MONTEREY, Calif. (NNS) -- The new commander of NATO's task force in Kandahar, ground zero for the fight against the Taliban, was recently at the Naval Postgraduate School for three days of intensive briefs from faculty members freshly returned from the country and other top experts on Afghan culture and counterinsurgency.
Canadian Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard and a dozen top officers from his Joint Task Force-Afghanistan took time out of their pressing schedules preparing to take charge of NATO operations at the center of gravity for the Pashtun insurgency to attend the Conference on Culture and Counterinsurgency in Southern Afghanistan hosted by the NPS Program for Culture and Conflict Studies (CCS).
Menard's mission is central to the success of U.S. and NATO efforts in the country.
"'Kandahar means Afghanistan,' its governor told the Washington Post. It's the pivotal city. The history of Afghanistan, the politics of Afghanistan, was always determined from Kandahar, and once again, it will be determined from Kandahar."
The goal of the conference was to paint a clear picture of the battle space the Canadian Task Force was about to enter, enabling its members to better understand the institutions, organizations and individuals affecting conditions on the ground in their area of responsibility. And its subject matter couldn't have been more timely, coming in the month in which more American troops died than any since the beginning of the eight-year war.
"We're extremely happy to be here," Menard said in his opening remarks. "This conference will definitely enhance our knowledge in these increasingly critical areas, and we're very much looking forward to the exchanges, both here and in the future."
In alignment with a recent speech by CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus' that "the key terrain is the human terrain," a theme of the conference was that, in the war on terror, militaries win battles but counterinsurgencies win wars.
"We all realize that military forces alone will not bring the Afghan conflict to an end," NPS President Daniel Oliver said in opening the workshop. "Canada has been a critical partner in counterinsurgency efforts to clear, hold and build in the southern provinces of Afghanistan. These workshops are a great opportunity for the Naval Postgraduate School and the Canadian Task Force to build upon our shared knowledge and experiences in this critical country."
"Professor Johnson and his team have put together some of the finest experts in the world on southern Afghanistan," Oliver noted. "This forum truly represents a unique opportunity to wrap your heads around the critical strategic, operational and tactical details as you make your way through the planning and preparation phase of your mission."
Menard stressed the central importance of understanding the center of gravity of the insurgency, the tribal Pashtun population.
"It's essential to exchange with specialists in these vital topics at the intersection of culture and counterinsurgency that I believe are the only things that will make a difference," Menard said. "Fighting can be easy [compared to winning hearts and minds], especially in the south where it's impossible to separate the people from the insurgency because the people are the insurgency. To succeed, a radical change - something dramatic - is needed, and we're here to listen and learn about the tools we'll need for success."
Presentations spanned a wide range of topics relating to southern Afghanistan, including journalist Smith and native Kandahari Waheed's perspectives on political and social conditions; an overview of the Pashtun insurgency by Boy; tribal and clan dynamics by Phillips; issues of political legitimacy by Barfield; using Pashtun culture for strategic advantage by Mason; poppy cultivation and interdiction by DuPee; and information operations and culture, and a report on his recent trip to the region by Johnson; and an overview of Islam in the area by Zahab.
According to Johnson, the conference was a definite success.
"I had long conversations with Gen. Menard afterwards and he gave very positive feedback. He was extremely pleased with the information he received throughout the three days," Johnson said.
In 2008, Johnson and a team of research associates spent nearly three weeks in Kandahar working with the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team. In May and June, he and his associates spent another four weeks embedded with Gen. Vance's Task Force in Kandahar.
For more information on the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies, go to http://www.nps.edu/Programs/CCS.
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