An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The winning strategy: Be There

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jonathan Simmons
  • Kapisa Provincial Reconstruction Team
Reconstructing a nation, or even a province, that's been ravaged by decades of war is a challenge. What's impossible is reconstructing that nation from a distance. One of the most important steps we can take in the counterinsurgency fight is to "Be There."

According to author David Kilcullen, in his book "Counterinsurgency," "The first rule of deployment in counterinsurgency is to be there." This is a good portion of the foundation for our current strategy here in Afghanistan.

"Your first order of business is to establish a presence." I learned this in theory during my preparations for this deployment, but now that I've been here for a few months nothing rings so powerfully true.

Before I came to be the public affairs officer for my provincial reconstruction team I had heard stories about Afghanistan; some of the same stories you've heard on the news. I heard that the country was a dangerous place and that it was full unusual customs. Oh, and I knew the names of a couple of prominent bad guys who had used Afghanistan as a base of operation. Starting with this impression, I wondered how much of the mission I could accomplish from the safety of the forward operating base.

When I began travelling on my first missions and heard the clanging of rocks thrown by children against our armoured vehicles, I recognized that there was some truth in the things I'd learned about Afghanistan before I came here. I also realized that there is no way to win the hearts and minds of the people here,or even to understand what they're going through other than to spend time out and about among them.

From talking with the young local interpreter who has both hopes and fears for his country, to eating watermelon with a sub governor with huge hands, to sitting at the foot of the one-legged Afghan local policeman who refuses to stop fighting insurgents; some of the richest experiences I've had so far have come from sitting with, drinking tea with, and listening to Afghans.

I've seen the faces of local people light up when they hear someone like me, an American who they'd only heard stories about before, stumbles through a few words in their native language. Both on and off the FOB, it's become clear to me that actually being there with the Afghan people consistently is the only way we'll make progress in this new kind of war that can't be won by bullets alone.

The potential effectiveness of this in-person, face-to-face approach stands to reason. If you think about it, our enemies and the enemies of the Afghan people don't launch attacks from distant fortresses or swoop in with armoured boxes, look around, and leave. They are the ones who live next door to the ordinary people upon whom Afghanistan's future depends. How can an absentee approach prevail? As an example, just think about how you would feel if roles were reversed and an Afghan reconstruction team was reconstructing Jackson, Providence, or a city near you after 30 years of war and conflict.

Yes, there is some risk involved, and those making decisions about how much risk to take are at levels far above me. But how much greater is the risk of leaving Afghanistan without accomplishing the mission? I'm grateful for every opportunity I get to be here on this important mission. Thank you to everyone who continues to be here, supporting me and my fellow Airmen and Soldiers.