Small Wars Journal

U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05760317 Date: 12/31/201

U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05760317 Date: 12/31/201

From today’s Department of State FOIA release of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Includes counterinsurgency discussion concerning Afghanistan strategy based on a historical perspective. Redacted portions are excluded.

UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05760317 Date: 12/31/2015



From: sbwhoeor

Sent: Friday, November 13, 2009 6:48 AM



Re: H: Memo on Afghan. Sid

Hope it's helpful. Both are available to talk.

Sent via Cingular Xpress Mail with Blackberry

Original Message





Date: Fri, 13 Nov 2009 06:35:10

To: 'sbwhoeop


Subject: Re: H: Memo on Afghan. Sid

Thx so much for sending.

Original Message

From: sbwhoeor


To: H

Sent: Thu Nov 12 19:25:02 2009

Subject: H: Memo on Afghan. Sid


November 12, 2009

For: Hillary

From: Sid

Re: Afghanistan strategy



Below are two documents: One is a memo frorr


Who served in the counter-insurgency program in Vietnam with John Paul Vann. He writes about Bernard Fall, the great French journalist and analyst, whom he studied with. His memo is a critique of COIN proposals and his own recommendations.

The other document consists of notes from my conversation with William Murray, former station chief of CIA in Pakistan. He was one of the members of a small CIA team, including Milt Bearden (whom you probably know and who is close to Richard Holbrooke), that directed the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation. Murray also served as station chief elsewhere, including Lebanon. His remarks focus on the lack of a clear mission and message in Afghanistan.

I neither endorse nor disputes and Murray's analyses, but simply present them.



Counterinsurgency — a much failed strategy?


Bernard Fall was one of the most significant theoreticians and practitioner of Counterinsurgency (COIN) in the 20th Century. He was the expert most listened to at the Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg when LTG William Yarborough commanded the school there in the Kennedy and Johnson eras.

Fall defined COIN clearly. He said that: Counterinsurgency = political reform + economic development + counter guerrilla operations

This theory of warfare was developed by the colonial powers as a "cure" for the wave on "wars of national liberation" that swept through their overseas possessions after World War Two. Because of these revolts against authority most of the European powers found themselves faced with colonized populations engaged in extended attempts to obtain independence from the metropole. Such rebellions were usually based on ethnic and racial differences with the colonizers and were often led by vanguard Left parties with communist connections. That connection caused an eventual American policy commitment to the COIN struggle. That commitment sometimes occurred as a partner of the colonial power (Vietnam in the late '40s and '50s) and sometimes as a successor to the colonial power after at least partial independence had bee achieved. (Vietnam after the French)

COIN theory was seen by both the former colonial officers who taught it at Bragg and their American disciples of the time as the opposite of the methods of the anti-colonial insurgents who were thought to practice something called "revolutionary warfare." (RW) Revolutionary Warfare + Political subversion (including propaganda) + economic transformation (usually socialist) + guerilla warfare (to include terrorism)

The central idea behind COIN was seen as competitive reformed government and economic development for the population that was at least potentially supported the insurgents RW movement. It was believed that if this population was "protected" from the RW efforts of the insurgent movement, then the population would choose to side with the counterinsurgents whether the counterinsurgents were the local post-colonial government or an occupying power.

This doctrine was widely applied across the world in the middle and late 20th Century. There were successes and there were failures.


The British suppression of the "Malayan Emergency" was probably the greatest success of the counterinsurgents. In Malaya the British colonial authorities faced a clearly communist guerrilla movement that consisted altogether of overseas Chinese living in the midst of a majority Malay and Muslim population. The area of operations was a peninsula nearly completely surrounded by ocean areas dominated by the British. Navy. The British forces suffered from cross department coordination issues early in the campaign, but once those were solved and the "Communist Terrorists" (CTs) isolated in the jungles and rubber plantations all that was needed to defeat them was persistence in small unit patrolling until the CTs were exterminated. There were never more than a few hundred of them. The British succeeded in suppressing this revolt but what did this successful effort cost them. It was enormously expensive and success was followed by British withdrawal from Malaya and the creation of an independent Malaysia completely dominated by the  Malay ethnic adversaries of the overseas Chinese.

Kenya and Cyprus were both gripped by revolts by the Kikuyu and Greek populations respectively. In both cases, RW campaigns based on terrorism were fought to a standstill by the British only to be followed by political decisions on the part of the British government to abandon these countries and allow the ascent to power of the former leaders of the insurgencies, Kenyatta and Makarios respectively.

In Latin America, where I participated in several COIN efforts, the Kennedy created "Alliance for Progress" sought to defeat local insurgencies inspired and led by cadres from Castro's Cuba. These countries were particularly good targets for communist inspired RW because the political and economic structures of the Central American and Andean states were so clearly unfair and un-democratic that local populations of underfed Indians and peasants could be easily proselytized In the process of RW. In many cases in Latin America the low level economic development efforts of the civil and military arms of the US Government met with considerable success. Villagers were protected from the insurgents, local (village economies) were improved. Medical treatment was provided to those who had never known it.

Nevertheless, the "Alliance for Progress" can not be considered a strategic success. Why? The local elites in all these countries quickly perceived the COIN campaign as a threat to their political privilege and wealth in land and simply refused to institute the reforms sponsored by the alliance. Much the same thing happened in various parts of Africa and Southwest Asia where it was attempted.


The American war in Vietnam is a typical example of failure of the COIN theory. The massive communist led Viet Minh independence movement was a classic example of RW in all its components taken to its ultimate development in the creation of a regular army for the insurgent movement under the sponsorship of its Chinese communist ally. The United States participated in the French COIN effort against the Viet Minh and then became the sponsor of the post-colonial government left behind by the French on their departure. Contrary to popular legend (I served there for two years) the initial approach of the United States to the situation in South Vietnam was pure COIN right out of the Ft. Bragg School.

Populations of villagers were protected, the South Vietnamese armed forces were developed, village militias were created for self defense, good government was preached to the Diem government in Saigon. Economic development was fostered. It was only when the government of North Vietnam decided that these methods were a serious bar to their eventual success in RW in the South and brought its regular army into South Vietnam in 1964 that US forces escalated their own deployment to the conventional war level. This was a necessary step if the eradication of the South Vietnamese government and the US COIN effort was to be avoided. There followed three years of conventional warfare between US and North Vietnamese forces. This warfare was largely conducted outside populated areas. COIN efforts continued during this period but took second place to the need to defeat or at least seriously weaken North Vietnam's army. In 1967 it was judged that this had been accomplished and COIN was once again made the centerpiece of American efforts in Vietnam. To accomplish this, a fully integrated civil/military COIN structure was created under the combined military command in Vietnam. This was called "Civil Operations, Revolutionary Development Support."

(CORDS) I worked in this program for a year. (1968-1969) This effort had virtually unlimited money, ten thousand advisers in every aspect of Vietnamese civil society, business and government function and a massive coalition and south Vietnamese conventional force standing by to protect the population and the counterinsurgents of CORDS while they did their work. This COIN program was largely successful. A handover to the South Vietnamese forces was devised  in the form of the "Vietnamization Program" and US forces were withdrawn in "trenches" (slices) over a couple of years.

Following the Christmas, 1972 renewed bombing effort over North Vietnam (caused by North Vietnamese intransigence in Geneva) a ceasefire was reached and for two years there was quiet in South Vietnam with the South Vietnamese government holding much of the country. It was only after some minor incident on the world stage caused a revulsion in the American press and public against any further involvement in Vietnam that the US Congress passed a law forbidding any further aid to South Vietnam that the North Vietnamese decided to use their fine army to over run the country in a conventional war. Lesson — You can win the COIN war and still be defeated conventionally or politically at home.

The French war in Algeria is another example of COIN success followed by political defeat and withdrawal. After a prolonged struggle, the French security force had largely defeated the Algerian native guerrillas of the Front National de Liberation (FLN). This struggle had been waged with all the aspects of classic COIN doctrine. The revolt had started in 1955. By 1960 the French Army, police and their Algerian allies had largely won the fight. As in Vietnam, two years then passed in relative quiet. In 1962 De Gaulle was elected president of France with a political vision that required independence for Algeria. That negated all the struggle and success of the CIIN war. Failure once again at the strategic level.

Our war in Iraq is now cited as an example of the success of the COIN theory and its methods. In fact nothing of the sort occurred in Iraq. Remember — COIN = political reform + economic development + counter-guerilla operations. We have not brought on political reform in Iraq. What we have done is re-arrange the "players" in such a way that the formerly downtrodden Shia Arabs are now the masters. This has in no way reduced the potential for inter-communal armed struggle. We did not defeat the insurgents in counter guerrilla operations. What we did was bring more troops into the Baghdad area to enforce the separation of the ethno-sectarian communities while at the same time using traditional methods of "divide and conquer" to split off enough insurgents to form an effective force to use against AI-Qa'ida in Iraq and others whom we disapproved of. This is not counterinsurgency!!!


COIN is a badly flawed instrument of statecraft: Why?

- The locals ultimately own the country being fought over. If they do not want the "reforms" you desire, they will resist you as we have been resisted in Iraq and Afghanistan. McChrystal's strategy paper severely criticized Karzai's government. Will that disapproval harden into a decision to act to find a better government or will we simply undercut Afghan central government and become the actual government?

- Such COIN wars are expensive, long drawn out affairs that are deeply debilitating for the foreign counterinsurgent power. Reserves of money, soldiers and national will are not endless. Ultimately, the body politic of the counterinsurgent foreign power turns against the war and then all that has occurred has been a waste.

- COIN theory is predicated on the ability of the counterinsurgents to change the mentality of the "protected" (read controlled) population. The sad truth is that most people do not want to be deprived of their ancestral ways and will fight to protect them. "Hearts and Minds" is an empty propagandist's phrase.

- In the end the foreign counterinsurgent is embarked on a war that is not his own war. For him, the COIN war will always be a limited war, fought for a limited time with limited resources. For the insurgent, the war is total war. They have no where to escape to after a tour of duty. The psychological difference is massive.

- For the counterinsurgent the commitment of forces must necessarily be much larger than for the insurgents. The counterinsurgent seeks to protect massive areas, hundreds of built up areas and millions of people. The insurgent can pick his targets. The difference in force requirements is crippling to the counterinsurgents.

What should we do?

- Hold the cities as bases to prevent a recognized Taliban government until some satisfactory (to us) deal is made among the Afghans.

- Participate in international economic development projects for Afghanistan.

- Conduct effective clandestine HUMINT out of the city bases against international jihadi elements.

- Turn the tribes against the jihadi elements.

- Continue to hunt and kill/capture dangerous jihadis,

How long might you have to follow this program? It might be a long time but that would be sustainable. A full-blown

COIN campaign in Afghanistan is not politically sustainable.


Bill M.

Fri, 01/01/2016 - 12:05pm

Fall was a clear headed thinker and brutally honest. One of my favorite bits from Bernard Fall was his criticism of our civic-action programs in Vietnam, probably because I have seen the same mistake repeated in at least four different countries where we were conducting either COIN or FID. He pointed out that our village assessments were deeply flawed, and that the communist cadres frequently ran the schools we built, yet we were blind to that. Our assessments pointed to the villages being firmly controlled by the government (not the communist’s shadow government).

Our doctrine, our lack of integrity (failure to tell truth to power), and our overly simplistic and cute COINdista phrases like “we have to win hearts and minds” have repeatedly led us down the road to failure. The so-called intellectual elite of the COINdista tribe were able to convince our national leadership that we weren’t failing, because COIN takes 20 years, so we just need to stick with it. With that logic, each new administration can come in and start afresh. The following quote rings true to me.

“COIN theory is predicated on the ability of the counterinsurgents to change the mentality of the "protected" (read controlled) population. The sad truth is that most people do not want to be deprived of their ancestral ways and will fight to protect them. "Hearts and Minds" is an empty propagandist's phrase.”

How many times have we heard that we just get our narrative right? If we do, the people will see that we’re right and rally to our cause. Maybe we need to listen to what the people are telling us for a change? If we can’t live with that because for some reason that threatens our national security, then we should consider the harsh reality that we may need to wage war upon them.

Harsh I know, but one must be blind if they think these long drawn out conflicts are humane. They destroy generation after generation, and in the ruins of these long conflicts any semblance of a state is destroyed, leading to the rise of militias, organized crime, and other long term festering problems that are harder to resolve than the problem we may have been able to solve more decisively if we were willing to wage a more decisive war. Our decade long support to Muj to fight the USSR is one case in point.

The discussion that should have happened, a discussion informed by history apparently never happened. While I find the following quote frustrating, it does seem to ring true:

“COIN is a badly flawed instrument of statecraft: Why?”

“Such COIN wars are expensive, long drawn out affairs that are deeply debilitating for the foreign counterinsurgent power. Reserves of money, soldiers and national will are not endless. Ultimately, the body politic of the counterinsurgent foreign power turns against the war and then all that has occurred has been a waste.”

The recommendations given in the e-mail will not lead to a traditional victory, but they come closer to protecting our interests than throwing good money after bad with large efforts that are not decisive. Maybe the policy question we need to ask is if a bad state is better than a failed state? Libya comes to mind as one example. The fallout from removing Kaddafi further destabilized other parts of Africa, and Libya now serves as a safe haven for some transnational terrorist organizations that truly do threaten our interests. A lot of times there are no good answers, and we are simply dealt a bad hand. It is the other times that frustrate me.

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 01/01/2016 - 10:06am

Thanks to Dave Dilegge and Small Wars Journal for posting this.

A fascinating email from the just released Clinton emails. It mentions Bernard Fall's 1965 essay reprinted in the 1998 Naval War College Review "Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency." I would commend everyone to reading its 11 short pages. It can be accessed from my blog at this link:

The email to Secretary Clinton references Fall and revolutionary warfare in Vietnam so I thought I would send the link to the entire essay and note this excerpt below which may be relevant to the discussions on the Gray Zone and other naming conventions. I think it is also why there are those who advocate the need to be able to conduct counter-guerrilla operations which should be the major military contribution of any campaign that addresses insurgency. But it is the ideological aspect that makes this different from other conflicts and why I am an advocate of the study of revolution, resistance, and insurgency. (

Fall mentions that sublimited warfare is meaningless. He must have been referencing the 1962 chart I have linked below which I think is interesting to examine in light of our search to explain AND NAME forms and characteristics of conflict short of war today. As an aside I have also included a chart from the 1962 Special Warfare magazine (which can be downloaded at this link. The article "Use the Right Word" is in the "Introduction" which is hot linked on the page at this link.

Excerpt from Fall's essay.

QUOTE One of the problems one immediately faces is that of terminology. Obviously "sublimited warfare" is meaningless, and "insurgency" or "counterinsurgency" hardly define the problem. But the definition that I think will fit the subject is "revolutionary warfare" (RW).

Let me state this definition: RW = G + P, or, "revolutionary warfare equals guerrilla warfare plus political action." This formula for revolutionary warfare is the result of the application of guerrilla methods to the furtherance of an ideology or a political system. This is the real difference between partisan warfare, guerrilla warfare, and everything else. "Guerrilla" simply means "small war," to which the correct Army answer is (and that applies to all Western armies) that everybody knows how to fight small wars; no second lieutenant of the infantry ever learns anything else but how to fight small wars.

Political action, however, is the difference. The communists, or shall we say, any sound revolutionary warfare operator (the French underground, the Norwegian underground, or any other European anti-Nazi underground) most of the time used small-war tactics--not to destroy the German Army, of which they were thoroughly incapable, but to establish a competitive system of control over the population. Of course, in order to do this, here and there they had to kill some of the occupying forces and attack some of the military targets. But above all they had to kill their own people who collaborated with the enemy.

But the "kill" aspect, the military aspect, definitely always remained the minor aspect. The political, administrative, ideological aspect is the primary aspect. Everybody, of course, by definition, will seek a military solution to the insurgency problem, whereas by its very nature, the insurgency problem is military only in a secondary sense, and political, ideological, and administrative in a primary sense. Once we understand this, we will understand more of what is actually going on in Viet-Nam or in some of the other places affected by RW. END QUOTE

Protracted and Sublimited war chart 1962:

"Use the Right Word" chart 1962: