Other members of the COIN Commentariat may not attract as many readers but are no less significant. “We do not have a large audience in the general population,” explained Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, who writes for Registan.net (and occasionally for CJR). Nonetheless, the site’s editors compare their readership to the Velvet Underground: small but very influential. As one example of Registan’s influence, Foust cites an early 2011 series of critiques of the U.S. military’s burning of Tarok Kolache, a village in Kandahar Province, as a counterinsurgency strategy. “I don’t know how much that changed the policy of doing so, since I don’t think it was a policy, but by drawing attention to it I was able to get a bigger public audience discussing and debating what that was about,” said Foust.
In addition to Afghan Quest, many counterinsurgency blogs are written anonymously. At Ink Spots, for example, most of the bloggers write under pseudonyms. “I can give all the disclaimers I want, but I still don’t want to suggest to anyone that I’m speaking for my employer or anyone else to whom I’m connected in any way,” said one of Ink Spots’s bloggers, who writes under the name “Gulliver.” The authors of Ink Spots were each frequent participants in the comment threads of Abu Muqawama before starting their own site in 2009. “We all work in fields that are at least tangentially related to COIN and stability operations,” said Gulliver. “So blogging gives us an opportunity to both elaborate on work that’s going on in the field and provide analysis of ongoing operations. The informal nature of blogging means that we’re able to hopefully be more timely and responsive while also being a bit more casual than in academic papers or other formats like that.”
Anonymity also allows COIN bloggers who work for departments and agencies in the U.S. government to write candidly about subjects that could get them in trouble with employers who might have an interest in controlling perceptions about the war. “It is common knowledge that things are going badly here, and you will find plenty of memos or sources who will tell you in excruciating detail why things are all kinds of screwed up,” explained Tim Lynch, a former infantry officer who writes the blog FreeRangeInternational.com. “But doing so on the record shifts the conversation away from the message to the messenger.”
Ideologically, the “COIN Commentariat” can generally be split into two groups: What some call the “COINdinistas,” those that supported the military’s adoption of counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq and believe fundamentally in COIN doctrine; and “COINtras,” who are skeptics of COIN or its applications in Afghanistan. But no matter where they fall on the spectrum, most members of the COIN blogosphere seems united in their disdain for the mainstream media’s coverage of the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. “Most journalists wouldn’t know the difference between good COIN and bad COIN when they saw it,” said Old Blue of Afghan Quest. “The mainstream media has largely if not completely missed the opportunity to bring accountability through the wider conversation.”
Newspaper opinion pages too often give platforms to influential people with definite political agendas, according to some. “It’s 90 percent boosters of COIN, and a few cranks, and no substantive discussion,” said Joshua Foust. Others criticize the media for having accepted what they see as a facile explanation of counterinsurgency doctrine that emphasizes “winning hearts and minds” over the more aggressive or coercive tenets of counterinsurgency strategy.