Small Wars Journal

Olson: Counterinsurgency Ops Should 'Involve Countering the Insurgents'

Olson: Counterinsurgency Ops Should 'Involve Countering the Insurgents' - John T. Bennett, Defense News.

The U.S. military's counterinsurgency tactics increasingly place too much emphasis on protecting local peoples and not enough on fighting enemy forces, said U.S. Special Operations Command chief Adm. Eric Olson. While the U.S. military has adopted a population-focused strategy in Afghanistan, Olson said May 26 he "fears counterinsurgency has become a euphemism for nonkinetic activities." The term is now to often used to describe efforts aimed at "protecting populations," Olson said during a conference in Arlington, Va.

The military's top special operator, in a shot across the bow of modern-day counterinsurgency doctrine proponents, then added: "Counterinsurgency should involve countering the insurgents." Olson also made clear he thinks U.S. laws give him the authority to craft and implement doctrine for America's special operators. Olson said doctrine is important for fighting wars, and "should be carefully written - but we should not fall in love with it."

In a blunt statement, Olson called "COIN doctrine an oxymoron." ...

More at Defense News.


Bob's World

Wed, 05/18/2011 - 6:47am

Bill C.,

Hard to tell what our determined approach is. I do know this though, when one sets out to control something that does not want to be controlled, one must expect to have to expend a great deal of energy and to generate a great deal of friction.

We are finding that our control-based policies of containment (as derived from pervious control-based policies born of colonialism) are requiring more and more energy to enact in the modern information age. They are also generating a form of friction that is no longer contained at the point of impact (where our control measures meet the affected populace), but now the heat is felt all the way back home in the form of what we call "transnational terrorism."

ADM Olson is also fond of saying we need to "turn down the heat" (refering to a frog in a pot of water that is slowing heating up until the frog finds itself cooked). One way to turn down the heat is to adopt approaches that produce a lot less friction.




Tue, 05/17/2011 - 5:13pm

whoops. I spent so much time writing my previous post that it looks like the thread has moved on.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:34pm

COL Jones:

Would I be wrong to suggest that, post-the Cold War, we have seen things somewhat differently re: our interests; the United States believing that, after 11/9 (not 9/11), one could reasonably expect that the status quo arrangements re: such countries as Saudia Arabia, et al., could not be expected to be maintained in their present form.

Herein, we came to view our "interests" within the context of making sure the state and societal changes that would be forthcoming would only be in a form and only in a direction that we desired.

"Intervention" (FID, etc.) now having this purpose: To provide the necessary conditions to (1) facilitate/accommodate "favorable" change, while also having the capability/ability to precluded/prevented "unfavorable" change.

Thus, we acknowledge and accept that change is inevitable and will be forthcoming; however, we have determined that the proper use of our instruments of power today is to ensure that only the changes that we desire will be allowed to take place.


Tue, 05/17/2011 - 3:23pm

I really enjoyed reading mine and others comments a year after posting them, so for that, I thank you. After having the time to reflect on my last deployment, both with and without beers and present and former colleagues, it has dawned on me that its not so much an overarching population-centric "strategy" that will be the solution, or as some people contend, the problem.

Its a completely personality and organizationally driven solution. If the right people are not in the right places to make decisions, then it does not matter if you focus on kinetics, on CMO, or whatever. Its that singular solution mindset that is driving us into the ground. I love night raids if the organization doing them does them well. If co-opting (to whatever extent that is actually possible) tribal guys or whatever helps you make progress or decrease casualties while increasing FOM or decrease direct support to the insurgents, then by all means take advantage if its there.

If a unit is not using the placement and access sometimes provided by CMO to support lethal operations, then they're losing opportunities. And I dont want to insult anyone, but I wouldn't want some of the soldiers who do PRT type stuff to do any trigger pulling.

SOF units in the lead: They're comprised of small operational units that can potentially call upon a large amount of resources for both kinetic and non-kinetic operations. I agree that they should be "leading the effort," as you say. But if this is the case, then you're going to have to accept the technology being leveraged on the battlefield, because they use it better than anybody. Think of all the different technologies being used to go after one lethal target. Its alot. We would not be successful in our lethal targeting without those assets, but you're right that we shouldn't rely solely on them. That's where understanding the environment created by the populace comes in to the process.

I'm sure everyone has seen the Frontline "Kill/Capture" piece by now. If not, its a pretty decent conversation starter. We probably had some really high-speed assets tracking that guy from the kill in question. Not sure if this is some sort of biased smear campaign, or if the operation went forward without good info...but it highlights the need for understanding perceptions of the people. And if you only want that to support pre-mission analysis of second and third order effects of lethal targeting, then ok, but that analysis cannot take place meaningfully without the ability to gather MORE ACCURATE info in person, which means doing non-lethal operations of one sort or another. Otherwise, its just a bunch of people in a room spitballing possible outcomes. This is what usually happens anyway, cant say I've ever seen this done "right."

Addressing the cliches of population-centric COIN: Those who support pop-centric COIN with cliches and those who oppose it by boiling it down to cliches are both wrong. These phrases support the notion that once again, there is a singular solution to the problem. And reductio ad absurdum is still a fallacious way to critique something as far as I know. I dont understand why there is still a debate over "which way is better" when a coordinated effort or hybrid of both lethal and non-lethal exists that accomplishes the intent. Whatever keeps the dialogue going I guess.

And yes, perhaps it is not the military's job to facilitate alot of the non-lethal operations going on. But it hasn't worked itself out of that job by passing it to other agencies, NGOs, or locals because no one wants to give up the perceived leverage. I think where we go wrong is not continuing to monitor, control and exploit our non-lethal operations past a certain point because we want to be done with them and stamp them a success, which is where the leverage probably ends. The problem is you're never done.

Here is the link to the PBS video:

I'm sure there is a discussion on it somewhere on this site or one of the forums, I just haven't seen it yet.

G Martin

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 2:43pm


I only used that mental image in order to help me understand that how we view the Afghans might not be the real way they are. We seem to assume altruistic farmers who just want to feed their family and thus if given good governance they'll love GIRoA and us. Far from being unthinking- they just don't think like we do.

I did not intend to make anyone think I was comparing them as apples to apples. I am from South Carolina and therefore can imagine what would happen in my hometown if there was a foreign army there promising to build closer ties to a D.C. government. Far from being redneck, slack-jawed, and violent- I think they would be cunning, intelligent, and aggressive.

Regardless, my point wasn't to describe a sterotype but just to illustrate a method I use to try and understand why the Afghans don't seem to be acting the way ISAF predicts they will. I think imagining the South Carolina example- because I understand South Carolinians- makes it easier to identify possible issues with our assumptions about the Afghans.

The post at 1:27 was mine. The damn PPT slide I was working was distracting me!

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 2:27pm

"In a blunt statement, Olson called "COIN doctrine an oxymoron."

That's because "almost none" of what the doctrine contains is "actually applied" during military operations, he said."

and we wonder why we are having such a tough time there.

I may have missed it in the admiral's comments or the comments on here but what is the recommended solution beyond simply "countering the insurgent"? While I agree that non-kinetic efforts should not take priority when dealing with local nationals in Afghanistan, we ought not abandon non-kinetic ops.

Several on here have mentioned or alluded to the need to "earn the trust of the people" or figuring out how to protect the people when we enter a village (agreed that building a road or school won't protect). If we all agree that staying in A'stan is in our national interest (and I know many do NOT feel that way) and that a counterinsurgency campaign, like we are dealing with in A'stan, generally takes a while (10 or more years) to quell, then Admiral Olson's comments as well as the myriad of comments/ responses/ ideas on this post, like earning trust and protecting villages, seem to indicate the need for USF to:
- stay in Afghanistan for many decades
- live among the local people in their communities in order to generate a sense of security among them and to be able to actually provide security for them
- move away from the conventional method of operating....big units, centralized C2, much bureaucracy, endless Powerpoint (sorry, I had to throw in that one)....and towards more decentralized operations using smaller units, possibly led by guys with higher rank/ more age (grey hair helps in such environments)
- take a more direct role in governing at the national level
- create (by, with, through the Afghans) a federated state modeled on Switzerland where the federal council or permanent loya jirga (which ought to include all ethnic groups as well as current warlords/ Talibs) serves as the head of state and government instead of installing a person that half of the country cannot stand.

Is this too extreme?

While I agree with the admiral that we must "counter the insurgent", we cannot counter him if we cannot find him. If the insurgent is hiding among the local people, then only by spending more time among and with the local people are we going to be more successful at countering the insurgent.


carl (not verified)

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 1:45pm

The last sentence should read:

"..., that of the redneck, slack jawed, violent southerner."

carl (not verified)

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 1:36pm

Grant Martin:

This is too facile by half:

"I like to imagine our efforts in Afghanistan to something akin to an army...And they'd take pride in each and every Southern Baptist who blew up a market built and protected by the Islamic forces- even if that meant some innocents died."

It assumes both groups of people are unthinking childlike creatures who can only respond to one stimulus in one way and are not affected by local history and circumstance. It equates and conflates wildly different peoples, places, terrains, climates etc. And it resorts to the last socially acceptable prejudice in the US, that against those redneck, slack jawed, violent southerners.

Bob's World

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 12:36pm

Bill C.

I would just clarify that the regime change versions of this, ala Iraq and Afghanistan, are the minority. The majority of such intervetions are not to implement social change, and in fact are interest driven and care little about such social change. They are more along the line of our continued support to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, etc, etc, etc. Some of the most despotic, most "unfree" nations on the planet, yet we conduct FID to build a security force capacity necessary to defend these regimes against challenges from within their own populaces.

(Yes, AQ or others may show up to conduct UW, but UW only works where a base of popular discontent lies dormant waiting to be jumpstarted into action by some event, some leader, some ideology.)

So I would strongly guard against thinking that the US is motivated by a desire to bring social change to the world. That is our own propaganda, much as AQ levers the propaganda value of promising a "New Caliphate". Not that we are against such social change, we are for it, as it is good for US business and security. But it is not why we intervene. It is the sizzle we use to sell the tough old steak we are asking people to chew on.

And that tough old steak is a US control dedicated to the advancement and defense of US interests. While this is something we must do or fail as a nation, what I advocate is that we pause to consider that it is time to adopt new methods to acheive this vital end.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 11:59am

If we were to beome much more honest and much more clear as to our true intentions, then this, I believe, would help immensely as to our discussions re: this and other such issues and related debates:

a. We have not interevened in these countries simply to put down an insurgency (that can be done by various means).

b. Rather we have intervened in these countries for the specific purpose of attempting to do away with their old political, economic and social order (which causes us trouble) and to install a new political, economic and social order in their place (one that better meets our needs).

Herein, the importance of the insurgency is that if provides us with an opportunity -- an opening -- by which me might pursue our objective (noted at "b" above).

Thus, when the primary objective is not defeating the insurgency per se, but, instead, using the opportunity persented by the insurgency to achieve favorable state and societal change, then this, I believe, helps us to understand such things why we have adopted a more-"colonial" approach (as suggested by COL Jones).

(Herein, if our purpose was not to use the opportunity presented by the insurgency to achieve favorable state and societal change, then one might suggest that other methods -- designed only to quell the insurgency -- might easily be contemplated.)

Accordingly, I would suggest that we are more likely to understand (1) "where we are headed," (2) "why,"(3) "how" [and (4) the folly re: our thinking?] if we, first and foremost, understand that our objective in intervening in these foreign lands is to achieve substantial, fundamental and favorable state and societal change.

Herein, insurgencies -- much like natural disasters, humanitarian crises, other state and societal difficulties and other "responsibily to protect" scenerios -- have been viewed, in our eyes, as unique "opportunities"/"opening" as-it-were -- which we have been intent on exploiting to pursue our true objective (state/societal transformation).

Bob's World

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 7:46am

Any holistic COIN campaign must have a smart, aggressive, tailored counter guerrilla component to it.


Most seem to want an all or nothing approach, much the way our political debates devolve these days.

I actually see other factors that shape our COIN approaches as a bigger problem (because in case anyone missed the memo, there is PLENTY of counterguerrilla going on in Afghanistan, between the Rangers rolling out almost nightly to kick in some door to roll up some Taliban squad leader, to massive Clearing operations in places like Sangin.

No, much bigger hindrances are:

1. Not recognizing the Colonial roots of our intervention COIN doctrine for what they are; and consciously scrubbing out the centuries of bias and focus on a foreign power going to a foreign land, and selecting or forming some government to represent their interests there (over those of the local populace) and then dedicating their energy to protecting that subordinate allied government against all comers foreign and domestic. That is not COIN.

2. Believing that insurgency can be fixed by fixing the populace at the local level or killing the insurgent at the fighter level. Insurgency is politics, albeit illegal politics, and is best resolved by removing the political thorn from the paw of the populace at the national level; and reconciling those issues at the national governmental/insurgent leadership level. (Which may well require changes of government, which is unacceptable to the intervening party if one is committed to point 1.)

3. Overcomplicating that which is simple; and over simplifying that which is complicated. All one has to do is figure out which one they are doing on which issue! But for Afghanistan, one oversimplification is not recognizing the two tiers to the insurgency, with a Revolutionary movement among the Taliban leadership in Pakistan that demands political resolution to address; and the Resistance movement among the populace in Afghanistan that demands a reduction of foreign occupation to address. A Tajik ANA/ANP is as much a foreign occupation in the South as a US BCT is.

4. Failure to peel the onion on some old COIN Clichés derived from our colonial/containment controlling past in such interventions.

A "Control the Populace": Very true if I am there to sustain an illegitimate government against challenges from their own populace; but not so true is the rebalancing necessary between any government and their own populace in achieving and sustaining stability. Insurgency does not happen because a government has lost control of the populace, insurgency happens because a populace has lost control of the government. What are we doing in Afghanistan to help the people who feel so excluded under the current Constitution to regain control??

B. "Sanctuary is Ungoverned Space": Obviously all sanctuary must be in some physical "space" but the sanctuary aspect does not come from the space so much as it comes from the support of the populace within that space, the legal status of either the space itself or of the party within the space; and only lastly the favorable physical aspects that must be present.

More killing or less killing; more development or less development; more troop or less troops. These are interesting tactical and logistical questions to chew on, but they do not get to the core flaws or goodness of our current approaches. We need to change the nature of the debate, but first we must change the nature of our understanding and perspective on this problem.

I'm actually currently taking a stab at that as an insert into the next version of the USSOCOM Strategic Appreciation. We'll see. It may not survive the cut, but hopefully it will at least stimulate a new angle on the conversation.



G Martin

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 11:32pm

JWillis- good point. I think we throw out assumptions as if they are facts too often and never bother to question them, much less figure out if they are right.

I like to imagine our efforts in Afghanistan to something akin to an army from a Moslem country occupying South Carolina. I can just imagine- no matter how much money they pumped in and how much they promised to build good, "connected to DC" governance- that most of the people in the rural counties of S. Carolina would fight to the death against the occupying force- no matter how much the occupying force tried to "protect the people". And they'd take pride in each and every Southern Baptist who blew up a market built and protected by the Islamic forces- even if that meant some innocents died.

We can't imagine a different worldview than our own- for some reason we can't entertain the idea that any group of people wouldn't prefer freedom and democracy to religious dogma and tradition.

COIN a la 3-24 fits our worldview. It is something that sells in DC and most of our universities. It "feels" good to us. Different methods- no matter how effective- aren't talked about because our population wouldn't buy into them. It would be like questioning the Bible on Sunday morning.

It is interesting to me that in the past changes in culture many times came at the point of a sword- and those that could wield the sword changed the culture. We can wield the sword today, but state that that is not a good way "to do COIN". Really? Or is it just something our culture won't let us do? I don't advocate mass kinetic strategies- or whatever one wants to label what Ghenghis Khan did in Afghanistan and the surrounding area- but let's don't pretend it hasn't worked in the past.

I only wish the ADM surfaced this argument years earlier, because many influential people within the ranks of SOCOM were the ones pushing the population centric means of war at the expense of countering the insurgents. Most know it is a balancing act, but in the end it is still warfare, which means both sides are trying to forcefully impose their will. For whatever reason or reasons it was SOCOM leadership that changed the main GWOT lines of effort from direct to indirect, which I call the "how to you like me now?" approach. The indirect approach focuses on "trying" to get people to like us, or more accurately attempting to bribe people to like us by conducting a wide range of civil projects that are not even remotely related to the real underlying issues concerning the insurgency. Even if the people do embrace our efforts for a short period of time, they won't turn on and destroy the insurgets for us. We're still the foreign occupation force, and putting on Santa suits won't change that.

Those who defend this approach (described in buzz words like through, by and with and victory will be the result of a culmination of thousand small successes, etc.) continue to see themselves as enlightened and argue that everyone else just doesn't get it, yet the failure of their methods to produce results after years speak for themselves. I saw a telling historical clip (recent history) at a seminar relatively recently where the head of the Columbian Armed Forces said we started turning the tide against the FARC when we ignored the U.S.'s advise and started treating the insurgency like a war. Um? Take it for what it's worth.

Most understand that counterinsurgency involves more than killing, and that killing needs to be surgical; however, if we're going to our will upon the insurgents, we are not going to do it with it with acts of charity.

I think a good part of the reason more innocent civilians are being killed (beyond poor training) is a combination of being risk adverse, overly reliant on technology, and we have too many troops tied up in CMO like activities (which means they're not out pursuing the enemy, so we get back to relying on technology and using drones to do the fighting for us). We can't claim we're there to help when we are killing innocents with cowardly tactics.

This experimental means of war that we're involved in is simply prolonging the misery of all involved on all sides. It isn't humane, it isn't effective, and continued blind faith in its doctrine won't change the situation the on the ground. Yes the ADM is right, SOF should write SOF doctrine, and this type of warfare is special warfare, so SOF "should" be leading the effort in developing the doctrine and by leading efforts on the ground. I agree with the what the ADM said, but why did it take so long?

JWillis (not verified)

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 4:53pm

It seems strange that when the US/ISAF inflict civilain casualties a blood feud erupts as a result, while taliban/AQ suicide bombins often kill many more people "builds" popular support...??? Explanantions?


Sun, 05/30/2010 - 8:36am

Understanding the population and creating trusted networks within the local national tribal/social structures decreases the effectiveness of enemy early warning networks, allows for mitigation of negative second and third order effects following kinetic strikes, and along the same lines prevents enemy exploitation. It also allows for a realistic exit strategy. Setting conditions for kinetic operations should be a focus to population centric aspects of COIN. Being able to identify critical vulnerabilities of the enemy network nested within the overall population allows you to plan to disrupt the enemy's doctrinal template. If you disagree with this approach, you obviously have not experienced these negative effects firsthand like the rest of us.

What good is a planned kinetic strike if the enemy knows you are coming the second the helicopters take off, or come flying past a specific village/area?

What good is a "successful" kinetic operation if the enemy can use their informal networks to create the appearance of "slaughtered innocents?" Even creating the local perception, as opposed to an "international incident" will set you back quite a bit.

Being able to control the chaos following significant activity is not possible without the ability to effectively influence or engage the population.

Is the current guidance too restrictive? From the perspective of someone currently in Afghanistan that goes on mission almost everyday - it does seem somewhat discouraging. Operations can be frustrating. Hopefully what we are building here will help fragment networks and the effects of "negative influencer" personalities. I am impressed with some of the lower ranking combat arms soldiers perspectives on COIN, while others don't have the mindset. That is ok, since everyone here still needs good, reliable trigger-pullers.

To those who are currently in an operational position and have the opinion that strictly kinetic operations should be the might be a detriment to the mission. I suppose that would depend on the mission of your respective units. But if a strictly kinetic mission is not synchronized with those focusing on non-kinetics, then the overall result is self-defeating. It is also discouraging that high level officers do not publicly advocate fusion of lethal and non-lethal COIN practices or full-spectrum operations.

Also, the Air Force flies here. I'm not sure if the people saying that CAS isn't flying were just making reference to strict ROE or something of that nature, or were exaggerating.


Fri, 05/28/2010 - 10:58am

I don't think the Adm. (or anyone else)is saying ratchet up the violence against civilians, especially if you mean things like the security sweeps we saw in Iraq 2003-2005 or dropping a 500lb bomb on a mud hut. None of the things I memtioned in the 1st post ratchets up the violance (We have the best airforces in the world and they can't fly in Afghanistan; troops are letting enemy walk away from a fire fight when they see the enemy dump their weapons; service men are being told to patrol without a round in the chamber; FOBS seem to be adding another layer of cement to their weight rooms instead of hunting the bad guys; supporting arms fire missions are becoming a legal exercise). They do however increase the "friction", especially at the small unit level, that prevents our combatants from doing their job in the village. New roads and school houses are not going to send the Taliban retreating back to their refugee camps in Pak. These guys are committed to fighting to the death and until you kill them (or chase them out) they will continue to intimidate and kill those who do not cooporate with their cause. Restraining the small units working in the vils with "administrative" safety procedures under the "no civilian casualties" dogma is not helping nor is doctrinely accepting the blame for civilian casualties then the enemy is using them as shields. I think the good Admr (maybe unintentionally) is pointing out that McChrystal is not properly setting the "strategic tapristry" or environment for fighting a COIN war in Afghan. Shame on McChrystal for providing the opportunity for a Navy Admr to accuse him of not fighting enough.

Jack Flash (not verified)

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 11:50pm

I think much of the confusion is due to the limited amount of info we are given in this brief acticle telling us exactly what ADM Olson actually believes. If he is saying, "let's have balance", then yes, he's correct. But if that is indeed what he is saying, then he is saying nothing new at all. That's what COIN is all about--chat with the reconcilables, and kill the non-reconcilables, all while protecting the population and building government legitimacy. This is COIN 101, and we've been trying to do that for years. It amounts to pure common sense. But if he's actually saying we need more violence of action because we somehow look weak, then I say that he better seriously beef-up our intel along with it, because it is too darn easy to make a major mistake and get innocents killed (also who do you think gives us much of the bad intel? Our friends? No, the enemy.). And regardless of whether or not the insurgency is "nationalistic" or not, we should all reflect on one axiomatic truth of human nature: If you come into my community and kill my neighbor, family member, or friend, then you better ready yourself for retaliation, especially if you are a foreigner. Let us also not forget that places like Afghanistan, which are not characterizes as nationalistic, do unite under common threat (or perceived common threat), and an increasingly violent military policy would easily be capitalized on by insurgent propaganda, informing the locals of our errant strikes and demonstrating why we should be considered a threat to the people and their security). Furthermore, many angry individuals do not avail themselves to you for reconciliation payments, contrary to popular belief. And if we then take the approach that we'll just have to kill those newly recruited bad guys too (thanks to a rash decision to conduct a poorly informed raid), I'm not sure we have enough bullets in production (nor is this philosophically how we approach warfare as Americans). So, for those looking to ratchet up violence as some new form of doctrine or policy, I think we need to have a long look at what the truth is on the ground and depart our ivory towers for the field.


Thu, 05/27/2010 - 3:55pm

After reading the above (2) comments I will hold off giving my "Don't let doctrine become dogma" speech.
Preventing killing civilians in COIN is the way to go; but the question is: has the pendulum swung to far to the non-kinetic side? Afghan civilian casualties due to AGE (Anti-Government Elements) has gone up 41% between 2008 and 2009. The 2010 rate is on a 30% increase curve from 2009. It may be time to get back to the old doctrine that a short war, rigorously execute, is the best way to reduce casualties. All those items I listed in the 1st comment are not shorting the war. Are we prolonging the war at the expense of additional civilian casualties? No military in the world goes as far as the US military in taking steps to prevent civilian casualties, maybe we are going to far in Afghanistan. BTW Rick; "extrajudicial killing of bad guys" thanks for yet another example of an oxymoron.


Thu, 05/27/2010 - 1:04pm

-Overall, from the limited amount contained in the article, I 99% agree with Schmedlap.
-I'm not sure that the statement "COIN doctrine is an oxymoron" really helps. There may be two pieces to the statment: 1) we, the US/NATO, are not fighting an insurgency. We are helping the governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and other nations fight their insurgencies so maybe "we" aren't doing COIN at all. 2) Doctrine, by definition, is "authoritative but not directive" and it has to be understood that the doctrine developed at one time in one location to fight one enemy will probably not be valid elsewhere/elsewhen. In that case ANY doctrine presumed to be one size fits all is ridiculous.
-Second point, re: kinetic v. non-kinetic operations. ADM Olson is quoted as saying: "Counterinsurgency should involve countering the insurgents" but many times the best way to counter the bad guys is via non-kinetic, non-military, ops. All war is a fight for political power but there are times when bullets are not the best options.

Rick Bennett

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 11:29am

The question is not whether there is a need to have tactics for extrajudicial killing of bad guys, but whether continuing with those tactics in Afghanistan supports or detracts too greatly from efforts to demonstrate the legitimacy of the GIRoA.
Maybe the SOCOM goals in the worldwide fight against terror are bumping up against the CENTCOM goals for developing a secure and stable Afghanistan- that is why the CoC goes all the way to a CinC.


Thu, 05/27/2010 - 11:04am

For Jack Flash: "WASHINGTON -- The commander in charge of southern Afghanistan acknowledged on Wednesday that "we are not yet where we need to be in the farming zone of Marja, the site of a major offensive in February that sought to flush out the Taliban. The commander, Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, also said that a more complex military operation was on schedule to begin in the city of Kandahar in June." Insurgents do what they always do when faced by superior forces...they melt away, leaving behind their "Shadow Governement/Operatives". Once you secure the "village" the next task is to ID the operatives and hunt them down and neutralize them with arrest and/or killing them. Anything you do in the village before you dig the operatives out will be underminded by them. In other words "your peeing up a rope". You secure the village, you register the village (eg - in order to ID new folks coming in), and you hunt down the operatives that are working at night against you. Once you have at least IDed the bad guys living in the vil then you can think about the nice stuff. Every time I see a newsclip of the US military moving into an Afghan vil the first thing the village elders ask the military is how are you going to protect us from the Taliban. The answer should not be; "Oh! Well! We are going to build you a new road." Speaking of village; you might want to read Bing West's "Village".

I agree with "William F. Owen:
Why are we not debating this in the forum?.... again!"


Thu, 05/27/2010 - 10:41am

COL Gentile,

<blockquote><em>"Well if nothing else with regard to the Admiral's comments I would only suggest that calling Coin, as he does, an 'oxymoron' to be rather provocative, no?"</em></blockquote>

Sure, but I would point out that I typed, <em>"there is nothing in the article that I see that is all that controversial. Some of it worded a bit provocatively? Perhaps."</em> So, if you're taking up my challenge to <em>"quote the article to show me where I'm wrong"</em> then that's strike one.

But, I would also add, since that comment seems to be growing legs, that many are taking that quote in isolation. In the very next sentence of the article, he expanded upon that thought...

<blockquote><em>"That's because 'almost none' of what the doctrine contains is 'actually applied' during military operations, he said."</em> - ADM Olson, quoted by Defense News</blockquote>

That is neither new nor controversial. As evidence, I submit <a href="… comment that I made six months ago</a> and point out that several commenters here (and elsewhere) agreed with it.


<blockquote><em>"If a 'blood feud' make more bad guys then they may have to get killed as well."</em></blockquote>

Agree with your post and I would add that the "blood feud" issue is an oversimplification made by many people who either cannot or will not understand the dynamics of the situation they are in. Few things in life are certain (in A'Stan, not even taxes are certain!) and neither are blood feuds. Offenses for which a blood debt <em>can</em> or <em>may</em> be paid, can and are sometimes paid with money or its equivalent or settled by creating a kinship bond through marriage between the aggrieved party and a woman from the perpetrator's group.

Mark O'Neill (not verified)

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 9:41am

I think W.F.O nailed it... And, Chicken Little, you are spot on, 'do COIN' is not an acceptable mission task for any unit or formation.

William F. Owen

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 8:29am

Said it once, say it again. Killing the right people always works. If a "blood feud" make more bad guys then they may have to get killed as well. Used Armed Force against Armed Force.

Needlessly killing the wrong people is nearly always stupid and usually counter-productive, in terms of Irregular Warfare. It amazes how many people keep wanting to involve the population in the conflict, instead of keeping them out it.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 8:25am

Agree with Steve (and many other posts on this thread).

Steve Metz in his post said this:

"I've long been of the school of thought that "population centric" counterinsurgency was a method specific to the nationalist/populist insurgencies of the Cold War rather than a universal model."

Excellent point, and what Steve says in the above sentence can be turned into a direct criticism of Kilcullen's new book "Counterinsurgency" which attempts to construct a universal theory of Counterinsurgency which is grounded, go figure, in population centric Coin (read: Galula, 3-24, and his 28 principles).


Well if nothing else with regard to the Admiral's comments I would only suggest that calling Coin, as he does, an "oxymoron" to be rather provocative, no? I wonder if Generals Petraeus, McChrystal, and Flynn would agree with that characterization of it.


Steve Metz (not verified)

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 7:26am

I wanted to say that I agree with Olson. I've long been of the school of thought that "population centric" counterinsurgency was a method specific to the nationalist/populist insurgencies of the Cold War rather than a universal model. I believe sustaining the morale and effectiveness of a regime and its security forces is the centeral determinant of success, not "support of the people." That obsession is a demonstration of the tendency of Western nations to mirror image their own culture (as demonstrated by the deification of Galula).

BK (not verified)

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 7:24am

Jack Flash, as others have pointed out, you and others posting here seem to have missed the point. The ADM is not advocating that we switch to an all-kinetic, all-the-time type strategy in which we kick in doors and forcibly search every occupant of every hut.

Rather, the ADM is suggesting that we need to balance PC-COIN with COIN that targets enemy forces. This is completely in line with essential COIN theory. You're not winning their "hearts and minds" because in many places, you're just never going to get there from here. But you do need to earn their trust. They need to be able to trust that you will not kill or persecute them (the PC-COIN angle) but that you WILL kill or persecute those who do bad things.

You bring up an example of the wrong family being killed. Fair enough, that's bad. I think everyone here and in the military is on board with that concept. But what about that family that gets butchered (dragged and quartered, attacked with acid, whatever nasty little tricks our adversaries have for "influencing the population") because the US military and its allies failed to actually stop the bad guys. Yes, we need to keep from creating more bad guys, but that does not mean we should ignore the aspect of reducing the bad guys that are already out there. It requires a balanced approach.

And that's what the ADM is calling for...

Curt (not verified)

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 4:37am

Got to agree with Schmedlap, just don't see anything objectionable in this. So the Admiral is concerned that "COIN" doesn't become an excuse to do nothing? Who would have thought? Must be a slow news day.

Jack Flash (not verified)

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 4:12am

For those that believe increasing kinetics ("countering the insurgent") is actually doing the "countering", I assure you this is a very dangerous and false understanding. In fact, this is what insurgents want you to try to do, since it almost always plays into their hands (read Maoist theory). Have you ever been in a tribal environment where a unit took out a family accidentally because they thought they were a nest of insurgents? If not, I'll tell you that this is the beginning of a blood-feud in which you have now done a great deal to recruit a lot of new insurgents, whereas that community may have loathed the insurgents before. We all need to approach COIN from a populist perspective, and focus on the people first. Everything should be based on how our efforts affect the population. Then, after establishing this understanding (including trying to predict second and third order effects), move on to implementing our plans, and where needed and assessed as not having a strongly adverse effect on population sentiment, even killing the bad guys.


Thu, 05/27/2010 - 1:51am


Plz pull your head out of your proverbial...well, you know. You do know that as a special operator, the ADM lives and breathes FID and counterinsurgency, right? And since when is "COIN" a land operation in warfare? Are we conducting land warfare in A-Stan? We must be reading different newspapers. And you think one 4-star has more applicable experience in COIN than another because A-stan is landlocked? Really? By saying "understanding of Army military operations and land warfare," you exhibit as much if not more misunderstanding about COIN as you claim the ADM has. The Afghan Hands Program and mission we've been given is as multi-service as it gets. There are probably just as many AF types in the program as Army. Its not an Army mission and it's not a "land warfare" mission. Its an ISAF/USFOR-A mission and its about as far from land warfare as you can get.

And that's where the discord comes from. A blended approach is <i>exactly</i> what the ADM is talking about. He, and many others in uniform, see the swing towards PC-COIN at the expense of *everything* else our military can and should be doing as counterproductive. Now that OSD has levied AFPAK Hand-like metrics on the Services, the precedent is set where training and doctrine need to incorporate something for which there is not even an accepted theory or definition. As an Afghan Hand, <i>I</i> would like to see some quantifiable metrics or guidelines to go by. But they're not going to come because we all can't even agree on basic theories.

So what the ADM is calling for, and what you interpret as defense of Service turf and his offended sensibilities, is actually some definition and doctrine writing by the command who actually has proponency over those mission areas.

With all due respect to you, I would question your holding PC-COIN on an artificial pedestal at the expense of CT, other COIN approaches and strategies, and the ADM's motives. If someone who's command wrote the OPlan for OEF and GWOT questions a fad of tactics at the expense of larger and longer term results, I'd listen in and not try and turn it into some 4-star soap opera.

William F. Owen

Thu, 05/27/2010 - 1:37am

"The U.S. military's counterinsurgency tactics increasingly place too much emphasis on protecting local peoples and not enough on fighting enemy forces..." Yep. I agree. I would even go further.

Why are we not debating this in the forum?.... again!


Wed, 05/26/2010 - 9:59pm

I see very little in this statement that is objectionable to anyone. Whether you think pop-COIN is the answer to every solution or you think we should just pull out and revert to the Bernard Finel repeated raids approach or you fall anywhere else on the spectrum of COIN proponent/skeptic/pragmatist, there is nothing in the article that I see that is all that controversial. Some of it worded a bit provocatively? Perhaps.

Somebody please quote the article to show me where I'm wrong.

Chicken Little (not verified)

Wed, 05/26/2010 - 6:49pm

1) Is COIN a mission? Can a unit be tasked to conduct a COIN mission?

2) If COIN is a mission, what are the task and purpose?

3) If COIN is a mission, what level is responsible for the mission (tactical, operational or strategic)?

4) How do I explain COIN to a PVT with one year of service?

I suspect that our collective struggle with COIN is that we cannot define it. I have been a part of several exercises in which a COIN mission was prescribed but the mission was along the lines of "move to this village, establish FOB and conduct COIN in order to allow US Force maneuver ". This seems to lack true definition when compared to "attack by fire in order to destroy enemy unit."

UCrawford (not verified)

Wed, 05/26/2010 - 4:43pm

With all due respect to the admiral and his outstanding service record, I think he's demonstrating with his remarks and criticisms a lack of understanding of Army military operations and land warfare, as well as a lack of basic understanding of counterinsurgency. What he seems to be describing is counterterrorism (something in which his SEALs have much experience), not counterinsurgency (which is land-based, something that General McChrystal would appear to have far more experience in than the admiral). His remarks seem less about finding a results-oriented approach of blended tactics than about defending his service's "turf" in a conflict where the Navy Special Operations community is somewhat marginalized due to the geographic conditions of Afghanistan and the type of war we're fighting there. Frankly, if his sensibilities are that offended by Gates' endorsement of McChrystal's approach to the conflict in Afghanistan and if he feels that his position somehow trumps McChrystal's experience in land warfare to a degree that he should be able to publicly dismiss McChrystal's approach and Gates' decision to the press, perhaps he's the wrong man to be in charge of USSOCOM.


Wed, 05/26/2010 - 3:34pm

"The U.S. military's counterinsurgency tactics increasingly place too much emphasis on protecting local peoples and not enough on fighting enemy forces..." Ya know I have to agree with the good Adm. We have the best airforces in the world and they can't fly in Afghanistan; troops are letting enemy walk away from a fire fight when they see the enemy dump their weapons; service men are being told to patrol without a round in the chamber; FOBS seem to be adding another layer of cement to their weight rooms instead of hunting the bad guys; supporting arms fire missions are becoming a legal exercise; and Afghanistan civilian casualties due to enemy actions are sky rocketing to the highest level ever. WTF? Over.