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How to Win an American Heart and Mind

When I was in Afghanistan, one of my favorite tactics was giving gifts to locals. I gave away fuel, building contracts, HESCO barrier walls, stuffed animals, humanitarian assistance and security. If I could provide it, I tried to give it away. It’s the new way to wage war, but it worked. When I told this to Eric C, he remarked that simple gifts can mean a lot for people living on a dollar a day.

He’s right, but he didn’t know the corollary to his statement: a gift from someone who lives on a dollar a day is nearly priceless.

When I first showed up to Serkani District, the Taliban attacked the police (ANP) checkpoint near Pashad every other day. Insurgents would blast the checkpoint walls with gunfire and sometimes RPGs, then flee back to the mountains near Pakistan. Because of a lack of manpower, Destined Company and the Afghan National Army couldn’t do much about it.

Until we came.

As soon as 4th Platoon arrived in Serkani from the Korengal, my commander told me that protecting the ANP from these attacks was my number one priority. Attacks usually happened at dusk, so we timed our patrols for afternoon and nighttime. We also prepared to QRF (quick reaction force) if the checkpoint commander gave us a call. For the first few weeks we had some false alarms, but no action.

One night, I got a frantic call to get to Pashad. We went. Long story short, we identified and took care of some insurgents who had just shot up the ANP checkpoint.

The checkpoint commander Sayed Abudullah, my RTO (radio guy), my interpreter and I sat outside the ANP compound, next to my humvee. It was a weird conversation: Sayed Abdullah was incredibly grateful for what we had done that night; I felt like we were just doing our job. As we talked about our recent success, an ANP soldier walked up with two oranges and gave them to Sayed Abdullah. He insisted my RTO and I have one.

Sayed professed that this wasn’t much, but a symbol of his thanks. He kept repeating how grateful he was that we could hit the Taliban for him. A few months before, his son was shot in the stomach and could no longer work at the checkpoint. For him this was personal, and we had done much for his safety by finding the Taliban at night.

So I ate his orange, knowing that fresh fruit is common but expensive in Afghanistan, and small by American standards. It was delicious nonetheless. I felt honored.

six comments

I love this post. Now this is COIN.


Sorry! Forgot to post with my info

My personal favorite was the watermelon, chai and pound cake convo’s with that same police chief.
As a junior leader who didn’t know much about COIN, these experiences with Michael C. and Sayed Abudullah were absolutely the only reason why I came to finally understand what COIN was all about and how it worked in practice.

Good story, although I’m upset I never got an orange!


Clearly a success for the coalition and ANP.

My question- does that make it good COIN? How did Sayed become the police chief?


That’s a very emotional story, Michael. Thanks for sharing it with us.


Rob I don’t know if you remember which day I was talking about. In hindsight, this was the only day we ever got oranges.

Jon in the longterm, most of the victories I achieved were undercut by future CF efforts, or lack of follow up. In that since my few tactical victories were never translated into long term success.

He became police chief by hanging around in the station long enough. He was the only not dirty ANP in our AO. The rest freely let Taliban operate.

Thanks for the words Karaka.


Michael C,

Wasn’t trying to belittle the event…just the immediate reaction that it is COIN (which you never mentioned in the post). My first reaction was the same as Eric’s, but I then realized that was a huge leap.

Moments like those are great – granted, I never got any fruit…but I shared a few smokes with IAs.