COIN Center seeks input on FM 3-24 Rewrite

The U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Center has begun the revision process of Army Field Manual 3-24, “Counterinsurgency.” First published in December 2006, it is perhaps one of the most widely read and followed field manuals in history.

FM 3-24 has its critics and its apologists, but nevertheless, U.S. Army forces depend on it to guide planning and operations for on-going deployments worldwide. At the core of the manual are enduring principles and fundamentals based on history and lessons from contemporary operations. This revision will attempt to adapt applicable lessons from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and other counterinsurgency and irregular conflicts worldwide to inform the writing team and contributing agencies and stakeholders.

How to improve it?

The Counterinsurgency Center has constructed an analytical framework that seeks to include not only a thorough review of lessons and contemporary literature, but also voices and opinions of counterinsurgency theorists, academicians and practitioners, wherever they are and regardless of their opinion.  

The resulting manual will be constructed so that Soldiers will want to read it because it is relevant to them at the tactical and operational level. It will serve to inform the activities of men and women in uniform into the foreseeable future. It will consider the range of irregular threats U.S. ground forces will confront in the future operational environment. It will contain tactics and procedures and principles, underpinned by analysis and theory.

The Counterinsurgency Center wants your input.  

This is a U.S. Army and Marine Corps field manual, so decisions on content, writing style, and format are made by both services. However, the Counterinsurgency Center will engender a collaborative environment that capitalizes on the collective intellect, expertise, and vested interests of critical stakeholders.

The Counterinsurgency Center asks qualified persons to submit input. The first preference is for contributors to complete a questionnaire; however, any input is desirable that is substantiated both by personal qualification and research. See the Counterinsurgency Center public website to access a copy of the questionnaire at (FM3-24 Revision tab). The questionnaire and any additional input will focus on doctrinal gaps which include:

  • Gaps in what is not in the current FM.
  • Duplicative material in the current manual that is covered in other doctrinal pubs.
  • Information in the FM that is too narrowly focused, i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Incorrect information in the current FM that does not meet guidelines of the Doctrine 2015 construct.

Respondents need not answer all the questions found in the questionnaire. Many questions were posed to ensure adequate depth was provided to stimulate thinking and discourse. Thanks for your interest and we look forward to your contribution. E-mail responses to

Lt. Col. John Paganini is the director of the Counterinsurgency Center.

See Also

Evolving the COIN Field Manual: A Case for Reform

by Carl Prine, Crispin Burke, and Michael Few

FM 3-24 COIN Manual Critique

by Braden Civins

Beyond FM 3-24

by Joshua Thiel, Bryan Martin, William Marm, Christopher O'Gwin, Christopher Young, Gabriel Szody, and Douglas Borer

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What’s missing from population centric COIN Doctrine?

Although FM 3-24 is supposed to be a population centric approach to COIN, it is actually a male centric approach to COIN. Recent focus on women in Afghanistan and the creation of female engagement teams represents an effort to include women in our COIN strategy. This emerging understanding needs to be captured in the FM 3-24 revision.

Our current COIN doctrine is written by men for men and about men. FM 3-24 was signed by two men; acknowledgements are given to three men and forty five men are listed in the annotated bibliography. Besides the administrative assistant who signed this document on the back cover the only other female name in FM 3-24 is that of anthropologist Dr. Montgomery McFate, who is listed in the bibliography. Many men proudly claim to be coauthors of this document but not one woman is ever credited with coauthoring FM 3-24. There is no female perspective in FM 3-24.
The term “women” is used exactly five times in this 282 page tome of over 138,000 words. “Women” is used four times in the same paragraph in appendix A-35 when the doctrine instructs readers that “women are hugely influential in forming the social networks that insurgents use for support.” “Women” is used one other time in paragraph 3-35 when the manual instructs the reader to consider social norms as related to women. Children get mentioned twice as often as women. Interestingly, the term “men” is only used a handful of times but the word insurgent is used prolifically throughout the document, and according to FM 3-24 “most insurgents are men”.

If, as Dr. David Kilcullen asserts, “co-opting neutral or friendly women, through targeted social and economic programs, builds networks of enlightened self-interest that eventually undermine the insurgents” is important than why is this not addressed anywhere in FM 3-24? He further posits that when you “win the women, …you own the family unit. Own the family and you take a big step forward in mobilizing the population.” General McChrystal clearly understands the importance of taking a gendered approach to COIN operations. He directed all units in Afghanistan to employ female engagement teams to reach out to Afghan women to “develop trust-based, enduring, and dynamic information-sharing relationships that assist GIRoA and the battle space owner in addressing the sources of instability in the area.”

Because women operate largely in private spaces vice the public their role in conflict receives little attention. Recent work by a few institutions and a new five part PBS documentary entitled “Women, War and Peace” reveal the powerful impact that women can have during and after conflict. Part II of the series entitled, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, chronicles the work of the women of Liberia. In 1998, women from all tribes, religions and ethnic groups united in their common quest to end the violence. They mobilized women across Liberia to force a negotiated settlement. Their tactics were many and varied. They staged public demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins that clogged arteries throughout the capitol. They travelled, at great risk to themselves throughout Liberia decommissioning young rebels. Their strikes and sit-ins during peace negotiations are credited with forcing parties to sign the Accra Peace Accord, which resulted in the exile of President Charles Taylor. After the peace accord was signed the women travelled throughout Liberia to support the disarmament process and when Liberia held peaceful democratic elections in 2005 the women helped elect President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state. Today the work of these women continues and this year two of them were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The women of Liberia demonstrate the power of “networks of enlightened self-interest that eventually undermine insurgents”.

FM 3-24 is currently undergoing revision. The revision is being headed by a group of men at the Combined Arms Center. They have a web site where they solicit input. The team was referred to a female researcher at the National Defense University to discuss how or if gender should be addressed in the revision. The re-write team found it difficult to make time to visit her or the colleagues she assembled to meet with them. If the revised FM 3-24 fails to address the role of women in COIN operations then it will be an incomplete document.

FM 3-24.Counterinsurgency. December 2006.
Kilcullen, David J. 2006. Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency. Small Wars Journal.
McChrystal, Stanley A. General. Engagement with Afghan Females Directive. 31 May 2010. International Security Assistance Force/United States Forces-Afghanistan.
Riticker, Gini. (Director). (2008). Pray the Devil Back to Hell. [Documentary Film]. United States

I think two of your points are at best half right. I agree the bulk of our efforts against insurgencies in the past, and hopefully in the future, will be through FID programs, but the U.S. can conduct COIN operations in a foreign country either unilaterally or as part of a FID effort in support of the host nation’s government.
An insurgency is a military and political struggle to weaken a legitimately established government or an occupying power. If we’re an occupying power and there is a resistance directed towards us in that role, we conduct COIN, withdraw, or quickly prop up a semi-legitimate government and try to call it FID in all too often lame attempts to give us more legitimacy. When we shift too quickly in establishing a HN government we’re likely to create the illegitimate monster that defeats our ultimate aims. None the less, as an occupying we can and have conducted COIN, and if we knew how to conduct COIN (outside of SF which always carried that torch) in 2003/2004 in Iraq, we may have prevented some or most of the chaos that followed.
We’ll move beyond the governing role of an occupying back to FID since it is less controversial to discuss U.S. forces conducting COIN in a FID program. The FID Joint Pub states, “In some cases, the Armed Forces of the US may be required to conduct COIN, CT, CD, or other sustained operations directly in the place of HN forces, particularly if HN security force capacity is still being developed. In other cases, the Armed Forces of the US may support HN forces conducting such operations by directly participating in combat operations.” Even our FID doctrine states U.S. forces may have to conduct COIN, and of course we know the reality on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan is our forces conducted COIN. I’m not making an argument on whether they should or shouldn’t, but simply to point they can conduct COIN and have done so. We need to move beyond these absolute statements that U.S. forces don’t conduct COIN, and accept that the answer is “it depends.”
Assuming we’re only conducting FID, but helping another nation counter an insurgency then those advisors still needs to have an understanding of insurgency and counterinsurgency, so COIN doctrine is still desired for our FID efforts, which that takes us to the second point. Is the current FM 3-24 the desired doctrinal manual or pretty close to it? I don’t think so, and I fear that failing to start from scratch means we’ll stick with the same general operational framework of clear, hold and build that in most scenarios is not going to work. The population is important, always has been, but the population centric COIN models have proven to be more of pop culture COIN than a true COIN strategy. The bottom line is combat operations, whether directed against regulars or irregulars generally rely on the same doctrinal principles/concepts, but how they’re implemented will vary based on terrain, technology, etc., while COIN principles/concepts will vary considerable based on a wide range of factors that shape the conflict. Tactical COIN TTPs are important, but strategy is decisive, and there is little discussion of strategy in the current FM.
I agree there is a lot of good stuff in the manual, but it needs to be re-written from scratch to change the overall context, and when we get that right we can reinsert the valuable information that is in the current manual. Mine is well worn, highlighted, with notes in the margins, so yes I’m very familiar with the manual and like much of it.

Possibly the following might be helpful to us:

I think that understanding the role of the local governments, from the perspective of our agenda for said local governments, is important to this discussion.

From our perspective, the role of the local governments is to achieve modernization of their states and societies along Western lines.

Herein, we are likely to face four basic scenerios:

a. Situations in which the local governments -- and significant elements of the populations -- both are receptive to our modernization agenda.

b. Situations in which the local governments are receptive to our modernization concepts -- but significant elements of the population are not.

c. Instances in which the local governments are not interested in our modernization program -- but much of the population is. And

d. Instances in which both the local governments and their populations are resistant to the idea of modernization along Western lines.

Given that the above is (1) likely to be our operating environment for the foreseeable future and (2) how we view the role of the local governments during this time (to wit: to facilitate modernization along Western lines and to overcome any resistance to this initiative),

Then how should we characterize -- from a military perspective -- our support for those who are "with us", and our efforts to overcome those who are "against us," given each individual scenerio described above?


It is not the "name" that matters, it is the thinking that occurs and perspectives that are formed when certain names are applied. "COIN" and "War" are just words, but each carries a weight of historically shaped thinking and perspective behind them that lead to inappropriate and ineffective behavior on the part of intervening powers in the insurgency of another. Unless one plans to stay and incorporate that land and populace into one's own, or to crush some populace into submission with no care for what happens next, best to avoid starting down that slippery slope at all.

We need to break the cycle of current thinking. Our struggles are not tactical ones, they are in the strategic frameworks of, and the policies behind, the operations we get into. Arguing which general was better, or what type of "COIN" tactics are more effective is to argue about things that are relevant, yet immaterial to the essence of our problems. We must change how we think. Changing the words one uses is an effective way to begin changing how one thinks.

Starting from scratch is not necessary. This manual for all its faults has a great deal of important information in it; but as a collection and total message it does indeed get it very wrong. There are probably 6-10 points of nuance that if woven through the manual would make it an excellent product.

1. Insurgency and COIN are not war, but are best viewed as civil emergencies that occasionally rise to the point of warfare.

2. Call this a FID manual. The Western history of "COIN" is one of manipulating the governance of others for the purpose of some Western power; and the follow-on efforts to protect such illegitimate governments against challenges raised by the affected populaces. That is indeed insurgency, but the efforts of those foreign powers are not "COIN."
(note, when one conducts FID in a foreign country one does so in a manner that respects the sovereignty of that foreign governments and the lives of that foreign populace; when one conducts COIN both of those critical components are quickly tossed aside as inconvenient excess baggage.)

3. Make the primary purpose of such FID operations one of encouraging and assisting governments to get more in line with their populace (all of it, not just their base of support), and to ensure those populaces believe that trusted, legal, appropriate means to affect government are truly available to them.

a. Efforts to preserve a government as is while helping it to "control" the populace and drag them back to where that government wants them to be are doomed.

b. Efforts to force Western concepts onto a government that are perhaps even more out of synch with the affected populaces are even more doomed, and certainly less legitimate. (A major component of post Cold War US Grand Strategy/Foreign policy, btw)

Such approaches create "exploitable gaps," and rest certain that all manner of internal and external actors will step up to exploit, for any range of purpose, employing any manner of ideology that works to motivate their target populace.

4. Insurgency and COIN are a continuum, and are in the vast majority of times and places simply civil governments doing their jobs to some degree of competence, and populaces living their lives in some degree of satisfaction with how they are governed. As this condition degrades it may go violent or non-violent as a matter of tactical choice. Manage it as a continuum and never relieve civil government of their responsibility and duty no matter how violent it might become. Militaries tend to convert such matters to "war" and see them as starting when the violence begins, and ending when the violence stops. It's not all about the military, don't make it so.

5. Insurgency is internal, illegal and political. Categorize conflicts by the nature of their beginnings and roots, not the character of their tactics, ideologies or effects. Other forms of criminal and guerrilla warfare are often not insurgency, and are not well addressed with COIN.

These are a few off the top, but just adopting these few changes would make a world of difference.

If a Western (or other) foreign power is:

a. Manipulating the governance of others for its (the Western or other foreign power's) own purposes and

b. Using follow-on efforts to protect such illegitimate government(s) against challenges raised by the effected population.

Considering that one cannot accurately define or describe this phenonenon -- for the reasons you have outlined above -- as either COIN or FID.

Then should we call this activity by a more accurate and correct name, such as: state-on-state (albeit "small") war?

(This allowing us to [again?] name the publication regarding these types of conflicts as "The Small Wars Manual?")

If faced with insurgency the host nation is clearly doing counterinsurgency. Many feel it does not matter if those nations who support that host country government also call their role COIN (I do, as I see over and over that when one does they soon quash the sovereignty of their host and come to act in ways that damage what ever legitimacy that host may have had to begin with). But to call something a "small war" is tremendously unhelpful. All manner of conflict can be small or large in size, so noting that a conflict is small in size in no way suggests what types of solutions are best apt to resolve it.

Size matters, but it does not define the problem at hand.

In the circumstances described in my comment above (taken from your initial comment), I understand that if the "host nation" is faced with an insurgency, then it (the host nation) is doing counterinsurgency.

What I am looking for is what to correctly call what we are doing in these circumstances.

For the reasons you have noted, neither COIN nor FID seems to fit the bill.

Considering this, I think that what we may actually be doing is a version of state-on-state war (foreign power v. the population of the subject country); wherein, the foreign power uses the host nation government as its proxy.

Should we, accordingly, call our manual re: this version of state-on-state war something like: "War With the Host Nation Government as One's Instrument?" Or something to that effect?

Does this definition help us define the problem at hand and allow for a more clear solution?

Ah, ok. No, I meant to convey that FID fits this bill. Not all FID is support to COIN, but all support to COIN is FID.


Agreed, but Dave's point while relevant to Afghanistan, may not always be relevant, so to embrace it as a core principle that "always" applies could once again lead us into a quagmire where we continue to flounder to no end, but simultaneously boost about our endless tactical successes.

I agree with Gian's point about the COIN center setting conditions for the re-write that will prevent any creative input, when they start off with, quote:

"At the core of the manual are enduring principles and fundamentals based on history and lessons from contemporary operations. This revision will attempt to adapt applicable lessons from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and other counterinsurgency and irregular conflicts worldwide to inform the writing team and contributing agencies and stakeholders."

Just another opinion, but the insurgency in Iraq was not defeated, it was suppressed. The insurgency in the Philippines isn't close to being defeated, and we all realize the situation in Afghanistan remains uncertain. That doesn't mean there are no lessons to learn, there have been tactical and operational level successes and failures in each conflict. I guess my main concern is discerning exactly what the COIN center believes are the enduring principles of COIN? I believe there are core principles, but perhaps not the principles that the pop-centric COINdistas blindly embrace. Most insurgencies are not identical, and obviously the social-political context they incur in are generally different, sometimes considerably. The point is obvious, there can't be a standard approach, the right approach (unless we get lucky) requires a detailed understanding of the drivers of the conflict and what can realistically be achieved given the context, then focus on the ways which the COIN doctrine should help inform, but not dictate. Our COIN doctrine actually states this, but then goes on to list a very OIF centric set of principles that in themselves are questionable. Worse yet, the doctrine is embraced as law in practice by many, instead of a guide that requires a lot of intellectual rigor before applying. I was hoping to submit a paper to the COIN center, but they already set the tone that they don't intend to change the manual much. Sounds like they just want their manual to be reinforced with lessons from current conflicts. I'm sure they'll find plenty of COINdistas who will support the effort.

Bill M, couldn't agree more. We need an array of options. Zen's post below makes me wonder if we are indeed living in another era of revolution. I've been working on this question lately. When is a revolution over, completed, fulfilled? If we can better understand that it doesn't end in a win, loss, or negotiated settlement, but, rather, it is often a continuous process (as Bob Jones has been preaching), then perhaps, this will help us better confront the world that we're living in today. For example, think of the American Revolution not ending with defeating the British, but continuing on today as we've worked through civil war,slavery, women's voting rights, Great Depression, civil rights, etc...The tensions of an imperfect union continue to this day with a re-revolution and a counter-revolution, an on-going revolution for a changing context and resistance to revolution and a changing context.

Well, however well or poorly the US waged counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, there needs to be some new ideas on how to do it better and more cheaply. The reason being that the chances of irregular conflict that might threaten American interests fading away in the next twenty years are approximately zero. We will have more threats US leaders will not ignore.

If narco-insurgency in Mexico, to cite just one example, were to rapidly worsen, you could see massive influxes of refugees going into this country as well as into Central America and insurgency and an explosion of criminal disorder would come with it. A Shia-led "Arab Spring" in KSA would disrupt global energy markets as a geriatric Saudi royal family and Sunni extremists attempted a massive crackdown - if the Saudis asked for US intervention, would Washington refuse?

Agree that there needs to be complete re-think for alternatives to pop-centric COIN, disagree that the US can fold the tent on the subject and just focus on conventional warfare. If we intend to use blitzkrieg type combined arms response or heavy artillery and airpower against insurgents within the limits of the laws of war - we need to be upfront with ourselves. about the sort of "Operation Cast Lead" costs that approach entails. If we are going to rely on FID, local open-source counterinsurgent militias and airpower, that comes with lowered expectations as to policy Ends and control over operational Ways.

Perhaps a section can be added that explicitly states that trying to force moral ideas and obligations on the Host Nation is a recipe for failure and costs needless lives.

The post had this to say about FM 3-24

"At the core of the manual are enduring principles and fundamentals based on history and lessons from contemporary operations."

then it asked this about the manual

"How to improve it?"

And herein rests the problem with the Coin center at Fort Leavenworth based on this post: The so-called "enduring principles and fundamentals based on history" are fictional accounts in what has actually happened in past counterinsurgency wars. I imagine that the "enduring principles" are bromides like: "protect and secure the population," government legitimacy," "the people are the center of gravity," "seperate the insurgents from the people," and so on and so on. And to think that there are lessons to be gained from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for population centric coin, I am hard pressed to see what they are since it is clear that coin simply has not worked in Afghanistan, and its effects in Iraq are dubious at best. So why does the Coin center look to these currents wars as a treasure trove of "lessons learned"? I don’t get it. Which "history" I wonder is informing the Coin center about so called "enduring principles"? If it is texts like Nagl's or Ucko's or Krepinevich's or Kilcullen's or Sorley's well then I would say they are drawing on deeply flawed works.

"How to improve it"? Nope, dont, start all over again from scratch. You are starting from the wrong point. How i ask does one improve something that is broken? By simply rebuilding and polishing up what was broken to begin with? By way of a tactical analogy it would be like reinforcing failure by sending the rest of the battalion through the mine field that has not been cleared and is still covered with fire only to get the rest of the battalion slaughtered.

Gosh as we move past these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and try to figure where our army is headed, the Coin center seems to be trapped by an unusable and historically misinformed past.


Well, if they are going to start from scratch, Dave Maxwell's comment to John Nagl about a change in mindset on Afghanistan would be a good place to begin,

"With all due respect to John and his counterinsurgency expertise if we are to be really serious about putting the Afghan National Army in front now then we have to change the mindset that it will be the United States that will have trouble confronting the continued threats. It is the Afghan National Army (and police and other security forces) that have to confront the continued threats of al Qaeda, the Haqqani network and the Taliban. I think this is one of our fundamental problems - we talk about the host nation (HN) military "being in front" but that often translates into a fig leaf for US operations – putting a HN "face" on operations and not really allowing them to operate in the lead and even more importantly independently. I know that John does not mean for that to be the case but the fact is that mindset exists among us. And this paragraph below tells me that our concept for the Afghan security forces seems to be to train them in our image and not in accordance with the customs, traditions, and a realistic understanding of their natural abilities."

Perhaps, we've spent too much energy choosing mass over maneuver and speed over subtle influence in attempts to control the problem.