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On the Ground in Afghanistan

Counterinsurgency in Practice

Jerry Meyerle, Megan Katt, and Jim Gavrilis



The purpose of this book is to shed light on what small military units did in different parts of Afghanistan from the earliest years of the insurgency in 2003 to the surge of U.S. forces in 2009. It is, in part, a collection of their experiences. It describes the varying conditions faced by small units in remote areas, how they responded to these conditions, what worked, and what did not. This is not a book about policy, strategy, or national politics in Afghanistan, nor is it a book about counterinsurgency theory. Many others have written on these topics. The focus of this book is on small-unit counterinsurgency tactics and local-level politics.


Jerry Meyerle is a political scientist in the Stability and Development Program at CNA. He is the author of several widely read studies on the insurgency in Afghanistan, as well as studies on the Afghan army and articles on regional security and political violence in Pakistan and India. Meyerle is a frequent speaker on these issues at conferences, seminars, and briefing sessions to deploying units and has also served on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy reviews for U.S. Central Command. In 2008, he was an advisor to the commander of the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team in eastern Afghanistan, where he worked on Pakistan border issues. He speaks Urdu and has a PhD in political science and South Asian studies from the University of Virginia.

Megan Katt is a research analyst in the Stability and Development Program at CNA. Most of her work at CNA has focused on various aspects of the insurgency and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Prior to joining CNA, she supported research on international security and national defense issues at the RAND Corporation. She holds an MA in international security studies from Georgetown University and a BS in business marketing from San Diego State University.

LtCol James A. Gavrilis, USA (Ret.), is a senior advisor in the Stability and Development Program at CNA. He is a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer with more than 24 years of experience in the infantry and special operations. Gavrilis has served overseas in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East in training, peacekeeping, and combat operations. He has commanded and directed operations focused on urban unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency. A graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, he has an MA in international studies from Old Dominion University and a BA in political science from Pennsylvania State University.



U.S. Marines

Vignette 1: U.S. Marine Platoon, Gulistan, Farah, 2008

Vignette 2: U.S. Marine Battalion, Nawa, Helmand, 2009

Vignette 3: U.S. Marine Advisors, Tagab Valley, Kapisa, 2008

U.S. Army

Vignette 4: U.S. Army Battalion, Kunar and Nuristan, 2007–2008

Vignette 5: U.S. Army Battalion, Khost, 2004–2008

Vignette 6: U.S. Army Battalion, Nangarhar, 2005–2009

U.S. Army Special Forces

Vignette 7: U.S. Army Special Forces Team, Kandahar and Zabul, 2003–2005

Vignette 8: Three U.S. Army Special Forces Teams, Kunar and Nuristan, 2004–2005

Vignette 9: U.S. Army Special Forces Team, Kandahar, 2003–2004

British Army and Marines

Vignette 10: UK-Led Task Force, Musa Qala, Helmand, 2006–2009

Vignette 11: British Marine Battalion, Uruzgan and Helmand, 2008–2009

Vignette 12: British Army Advisors, Sangin, Helmand, 2009

Dutch Army and Marines

Vignette 13: Two Dutch Army Companies, Uruzgan, 2006–2009

Vignette 14: Dutch Marine Company, Deh Rashaan, Uruzgan, 2009

Canadian Army

Vignette 15: Canadian Soldiers and Engineers, Dand, Kandahar, 2009


7 x 10 paperback
200 pages
PDF download

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