Joint COIN Pub Ignores Reality
Joint Publication 3-24 (22 Nov 2013) on counterinsurgency requires eight-hours to read. It is tendentious, assertive, insipid and lugubrious. Fortunately, these virtues will leave the Pub with few readers and thereby not clutter too many minds with sociology posing as warfare.
The Joint Pub doubles down on the proposition that war is an exercise in civics rather than in destruction. This is the Pub's core sentence, hidden midway in the tome: “While it may be required to kill or capture insurgents, it is more effective to separate an insurgency from the population, thus letting it die.”
Thus, our soldiers are depicted as community police whose motto is, “Why can’t we all just get along?” This is nuts. The Taliban were tough, opportunistic, cunning fighters. Every one of our platoons patrolled in movement to contact mode. With a 1,500-mile sanctuary and woven into the fabric of Pashtun society, the Taliban could not be defeated.
But our grunts could and should win every firefight and seize the initiative, wherever they chose to go. Our soldiers are not sociologists; a rifle is not a textbook. In its social science jargon, the Joint Pub ignores the war-fighting core characteristics of aggressiveness, ferocity, confidence and determination. Or perhaps the Pub assumes our grunts possess inherently a martial ethos superior to our adversaries and thus blithely goes on to elucidate a graduate level course in warfare. If so, the Pub is even farther removed from reality. The Taliban initiated nine out of ten engagements. We added self-defense armor that restricted our mobility. Thus we had to rely more upon firepower - that was deplored by the senior commanders and by the COIN Pubs. No Pub offered a solution. Today, skepticism about the wisdom of senior officers is rife among those who fought at the company level. All talk, no action.
The revisions to the COIN doctrine do not explain how to shut down an external sanctuary, or defeat an irreconcilable enemy or change the mendacious character of host nation leaders. This is like claiming the operation was a success, but the patient did not recover. The US military can, given ten or more years, strengthen a host nation military; it cannot create a nation.
We are the ones who pulled out after a frustrating decade; both the Taliban and Al Qaeda are still functioning today. After 13 years and two wars that ended badly, the doctrine writers were incapable of acknowledging war’s ferocious reality in Afghanistan and the political essence of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan: host nation leaders do not change their characters in midlife. The essential COIN error is believing the US can alter host nation behavior without remaining for decades and without exerting tremendous leverage over the host nation leaders whose failures have led to the American armed presence.
The COIN Pub does not suggest a better way the next time; it doubles down on what did not work for the past 13 years.