U.S. doctrine focuses its COIN methods on the ability to assist a host nation in building political legitimacy and creditability. Establishing political legitimacy is the foundation of COIN strategy enabling governments to create rapport with local leaders and gain the support of its communities while simultaneously eliminating an insurgency. Doctrine is subjective rather than prescriptive; however, failure to adhere to fundamental principles causes a good deal of contradiction on how to accomplish specific goals. Evidence provided in the COIN campaigns conducted in both Vietnam and Afghanistan showed flawed implementation of basic U.S. counterinsurgency principles. Those principles include the ability to establish a valid political strategy and security all with a host nation in the lead effort. While these two wars have many differences, they are similar in ways. Specifically, how the U.S. failed to follow basic practices of COIN, and how leveraging lessons learned are paramount to U.S. strategic initiatives.
A premise of COIN doctrine calls for a long-term political strategy implementing legitimacy in government instilling effectiveness in the eyes of the governed. How can one build a successful COIN campaign by supporting weak surrogate leadership as the U.S. did in both Vietnam and Afghanistan? Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan are both examples of failed leadership supported by the U.S. in its attempt to influence political reform. The U.S. based its support of Diem on the foundations of his religious background, anti-communist stance, and most importantly, his relationship with U.S. officials. U.S. officials also favored Karzai who had a shared interest in the extradition of the insurgent Taliban regime.
Unfortunately, these leaders showed hesitation to reform into the democratic institution that Western influencers attempted to bestow upon them. This uncertainty caused both Vietnam and Afghanistan’s government officials and, more importantly, its citizens to question its faith in the establishment of effective political figureheads within its borders. Both Diem and Karzai’s cabinets challenged the ability of the leaders to govern a nation while an insurgent stronghold increased within their respective nations. Thomas Ahern, historian at the Center for the Study of Intelligence, emphasized that installed leadership have culturally displaced characteristics.
“We assert the primacy of indigenous government, and then cannot find a leader – or party or movement – which shares our stated values and has the domestic authority and/or credibility to channel our aid and advice into programs that consolidate the consent of the governed while suppressing the irreconcilable.” (Ahern, 2002).
Diem’s failure in implementing the U.S. government’s political reform plan, an Anti-Communist campaign consisting of a military government, caused his forced removal as head of the South Vietnamese...