute then as it is chronic now: the inability of civilian government experts to get involved in counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During an interview with the New York Times magazine, in a piece often cited as a touchstone for the counterinsurgency community, Nagl pointed to an empty chair and remarked about the civilians in the Coalition Provisional Authority, ''Where's the guy from C.P.A.? He should be sitting right there.''

Those chairs have essentially remained empty through the five years of war in Iraq and six and a half in Afghanistan. There has been one well-received effort at integrating civilians with the military for counterinsurgency: the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which bring together soldiers, diplomats, aid workers and other experts to provide on-the-ground governance advice. But the consensus within the counterinsurgency community is that the PRTs, as they're known, are ad hoc and understaffed.

That creates a fundamental problem for counterinsurgency, which seeks to draw a civilian population's political and personal allegiance away from a guerrilla force. If a counterinsurgency effort is primarily a military effort, it will probably fail -- as the French counterinsurgency expert David Galula wrote in his seminal 1964 book, "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice."

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