Small Wars Journal

"Non Cents"

Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap, a respected but frequently provocative author, has critiqued the Army/Marine counterinsurgency manual in a commentary titled "We have a COIN shortage" in the May Naval Institute Proceedings. I would have normally dismissed General Dunlap's observations as a rare but poor example of discourse, as I have a lot of respect for him personally. But this commentary reflected more than just an inadequate grasp of irregular warfare. Having recently returned from a counterinsurgency symposium at Maxwell Air Force Base, it is clear that a broader misunderstanding exists about the nature of irregular conflict and FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 that needs to be cleared up.

General Dunlap opens with a tart observation that the Army/Marine Corps got a lot of publicity with the publication of the new field manual. Newsweek called it "The Book" on Iraq, which I think is a stretch but a natural reaction. He goes on to suggest that the publicity exceeded notable events such as the airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last summer or the "yet more debilitating air attacks against al Qaeda havens in Somalia." This gives the reader an early hint about where our Air Force counterinsurgency theory is coming from.

General Dunlap goes on to lambaste the manual as the product of the nation's ground forces and a thinly veiled attempt to establish a Joint/national approach that is protracted, costly, manpower intensive, and inherently a "traditional land component solution." Such an approach is too costly for America, and is far too late for Iraq, the General adds.

While I happen to agree with his assessment about Iraq, the simple fact remains that the manual wasn't written or intended to satisfy one of today's insurgencies. It fills a 25 to 30 year void in our doctrinal library thanks to the Vietnam Syndrome and the Pentagon's insistence on only preparing for wars we would like to fight instead of those our enemies are prepared to wage. My normally coherent Air Force partner would like to continue that trend despite consistent historical evidence to the contrary. The field manual is simply operational level doctrine for two Services, no strategic agenda other than ensuring that today's ground warriors are ready for the most probable types of war that nation will face for some time.

My Air Force friends don't accept that assessment of future conflict. If you have any doubts, read this, "Real innovation for 21st century conflict calls for devising techniques that avoid exposing thousands of young Americans to the hazards of combat." Instead, General Dunlap argues that we should be seeking to exploit our technological genius and the "air and naval component's way of war" which are high tech and low cost. This is the same way Admiral Owens used to sell his "systems of systems" model as well. It's very attractive to naí¯ve politicians who do not know better and want to eliminate risk. The problem is that these approaches have great applications in high intensity conventional combat, and have worked in Kosovo, Afghanistan and in Somalia when matched with some ground forces.

General Dunlap's positive references to kinetic strikes in Somalia and Kosovo conveniently ignores a lot of history dating back to Britain's ineffective applications of airborne killing power in Mesopotamia 80 odd years ago, and more recently in Afghanistan. Kosovo was simply high tech, high cost, and extremely low in effectiveness. Yes, airpower was decisive in toppling the Taliban in 2001, with ground forces from the Northern Alliance helping force the Taliban to mass in defensive positions. But the record goes both ways, as on April 29 and May 9 this year a number of air strikes were conducted to counter the Taliban's preparations for an anticipated spring offensive. These strikes produced unexpected civilian casualties that have angered President Karzai and undercut NATO and Coalition efforts to secure the population's allegiance. (Of course, ground units have also produced accidental collateral damage as well.) General Dunlap is confusing regime destruction with the more constructive requirements of COIN. This approach certainly didn't do much for the IDF last summer against Hezbollah.

Down at Maxwell, the Marine and Army officers got an earful about the FM's purported ground centricity. The Air Force, which made a belated and limited attempt to participate in the manual's development, was unhappy that air power was relegated to an appendix vice a separate chapter. Frankly, I don't think it rates a distinct chapter or an appendix.

Airpower, properly understood, is an invaluable contributor to successful counter-insurgency operations as it is to most other forms of conflict. Most Marines understand their own Small Wars history and recognize the early innovative applications of aviation in Nicaragua in the 1920s as a form of fire support, logistics, and medical evacuation, and reconnaissance. It is not an accident that Jim Corum and Wray Johnson's Airpower in Small Wars is on the Commandant's PME reading list, or that Professor Johnson (a retired Air Force officer) is the course director for irregular warfare at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. A larger number of Marines have served in either OEF or OIF certainly recognize the critical contributions that airpower made to their own military tasks in theater. Aviation was critical to operational success in both fights for Fallujah and well as Najaf in 2004, including Air Force strike contributions. Many a Marine unit commander has told me that the sound of an AC-130 overhead at night is the best lullaby they've ever heard. Other forms of aerospace capability, like unmanned aerial vehicles, have also been noteworthy in both OEF and OIF. Marine commanders and their staffs recognize that air power is fundamental to the conduct of intelligence, fires, maneuver, and logistics in warfare in general, and to irregular conflicts as well.

Could that recognition have been more explicitly made in key chapters in the new field manual--sure. Was it critical to the Army and Marine generals and their respective doctrinal teams or school houses, apparently not. Senior Marines don't consider themselves ground centric, and embrace a more comprehensive view of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

The Marines and our Army brethren also understand that the center of gravity for a host nation under attack by an insurgency is generally the population. It's not about killing insurgents, or putting "warheads on foreheads." COIN requires constructive and indirect approaches, not just strike sorties. This has led American, French and British doctrine to focus on principles and parameters for the conduct of irregular conflicts that center on controlling or securing the population from harm or interaction with the insurgent. It's very difficult to do that from space or from a bomber. If success is ultimately tied to the people, I am sorry but they live on the ground. Their government operates on the ground, and people need to be secure to go about their lives. Until civilian populations take up residence in space or start to raise families at 10,000 feet, there will be limitations as to what airpower writ large, or the Air Force more specially, can accomplish.

Equally disturbing at Maxwell were comments from Air Force officers who bemoaned the nature of the fight in Iraq. I heard criticisms about Army dominance of the war's conduct, too little apportionment of sorties to "deep battle" targets, and about the Air Force being relegated to an Army Air Corps. Some worried that decentralized and flexible command practices resulted in "penny packed" uses of airpower. What I never heard was a constructive argument for another way of doing business, strategically or operationally. Nor did I sense that most Air Force officers understood the fluid nature of the competition or the need to adapt. Does airpower have to be employed the same manner across the full spectrum of combat, or can the Air Force adapt its tool sets and mindset to a wider range than just optimized for interdiction into "kill boxes."?

To advance its own development, as well as to better articulate its unique contributions to America's security interests I think my airpower friends need to change tack. Instead of badly mischaracterizing the Army/Marine Corps efforts to prepare their warriors for the complexities of modern counterinsurgency, I strongly suggest they devote their intellectual energy to developing its own Service doctrine, to engaging OSD/Joint forums where IW and COIN concepts are being debated, and in ensuring that Air Force perspectives are voiced. Right now it's living in a glass house. The Air Force should be more candid, it needs to catch up to what is now year six of a long war. A thorough articulation of Air Force contributions in irregular warfare, now in draft form, is obviously needed to ensure that it thoroughly understands and is intellectually prepared for the realities of modern irregular warfare. Until then, we don't have a COIN shortage, just a lack of common cents.

Frank Hoffman is a frequent contributor to most military journals, and was a contributing author to FM 3-24.


SWJ Editors Note - Related Small Wars Council Discussions:

"Non Cents"

Punitive Ops Revisited

New AF COIN Doctrine

America's Asymmetric Advantage


Strategic Sergeant,

Sorry for the delayed response! Yes, I do believe that had the precepts of FM 3-24 been followed from the beginning they would have worked.

In fact, if they are followed now they can work. After all, they call for 500,000 highly-trained COIN troops dedicated to the task for a decade or more - plus a plethora of other actions by other government agencies. I can't imagine that such an enormous committment would not eventually yield success.

Clearly, if we had 500,000 skilled counterinsurgents on the ground in Iraq from the beginning, we wouldnt be where we are today. Again, if we are willing to spend a trillion dollars and thousands more American lives in the years to come, FM 3-24 can still work in Iraq, even at this late date.

That said, my personal view - and I recognize reasonable people may differ on this point - is that a COIN strategy that in effect requires the costly (in lives and treasure) long-term commitment of masses of American boots-on-the-ground is an impractical - and unwise - approach for the 21st century where the U.S. faces a plethora of other threats and challenges (including potentially existential ones such as China).

I believe we need to fashion a new approach, one which - among other things - better exploits Americas technological prowess. FM 3-24 is a brilliant compilation of ideas from past COIN campaigns, mainly (but not exclusively) from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Those efforts did, in fact, make a virtue of necessity and stress masses of COIN forces on the ground; however, the realm of the possible in terms of not just airpower but of other technologies was significantly more constrained than it is today.

As you point out, not all the applications of technology need be expensive or unprecedented. Your ISR ideas about utilizing airships and so forth are exactly the kind of "out of the box" thinking we ought to explore.

Regarding the observations of the other discussants, I certainly agree that winning hearts and minds is a good thing. However, I also believe that the complexity of doing so in the Middle East via American troops on the ground is vastly more challenging than many of the supporters of that approach appreciate.

Moreover, I am also concerned that some people, in effect, think of winning hearts and minds as some kind of panacea. (Im not talking about Steve Metz - who I greatly admire - or necessarily any of the discussants here but some others).

It isnt always the answer. Many historians believe that only about a third of the colonists supported the American Revolution. Put another way, the British "COIN" forces had the "hearts and minds" - or at least the neutral acquiescence - of the majority of the population, yet were soundly defeated.

FWIW, I dont think that the "hearts and minds" of the religious extremist element (and perhaps others) of the Iraqi insurgency are "winnable" under any scenario. They need to be hunted down and neutralized.

Though I realize it is a bit politically incorrect, even today (or, perhaps, especially today), a key part of a COIN strategy must include a "service the target" aspect (though I agree it should not be "the essence" of a COIN strategy).

Again, I think a fully joint approach optimizes the chances for success.

ssif21 (not verified)

Tue, 06/05/2007 - 1:45pm

I'm with Frank on this. I've long felt that so long as we approach counterinsurgency as simply a variant of war (rather than as a different form of conflict that has some but not all of the characteristics of war), we will be hard pressed to resist treating the servicing of targets as the essence. The end state of that logic is the Luttwak "Roman" approach to counterinsurgency. I've told Ed that he is perfectly correct that such a method works, and absolutely wrong in recommending it to the United States.

I can accept the idea that the United States is simply ill equipped to succeed at counterinsurgency given our strategic culture. But if that's so, our policymakers should resist involvement rather than having us attempt to do it with a "service the target" mentality.

Steve Metz

walrus (not verified)

Sat, 05/26/2007 - 5:51am

Marct, with the greatest of respect, I have not made myself clear because I failed to state the basic assumption that underlies successful counterinsurgency operations.

That is that the local population is the focus of your activities NOT the insurgents. They are your best and effectively only source of intelligence. It is they who support, or deny support, to the insurgency. Local people know who is doing what to whom, as I'm sure you yourself do in your own neighbourhood.

It is they who have to decide if they will ring 911 when they see Mohammed carrying an RPG in the next street, or if they look the other way and suddenly have an urgent need to visit relatives in the country.

It is they who have to decide if there is a chance they will get a bullet behind the ear from the insurgents if they tell you about the arms cache next door.

In making these very basic, life and death decisions about their families, it should be apparent that "Shock and Awe" operations have no relevance. Furthermore, the history of the Iraq war to date does not appear to demonstrate that we have tried very hard to win the support of the population.

We are not trying to beat the insurgents. We are trying to win the support of the general population. If we do that, then they will beat the insurgency for us.

I therefore believe that the Airforce should be concentrating on this objective - winning the support of the population, not trying to be some avenging angel from the skies.

Strategic Sgt. (not verified)

Fri, 05/25/2007 - 1:37pm

As a "Strategic Sergeant" who has served in two branches (Air Force and Navy) and can read MOBOARDS, EM Diagrams and perform METT-T and OCOKA with equal alacrity, I would like to interject myself among my betters here and provide one sergeant's view.

To start with, it seems like much of the conversation here is divorced from the contemporary historic reality in Iraq. Would we really be having this conversation now if the military had expected and planned for COIN operations before OIF? The honorable MG Dunlap stated,

<blockquote>FM 3-24 is clearly the right answer to certain kinds of COIN environments; the issue today is how do we deal with an "Iraq" where the time and resource parameters are narrower?</blockquote>

Sir, would your position be different had the precepts in FM 3-24 been followed from the beginning?

There is a cognitive dissonance with regard to extrapolating the American people's growing intolerance of Iraq to include all long-term (10-12 year) COIN operations. I think the American people's fading support comes from our failure to meet the advertised expectations of OIF and the perception that American blood and treasure is being expended for no benefit. Our failure (at all levels of government) to not only foresee but to contingency plan for COIN is the root cause of low public support for the war. Again, I ask, if we had planned for a COIN environment from the beginning, would not our success likely be greater at this point along with public support? I suspect so. The American people still support of our operations in Afghanistan, after all, and that will undoubtedly be a long-term COIN operation (and has gone on longer than OIF).

In short, what the American people will not tolerate is a failure to meet expectations and the perception that we are "throwing good money after bad." This is where the American people currently are on Iraq.

This Sergeant has no real opinion to give on the various complaints about FM 3-24 dissing the Air Force. However, having spent a good portion of my career supporting our special operations community I believe that our senior leaders in the regular, non-SOF forces should examine and emulate how the special operations community does business, particularly the level of integration in procurement and in operational planning and execution. "Jointness" in the SOF community reaches a whole new level when compared to the regular forces.

A quick comment on technology before moving on to practicalities. MG Dunlop stated:

<blockquote>Though it is practically out of fashion today to even talk about technology among the military strategy glitterati, the truth is that America is a technological nation. We are good at it.</blockquote>

Sir, I would agree with that, but unfortunately technology solutions can rarely be made available in needed quantities in the midst of conflict. They must be available beforehand or at least the capacity to generate them quickly must be in place. To be honest, sir, the Air Force was not interested in putting resources into more COIN enabling technology before OEF, and to be fair, the other services largely were not as well. The situation reminds me somewhat of the German "superweapons" in WWII - weapons that might have affected the outcome were they available in 1941 instead of 1944-45. We must be careful not to make the perfect or the better the enemy of the merely good.

Finally, I would like to humbly offer what I believe is a practical idea for improving COIN efforts in Iraq, though I suspect its implementation would be OBE given the probable limited time window available. It's not a particularly new or visionary idea, but I think an examination of real-world possibilities deserve discussion. It can be summed-up as: Persistent wide area imagery surveillance.

One of the Air Force success stories is undoubtedly Predator and similar UAV-based surveillance and strike platforms. The issue with such platforms, however, is that most of the time they are used reactively. Their limited numbers and narrow field of view mean they can only monitor a small slice of terrain. As a result, they are often used to monitor the "sigact" of the moment - a purely reactive role.

Ideally, one wants surveillance of an area BEFORE a sigact happens - both to prevent an attack and to provide intelligence on the perpetrators, but this is, for obvious reasons, not often possible.

Enter persistent, wide area imagery surveillance. This technology would image several square miles of terrain continuously, either with full-motion video or, more likely, snapshots every 1-3 seconds similar to commercial surveillance systems in place in ATMs, banks and most retail stores. The footage would be archived for later use by analysts.

So how would such a technology benefit COIN? Here's an example. Let's say a suicide car bomb attacks a gate into the Green Zone. Analysts could pull the persistence surveillance archive for that area and trace the car's movements prior to the attack. Let's say we discover that ten minutes and two blocks short of the Green Zone, a man exits the car and gets into another car. Now analysts have two "leads" to trace back in the history of the imagery archive. Assume both vehicles originated at a single compound in a Baghdad neighborhood. We now have intelligence on a probable insurgent car bomb factory. But the benefits do not stop there. The compound can be "watched" via the archive going back in time. Every vehicle that enters and leaves the compound (and even every person, provided the resolution is good enough) is another lead that could be similarly traced back in time.

It should be obvious that the power to "revisit the past" over a wide area could easily unravel entire networks of the enemy based on one incident. The "synergy" (to use an ugly buzzword) with intelligence collected from other sources should also be obvious. Tips from locals could be verified before doors are kicked in, limiting ground "collateral damage."

But the benefits do not end there as a persistent imagery archive would be invaluable to mission planning. A ground force planning a compound take-down could review the archive and gain significant information on the target going back days, weeks, or even months. They would be in a position to know roughly how many personnel were in the compound, including any noncombatants, identify activity patterns, etc.

So, how to implement such technology? The most obvious and available method would put a large number of digital EO/IR cameras on an airship and park it over an area of interest.

The idea of "persistent" surveillance via airships isn't particularly new or exciting and there are probably other methods to build an imagery archive over a wide area. The key benefit comes not the platform itself, but the use of such an archive as an analytical tool.

To a limited extend, Britain has a similar capability in London, only they use a large network of security cameras to provide coverage of a significant portion of the city. Ground-based cameras may have some utility in a place like Iraq, but probably only for certain locations.

I realize this comment is getting long, so in the interest of brevity, I will end here. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your time and attention.

Fear or terror is effective only when it is perceived that it will be continuing. That is one reason why it is ineffective as a tactic in a COIN operation. The evidence in Iraq is that the enemy's use of this tactic has pushed the Anbar tribes into supporting us.

marct (not verified)

Fri, 05/25/2007 - 9:55am

<blockquote>Failing this, the populations loyalties will be to whoever is the most threatening at the time.</blockquote>

I would have to disagree with you on this. Machiavelli's advice that fear is greater than love is not applicable in a COIN situation where outside troops are involved since there is no permanent relationship between the troops and the locals. Historically, populations might be controllable by fear for a limited amount of time, but this has a way of rebounding badly on those who use it as their major tactic.

<blockquote>I think it would be useful and constructive for the Air force to think very hard about how their technology may be used to achieve that aim - creating a secure a stable security environment for the population. "Shock and Awe" style missions have no place in counterinsurgency.</blockquote>

While I agree with your comment about using AF technology to achieve a stable, secure environment, I have to disagree with your opinion that Shock and Awe style missions have no place in COIN.

Let's pull the phrase "stable, secure environment" apart for a moment, since this is the crux of the matter. "Stability" does not inherently mean non-violent - it means "predictable" or "not subject to rapid change". What is important to remember is that there are situations where such a Shock and Awe strike will be not only important, but imperative. This type of strike can be used as a conditioning agent for insurgent behaviours, as we have already seen (e.g. insurgents clustering around civilians to sucker air strikes for IO purposes).

I think that it is important for the AF to consider how this effect can be used to good advantage.


walrus (not verified)

Thu, 05/24/2007 - 8:17pm

Comments about the protracted duration and amount of troops needed to fight a counterinsugency campaign remind me of a person expecting to buy a Cadillac for less than its cost of production and to have it delivered immediately.

Until someone can develop a mindreading device that can tell when a person is bent on evil, or wavering, the only way of determining their bonafides is to observe them, up close and personal, not from 10,000 feet, for a very considerable period of time. Hence the large numbers of troops required and the protracted timelines.

To win at counterinsurgency requires that you create a stable security environment in order that the population, in which insurgents are immersed, can give itself permission to both trust your motives and support your objectives.

Failing this, the populations loyalties will be to whoever is the most threatening at the time. Absent a bias towards genocide, this is not a winning proposition.

I think it would be useful and constructive for the Air force to think very hard about how their technology may be used to achieve that aim - creating a secure a stable security environment for the population. "Shock and Awe" style missions have no place in counterinsurgency.

The time to execute a COIN operation needs to be a part of any consideration in recommending it as a strategy. One of Clausewitz's great observations is that the day only has 24 hours for both sides. However part of executing any COIN operation should be a plan to buy that time by providing realistic estimates of what can be accomplished and when. Much of the current debate, for example, involves a report the commanding general expects to make in September and not cutting off the operation before that time. The natural assumption that flows from this argument is that if the operation is working additional time will be bought for continued operations.

There should also be a focus on dealing with the enemy's media campaign and blunting it. That has been something we have not been very good at and it is an open question as to whether anyone is really in charge of such an effort.

To Mr. Smith:

Thank you for your post. You have articulated (far better than I have myself!) much of what I really think about FM 3-24 which, I want to underline, contains real genius to a degree absolutely unprecedented in official doctrinal documents of any service. That said, I found the following passage of your note an especially brilliant and cogent analysis:

"The model in FM 3-24 is constructed for the classical counterinsurgency of ten to twelve years in duration. It may work in certain circumstances in which we have a shorter duration with which to work, but it may not and is not designed to. Shorter COIN campaigns are outside the boundary conditions for the model."

This is, I think, the essence of the issue. FM 3-24 is clearly the right answer to certain kinds of COIN environments; the issue today is how do we deal with an "Iraq" where the time and resource parameters are narrower?

I would invite attention to Steven Metzs and Raymond Millens SSI monograph on COIN It has an interesting discussion about "containment" strategies in COIN settings. I think that airpower played an effective role in containing Saddam... and perhaps something could be fashioned that blends airpower and groundpower to produce an appropriate strategy for todays (and tomorrows?) Iraq. Obviously, more thinking needs to be done...

Thanks again! CJD

To USAF Insurgent:

I very much appreciate your enthusiasm though I would offer for your consideration a caution not to indulge yourself by allowing your righteous passion for an issue to devolve into commentary that does not reflect your actual professionalism. Quite honestly, that is a lesson Ive had to learn myself the hard way over the years (and have re-learned from time to time even now!). We can all disagree strongly - even stridently - so long as we all remember that everyone is simply trying to make things better. Truth can emerge out of the advocacy process if done the right way.

Anyway, just for the record, the only person I speak for is myself unless I indicate otherwise. Yes, my essays do get a security review as required, but all my counterinsurgency writings have been unofficial and purely my own personal opinion. I have found that the Air Force tolerates an extraordinary level of independent thinking (almost to a fault sometimes).

I can assure you that my views are controversial among some (and maybe "many") people at all levels in the Air Force. It may surprise you, but speaking officially for the Air Force on counterinsurgency is not in the lane of a two-star JAG. My official duties, as you may imagine, typically take me in a different direction. However, Ive always believed that all officers in every career field ought to be continuously studying and thinking about the military art - and trying to add to the dialogue if possible.

Accordingly, I've been writing what I hope are thought-provoking articles since 1981, so people who know me aren't at all surprised if I write something that is against the popular grain (and, by the way, "USAF Insurgent" I've always signed my real name to my several dozen articles beginning when I was an O-3).

Imagine, if you will, the reception I received when I wrote things like "The Origins of the American Military Coups of 2012" or "How We Lost the High-Tech War of 2007"... . (I think they and other writings are on the web somewhere) In other words, I can understand why you think you need to write as "USAF Insurgent" but I would suggest that you will get more respect - and influence - by toning down your writing and signing your real name.

I fully realize that FM 3-24 is the popular fashion now in most of the military - and certainly with the think-tank crowd, the media, and among many "influencers" in politics and elsewhere. It is especially in vogue with junior officers. Why? Because so much of it is so great (and, like everyone else, I wish we had it in 2003 instead of 2006). Still, I would recommend that you step back and take a deep breath, and consider the possibility that it isn't perfection - especially for todays conditions in Iraq. I'll bet FM 3-24s authors, some of whom I know and respect greatly, would agree that it isn't.

As to what occurred with respect to FM 3-24's writing, I'm not sure I care, but I invite you to take a look at . Regardless, I am more concerned with looking forward than backward.

As to all the Army/Marine conferences, etc., that you mention, all I can tell you is that I wasn't invited to them. No nefariousness there from our brothers and sisters in those services; why would they invite a USAF JAG? I was, however, invited to the USAF COIN conference in April. I attended a day or so which is all I could spare with everything else I have to do. We all do what we can.

What I will also say - and have said - is that Airmen need to do more thinking, writing, and participating in conferences, etc., about COIN as you suggest - and especially the younger officers. Some do. Very recently, an O-3 AF JAG wrote a great (and provocative) COIN piece in Armed Forces Journal . If you've written articles on how the USAF can do COIN better, and you are proud enough of your work to sign your name to them, I'd be happy to read them - as I believe other senior officers would. We dont actually see well-conceived original work from junior officers all that often.

Finally, you may want to consider learning more about the Jeune Ecole ("young school"). This was the "in vogue" movement among some French naval officers in the late 19th century who believed they had all the answers. Their bright idea was basically that torpedo boats would make capital ships obsolete... it became quite the fashion in France. Of course, two world wars in the 20th century proved them catastrophically wrong, and they totally failed to anticipate the rise of defining naval weapon of the modern era: the aircraft carrier. Worth thinking about.

Best wishes!!! CJD

Thank you for the post, and thanks also to Major General Dunlap for his thoughtful rejoinder. May a pedestrian make an observation?

Beyond the main subject of the post, General Dunlap introduced an ancillary subject, which serves as the raison d'etre for the attention on air power in counterinsurgency. Dunlap observed that:
<blockquote>My view is, however, that such a dedication of blood and treasure for that length of time is wildly unrealistic. I don't think that the American people will sign up for that for Iraq. Although Frank and others invested in the notion of COIN as the future of warfare for the American armed forces may understandably disagree me (it is something about which reasonable people may disagree) my sense it that we wont see U.S. troops deployed for any COIN effort anywhere near the current size of that for Iraq (let alone the 500,000 troops FM 3-24 demands), for a generation or more.

True, if denied that level of commitment, the ground forces could repeat the mantra of all defeated armies: "if only we got the resources we could have won." (There is an interesting article in the October 2006 issue of the Journal of Military History that speaks to the civil-military implications of COIN).

In any event, I believe that the people will not support that level of treasure and - more importantly - blood for anywhere near that length of time. Accordingly, I dont think that FM 3-24 offers offer decisionmakers a realistic solution.</blockquote>
This is a remarkably well-crafted objection to FM 3-24. I, too, happen to believe that FM 3-24 makes significant contributions, but suffers from a significant flaw. In a <a href="; target="_blank" rel="nofollow">previous post here at the SWJ Blog</a>, I commented that one problem with FM 3-24 was the:
<blockquote>Failure to address how protracted engagements affect troop morale and public sentiment at home (not, by the way, a failure of the Small Wars Manual as I have written about in "Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual"). I do not believe that the nation will ever again give us ten years to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. To the extent that FM 3-24 assumes this, our proverbial heads are "in the sand."</blockquote>
I <a href="; target="_blank" rel="nofollow">followed up on these thoughts later</a>, where I pointed out that the <a href="…; target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Marine Corps Commandant</a> is worried about the same issue.
<blockquote>"The difference in the time we in uniform need for success in Iraq and the amount of time our countrymen are prepared to invest is a disconnect thats troubling," Conway said ...

But he said insurgencies typically take nine to 10 years to defeat.

"I think there is less of an appetite in our country than we, the military, might think we need to sustain that kind of effort over that period of time. Thats the basic disconnect that I was talking about," he said.</blockquote>
It seems that the FM 3-24 should have been approached as a paradigm or model. Before the model can be constructed, the boundary conditions must be known. What does this model accomplish? why does it exist? what are its resources? what are the constraints on it? and what are the boundaries beyond which it need not or cannot go (beyond which the model is no longer valid).

The model in FM 3-24 is constructed for the classical counterinsurgency of ten to twelve years in duration. It may work in certain circumstances in which we have a shorter duration with which to work, but it may not and is not designed to. Shorter COIN campaigns are outside the boundary conditions for the model.

But beyond anything that a military strategist can add, it only takes an astute observer of American politics to figure out that public sentiment and cultural milieu will never again give us ten to twelve years to conduct COIN. It is simply a figment of our collective imaginations to believe that any amount of people reading FM 3-24 will have their minds changed into either allowing it or putting their political career on the line by publicly advocating it. Without public commitment, FM 3-24 is merely theory.

While not exactly the subject of Hoffman's post, this subject was raised by Dunlap's response, and it is a salient and powerful point, one that I have made before. This is why Dunlap's project is so interesting and important. I believe that respectful exchange is the order of the day, and this exchange here has the marks of a meaningful contribution. I wish General Dunlap well in his project, and if the wise use of air power can be done differently and reduce the duration of counterinsurgencies, then it was an important endeavor.

"Non Cents" fundamentally misses in its characterization of the conference held at Maxwell. For those of you who did not attend the COIN Symposium, and apparently for some who did, the discussions/results of the 11 workshops fall into four broad categories: policy-strategy-doctrine; force development; strategic communication and building partnership capacity. Not strike, not killing from afar. If the report were extended to include a fifth division, it would be on shaping--still not on strike. The point of hosting such a conference at an academic institution is to ensure that all ideas are heard. Bickering aside, just because you hear something in such an open forum does not mean that a particular idea is either dominant or prevalent. The conference was focused on what airpower in general, and the USAF specifically, can do in COIN/IW. As "strongly suggested" by "Non Cents," the USAF is continuing to "devote their intellectual energy to developing its own Service doctrine." We do, however, think its a good idea to do so in the open with joint perspective which is why invitations went to Carlisle and Leavenworth and Quantico and JSOU and NPS. We very much valued their participation and candid inputs.

USAF Insurgent (not verified)

Wed, 05/23/2007 - 4:03pm

There are a few items that must be raised in this thread, and many other ongoing discussions outside of the SWJ blogosphere. 1) The USAF Doctrine center was engaged by the USA and USMC during the writing of 3-24, as was the Air Staff. The USAF doctrine center was given a substantial Air Power section and chose not to submit it to the USA/USMC authors. So, USAF officers need to stop complaining since there was a chance to be involved and they chose not to be engaged. 2) Until the USAF begins to send representatives to working group efforts for COIN, GWOT IW etc then I don't want to hear senior officers complain. 3) Does the lack of reigning in Gen Dunlap equate to official USAF sanctioning of his views? I must assume the answer is yes, and that scares me since strategic documents direct the services to ensure GPF can engage in the IW fight, and the USAF has not made an effort to do this. 4) If Gen Dunlap, and hence the USAF, has heartburn with 3-24, then provide solutions. To date I have heard attacks and whining, yes it is whining, over 3-24 and how it fails to discuss issue XXX but not a single solution or suggestion as to what should be done. That is not to say the USAF can't do more, but when folks try to discuss what the USAF can do, the senior leadership doesn't listen.

To my friends in the USA and USMC, I wish I had the horsepower to better assist you; to the Air Force leadership, I suggest you read the children's story Emperor Has No Clothes's_New_Clothes (I hope this link works). For I am telling you, the senior leadership, that there are dedicated airman wanting to do the right thing and are focused and dedicated to fighting the WOT yet you fail to listen to the experts and instead listen to what you want to hear from the air power zealots. We can and will prevail, it might just take time for the current Maj and Lt Cols to get to positions of leadership in the USAF.

I am NOT saying that the USAF needs to forget about its traditional roles, it simply needs to be educated on the current fight, acquire some new relevent capabilities and alter some TTPs. And yes, the USAF might have to alter the way it operates in an IW atmosphere and allow for some decentralization of control/strategy development.

Hopefully this will spawn some highly needed discussions within the USAF and empower/embolden others to act and do the right thing.

Charlie Dunlap (not verified)

Wed, 05/23/2007 - 4:03pm


Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right, Airmen need to come up with specific ideas for the COIN fight.

My longer piece (that I'm hoping to get published soon) has an 11,000 word section that tries to offer some ideas.

In addition, I offer a theory that how you fight major combat operations might prevent an insurgency from arising - or, at least, diminish its effectiveness. That section is about 1,900 words.

Regardless, your point is well taken, that is, Airmen simply cannot blather about technology and airpower - there has to be specific proposals. I certainly don't have all or even many answers, but I do have some suggestions to toss out.

One of the concepts, incidentally, that I try to flesh out in the longer piece is that Airmen look at the world differently, what Hap Arnold called "airmindedness"...and this, perhaps, could suggest ideas for force employment apart from the air weapon, per se.

Thanks again! CJD

Steve (not verified)

Wed, 05/23/2007 - 3:39pm

It's good to see MG Dunlap's reply to Mr. Hoffman's piece, but I for one would have liked to see some discussion about how the Air Force can contribute to the COIN effort instead of what appears to be very eloquent "bashing" of FM 3-24.

Mentioning a "longer assessment" of the manual is one thing, but I'd rather see some discussion of exactly how this asymmetric advantage is going to provide true population security. We see much mention, both in this piece and others, about "using our technological advantage," but no ideas as to how to go about that.

Kudos to MG Dunlap for posting his reply, but I for one had hoped to see something other than asymmetric buzzwords and a few backhand swipes at ground-based COIN. With the spinning up of an Africa Command, we will be seeing more COIN-type missions in the future, not fewer of them. I fear that the time for buzzwords may be behind us.

Charlie Dunlap (not verified)

Wed, 05/23/2007 - 1:16pm

I am sincerely flattered that my friend Frank Hoffman, one of the real giants among military thinkers today, commented so extensively on my short article in Proceedings.

His comments have advanced my own thinking and I owe him thanks. Moreover, because his rebuttal is almost exactly twice as long as my article, that kind of convinces me that I must be on to at least something! My friend "doth protest too much"!

I also must smile when I read Frank's insistence that FM 3-24 is "simply operational level doctrine for two Services, no strategic agenda." Perhaps it is just coincidence that shortly after its issuance the Army and Marine Corps obtained its 92,000 person plus-up (at an annual cost of more than $10 billion).

Regardless, FM 3-24 is being understood as much more than "simply operational level doctrine for two Services". As Frank points out, Newsweek called it "the Book" on Iraq and, more recently, the 14 May issue of Time calls it the "blueprint of U.S. efforts in Iraq today." Actually, I gather that many of the drafters - not to mention the U.S.s body politic - see it as a comprehensive and, indeed, strategic solution to Iraqs COIN challenges - and COIN generally.

I really believe that the challenge of COIN is so complex that it genuinely requires not just the efforts - and thinking - of "two Services" as Frank indicates, but of the whole joint team (as well as other instruments of national power). My sense is that at least some of the other drafters of FM 3-24 would agree.

What is more is that Airmen, Sailors, and others have observed the ground component try a variety of COIN concepts in Iraq - none of which, sadly, have succeeded. Now we have FM 3-24 as the latest bright idea from the "two Services." It may, indeed, be a "bright idea" but it is, I submit, a great mistake to reject critiques of it out of hand simply because they come from an Airman. As John Nagl suggests in his fascinating book (Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife) success at COIN demands a willingness to listen to critiques from all sources, admit mistakes, and adapt.

My central concern about FM 3-24 is that it demands force ratios that, for Iraq, would mean 500,000 COIN troops who are each capable, as FM 3-24 puts it (quoting David Galula), of becoming "a social worker, a civil engineer, a school teacher, a nurse, a boy scout." I would suggest that such forces, U.S. or Iraqi, are not going to be available anytime soon, if ever.

Further, FM 3-24 demands a long term commitment of those forces. Suppressing the Malaya insurgency (a model COIN effort FM 3-24 admires greatly) took twelve years. Think about it in the Iraq context: 500,000 troops, $100 billion+ per year, 800-900 U.S. KIA per year - for twelve years.

Would it work? I would think (hope?) so. My view is, however, that such a dedication of blood and treasure for that length of time is wildly unrealistic. I don't think that the American people will sign up for that for Iraq. Although Frank and others invested in the notion of COIN as the future of warfare for the American armed forces may understandably disagree me (it is something about which reasonable people may disagree) my sense it that we wont see U.S. troops deployed for any COIN effort anywhere near the current size of that for Iraq (let alone the 500,000 troops FM 3-24 demands), for a generation or more.

True, if denied that level of commitment, the ground forces could repeat the mantra of all defeated armies: "if only we got the resources we could have won." (There is an interesting article in the October 2006 issue of the Journal of Military History that speaks to the civil-military implications of COIN).

In any event, I believe that the people will not support that level of treasure and - more importantly - blood for anywhere near that length of time. Accordingly, I dont think that FM 3-24 offers offer decisionmakers a realistic solution.

I realize how popular FM 3-24 is - and it is extraordinarily valuable in many, many respects. Still, don't we as military professionals owe it to our leaders and our nation to try to fashion more pragmatic options? My main purpose of the Proceedings piece was to try to get the smart people to think outside the "just-put-more-boots-on-the-ground" box.

Rather than abandon the effort in Iraq, I think we ought to see what more innovative uses of technology and, yes, airpower might be able to do. FM 3-24 marginalized airpower into a five-page annex in a 282 page document. Is that all the Army and Marine Corps think airpower can do? (And I am amazed that the aviation tradition in the Marine Corps allowed that marginalization.)

Frank mentions Jim Corum's (and Wray Johnsons) book, Airpower in Small Wars. It is a fine volume in a historical sense but it is especially unhelpful in determining how to optimize for todays COIN struggles current and emerging airpower capabilities (and by "airpower" I mean air, space, and cyberspace - and not just the Air Force but also the air arms of the other services). It assumes that airpower capabilities are somehow frozen in time, as if what was in the realm of the possible in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, defines what could be done today.

(I might also add that though I like and respect Jim Corum, in my view his new book on COIN is exceptionally hostile to both technology and the Air Force.)

FM 3-24 reflects an outdated notion of airpower in its annex. Specifically, with respect to the collateral damage issue, it expresses a 'fossilized' view of airpower's propensity to cause collateral damage and openly discourages commanders from employing it.

Mysteriously, FM 3-24 has no such cautions about other kinds of fires (MLRS, artillery, etc.) In fact, today's airpower's precision targeting pods, smaller warheads, weaponeering, ISR, and ground-based controllers, etc., have all served to vastly reduced collateral damage - from even the high standards of 2003s major combat operations.

Of course, it is absolutely true that air-delivered ordnance can - and does - cause collateral damage. But the undisputed fact is that "collateral damage" caused by ground forces is far more damaging to the COIN effort than anything that has come from airpower. Who can disagree that Abu Ghraib and the string of alleged killings and abuses have had a far worse impact on our Iraq effort?

Though it is practically out of fashion today to even talk about technology among the military strategy glitterati, the truth is that America is a technological nation. We are good at it.

We are also an aviation nation. We are good at that too. America dominates air dimension in ways the ground component can only dream about with respect to the surface dimension. All I am saying is that let's take a look at technology and airpower and let's see what's possible. Let's use our asymmetric capability instead of trying repeatedly to confront insurgents symmetrically with masses of ground forces.

I don't deny that I want to avoid putting thousands of more young Americans on the ground in Iraq or any other COIN venture. I've been to Dover.

Frank rightly calls for more from the Air Force. It is true that Airmen have not done enough thinking about COIN in part, I believe, out of deference to our brothers and sisters in the ground component. However, at this point in the fight, everyone needs to be pitching in and using their best efforts to find pragmatic solutions. Yes, Airmen need to do better.

I have written a much longer assessment of FM 3-24 (over 22,000 words and nearly 500 footnotes) that I plan to publish somewhere. I mention this only because, to their great credit, some of the writers of FM 3-24 who saw the draft suggested that I try to get the Army to publish it.

I hasten to add that they did so not because they necessarily agreed with anything in it, but because they recognize that competitive analysis of doctrine - "red teaming" if you will - is of great value. I think it says all the right things about our military. We may debate (and bicker from time to time) but in the end we are all on the same joint team and all want the best doctrines and strategies to fight our ruthless enemies.

Although I obviously respectfully disagree with much (but certainly not all!) of Frank's assessment, I again thank him for taking the time to write his rebuttal, and I am grateful that Small Wars Journal is encouraging dialogue about FM 3-24. It is incredibly important. Thanks for reading this long note!

Steve (not verified)

Wed, 05/23/2007 - 10:25am

The Air Force has an institutional and ideological block against admitting that there are some situations where air power (expressed in their case as bombs on target) simply is NOT appropriate. They have continually failed to grasp this concept, and show no signs of widening their horizons in the future.

Unfortunately since the days of SAC they have viewed every problem as either a lack of funding (for yet more high-tech equipment) or a matter of how much ordnance to deliver on a specific target. There are officers within the AF who understand this and would like to see changes. But they seem to be constantly silenced by the Dunlaps of the AF who appear incapable of understanding that the square peg will NOT fit in the round hole no matter how many bombs you use.

Tom Odom (not verified)

Wed, 05/23/2007 - 9:27am

Perhaps SWJ should send Maxwell a copy of SWJ magazine Vol 8. I am sure that my piece on civilian casualties in COIN are sure to find great acceptance there. Right.

Good post, Frank

Could the air strike on Zarqawi have happened without the ground forces that found him by relentlessly following leads developed among the population?

The fact is that air power needs ground forces to "fix" the enemy in many cases. That is what the Northern Alliance did in Afghanistan. The bombings on the Ho Chi Minh trail show how ineffective air power is when there are no ground forces available to "fix" the enemy. That is because air power is basically transitory power that dominants the battle space for a matter of moments before moving to other objectives or to refuel. It is at its most effective in a tactical situation when it is working with troops who are controlling space on the ground.

If you can't control the space, you can't control the enemy. You can't get inside his decision loop.