Gurcan, Metin. What Went Wrong in Afghanistan? Understanding Counter-Insurgency Efforts in Tribalized Rural and Muslim Environments. West Midlands, UK: Helion & Company Limited, 2016. xxvii + 137 pages. Paperback, $35.00.
Metin Gurcan served as a Turkish Special Forces officer with extensive experience as a military advisor and liaison officer, and he served on Turkish General Staff. Additionally, he earned a Master of Arts in Security Studies from the US Navy Postgraduate School and a doctorate from Bilkent University in Ankara. The title of Gurcan's book may suggest to the reader that it is a lengthy comprehensive analysis of politics, strategy, and tactics in what is now over sixteen years of combat by US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Gurcan, like others who have been involved in establishing US strategy in Afghanistan, fails to define in concrete terms what victory or a positive end state in Afghanistan would look like. However, he begins by asking a very basic question, "Would you die for your backyard" (p. 29)?
Gurcan concentrates his analysis in three areas. First, he explains in detail the Tribalized Rural Muslim Environment (TRME), a unique combat environment. Second, he explains the geography of Afghanistan and its impact on the social, economic, and political cultures. Finally, he discusses counterinsurgency strategy (COIN), how it applies to Afghanistan, and briefly reviews COIN as the US and NATO have applied it.
After al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, the US government and the military lacked the comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the religious and tribal culture and society of Afghanistan. The few "experts" often applied generalities to a multi-faceted people. Gurcan points out that Westerners often fail to apply critical thinking and define any non-Western tradition as being 'abnormal' or 'peculiar,' and he further argues that "... what may appear 'abnormal' or 'peculiar' to an outsider may appear as self-evidently normal to a particular society" (p. 32). Gurcan takes this argument a step further when he explains that although the West often describes Afghanistan and similar areas as "ungoverned," they are not. Gurcan argues that TRMEs are not ungoverned, "In fact they have been governed territories for centuries, but with governance models different than state-centric" (p. 31).
Considering that counterinsurgency has played a major role in the US and NATO's military strategy in...