Small Wars Journal

Beyond FM 3-24

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Beyond FM 3-24:

Readings for the Counterinsurgency Commander

by Joshua Thiel, Bryan Martin, William Marm, Christopher O'Gwin, Christopher Young, Gabriel Szody, and Douglas Borer

Download the Full Article: Beyond FM 3-24

Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, United States (U.S.) Army Green Berets were active in the international sphere. Organized in small, twelve-man teams known as Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (ODA), these specially trained soldiers were primarily engaged as teachers of Counterinsurgency (COIN) to Host Nation's (HN) military forces during Foreign Internal Defense (FID) missions. They were expected to not only add value to the capacity, professionalization, and operational capabilities of the HN forces, but were also expected to be the COIN subject matter experts within the U.S. military. However, ODAs rapidly evolved from teachers of COIN to practitioners of the art during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If one were to follow a randomly chosen ODA chronologically, the COIN techniques and methods used by that unit have changed in three general ways over the last ten years. The initial pedagogical role as teachers of COIN to foreign partners before 9-11, gave way for the first seven or so years in Iraq and Afghanistan to extreme instances of Direct Action in the new role as the "Primary Counterinsurgent." In the third phase, many ODA's have returned to a more nuanced approach today that reflects the Special Force's original call to arms, "By, With, and Through." Additionally, even as Special Forces has sought to reclaim its roots, the U.S. military as a whole, including conventional or general purpose forces, have also become much more COIN savvy over time.

Indeed, ODAs in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Trans-Sahel, and in Central and South America have traveled the full arc between primary teacher to primary practitioner and back again depending on the local rules of engagement. Likewise, many Army and Marine units have been assigned duties in Afghanistan and Iraq as practitioners of COIN, and Navy Seal Teams have often been assigned roles as COIN teachers in FID missions -- assignments for which they have minimal formal preparation. In preparation for these difficult assignments, most junior officers today refer to the Army's FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, a document which is weighted heavily towards preparing the U.S. military in the role of "Primary Counterinsurgent." What additional readings beyond FM 3-24 might be useful to help prepare junior officers for the full array of COIN challenges facing America's expeditionary units?

Download the Full Article: Beyond FM 3-24

Major Joshua Thiel is a United States Army Special Forces Officer and graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School with a Masters of Science in Defense Analysis and a graduate of American Military University with a Masters of Arts in Low Intensity Conflict. His undergraduate degree in Economics is from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has deployed to Iraq, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea, and has served in both the Infantry and Special Forces. He is currently preparing to return to the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Major Bryan Martin is a United States Army Special Forces officer and graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School with a Masters of Science in Defense Analysis and the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science in History. He has deployed to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan and has served within Air Assault Infantry and Special Forces assignments. He is currently returning to 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Major William Marm is a United States Army Special Forces officer and graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School with a Masters of Science in Defense Analysis and the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science. He has served with Special Forces in multiple overseas assignments. He is currently returning to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Major Christopher O'Gwin is a United States Army Special Forces Officer and graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School with a Masters of Science in Defense Analysis and a graduate of Central Michigan University with a Masters of Science in Administration. His undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering is from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has deployed to Colombia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and has served in both the Infantry and Special Forces. He is currently preparing to return to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Major Christopher Young is a United States Army Special Forces officer and graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School with a Masters of Science in Defense Analysis and the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science. He has deployed to Bosnia, Iraq, while serving with Infantry and Special Forces Units. He is currently returning to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Major Gabe Szody is United States Special Forces officer and recently graduated from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA with a Masters in Defense Analysis. Additionally after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, MAJ Szody served numerous tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq with the 2nd Ranger Battalion and 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne). He is currently conducting an internship with NATO SOF HQ en route to his next assignment at 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Dr. Douglas A. Borer is Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Instruction in the Defense Analysis Department at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He teaches in the SOLIC and IO curricula and writes on the politics of legitimacy in war. He is a retired bear hunter from Montana.

Editor's Note: In response to an RFI for lessons learned in modern counterinsurgency, a group of Special Forces officers and one defense analysis professor submitted this essay, a culmination of their three month study. This essay is important- pay close attention to how they describe the differing roles between FID and the Primary Counterinsurgent.

About the Author(s)


gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 12/18/2010 - 8:36am

A thougt provoking piece.

But why no Callwell?


gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 12/18/2010 - 1:14pm

Well Doug I understand time constraints and that reading lists have limits, and that whenever one comes up with a reading list there are often suggestions ad infinitum to what should have been on the list. Got it.

My point though about Callwell had a underlying and unstated point about your piece.

Dare I say for the most part the authors are not getting beyond FM 3-24 but, based on your reading selection, you are buried deeply within it.

The piece betrays the deep seated hold that a certain theory of counterinsurgency--pop centric coin, or hearts and minds--has over the us army.

It is true that in your interesting graph you are moving beyond large scale American expeditionary Coin toward FID or foreign internal defense, but the piece is still grounded in a discrete theory of how to go about countering an insurgency. There are others to be sure, but until the American Army weans itself off hearts and minds Coin, FM 3-24 as it stands now will be in its current form until 2112 and beyond.

So my point about Callwell was really a statement about the pervasiveness of the theory of hearts and minds counterinsurgency.




Sat, 12/18/2010 - 12:57pm


Callwell would have been an excellent choice. There are only so many weeks in our term, and this study was an overload for all of us. More good books than time so to speak.


Bill M.

Sat, 12/18/2010 - 10:58pm

I read the paper and to be frank I came to the same conclusion that Gian did, which is that it simply reinforces the FM 3-24 view of COIN. One could argue that the authors of FM 3-24 got it right, so of course there is a common thread among all the great COIN texts. While leaving that open as a real possibility, I want to offer another possibility from my limited background in psychology.

I was reflecting on this article when I received an e-mail from a friend that reminded me of the "Theory of Laddeness of Observation", and I immediately associated it with this article. In simple terms it means our observations and sensory experiences; and consequently the resulting empirical data derived from it is often flawed by our theoretical bias. This happens despite the academic rigor applied during the studies, because the bottom line is were all human and suffer from the limitations of the associated behaviors that come with being human.

Most folks arent academics, and they rely strictly on their schemas (mental models on how a particular subject/scheme should be understood; largely pre-conceived ideas). I think it was Dr. Kilcullen who stated the side that gets the narrative out first wins, and since FM 3-24 is the narrative that is shaping our governments perception of COIN it has "standardized" the accepted view of the "correct principles and proper implementation of those principles" throughout the U.S. military and beyond. Any challenge to that schema is comfortable, especially with younger officers. Challenges are uncomfortable and most likely will be rejected out of hand. In some cases if the counterview finds a person/audience that is receptive then that view may promote a paradigm shift. I would argue that FM 3-24 was a paradigm shift for the General Purpose Forces, while most of us in Special Forces were left scratching our heads wondering what all the whoopla was about. The question remains was it a good paradigm shift?

IMO most COIN studies are deeply flawed because they assume the actions of the counterinsurgent are determinative in the outcome while ignoring the actions of insurgent and numerous other factors influencing the outcome of the conflict (complexity and all that). At best most so called COIN principles are really correlations that we think are relevant, and not really a principle after all. If it was a principle that would mean if you violated it you would lose because you didnt apply it. These flaws in thinking apply equally to both sides of the argument, but since were challenging FM 3-24 that is my focus now.

What is funny is when we all meet for a beer well agree that every situation is unique and must be approached that way, but we dont do that; at least not initially. We come into a situation with our doctrinal and academic based biases and then eventually get schooled by reality. Doctrine has its merits, but it also has it drawbacks by shaping our schemas in ways that may prove to be unhelpful.

Taking this argument one step further, after working with and for several NPS graduates and other universities I have to wonder if our higher level education methodology could be improved significantly by eliminating the need for a thesis? I know this is blasphemy to tradition and agree that actually writing a thesis has much, but the end result too often appears to be a mid grade officer with exceptional enthusiasm about a particular subject (whether it be social network analysis, network theory, population control, impact of economic development, etc.) that they want to integrate and put into practice during their next assignment. We can agree that this is still a success because theyre taking their education back to the force to provide value to the force (thats the goal), but the potential downside in my view is the myopic focus on their thesis topic (the greatest determinant in their academic standing) limits them from being able to tap into a wider spectrum of knowledge at school, and then reflect on how to practice warfare (in this case irregular warfare) holistically. Im not strongly wedded to the idea, but would like your view on it. As a long time practitioner of the craft I think NPS brings a lot of value to the force, but I think a tweak in the traditional approach to graduate level education may even produce greater results.

Bob's World

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 10:41am

Concur. I was optimistic upon seeing the title, the list of bios and the NPS source that this was going to be some great, insightful reading. But I too, was left a bit flat.

I've always stuggled personally with thesis writing, as it requires one to identify an insanely narrow aspect of some partiular issue, and drill an intellectual hole through it that is 4 inches in diameter, and a mile deep. Great if one is looking for water, or oil, but not so much for developing keen insights into complex challenges such as insurgency.

A forum like NPS might want to pick instead several large topics like "How the current COIN approach to Afghanistan does/does not support our stated objectives and national interests there." And then have two teams of 3-5 students prepare for and then debate the topic. Papers would be prepared and submitted as well to support key positions in advance; and the debates attended by the entire class and videotaped or perhaps even broadcast by VTC to field questions from a broader audiance.

Bill M is also spot on about one other thing as well, if it wasn't for his damn "Laddeness of Observation" I would have him completely corrupted by now! :-)

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/19/2010 - 10:44am

"I would argue that FM 3-24 was a paradigm shift for the General Purpose Forces, while most of us in Special Forces were left scratching our heads wondering what all the whoopla was about. The question remains was it a good paradigm shift?" by BillM

You said a mouthfull there. These types of Wars are the very reason that SF was created and exist. At the end of my One Minute Guerrilla Warfare course we were stuck at a Fish Camp for 3 extra days for reasons that I want go into, but I had a lot of time with Green Beret types (best beer,coffee and hamburgers anywhere) and what I learned and was taught and the Warnings that a Team Sergeant gave me have come mostly true.

Thanks, Doug. Regarding theses. Don't stop. While I can't be sure they are read by all, I do forward many of those great theses far and wide and recommend they be read. Make sure the students know they are valued. I wrote a short piece for SWJ awhile back and our Generals (and Admirals) should be reading and listening to our officers (and NCOs) who have been there and done it and will be going back. The students at Monterey, Leavenworth, Quantico, Newport, Maxwell, McNair, Carlisle, Norfolk and other PME institutions should be writing about their experiences and more importantly offering their ideas for the future and we should all be paying attention.

Doug Borer (not verified)

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 10:51pm

Thanks for all these great comments, but I think if any of you have an axe to grind with FM3-24, you should grind it directly in your own writing. After years of pure arrogant stupidity in Iraq, FM 3-24 was, as Slapout9 says nicely, "A paradigm shift for the GPFs." Sure, it isn't perfect, and it really isn't any better the the Marine Corp's 1940 Small Wars Manual, but after our guys read it, the big battleship started to make a slow turn in more or less the right direction. I was teaching on a MEU heading to Iraq 4 years ago and was astounded that not a single officer had read the 1940 Manual. When I gave it to them electronically, the junior guys were all over it, but the seniors guys weren't interested. (As a general rule, American warriors don't read history, they only make it...)

The basic truth is that most of my co-authors, having just come out of multiple rotations to the fight, are preparing to go back into it. Most are now heading to new assignments as Company Commanders, and it was their intent to come up with a simple reading list for the new ODA Commanders that they will lead. Given all the demands on those young men's time, our goal was to come up with a digestible reading list that went "Beyond FM 3-24," but one that was not so outside the box as to lose credibility.

I do like all the suggestions on the idea of reforming the thesis process, etc. However, we produce some exceedingly kick-ass theses here at NPS, and if anyone with a few stars would have read any them, I assert we would be out of Afghanista with another check mark in the W column. Having said that, we might want to do away with the thesis (if nobody reads them).

BTW, this little essay was not part of anyone's theses. These guys came to me and said, "let's do some extra reading." I said, "Ok, but let's write something to." When SWJ sent out their RFI, we sent in our piece. No more, no less.

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 2:19am

"I do like all the suggestions on the idea of reforming the thesis process, etc. However, we produce some exceedingly kick-ass theses here at NPS." by Doug Borer

Yes you have and I have read some of them.
PS: Are you the retired Bear Hunter from the paper? If so glad to see they are finally highering people with some decent qualifications for a change.


I hope you didn't think I was attacking the quality of the theses, because I have read and enjoyed many of them. Where I disagree with COL Maxwell is the endstate of higher education for our officers. Our officers and NCOs should be encouraged to write papers based on their experiences for professional journals as part of their job, but let's be honest, I have seen some honest papers that weren't cheer leader pieces result in damaged careers. Ideally if you're going to criticize (and criticism should be welcome), critize the ideas in the paper based and justify why the criticism, don't attack the author because he or she isn't a corporate boy, but I digress.

I would the endstate of the higher education is to produce officers better equipped through their education to solve complex problems (not more complex than yesterday, just complex). My point is when the thesis is the greatest factor weighing on your academic standing (the center of gravity), then that is where most of the student's focus will rightly be focused. My suggestion is intended as food for thought, and the point is do we distract the officer/NCO from focusing on the bigger picture by asking him as Bob states by digging a hole an inch an diameter and a mile deep? I noticed I also accidently truncated my response above, because I left out the word value. Writing a thesis does have much value, BUT is it the best of use of the student's time? Maybe it is, but I think it is worth considering alternative approaches.

Bill M: We do not disagree. I too am a strong believer that our PME for our officers and NCOs has to focused on developing leaders who can solve or contribute to solving complex political-military problems. That is why I think all PME institutions need to have as foundational curriculum history, theory, military geography (which everyone overlooks and is necessary because that is what includes the cultural dimension), operational art, and strategy. But writing is a very important discipline and I think a necessary part of any PME program. The point of my article and comments is that while our students are learning to be creative problem solvers they are thinking through the problems they have encountered in their experiences and thinking about the problems they may face ahead, they should be writing about solving those problems. We should be paying attention to what they write and the ideas they express as much if not more so than the pundits who have controlled the debate on the direction or focus for our military and on other issues. But again, I do not disagree with you - the purpose of our PME institutions should be to provide an education that develops critical thought and helps those students to become creative problem solvers.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 9:03am


thanks for your comments and first off a Happy Holidays to you.

In your recent response you said this:

"...After years of pure arrogant stupidity in Iraq, FM 3-24 was, as Slapout9 says nicely, "A paradigm shift for the GPFs." Sure, it isn't perfect, and it really isn't any better the the Marine Corp's 1940 Small Wars Manual, but after our guys read it, the big battleship started to make a slow turn in more or less the right direction."

Dare I say Doug, that "arrogant stupidity" is a bit over-stated and sensationalized? Your assertion is not supported by some newer histories that have come for the first two years of the war (Don Wright's "On Point II) where it argues that almost immediately the American Army in Spring 2003 was adjusting to counterinsurgency and full spectrum operations. I was a BCT XO in Tikrit in 2003 and although to be sure we made some mistakes I dont remember us as being "arrogantly stupid". One of the first briefings we gave to the Brigade commander was how to go about setting up local governance in Tikrit. Now I am not trying to bring 1st Bde, 4ID into the "gets it" club per the coin literature of the exceptional army units prior to the Surge. The fact of the matter is that if you study what people have said about what they have done, Don Wright's conclusion seems correct.

Moreover, the notion that there was a paradigm shift, operationally in terms of what the american army did on the ground once the surge began compared to what came before, is over-stated as well. There tends to be more continuity than discontinuity, in terms of overall operational framework, between the pre-surge and surge armies. After all, since the Spring of 2003 the operational framework for the US Army was armed nation building, aka population centric counterinsurgency. To be sure most commanders prior to the Surge were not using PAO talking points of "protecting the people", or "not commuting to the fight", but that does not mean as an operational framework things shifted significantly once the Surge began.

Lastly a quibble, but the Marine Corps Small Wars Manaual really only became important and transcendent beyond the Marine Corps after America's loss in Vietnam and folks looked to it, in some ways like Galula, as the cipher to success in counterinsurgency warfare. To be sure it was a fine doctrinal manual on how to chase down and kill insurgents and rebels in the jungles of Central American; but it is really nothing more than that. In terms of impact, FM 3-24 is arguable the most important and influential doctrinal manual in American military history. It is much more so than the previous most important and influential, the 1986 100-5, Airland Battle.

But if it is the most imporant and influential doctrinal manual, FM 3-24 is also the most deeply flawed. Interesting juxtaposition to consider, I think.



Doug Borer (not verified)

Sat, 12/25/2010 - 12:05am

Hi Gian

My "arrogant stupidity" comment was not meant for the operational ground forces, but for the GO's and the ranking civilian bosses at the DOD, (including the POTUS). No insult intended.

A number of lower level think tanks and analysts laid out what was needed to do phase 4 in Iraq BEFORE ours guys went over the berm.

That advise was actively ignored (eg. arrogant stupidity), and the deal was done.

Gross strategic incompetence will almost always guarantee operational/tactical failure.

When you have a heart problem you go to a cardiologist, not a general surgeon or a pediatrician. The Army was (is?) too tradition bound to understand this basic fact.

As Jerry Jeff Walker sung it years ago, "We're just pissing in the wind, betting on a losing friend, making the same mistakes we swore we'd never make again..."

(Ok, so that was sensationalized, but dang, it sounded just about right on this X-mas eve).

Keep smiling,


Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 12/25/2010 - 1:00am

Mr. Borer:

You said: "When you have a heart problem you go to a cardiologist, not a general surgeon or a pediatrician. The Army was (is?) too tradition bound to understand this basic fact."

So pray tell, who should the Army have turned to?

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 12/25/2010 - 2:09pm

Doug, I think you are right by way of implication that failed strategy certainly effects tactics. But to turn that on its head, I also dont think that better coin tactics, ala FM 3-24, could save a strategy and policy that was flawed, or overpower more imporatant and critical conditions on the ground that were evolving into fruition as the Surge started.

Man, you should read Historian Brian Linn's review of Rus Weigley's classic "The American Way of War" in an article in the Journal of Military History (2002, I think) where Linn argued that the American way of war is not necessarily of annhilation but instead of adaptaion and flexibility. Suggest that the bogeyman you are attempting to slay does not reside in the US Army but in strategy and policy. The evidence clearly shows that the US Army in Iraq adapted early and quickly to full spectrum operations, to include counterinsurgency. For all of the talk about not prepping for phase IV, at the tactical level, again, the Army adapted to it very quickly.

But beyond Linn, what proof do you have that the American Army has been "too traditiocn bound." Might you clarify what part of the American army you are talking about? Can you point to evidence in Afghanistan? Perhaps Iraq? Moreover Doug, what mistakes are we making again?

These notions of radical, tectonic shifts in counterinsurgency field forces conductingc area security missions (e.g., Malaya, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan)is really just ficticon, constructed more to shape the present and future than to adequately explain the past.



Doug Borer (not verified)

Sat, 12/25/2010 - 5:41pm

Anonymous and Gian

I would have put a long-serving Army SF general (e.g. Lambert) in charge of Iraq as soon as it became apparent the insurgency was gaining steam (you will recall Sec. Rumsfeld's active resistance to even acknowledging there was an insurgency in Iraq - he was clearly miffed at Gen Peter Pace for using the term publicly).

This denial of reality cost a lot of American's their lives/limbs/futures and the taxpayers a massive amount of $$$. Arrogant stupidity - I stand by the comment.

SOF forces led the initial fight in Afghanistan, and the history is clear: it was only after the conventional Army took over that things headed in the wrong direction. I have great respect for the adaptability of all the American Armed forces, but why not start with the branch (SF) that was designed to do that sort of job and let them lead the fight? Regular units should be op-conned to SF teams - how is that for a suggestion?

As a result of not doing so, we fumbled about with the Iraq insurgency for years, and ditto for Afghanistan. Gian, you may think of "adaption" as a positive attribute - which it usually is. However, if such adaption is unnecessary, I would call it something much less praiseworthy (reference my JJ Walker lyrics above).

Thank goodness the POTUS finally realized he needed a change, and Petraeus was tagged (with Casey taking on the Chief of Staff job - if that is not deja vu Vietnam, I am a turnip. Talk about TRADITION!)

I am pleased that Iraq turned itself around, not only because of what we did in the Surge, but more importantly what the Sunni tribes did in figuring out they had more to lose at the hands of the Shia and AQI than in siding with us.

I am also pleased that the new village-focused efforts in Afghanistan seems to be taking hold. We have been promoting that sort of local approach at NPS in all of my 6+ years at NPS. I believe McChrystal's 2009 Strategy might be successful (if we stay the course politically).

Why it took us 8-9 years to figure that one out is the best proof I can offer that the Army is a tradition bound institution and not very damned adaptable. My co-authors can better fill you in on the battlefield specifics of non-adaptability first hand, but what I read in the papers tells me that some adaptations are simply the wrong ones (eg. sending M1A1's to Helmand - ok, so that is a Marine decision, but mark my words, Army units will be asking for the same firepower soon enough).

On that note, you are right Gian - the real problem is at the strategy and policy level, however, the Army is complicit here too. It focuses so much on perfecting tactics and operations that it more or less purges strategic thinking from its ranks by never developing it. We should teach strategy at the service academies, at the staff colleges, and at the senior service schools. As far as I know, the only dedicated strategy curriculum for the Army happens at the AWC in Carlisle, and it only is a minority part of the year there (operational level campaign planning taking up as much or more time as strategy). I taught at the AWC in 2003 and recall one of my Colonel's saying about one strategic thinking lesson, "Damn, this would have been useful a ten years ago..." His peers all nodded their heads.

In my opinion, one of the key causes of our muddling through these conflicts, and our tendency to produce non-strategists, is the Cold-War era promotion system that we still operate under today. As a result, the Army still promotes many people based on tactical and operational-level kinetic metrics that were modeled on fighting the Soviets in the Fulda Gap (the number of bad guys rolled up, number of targets eliminated: all easy to metric stuff). Kinetics matter in COIN, but not nearly as much as the balls, wallets, and stomach issues (I prefer those terms to "hearts and minds") that are probably more important to success (eg. Indirect methods).

But, that is a topic for another discussion.

Gian, I confess I am probably too hard on the Army. I do think those 'non-traditional' new uniforms sure are neat.

Keep Smiling,


ps. Please understand that I do agree with you that many units of the GPF's have done a remarkable job of become good at COIN. However, the units that do not adapt well, and remain tethered to conventional training and doctrine end up producing more insurgents than they eliminate. Read FM 3-24.2!

slapout9 (not verified)

Sat, 12/25/2010 - 8:56pm

"Read FM 3-24.2!" by Doug

Absolutely it is a much better manual but I am biased it starts with a 6 ring analysis ASCOPE which is how Systems Analysis should start. But they need to learn how to link the elements from left to right, not just from the top down.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 12/25/2010 - 10:02pm

I have to admit I'm somewhat surprised that a military academic "attempted" to dumb the down the recent wars by beating the drum it would be different if SF led the fight. While SF is generally better qualified to lead these types of fights, the fight that SF won (short term victory) wasn't the same one that the conventional guys lost control of. They were two different fights.

First off SF wouldn't have accomplished much without the expertise of the CIA, which by the way is how it is supposed to work. Second, SOF ended up largely conducting coalition warfare with the Northern Alliance (relatively peer competitors with the Taliban, until our guys provided very impressive levels of firepower and tactical expertise to give the NA the edge they need to put the Taliban in a "very temporary" flee mode). It was a very conventional fight against irregular actors (firepower won the battles, not CMO and IO).

The SF teams did great work and deserve all the credit they received and more, and let's not forget that there were other SOF elements doing great work there also (despite a few well publicized screw ups), plus the 101st and 10th Mtn Divs played key roles in the initial fight. Relatively from a strategy and execution aspect the first phase of the fight was easy, so the ASSUMPTION that if we left SF in charge we wouldn't have lost control of the subsequent insurgency is an assumption based on no supporting facts.

I definitely think we would have done much better, but the real issue were the policies that we were supposed to implement (rebuild Afghanistan into a democracy), and the reality that the Taliban was never defeated, it simply changed it modus operandi. Politically they out maneuvered us by establishing a safehaven in Pakistan to begin their UW campaign against us. Karzai they can defeat conventionally if they get us to leave.

So back to your assumption that SF would have pulled this off, what is this based on? I would hope the likes of MG Lambert would have told the truth to power, and recommended new and realistic goals, but we all remember the Rumfield era, and dissent was not welcome. Most likely he would have been fired, and we would still be in the same position we're in today. Yes he or another SF General would have done much better, but they still wouldn't have come up with the grand plan to convert Afghanistan into a thriving democracy that would eventually transform the region.

You said we turned the situation around in Iraq by applying 3-24 methods. Maybe that helped, but really helped were the AQ and Shia atrocities. You could have had the world's dumbest Marine or Soldier in charge and the uprising would still have happened. However, over time we still didn't accomplish our objectives did we? The level of violence of Iraq is still abnormally high, people are still being slaughtered based on their religion, and it is still a haven for terrorists, not to mention more Iranian influence than ever. Turned around? Yea it turned around from somewhat stable chaos under a madman to unstable chaos now that is even a greater threat to the region long term (IMO).

I find it surprising you comment so negatively on the Marines employing tanks? Tanks are a hell of lot more surgical and responsive to the guy on the ground than waiting 20 minutes or more for air support, and then the associated collateral damage. Tanks if employed correctly should save U.S. lives and result in less collateral damage, so I hope the Army does request them for the locations where they're appropriate. I remember the fiasco in 2001/2 where the grunts couldn't send artillery to Afghanistan to support their battles. This was a case where artillery could have been correctly to suppress the enemy while our guys maneuvered on them. No we didn't want to do that, it might send the wrong message.

I agree with your comment that the problem is at the strategic level, and while the Army may be complicit, ultimately they had to work for Rumfield and his gang of know of alls that wouldn't have listened to the likes of Marshal, much less any of our current GOs.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 10:09am


Might you provide one piece of historical evidence to show where hearts and minds counterinsurgency (or to use whatever terms you like to use to describe it) has worked at the hand of a foreign occupying or colonial power?

I submit to you that there are none, and that we are dancing in the dark with FM 3-24 hearts and minds coin in how we think we understand Iraq and the promise it holds for Afghanistan. The dance is actually an embrace of a social scientific theory that has not been proven in history or in current practice (for example, Doug Porch's interview by Mike Few pretty much demolished the idea that Suchet was anticipating 3-24 in Spain during the Peninsula War).

Lastly brother Doug, there is not it seems to me much to be smiling about when we are burning good blood and treasure to prove that this pop theory of social scientific change can work in practice.



Doug Borer (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 11:45am


Very good points. I am not claiming that an SF guy would have necessarily won the fight, I am claiming that the PROBABILITY of success would have been higher with an SF guy in charge, in part, because SF generally has had to take a whole of government approach, working with the CIA, State, NGO's, and most importantly, the locals. Concur completely that other SOF and OGA's were always part of the package; however, all things considered, I would go with an SF GO.

Your broader point of "strategic drift" in Afghanistan is right on mark. I agree completely.

Ditto with your assessment of why Iraq moved in the right direction. That is why in my last post I said, "...but more importantly what the Sunni tribes did in figuring out they had more to lose at the hands of the Shia and AQI than in siding with us."

I won't engage with you fully on the tanks issue. I ran the gauntlet of that discussion (with 70 of my students taking whacks at me this last quarter). We all agree that in a purely military scenario, tanks are great, and can deliver precision firepower that causes less collateral damage. However, COIN fights are never purely military conflicts, and the IO opportunities that the first burning Abrams will provide the enemy are huge. After a day of discussion (which I cannot replicate in its richness here) I took a anonymous poll. It ran about 65/35 against sending the tanks. Again, this was the professional opinion of 70 SOF officers, including coalition allies (who have used tanks), of which 80% had served 1-5 rotations into Afghanistan.

Thanks, Doug

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 12:33pm

Mr. Borer, kind sir. Have you given thought as to why we will not put SF generals in charge? First off, the military will not put a career SF general in charge of Special Operations. USSOCOM has never had a career SF general officer in command. If they will not put a career SF general in charge of USSOCOM do you think they would put one in charge of an operation overseas? (and remember McCrystal, though SF qualified with one year in SF in 1979, was not a career SF officer). Second for your consideration is that there are not enough SF general officers to fill all the operational SOF positions required. It is the rare occasion when an SF general fills a non-SOF position (e.g., MG Trombitas commanding US Army SOUTH and BG Tovo formerly the ADC for 1AD). Lastly, I also think it is worth considering that the largest SOF force - Special Forces - has fewer 4 star and 3 star officers than the SEALs and the SEALs will likely have their second career SEAL officer commanding USSOCOM (McCraven to replace Oslon) before SF ever has even one. I understand that you are dealing 70 SOF officers on a regular basis in Monterey but you do need to watch the koolaide consumption! :-) I am just saying....

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 12:46pm

The Directorate of Para-Military Operations of the CIA (which has a long history of asscociation with US Special Forces has known how to fight and win these types of wars since the 1950's and that makes them a direct threat to big military thinking. What was done in A'satn followed the well worn path of what used to be called the 7 steps from Hell (UW)until the Big GWOT took over.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 12:57pm

Please provide a list of what conflcts the CIA paramilitary division has been successful in winning. Enquiring minds would like to know.

Doug Borer (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 12:59pm


Foreign occupying powers have routinely defeated enemies and squelched budding insurgencies using a mixture of behavioral modification approach: both incentive-based and punitive-based. I disagree with your apparent premise that FM 3-24 is purely "hearts and minds COIN" and we are dancing in the dark with it.

History is a fickle mistress, and one to be treated with great respect and caution. I generally concur with the axiom "those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it." However, I also believe that those who study it too closely with the desire for absolute truths are bound to repeat it too.

I have never made an argument that social science can in and of itself win anything other than tenure for professors (GUILTY!)
However, there is evidence that historically based social science concepts and heuristic models can provide the intellectual tools for warriors to fashion effective operational strategies.

Take the most recent example of the Philippines. You might not think of the PI Govt or the USA as "foreign occupying powers" because of what the map says. However, many people living in the Sulu Archipelago sure do think of Manila as occupiers. I would assert that the PI-USA alliance hasn't fully "won" that insurgency, but it has moved it in the right direction because of a mixture of methods that can be summarized under the "indirect approach."

Success in PI has been driven by many variables, but ultimately the foundation of that strategy can be boiled down into two: never act without local forces being the most visible lead agents (in all actions, both kinetic and non-kinetic); and stress diplomatic, economic and informational elements of power more heavily than the military.

Smart officers (both from the AFP and USA) fashioned that strategy (see Eric Wendt's piece in Special Warfare, Sept. 2005 )using social science concepts as points of departure - guidelines rather than dictates.

I can hear you locking and loading the inevitable broadside "Afghanistan is not the Philippines", to which I would say "fair enough." However, there are simply too many positive "lessons" of that case that possibly could have an impact in Afghanistan to ignore.

You asked me earlier how were we failing in Afghanistan. In my opinion the #1 failure is the IO campaign. A recent poll in the South and East revealed that over 90% of rural Afghans have no clue as to why the US and Coalition forces are there. There is NO POSSIBILITY of victory (broadly defined) if we don't get the IO element moving in the right direction - and quickly.

Best, Doug

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 1:53pm

Simply stated the Philippines is their country, just like it is the same for Columbia in their fighting the FARC. It makes sense for them to commit to generational struggles against the insurgencies within since it is in their vital, no really existential interest to do so. Have these countries and their governments through strategy deployed the method of hearts and minds coin to some levels of success? Yes they have.

But my point remains valid that hearts and minds counterinsurgency by a foreign occupying or colonial power remains unproven in history, you still have not offered up an example of when it has worked, even if history is fickle as you say.

FM 3-24 is hearts and minds counterinsurgency. To not acknowledge as much is not to understand the thing. Now even hearts and minds coin acknowledges that there is killing involved; but the refrain by the hearts and minds generals is that you cant "kill your way out of an insurgency" which means that killing is important, but what really wins against an insurgency is to win the trust and allegiance of the local population through programs of nation building. This is the essence of FM 3-24; again to deny it is to deny a clear understanding of what it is about. Ultimately in hearts and minds coin, or FM 3-24, it is about persuasion and convincing the local population to give its allegiance to the host government supported by the counterinsurgent force. The coin literature, the rhetoric of the us army today is full of the language of pop centric, hearts and minds coin: "winning the trust," "gaining the allegiance," building trusting relationships with local populations."

But again as fickle as history is in the hands of its users, one cannot find an example of this method working, so in a sense by way of history, Doug, we truly are dancing in the dark.



I have to jump out of the woodwork on this one. What lessons from the Philippines are applicable to Afghanistan? The Philippines is FID in its purest sense, where we initially focused on CT (and still do to a large extent), and then experienced a little mission creep (perhaps appropriately in this case) to stability operations. We're not assisting with COIN, but we all know there is collateral benefit from the other operations that assist in keeping the insurgency in check. Afghanistan on the other hand was an invasion that transitioned to an occupation and then IMO a flawed attempt to transfer power to a corrupt/ineffective government. Now we're trying to make it work and we have foes from around the world that are attempting to undermine our efforts, and the foes have sanctuary in bordering nations.

What many won't realize that haven't been following the Philippines for a while is that the Armed Forces of the Philippines were viewed as a hostile force by the locals in the South, but through the efforts of key leaders in the Government and military of the Philippines (mentored by JSOTF-P leadership) that view has largely been replaced with one of acceptance. The classical COIN approach tends to work in a classical COIN situation.

Like any situation it isn't black and white, but there has been some measure of success. I would suppose that the U.S. objective is to eventually withdraw most of its support without causing the situation to rewind to the level of chaos and violence that existed previously. I would argue that while we may be closer, we're still a far ways off from this objective and the center of gravity for that battle isn't in Mindanao it is in Manila.

As you know corruption is endemic and epidemic in the Philippines. What is required in my view is another Magsaysay like leader that can effectively champion the level of reform needed throughout the government to get bring the various conflicts to a close. I agree our team there definitely help set the conditions for success, but only the Philippine government can run carry the batton across the finish line.

When we shift to Afghanistan, I tend to side to side with Gian. The fight in the village IMO will not be decisive, it will result in a series of temporary Kodak moments that will look like propaganda with photos of smiling locals partnered with coalition forces (and hopefully ASF), but in the end it won't mean much if all the other pieces don't fall in place. If the opposing forces decide to move back and disrupt the village and put it back under their influence, there will be little there to stop them after our men leave. I'm arguing that village stability operations are not decisive because they're too dispersed (violating the ink blot approach), under resourced, ultimately dependent on the Afghan Government playing an effective role, and any success (just like taking a hill in batttle) is temporary and can be reversed by the enemy.

The village stability operations must be combined robust direct action operations to ultimately destroy the enemy or at least convince him that victory is not possible. We're apparently doing that in Afghanistan, but we still allow the government in Islamabad to practice a relatively let it be policy in the known safehavens in Pakistans. I think we're ultimately practicing a stabilize a village today, and then give it back to the enemy tomorrow (that can be months or a couple of years) if we don't aggressively pursue the enemy (surgically, but aggressively) into his safehaven.

The Philippines issues is relatively local and more about bad governance than jihad. Afghanistan is much more than that.

Just to be clear about US operations in the Republic of the Philippines (we try not to use PI for Philippine Islands because of the connection to the colonial period when we were an occupier and conducted pacification operations vice counterinsurgency but I digress). US operations in the modern era (actually better termed US whole of government support to an ally because there is so much than just the military component supporting the Government of the Republic of the Philippines in it's fight against lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism) were based on Foreign Internal Defense doctrine (and a foundation of Unconventional Warfare training and education). The TTPs used an the design of the campaign to support the Philippine government
and it's security forces was based on FM 31-20 Special Forces doctrine and FID. It was not and is not rocket science and as far as social science is concerned if social science informed Special Forces doctrine then you can make the connection. Yes COL Wendt was able to demonstrate the linkage to Gordon McCormack's Mystic Diamond but in the critical planning phases in the fall of 2001 that was not an influence nor was it an influence on the initial operation. Again, the so-called "Basilan model" was nothing more than the application of the synergistic effects of US SF, Civil Affairs and PSYOP (now MISO) as part of a whole of US government effort to aid an ally in it's internal defense and development programs to defend itself against lawless, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism.

While remaining suspect of any press reporting, I suspect there is more than a grain of truth in this article.

There was a famous scholar in Vietnam who challenged our claims of success when we first implemented a similiar program there. He said that although U.S. forces occupied the village occassionally with HN forces, they didn't understand what was really happening. He said the best metrics to determine who actually controlled the village was to determine who appointed the teachers and who the villagers paid taxes too. I offer this as food for thought.

Just one point I forgot to mention. US military operations in support of the Republic of the Philippines were of course planned and conducted long before FM 3-24 was even considered necessary because basic Special Forces and Foreign Internal Defense doctrine provided a sufficient foundation for training and planning for as well as executing operations. The foundation come of course form the Special Operations Imperatives (which I think were first codified in the 1990 version of FM 31-20):

*Understand the operational environment.
*Recognize political implications.
*Facilitate interagency activities.
*Engage the threat discriminately.
*Consider long-term effects.
*Ensure legitimacy and credibility of special operations.
*Anticipate and control psychological effects.
*Apply capabilities indirectly.
*Develop multiple options.
*Ensure long-term sustainment.
*Provide sufficient intelligence.
*Balance security and synchronization.

And of course these imperatives are not exclusive to Special Operations. Everyone is free to consider them when they plan and execute operations.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 3:20pm

I like Dave's last sentence which by implication is a good guide for strategy when wading through the thickets of principles and lessons which if one is not careful can be the enemy of good strategy. Dave's choice of the word "consider" is crucial because it allows for flexibility in strategy when considering operational methods, and even if military force should be applied.


The Special Operations imperatives listed in FM 31-20 in my opinion should replace the principles of war for irregular warfare.

They're more applicable to Special Forces than Special Operations as whole (at least when they were first developed), and they may not be complete, but I can't really take issue with any of them. I think we would have seen different outcomes in both Iraq and Afghanistan if they were seriously considered.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 4:43pm

Please provide a list of what conflcts the CIA paramilitary division has been successful in winning. Enquiring minds would like to know

Guatemala,Iran,El Salvador,Columbia.

For Slapout and Anonymous:

It is these kinds of debates that are counter productive. No one organization is superior to others and few organizations ever achieve success unilaterally. I think that when we look at successful operations they were based on sound strategy supporting good and clear policy and the right tools (CIA, SOF, GPF, interagency) were employed in the right combination and in the right ways. We need to get over the parochialism and use the right forces or organizations for the right missions, but again executing sound strategy supporting good policy (just to bring things to full circle).

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 4:52pm

Wow. Guatamala and Iran worked out real well for us. And of course El Sal and Colombia were and Colombia still is an SF dominated mission bit CIA paramilitary. Though there is of cours some Paramilitary support both El Sal and Colombia were primarily SF missions.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 5:38pm

Anonymous, yes they did for many years. And don't forget Bolivia which was really good FID when we trained and assisted the Bolivian forces that got Che'(Bill Moore owes me a "hot" beer and a "cold" hot dog over that one). Point being when the CIA/SF/Covert Action were the main efforts and were allowed to do what they do which is to protect American interest and not some fuzzy wuzzy political Bull Excrement,they worked out exactly as advertised.

Doug Borer (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 8:54pm


This has been fun and educational for me, but I am going to withdraw from the discussion for now. To borrow an old concept, I have reached my culmination point (since we have gone way Beyond FM 3.24, I will claim victory and sail away).

Come to Monterey and we will continue these discourses over tasty beverages.

I very am honored to be a part of a group who cares about these important topics and is willing to exchange ideas.

Happy Holidays to all of you. Cheers, Doug

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 12/27/2010 - 1:50am

I to have enjoyed the discussion and yes we do appear to have completely destroyed the Center of Gravity, so I guess we all won. Happy New Year to All

MikeF (not verified)

Mon, 12/27/2010 - 8:06pm

I just wanted to take a moment to thank Doug, John Arquilla, and the rest of the folks from NPS that have taken their time to share their thoughts with SWJ.

I'm going to ask the Bear Hunter to weigh in next year on his thoughts on the new State Departments QDDR, an initiative that's he's been working for some time in the form of the indirect method.

Again, thanks Doug, and Happy New Years!!!