The Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s ongoing presence in contemporary Afghanistan and their similar, yet different efforts to destabilize the US-backed Afghan regime have been met by a joint or blended counterterrorism (CT) and counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy from the US. However, Boyle in his article argues that the conflation of these two models of warfare is counterproductive and stems from an intellectual error. He explains that, because CT and COIN models entail their own unique sets of costs that may offset the gains made by the other, simultaneously deploying them could render the long-term strategic success more elusive. One of such offsetting costs that Boyle mentions is that of “popular backlash”. Since 2001, the US has fielded commando raids and approved of drone strikes on Afghan soil to either capture or kill high-value Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets. However, such CT tactics also left many civilians dead or injured. As non-combatant casualties increase, in response, Boyle explains that more pressure is placed on the Afghan government to deprioritize its ties with the US. Afraid to lose legitimacy, the government is forced to do so to maintain domestic support. In effect, this disrupts COIN operations, which calls for state-building projects that require close cooperation from the Afghan political sphere.

 

Critically, the above-described CT tactics may indeed offset COIN operations. However, the conflation of the two models may arise from a cost-benefit approach, rather than an intellectual error as Boyle claims. Although it is difficult to suggest compromising a few or even hundreds of civilian lives for eliminating a high-value target as rational, the ongoing use of raids and drone strikes indicate that the US administration does believe so. And, as Boyle suggests, this may backfire and disrupt the US’ COIN operations. However, Boyle fails to mention the considerable leverage the US has over Afghanistan: As of September 2014, the US had appropriated USD $104.1 billion for the relief and reconstruction of Afghanistan, and the two states have multiple bilateral strategic partnerships together.[1] For the Afghan government, there is a large incentive to continue cooperating with its American counterpart. Therefore, while domestic pressure should be monitored, its effect on Afghanistan-US relations may not be significant.

Boyle’s argument that the conflation results from an intellectual error suggests that the US has failed to detect, identify, and consider all the offsetting costs arising from deploying CT and COIN strategies together. However, considering the leverage the US has on Afghanistan, the conflation could be considered as a rational decision from the perspective of the US administration. Therefore, the problem is not intellectual error, but the US’ evaluation that the Afghan public’s outcry cannot compromise its COIN operations because it has considerable leverage on the Afghan government.

[1] Lutz, Catherine, and Sujaya Desai. “US Reconstruction Aid for Afghanistan: The Dollars and Sense.” Costs of War (Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University) (2015): 2. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.