Small Wars Journal

Ken White's Quote of the Month, Or Maybe the Year

Perhaps we should strike COIN and CT from the lexicon and talk about real strategy of ends, ways, and means instead of trying to devise strategy based on formulas (e.g., 20-25 troops for every 1000 people) - of course we love the science because it is too hard to explain the art.

--Colonel David Maxwell


Bill Moore (not verified)

Sat, 10/10/2009 - 8:18pm


"Further, SF should be fully dedicated to the IW/UW mission and to SFA. This would entail the strategic recon, strategic raid and direct action missions being performed by others. We're big enough and rich enough to man and afford that".

In a perfect world I agree with you, then SF could be right sized with the right people and their training would be focused on the appropriate skills.

Any of our guys can teach out of a manual, but for credibility a good percentage of the SF guys need actual experience in conventional combat arms units and commando units, so they can mentor foreign organizations "beyond the book" based on personal experience.

I don't know why it always come back to our personnel system, but it does. We need the flexibility (within reason and this must be controlled) to allow our guys to move between SF, commando units and conventional combat arms to gain hands on experience in those type of units, otherwise the mentors are just mimic'ing the FM, and folks see through that very quickly.

We used to do this, it wasn't unusual for an E7 weapons Sgt at Ft Bragg to go the hill for a year and be a PLT Sgt in the 82d ABN Div, then come back, but we lost this flexibility after we got the 18 series awarded. Admittedly this would be hard to manage, and there are some associated risks, but it would improve our force and the conventional army.

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 10/10/2009 - 6:55pm


If I can presume to add a few thoughts to Dave Maxwell's excellent response, I'll start with repeating part of his last sentence; "<i>...if we think we are going to change the culture in the Middle East I think we would be on a fool's errand.</i>" I suggest that statement applies to virtually all other cultures where we might intervene. We delude ourselves if we think we can -- or even should -- attempt to do that.

I also suggest that there is absolutely no way to dry up the recruiting base for Al Qaeda That too is an exercise in futility and should not even be attempted. We can make efforts on their part to trifle with us unduly expensive for them and we should continue working that aspect.

We cannot retreat into isolationism nor should we. We need to engage the world and we will occasionally need to assert US interests that may annoy others. We should not hesitate to do that -- but we can surely be smarter about that than we have been...

Restoring primacy for foreign relations to the State Department and reducing the role of the Combatant commanders in that milieu would be a good first step in revised US policies.

I do not believe we can have a 'Grand Strategy" due to our political system; changes every 2, 4, 6 and 8 years are not conducive to continuity. Others disagree and think it is possible. Regardless, whatever occurs should NOT be led by the Armed Forces. Our mission is to provide the civilians the tools required to do various jobs -- not just the one or two that we now provide but a total range. DoD and the services have been remiss in this and Congress and prior Administrations have not helped. that needs to change on all levels.

I think the GPF assisting other nations with COIN <b>is</b> the answer in rare circumstances. Underline rare -- and realize that if you commit the GPF to that mission, you will get a mediocre, barely acceptable job. That does not denigrate the GPF, it simply means that is not their job. If you train them to do that mission well, it will cost a great deal, will lessen their utility in other missions and you will have a large force trained for a mission that is only to be pursued when all other means fail. The fact is that assisting others in COIN plays to several of our intrinsic weaknesses to include a impatience, a small professional force (inadequate in strength for full implementation of classic COIN principles) and a control fetish -- we have to be in charge; we never do well when we are not and assisting other with their COIN problems mean we will not be the lead. We should avoid it unless there is absolutely no other course.

I'll repeat my mantra that we do Small Wars well, we do not do the big COIN efforts at all well for a variety of reasons. I'll also repeat my request for someone to offer me an example of a post World War II COIN assistance effort by us and entailing a large mass of US troops that ended up as a net benefit to the US...

If, on the other hand we do as Colonel Maxwell suggests and apply the right forces, conducting the right missions to achieve the effects that support the desired end state then we will probably use diplomacy up front, assisted by USAid and a better information effort and, occasionally, US Special Forces providing low key assistance to host nations in their COIN effort. We can also provide equipment and training support and these measures will often preempt the need for commitment of the GPF to do SFA missions.

We should also, I believe, develop a Strategic Raid capability, realizing and accepting the political risk that can come with that capability. That includes but is not limited to global strike capability, covert insertion and extraction capability, better training for the entire force and a willingness to accept casualties and PWs who will be exploited from the raiding force (factors which have been among the deterrents in the past to developing such a capability).

Further, SF should be fully dedicated to the IW/UW mission and to SFA. This would entail the strategic recon, strategic raid and direct action missions being performed by others. We're big enough and rich enough to man and afford that.

The basic problem is, as some wags have stated it, that when you only have a hammer (the GPF), you try to make everything look like a nail. We just need to improve the tool kit and use the right tools for the job.

Dave Maxwell (not verified)

Sat, 10/10/2009 - 6:06pm

John I assume you are directing this at me. The point I was trying to make with entire comments on Jaffe's WAPOST article was that it is counterproductive to be arguing what I am coming to call bumber-sticker strategies e.g, my COIN versus your CT strategy or "my CT strategy is better than your COIN strategy". And your questions as regards to Pakistan changing the culture of the Middle East, trying to dry up the recruiting base are getting at the questions of of ends and ways - they are fundamental questions what are we trying to achieve and how can we go about achieving what it is we want to do. Rather than arguing over the bumper-sticker ways (COIN versus CT) and means (large scale force commitment or drones and SOF) we need to be getting at the root of what we are trying to achieve and determine what we can feasible achieve and then devising the campaign using all the tools of national power and from the military perspective not reduce the tools simply to COIN only or CT only but apply the right forces, conducting the right missions to achieve the effects that support the end state.

On a separate but related note, I hope your comment about changing the Middle East culture was asked tongue in cheek or to spur discussion because I think if we think we are going to change the culture in the Middle East I think we would be on a fool's errand.


Sat, 10/10/2009 - 4:29pm

Please understand this is written with no malice but with an honest desire to learn and continue the discussion. I really want to hear intellegent responses. I understand the frustration and misunderstanding with COIN but whenever I ask, "OK, COIN is not the answer, what do you propose we do as a grand strategy?" It's usually followed by uncomfortable silence. Then we get "use SOF and air power to kill the insurgents" or some other equally weak answer. Please tell me what do you mean? Invade Pakistan to root out the Taliban and Al Queda? How do you propose to change the culture of the middle east and dry up the recruiting base of Al Quaeda and their kind? Do you plan to leave completely and have an isolationist policy?

Written with respect and an open mind,
MAJ Dethlefs

IntelTrooper (not verified)

Fri, 10/09/2009 - 8:23pm

I've had this nagging feeling over the last couple years (reinforced by statements from many military officers) that the terms "COIN" and "CT" have lost all specifc meaning. "COIN," as I saw it used in RC-East, Afghanistan, has been diluted into meaning "whatever the hell thing we're doing right now."

After a "successful" poppy <s>stealing</s> <i>interdiction</i> joint-counter-interagency mission with the ANP and ANA, the local battlespace commander came back and proudly announced "that's the purpose of COIN... to get the local security forces to do it on their own."

I thought the purpose of COIN was to "counter" the "insurgency." That requires creative thinking (which we now have defined in a Joint Publication, if I understand correctly) and possibly - gasp - different solutions for different areas.


Fri, 10/09/2009 - 12:36pm

This is indeed a great quote, but I read it more as an indictment of the long-standing weakness of the U.S. government in developing and conducting any kind of grand strategy. As long as the military establishment is the only arm of the government that is capable of thinking and operating in this manner (however imperfectly), it will be used as the primary tool for accomplishing policy goals.

oldpapajoe (not verified)

Fri, 10/09/2009 - 11:38am

I suspect GEN Dempsey, CG TRADOC, would agree with the colonel's quote.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 10/09/2009 - 11:19am

Anonymous 3:57 AM:

I agree not all -- not even most, I'd say -- problems are military problems. However, once you deploy the force you have a military problem, like it or not...

Ends, ways and means as precepts are not solely military considerations but simply logical strategic planning factors. The military as means are that only if so chosen -- and the military does <b>not</b> do that choosing.

We're confronted with the fact that either the Politicians made a conscious decision to make it a military problem or they failed to consider it properly and unconsciously created a military problem. Either way, a "military problem" is what we now have.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 10/09/2009 - 4:57am

I agree it is a great quote, and words to live by (the doctrine gurus are probably steaming). The quote would be even better if we dropped the terms ends, ways and means and just focus on figuring how on how we're going to achieve our objectives most effectively (which is obviously Dave's point), but my point is that using military doctrine, even such broad terms as ends, ways and means starts you down the path to a military solution, and not all problems are military problems. Bill