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Robert S. Anders discusses “Winning Paktika: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan”


Author Robert S. Anders, an alumnus of IWP’s Frontiers Program, discussed his book Winning Paktika: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan at The Institute of World Politics on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. In Winning Paktika, Robert describes his experience as a soldier in Afghanistan using counterinsurgency techniques to fight the war on terror. 

On September 11th, 2001, Rob was beginning his senior year at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He was taking an exam on the morning of the attack. His professor turned on the television just as the plane was hitting the second tower. Like all Americans, the attack had a profound effect on Robert and his classmates.  After graduation, Robert went through the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School and Ranger School, all the time worrying he was going to “miss the war.” 

After he finished training, Robert was assigned to take charge of the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry “Wolfhounds” in Hawaii.  After working tirelessly becoming experts in violence and destruction, commander of the battalion, Colonel Walter Piot told his men, “We can win this war without killing a single person.”  This statement was the theoretical extreme of counterinsurgency doctrine. The unit the 2nd Battalion replaced used conventional warfare.  Their purpose was to kill all the terrorists; they were there for the body count.  Colonel Piot believed in a new way of thinking that suggested nation building rather than killing.  The battalion went into Paktika with the focus of building rather than destroying.

Robert became the liaison between the government of Paktika Province and his men.  The Battalion built a relationship with the members of the government and also the citizens of Paktika.  Colonel Piot told the leader of the province that the Battalion would do nothing in the province unless it was a partnership.  This statement set the tone in Paktika, and Robert believes Colonel Piot saved many lives by making this statement. Robert noted that the crucial part of the war was the time when bombs were not exploding. 

The 2nd Battalion held the first democratic election in Paktika. The election was less about who won, and more about getting people involved.  The election was a success, and the number of people who showed up to vote was double what the skeptics estimated.  In counterinsurgency, Robert argued, the election was as successful as dropping a bomb on the battlefield.

The last third of their time in Paktika was spent on tearing apart terrorist networks.  Due to the relationships built with Paktika citizens, people were voluntarily sharing information.  The 2nd Battalion was winning the war without having to kill people.  Robert described the difficulty of counterinsurgency with the question of: “How can you be the toughest guy on the block and also offer a handshake?” Robert’s battalion was able to navigate that balance in Paktika.

Robert said that his book serves as a case study that demonstrates that counterinsurgency can work with the right conditions.