The Birth of Modern Counterinsurgency

The Picture Awaits: The Birth of Modern Counterinsurgency - Anne Marlowe, World Affairs.

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, counterinsurgency theory was about as popular in American military circles as tank warfare is today. An early study by the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division during its first deployment to Iraq reported "a collective cognitive dissonance on the part of the US Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it." There was a reason for this. Eager to forget the most painful experience in its history, the army had all but banished counterinsurgency from the lexicon of American military affairs after Vietnam. As a result, the army relied on a flawed strategy in Iraq for a period that lasted, according to author Thomas Ricks, at least "twenty months or more.

As US Army Colonel Gian Gentile has summarized this line of argument, there was a "bad war" in Iraq fought by officers who ignored the theory and practice of counterinsurgency, followed by a "good war" fought by its champions. In Vietnam, however, even the "bad" war was fought by commanders deeply versed in the tactics, techniques, and procedures of counterinsurgency (COIN)—much more, in any case, than their counterparts were on September 11, 2001. The United States may have gone, in James Fallows's memorable phrase, "Blind into Baghdad." It did not march blindly into Vietnam. On the contrary, counterinsurgency theory enjoyed a special vogue in the 1960s: it was certainly more fashionable and better understood by an educated public than it is today. Especially among military officers, COIN was more roundly known during this era than at any time up until the release of Field Manual 3-24 in December 2006...

More at World Affairs. SWJ hat tip to Victor Lamparski, Editor, War News Updates.

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Hello Morgan. I like your spirit and answer from someone currently experienced in country that I was hoping to hear - how's your Pashto? I spoke French and Vietnamese by the time I left "my war." : - )

Good luck with "our war" - I hope you're not disappointed!

Gentlemen,

I disagree with the idea that a CAP-like program could not be employed in A'stan. Many in the Army & Marines today have 6 months (or more) experience in combat, whether Iraq or Afghanistan, so that part is a non-issue, even if their deployment experience is "outdated" (prior to 18 months ago). They still have experience in that culture. There are many in the Army that would welcome an opportunity to lead a CAP-style organization as long as we were backed by our higher HQs and government.

Those of us that have spent time in Afghanistan as advisors appreciate the need to spend more time living and interacting with the local population. It is at this level wherer we can generate trust and learn something about the enemy...and the locals.

Dr Holt (in another post on SWJ) has advocated such a program in A'stan. I, too, recommend its implementation.

Gentlemen,

I disagree with the idea that a CAP-like program could not be employed in A'stan. Many in the Army & Marines today have 6 months (or more) experience in combat, whether Iraq or Afghanistan, so that part is a non-issue, even if their deployment experience is "outdated" (prior to 18 months ago). They still have experience in that culture. There are many in the Army that would welcome an opportunity to lead a CAP-style organization as long as we were backed by our higher HQs and government.

Those of us that have spent time in Afghanistan as advisors appreciate the need to spend more time living and interacting with the local population. It is at this level wherer we can generate trust and learn something about the enemy...and the locals.

Dr Holt (in another post on SWJ) has advocated such a program in A'stan. I, too, recommend its implementation.

Hello Rough Terrain. Certainly you are correct with your reference as described in FM 3-24, and thinking further on it, there are some good comparisons.

One main difference that I saw between the Marine CAP and the Special Forces in the Highlands was the SF CIDG combined village defense units along with the mobile strike forces (mercenaries) as a rule, and seemed to operate in the less populated areas.

I'm simply not sure the Montagnards were accepted as part of "winning the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese population? And I'm aware the CIA had a hand in the SF CIDG program as well for their own purposes.

Be that as it may: it's not clear to me we could run a program similiar to the CAP in Afghanistan. Most Marines and Navy Corpsman in Vietnam had six months experience in country, were generally motivated and screened volunteers that had agreed to extend their tour. Something in itself, I don't see happening in this war.

Seaworthy----Thanks for your comments. You mention an interesting point concerning the historical South Vietnamese prejudices toward their indigenous mountain tribes. However, I do not see how this ethnic friction point significantly affects the overall nature of that conflict. That said, in what manner did the CIDG program fail to meet the standards of COIN? By which doctrinal definition (or for that matter, non-doctrinal)?

FM 3-24 defines COIN as "those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat an insurgency." US Army Special Forces and LLDB (ARVN Special Forces)---the governmental entities, in this case--- addressed all of these various facets in the combined effort to prevent the subversion and exploitation of the Montagnards by Viet Cong insurgents and their NVA sponsors. Specifically, a military/ paramilitary line of operation (the raising of CIDG strike forces) combined with a political effort (the bottom-up empowerment of Montagnard tribal leadership and attempted intergration into South Vietnamese society---admittedly, not very successful due to historical animosity on both sides) to directly confront the encroachment of the NLF in the Central Highlands. Complimenting the pol-mil side, Special Forces conducted an extensive counter-propaganda campaign and civic action programs which further served to empower the Montagnards and isolate the Viet Cong. So again, I ask---how does this not meet the definition of a counterinsurgency?

Perhaps the paradox of the deep relationship between the Kennedy/Viet Nam-era Special Forces and the Montagnards is that it may have been successful in ways countervailing the official strategy of the times.

Brief description of FULRO "Montagnard Rebellion" from VHPA website:

http://www.flyarmy.org/panel/battle/64091900.HTM

War Story by Jim Morris (Amazon):

http://www.amazon.com/War-Story-Jim-Morris/dp/0873641477

Somewhat related article from The Sixties Project:

http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Texts/Narrative/Farrell_...

Rought Terrain, do you consider Montagnards of the central highlands Vietnamese? Vietnamese referred to them as moi, which translates to savage, and considered them purely mercenaries.

I'm not quite sure one can make the case that this represents COIN, versus the III MAF I Corps expereince with the CAP (CAC)?

An interesting article. I appreciate the linkage that Ms Marlowe makes between COIN theory and the traditional American values of self-reliance and self-determination---and the seeming paradox that evolves when the United States attempts to combine the two in order to effect "armed nation-building."

Ms Marlow cites the USMC's CAP program as one of the few COIN efforts that showed promise during the Vietnam conflict, while implying that the Army was solely focused on conventional "big battalion" operations. In doing so, she overlooks the contributions of the U.S. Army Special Forces' Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). The CIDG program vastly out-paced the Combined Action Platoons in both size and scope, with no more than a couple hundred Green Berets raising, equipping, training and leading a tribal army of Montagnards (over 20,000 indigenous fighters at its peak). Special Forces and their CIDG Montagnard allies provided the bulk of intelligence on NVA/VC activity in the Central Highlands and conducted raids and ambushes along key infiltration routes, in addition to winning over South Vietnam's mountain peoples from Communist influence through a thoughtful application of humanitarian aid projects and tribal empowerment. In my opinion, this represents a true COIN success story----one that bears further detailed study in light of our current situation in Afghanistan.

Thanks Phil - Dave

As a companion piece to this, I'd recommend reading Col. Mansoor's piece in the Ohio State ehistory journal "Origins" entitled "From Baghdad to Kabul: The Historical Roots of U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine."
http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/origins/

(I linked to this via Mark Grimsley's "Blog Them Out of the Stone Age" site: http://warhistorian.org/wordpress/index.php)

What percentage of the fighters are locals and how many are outsiders? And of those who are local, what percentage are taking advantage of a financial opportunity or chance to settle a score versus actively assisting the insurgency out of a belief in its goals? Once we know these things we should have a better understanding of whether this is a rebellion or an insurgency or a mixture of both. My money's on most of these fighters are outsiders from Pakistan with some locals taking advantage of money-making opportunities, etc. but not really supporting the insurgency.

An insurgency is a rebellion. Mrs. Marlowe is using the old terminology of people's war, rebellion, and insurrection. The breadth, depth, scope, and reach of popular support determine what time of rebellion it is ranging in four phases (0-4) as described by Mao.

This article is an excellent one in describing the evolving nature, discussion, and debate of population-centric counter-insurgency. At the end, Mrs. Marlowe begins to engage the philisophical mindset of COIN and our foreign policy. I wished she had continued a bit more.

Our own ideology is founded heavily in our universal values of self-determination and self-reliance as defined by the Founders to the Transcendentalist. Thus, we are historically anti-tyranny, anti-colonialist, and anti-communist; however, a certain paradox is created when we attempt to help others free themselves. Sometimes, we end up hurting more than helping. Sometimes, our best intentions end up result in us being perceived as an occupier or the tyrant.

I'm not sure how to avoid this paradox, but one solution is the indirect approach where we minimize the military footprint and only seek to strengthen the Host Nation through counsel, advise, and mentorship.

Mrs. Marlowe has given us much to consider.

v/r

Mike

Are we are now fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan or a rebellion?

Should the the time come (if not already), will we recognize that a revolt against a government that isn't seen as legitimate is occurring, and our presence in the middle of this has begun to override our original mission and the conflict has turned into a resistance against us?