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So what is the actual surge strategy?

KABUL, Afghanistan – Despite the fact that President Barack Obama's speech on Afghanistan was broadcast in the middle of the night for troops watching from the war zone, there was a sense of excitement among U.S. troops watching the announcement at Camp Eggers, a NATO training base in Kabul.

There is an almost universal feeling among those in uniform that this surge is the United States' last chance to turn around what is increasingly seen as a failing war. 

But how can the United States turn the war around?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, believes the way forward is to implement what the military calls its counterinsurgency strategy or "COIN" for short. COIN has become an almost sacrosanct buzzword among military thinkers and strategists, but it is relatively unknown to most Americans.

Now that more Americans troops are going to war, perhaps the public should take a look for itself at what exactly the United States is getting into in Afghanistan. What is the strategy?  How do the most senior commanders plan to "get it right" in Afghanistan?

According to an unclassified military document from the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff obtained by NBC News, the COIN strategy has a basic goal. The document says to successfully conduct a counterinsurgency, U.S. and NATO forces "must accomplish three tasks simultaneously":

"Influence insurgent-minded individuals to adopt a neutral disposition."

"Influence neutral-minded individuals to adopt a supportive disposition."

"Retain supportive individuals."

In other words, COIN's goal is to convince militants to stop fighting and to persuade Afghans sitting on the fence – those unsure whether to back the Taliban or President Hamid Karzai's government – to throw their support behind the U.S.-backed government and its security forces.

Sounds simple …


It sounds simple. But an attempt to visualize the strategy reveals how immensely complicated it is for U.S. forces to accomplish.

Below is the military's schematic, a map of the counter insurgency strategy, that shows what U.S. troops hope to accomplish in Afghanistan. 

Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
This unclassified document from the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shows the U.S. military's plan for "Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics – Security." CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION

The slide is undoubtedly overwhelming.  For some military commanders, the slide is genius, an attempt to show how all things in war – from media bias to ethnic/tribal rivalries – are interconnected and must be taken into consideration.  It represents a new approach to war fighting, looking beyond simply killing enemy fighters.  It underscores what those fighting wars have long known, that everything matters.

But for others, the diagram represents a fool's errand that the United States has taken on in the name of national security. 

Detractors say the slide represents an assault on logic, an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. They say the concept of occupying a foreign nation to protect security at home is expensive, time consuming, ineffective and ultimately leads to the "spaghetti logic" of the slide. They say this slide is what happens when smart people are asked to come up with a solution to the wrong question.

Support the war or oppose it, back the surge or think it is digging a deeper hole for the United States, visualizing the counterinsurgency strategy appears to reveal one basic fact: success in Afghanistan will not be easy. 

VIDEO: Richard Engel and a panel of analysts map the surge strategy

More on President Obama's Afghanistan speech:
VIDEO: Afghan strategy outlined
Top war commander lauds build-up
Obama hints at 'more operations' in Pakistan

How will Congress pay for the surge?