Small Wars Journal

COIN- A Culture of Entitlement?

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A firm/core belief in population centric COIN is that the counterinsurgent should use money as a weapons system in order to win the allegiance and the support of the contested population. Does expeditionary counterinsurgency applied along the FM 3-24’ principles create a culture of entitlement? And if so how would you describe the out put from the perspective of the contested population-what kind of social attitude, mindset and reflexes do the counter insurgent cultivate in this way? A permanently assisted/dependent population, looking to the state for securing and providing for its welfare?

Bing West: Ideology rather than facts determines what a person believes. FM 3-24 on Counterinsurgency stated that soldiers and marines were expected to be nation-builders. Yet the US government and the US military has no doctrine and no body of evidence showing how to build another nation. Rajif's article in Wash Post on 5 Aug re Helmand was on target, pointing out that since 1949 the US has rebuilt Helmand at least three times.

FM 3-24 substituted ideology for facts in claiming that dollars bought loyalty and transformed cultures. All senior officers in lockstep agreed. The result is that company-grade officers have reason to doubt the intellectual rigor and openness to contradictory data displayed by their generals.

COIN doctrine is a tainted mess of internal contradictions and ideologies based on hope denying experience. We trumpet Iraq as a triumph; yet we are denounced by the Shiites and Sunnis alike. We persist in claiming that the Pashtun tribes are on the verge of coming over to our side, or the side of Karzai's venal government, or for whatever economic incentive, turning actively against the Taliban. Nine commanding generals in a row have seen light at the end of the tunnel.

I will continue to say it: over the past ten years, our military doctrine created a culture of entitlement. We did the fighting and we handed over the money. We undermined the very spirit of national pride and cohesiveness necessary to create an inter-tribal repulsion of the Taliban. When you give someone something for nothing, you get nothing in return. We cannot even convince our own nation that we are headed for economic catastrophe.

It was hubris to insist that our CERP and AID funds would alter the culture and the tribal ways of Afghanistan. Yet today, no senior officer dares to propose a revision to the failed doctrine of FM 3-24. The consequence will be cynicism in the junior ranks, as there was after Vietnam.

John Nagl:  FM 3-24, the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, expressly does not state that Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders, as my friend Bing West states.  Instead, it lays out a comprehensive plan for defeating insurgencies, including not just killing and capturing insurgents but also building host nation security forces, providing essential services to the population, promoting good governance, and encouraging economic development.  The intent is to build a state that can meet the needs of the population, earning its support.  Ultimately, a legitimate government with the support of its people, earned through the provision of essential services (of which security is the most essential), allows the United States to safeguard its vital interests and depart, often leaving behind an advisory and assistance presence to continue to improve governance.

FM 3-24 does not have a separate chapter on economic development in conflict zones; it most certainly did not state that “dollars bought loyalty and transformed cultures.”  It does argue that “without a viable economy and employment opportunities, the public is likely to pursue false promises offered by insurgents.  Sometimes insurgents foster the conditions keeping the economy stagnant.”  This was certainly the case in Al Anbar in 2004, when many of the rank-and-file insurgents my unit captured and interrogated confessed that the reason they had joined the insurgency was to put food on the table; we estimated that 70% of fighting-age men in the province were unemployed.  Although our efforts to peel them away from the insurgency by providing public-service jobs were not overwhelmingly successful, we have come a long way toward understanding the dynamics of conflict economies in the years since we wrote FM 3-24.  I recommend the “Proceedings from the Summit on Entrepreneurship and Expeditionary Economics” sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation and the Command and General Staff College Foundation for more refined ideas on both short-term ways to reduce the unemployment that often fuels insurgencies and on longer-term techniques to stimulate broad indigenous economic activity.

FM 3-24 is now being revised to incorporate many of the lessons we have learned over the past decade of war, including not just “Expeditionary Economics” but also more refined intelligence techniques to target insurgents and better information operations to peel insurgents away from their leaders.  I know of no serious students of insurgency who suggest that Iraq was a triumph or that the Taliban is on the verge of turning wholescale, as did the Sunnis in Iraq; instead, most careful observers think that American forces are becoming better counterinsurgents over time, and are also getting better at training and helping our Afghan and Iraqi allies who must ultimately carry the fight themselves.  There is still a long way to go, but progress is being made; in fact, it can be clearly seen in the writings of none other than Bing West, who has spent so much time on the ground with our forces in both wars—and whose own experience in Vietnam influenced the writers of FM 3-24!


Mark Moyar: In Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has pumped vast sums of money into social and economic programs because of population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine and the related phenomenon of Iraq War histories that attributed COIN successes to the use of “money as a weapons system.” FM 3-24 did not claim that money alone could defeat insurgents, but it did state boldly that “after security has been achieved, dollars and ballots will have more important effects than bombs and bullets. This is a time when ‘money is ammunition.’” In my view, population-centric COIN doctrine and the conventional wisdom on Iraq exaggerated the benefits of pouring money into a COIN environment, and understated the adverse consequences, of which the creation of an entitlement culture is among the most harmful. Inattention to the pitfalls resulted in a scarcity of useful doctrine and other guidance for practitioners on how to use money effectively, a problem that I and several others have recently been seeking to fix.[1]

In most counterinsurgencies, security and governance trump social and economic factors in determining the population’s loyalties and the conflict’s ultimate outcome. Money did play a role in bringing Iraqis over to the government’s side in 2006-2007, but it was secondary in importance to improved security operations and governance. For Iraqis, as for people the world over, the desire for survival inclined them to support the side best capable of providing security and most likely to win the war. A sense of justice, derived from Islam and human nature, inclined them to attach great significance to governance. U.S. policies on the participation of former Baathists in governance and the organization of tribal militias played crucial roles in determining the loyalties of Iraqi elites.

In Afghanistan, people support the insurgents when the Taliban dominates their villages militarily, when the Taliban governs more justly than the Afghan government, and when the Americans give indications that they will leave Afghanistan without ensuring that a viable Afghan government remains behind. The Taliban has been able to exert close control over large areas, even in the face of repeated U.S. special operations raids, without spending a nickel on economic or social development. They have used cash- much of it from the opium trade- to buy off rural elites and pay their fighters, but they seldom can buy support where they cannot provide security and governance, any more than the Afghan government can. In addition, the men whom the insurgents recruit as leaders are more often motivated by religion, xenophobia, or honor than by money.

In the counterinsurgencies of Iraq and Afghanistan, money has been most effective when spent on small projects that were channeled through community leaders in exchange for support against the insurgents. Ideally, such projects should be designed to help develop economic infrastructure and promote private sector firms, in order to facilitate sustainable economic growth. But when insurgents are slaughtering government personnel and civilians, such concerns must take a back seat to near-term stabilization. The necessity of this prioritization is now embedded in the District Stability Framework that USAID is employing in Afghanistan.

When aid has been unleashed in the absence of security or governance, it has gone to waste because of insurgent depredations or corruption. When not directed by careful consideration of the political environment and the leading political figures, it has driven into insurgency those elements of society who perceived that the assistance benefited rival groups or malign actors. A good articulation of these perils can be found in General David Petraeus’s COIN guidance of July 29, 2010, a more cautious document than FM 3-24. “Money is ammunition; don’t put it in the wrong hands,” the guidance states. “Pay close attention to the impact of your spending and understand who benefits from it. And remember, you are who you fund. How you spend is often more important than how much you spend.”

The massive influx of foreign aid for development and other purposes has promoted an entitlement culture among Afghans. Those whose jobs are funded by foreign money have come to expect that the cash will continue to flow, and no doubt many of them would stop supporting the government and its foreign patrons, and perhaps even become insurgents, were the money and their jobs to disappear. This problem is particularly grave with the very large Afghan National Security Forces, as past experience has shown that cutting off pay to soldiers and policemen often induces them to switch over to the side of insurgents or narcotraffickers bearing wads of cash.

Foreign aid has also sapped the motivation of Afghan elites who direct the government’s employees. With foreign largesse propping up the country’s government and economy and enlarging the bank accounts of top government officials, many of these elites see little need for the hard work required for long-term self-sufficiency. Aid has multiplied the opportunities for corruption available to governmental leaders and thereby has drawn avaricious men into government and corrupted some who were at first relatively virtuous. Now that foreign aid reductions seem certain, as a consequence of budget woes in the United States and other NATO countries, many Afghan leaders are preoccupied with siphoning as much foreign money as they can before it disappears. The U.S. government has been more active in tracking and combating Afghan corruption, but has not pushed very hard for the removal of high-level offenders because of deference to Afghan sovereignty and because of the realization that most of the viable replacements are corrupt to some degree.

The spendthrift ways of population-centric COIN have also bolstered a village-level entitlement culture that existed long before the present conflict. For centuries, Afghan villages have expected patronage payments from higher authorities in return for their allegiance and assistance. The Najibullah regime relied on patronage to secure the loyalties of huge numbers of Afghan villages; it ultimately lost the allegiance of those villages, and hence was defeated, when the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived it of the cash needed to continue paying out. During the past decade, Western eagerness to spend money and the Taliban’s access to large narcotics revenues have driven up the cost of buying village support, increasing the people’s entitlement appetite.

The international community succeeded in weaning Iraq off of foreign aid thanks to the restoration of Iraqi oil production and the spiking of global oil prices. While Afghanistan is rich in natural resources, many years will pass before it generates revenue on a scale that can bring the country to self-sufficiency. Unless the insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan can be removed, insurgency will persist in Afghanistan, and hence Afghanistan will be able to avoid collapse only by remaining a dependency of the international community.

Given the likelihood that foreign aid will fall sharply in the next few years, Afghanistan’s foreign allies face momentous decisions on where to make cuts without consigning Afghanistan to disintegration. Reducing the entitlement culture is an important, but not the most important, consideration in these decisions. Maintaining assistance that enables the government to secure and govern its territory should be the top priority, because without security and governance other assistance will do no good and international terrorists will return. Thus, the salaries of soldiers, policemen, and civil servants will have to be maintained to keep them out of hostile clutches. Programs that support development of human capital—such as ANSF leadership development, civil service development, and higher education—also should be spared major cuts, for only through broad leadership improvements can Afghanistan ultimately become more self-reliant in the military, political, and economic spheres. Programs and funds that reward villages for supporting the government, to include the Village Stability Operations program, should also be retained. Many other economic and social development programs must be scaled back, with the magnitude of reductions based upon political value, human capital impact, and contribution to the entitlement culture.


Thomas Mockaitis: The term "population-centric COIN" is redundant. All successful COIN is "population centric." The hackneyed phrase "winning hearts and minds" consists of providing good governance. Good governance means different things at different times and places. Some people ask little more of their government than it should leave them alone. Others expect it to build infrastructure, provide services, etc. Whatever the popular expectations, insurgents and threatened states engage in a bidding war to see who can govern most effectively. As Brian Fall observed in the 1960s, a government that loses a COIN campaign is not out-fought but out-governed.

Although basically sound, U.S. COIN doctrine embodied in FM3-24 Counterinsurgency has to be applied correctly to be effective. Simply handing out money creates dependency and encourages entitlement. Funding unsustainable projects fosters unrealistic expectations and breeds resentment. Successful COIN requires building institutions, empowering people to use them, and engaging in sustainable grassroots development. The problem the U.S. faces in both Iraq and Afghanistan (as in all its previous COIN efforts) is that it must funnel aid through corrupt, partisan governments more interested in the wellbeing of themselves, their families, and their ethnic group than of the country as a whole. These circumstances limit the effectiveness of even the best-intentioned COIN. Doctrine is only as good as its application.


Christopher Paul: All development investment or other expenditures on or for populations in COIN should explicitly and logically connect to campaign objectives, just like any other military operation (or employment of a “weapon system”).  The classic development approach to COIN, often labeled “hearts and minds” and dating back to Sir Gerald Templer and British COIN in Malaya, followed a simple and straightforward logic.  Investment and development in a community should be made to give the population a stake, something worth fighting for, something the insurgents can’t give them but can threaten to take away.  By aligning the interests of the community with the COIN force (and the government), the COIN forces seeks to gain the support of that population against the threat to their mutual interest: the insurgents.  (The resulting development, of course, also contributes to sustainable local economies that are not highly dependent on continued cash infusions).

Other logics connecting development expenditures to campaign goals are certainly possible.  Investment could be part of efforts to demonstrate the legitimacy and effectiveness of the government (your government cares about you and the economy and infrastructure in your community), or efforts to create viable economic alternatives for individuals who might otherwise join the insurgency.  Expenditures could even be intended as a form of bribery or exchange, though wooing the population in such an explicitly instrumental way risks perverse incentives or unintended effects (for example, paying for certain kinds of behavior may incentivize the preservation of the stimulus for the behavior, that is, the preservation of the insurgency).  

The key point is that expenditures must be logically and explicitly tied to operational or strategic goals (just like all other aspects of military operations), and whether or not that logic is playing out as envisioned in a given context has to be monitored.  Things don’t always work in the field the way you expect them to (human beings and their cultures are complex), and it is entirely possible to realize unintended second order effects, such as dependencies or entitlement expectations.

The trouble starts when expenditure or development become a goal unto themselves, without connection to campaign objectives, or to the context in which they are being executed, or to the long-term desired endstate.  Colonel Craig Collier provides an excellent example of the consequences of treating spending as an end to itself in his 2010 article in Armed Forces Journal .  Collier laments the fact that battalion and brigade commanders in Iraq in 2006-2008 would be chastised if they failed to spend as much as possible of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds available to them, and that the focus was on expenditures and not on outcomes.  He reports successful and sustainable economic development and other positive outcomes in his unit’s area of operations following kinetic operations to secure what had previously been a local insurgent haven.  His is an example of multiple mutually reinforcing lines of operation, each thoughtfully tailored to the specific local context and broader campaign goals.  Security and development investment; kinetic action and governance.

Colonel Collier’s experience is consonant with the biggest single finding of the RAND study of recent insurgencies I led in 2009-10, Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Sources of Success in Counterinsurgency.  Based on the 30 insurgencies that took place worldwide between 1978 and 2008, we found that successful COIN forces don’t do just a few things right, they do lots of things right, simultaneously.  Good COIN practices run in packs, and complimentary and mutually reinforcing lines of effort correlate strongly with success. 

Regarding development efforts at the macro level in the recent history of COIN, such efforts are very positively correlated with success.  Measured as “short-term investments, improvements in infrastructure or development, or property reform occurred in the area of conflict controlled or claimed by the COIN force,” this factor was present in the decisive phase in just five of the thirty historical cases we considered.  In all five of those cases, the COIN force prevailed.  Of course, in all five of those cases, such investment was just one of the many things those winning COIN forces were doing right.  


Douglas Ollivant:  The question, as posed, is too broad to be helpful.  Money spent in a COIN environment can have widely varying impacts.  If reconstructions dollars of whatever stripe are spent in a way that generates needs that cannot be answered by the local economy, then they will create a culture of dependency.  Conversely, if money is spent in moderation to build critical infrastructure, or in another way that helps generate local economic activity, then it may well be an important part of a comprehensive COIN strategy. I have immense respect for Bing West, and consider his most recent book to be “must-read.”  However, to maintain that money has no effect in a counterinsurgency/peacekeeping/peacemaking mission is itself an ideological statement.  Money is not a panacea, but it does have an effect and has proven itself to be an effective tool when properly used in appropriate circumstances—like all such tools.  

However, the question about a culture of entitlement is a good one to put into all our checklists.  It strikes me that our planners in Afghanistan have once again not given sufficient thought to the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan.  The CERP plan in Afghanistan was—more or less—brought over in “whole cloth” from Iraq.  Yet Iraq is a much more modern country, with its own professional classes and—most importantly, a lot of its own money.  Iraq has a Gross Domestic Product in excess of $100B, and even during the violence of the 2007 “surge,” the GDP exceeded $50B.  And this with existing infrastructure, however decayed.

Afghanistan’s GDP, on the other hand, is just in excess of $10B (with a sizably larger population).  And most outside observers, I believe, consider this figure to be significantly inflated by the economic activity of various international actors: ISAF, NGOs, contractors, etc.  So the question has to be asked—how much money can this country absorb without it being truly distorting to the local economy?  A large scale distortion cannot help but make the population dependent, not only on the government but—in this case—on the “occupation” and the international community itself.

Conversely, I think Iraq by late 2006 had a much more functional system, where the governments of Iraq and the United States effectively entered a “public-public” partnership (albeit after many false starts and numerous mistakes).  In this partnership, the United State entered a de facto agreement to do construction and/or repair of infrastructure, but only after a responsible and legitimate Iraqi entity endorsed a project, demonstrated how it fit into its long term plan and—most importantly—agreed to budget for Operations and Maintenance funding.

So again, while the question asked is an important one, as phrased it is much too broad.  There are very few purely good or purely bad practices, only ones that are appropriate or inappropriate for a given situation and time.  The application of money by ISAF forces of in Afghanistan has had side effects that are arguably more harmful than any possible benefit.  But this is an argument for prudent application of a tool, and not the wholesale rejection of it.


Gian Gentile: Winning the “allegiance and the support of the contested population” by a foreign occupying power like the United States conducting counterinsurgency FM 3-24 style is really a foolishly wrong idea.  It is foolishly wrong because accomplishing such a goal would take multiple generations of armed state building to accomplish it.  Does using money to buy allegiance of the local population work?  Sure, but it doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen in years, or even decades.  How long has it taken the United States to build solid institutions of state and society?  Hundreds of years.  Are we willing to commit to a hundred year effort in Afghanistan to do nation building and using money to accomplish it to achieve a very limited core policy objective?  The answer to me to seems to be quite simple; no.  Strategy should figure out that such an effort simply isn’t worth the cost in blood and treasure.  Yet the American Army and still large parts of the defense establishment think we should.  The director of the Army’s Counterinsurgency center recently acknowledged that accomplishing the goals of state building in Afghanistan will take “generations.”  Yet discussions and comments like these always seem to devolve to the mechanics of doing armed state building.  The conversation we really should be having is one of strategy and whether or not this kind of operational method is the right one to achieve policy objectives.  Until we start having these kinds of conversations—until the American Defense Establishment stops fooling ourselves that our strategy has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past ten years when it has not—we will never bring ourselves out of the mire of the fetish of the tactics of war.  Wars ultimately are not won or lost at the tactical level but at the level of strategy.  Unfortunately the United States has failed dismally at strategy for the last ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Dr. David A. Anderson, Professor of Strategic Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027

Economic development is a time-consuming endeavor, particularly in a failing state like Afghanistan.  Development efforts in such environments inherently require a graduated, protracted, and unified effort between host and non-host country militaries and the host country government, along with other vesting governments and agencies, multilateral institutions, and non-governmental agencies.  Applying money as a weapon system in conducting COIN operations--as a way of facilitating economic activity--should be employed by the military as a direct means to win over contested populations.  After all, economic development efforts lead to job creation; jobs produce taxpayers and generated tax revenues enhance the government’s ability to govern and to provide for the social welfare of the people. 

The military’s economic development efforts alone will not win the struggle for the hearts and minds of contested populations.   In fact, money as a weapon system can prove problematic in two significant ways that can adversely affect the likelihood of a positive and sustainable result.  First, the military could directly cause economic dependency and a culture of entitlement throughout a targeted population.  Out of necessity, a persistent presence can easily lead the military to conduct extensive commercial activities with the host nation government and the private sector, to the point at which the mere existence of these entities depends upon revenue from the U.S. military.  The second prominent adverse way in which populations can be affected is through non-outcome based grant aid to both the government and the private sector, particularly in environments in which corruption is prevalent.  Over the years, empirical evidence has proven time and time again that the best way of providing aid is in the form of outcome based loans.  In other words, nurturing a sense of direct ownership and accountability of outcomes is essential to effectiveness.  However, it must be noted that government grants have proven to be effective when they have been used for education, healthcare, and infrastructure that lead to exports and grants for community projects selected by community leaders with the people’s endorsement. 

The combined efforts of development-promoting entities certainly could also create an artificial and unsustainable economy.  Afghanistan is a case in point.  The overwhelming share of Afghanistan’s GDP is derived from various forms of aid infusion—with little indication that once the aid dries up that a viable economic foundation will exist as a basis for future growth.  This is particularly true if the economic promoting activities are nontransparent, too narrowly focused, uncoordinated and inconsistently funded.  It is also true where corruption is pervasive and where populous loyalty ebbs and flows with the perceived advantage or disadvantage between counterinsurgent efforts and those of the insurgents.

The bottom line is that money as a weapon system can be a useful tool in conducting COIN operations; however, it is no panacea.  It can even prove to be counterproductive if it is carefully crafted and executed by all involved.

[1] For these efforts, see Mark Moyar, “Development in Afghanistan’s Counterinsurgency: A New Guide,” March 2011,; Edwina Thompson, Report on Wilton Park Conference 1022, 1 April 2010,; and the proceedings of the Summit on Entrepreneurship and Expeditionary Economics referenced by John Nagl.


About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


After twice being involved in Afghanistan at the money-pump end of the COIN fight I could not believe that no one was measuring the effects of any of the development programs along the following lines:

1. level of kinetic activity in areas surrounding projects vs same period last month/last year etc

2. level of 'real' support or not from local population (by real I mean support for GiRoA)

3. number of new recruits joining the ANA and ANAP in the District (good sign of growing support)

4. number of projects completely managed and implemented by GiROA

When I asked such questions this year in Afghanistan it was as if I had farted in front of the Commanding General.

The only metric that was important was how much money was being spent each financial year.

From the direct and some times isolated engagement with the population I experienced, the support lasted as long as the money was pumping in. Even though a road was built, canal refurbished and social infrastructure developed that gave the community an improved framework, the support dissipated once the money stopped.

Then there were the examples where dispite providing employment for a say 5-6months young guys were back planting IEDs within weeks of their employment coming to an end. As with nearly all welfare programs dependency sets in and becomes to be seen as a right rather as a means for investment and long term sustainability.

So many programs are and continue to be dis-jointed and totally uncoordinated - but make you feel like a Rambo do-gooder. Training women to sew with zero thought being put into how they will buy a sewing machine, material, market their product etc once the training program has finished - not too mention the CERP guy asking if this project will really pull the population away from the Taliban and what is the US military doing running sewing programs in the first place? Refurbishing roads that did not economically connect the local agriculture base, and from a strategic perspective were miles from well-known Taliban recruitment areas.

Even when our presence has been established through PRTs and COPs for many years in villages and towns with dedicated programs the PRT commanders cannot tell you if violence against US-ISAF forces and / or GiROA has reduced. Ghazni is a good example and sadly saw five soldiers killed from an IED this week.

For the most part Afghanistan continues to remain a campaign between the US-ISAF forces and the insurgents. Counterinsurgency is generally fought by the incumbent government or authority and is in response to insurgencies fighting a civil or revolutionary war.

There is no doubt lots of well-meaning money has been spent on projects that have made a significant impact. These are normally implemented through the power of the personality of the Col./Sgt/Lt. and AID guy on the PB/COP/PRT.

My question for someone out there with more experience is can we call this a successful counterinsurgency campaign until GiROA is doing it on their own 100%?

My experience in Iraq and Afghanistan fall closely in line with Christopher Paul's comments. At the local level, money as well as other incentive can and should be used to shape the existing balance of power that most favors the unit's endstate. However, as Col Gentile points out, to what end if there is no bigger 'strategy' in place to sustain this success? I would also add that the principal of diminshing returns is a relevant consideration in this discussion.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/22/2011 - 8:18am

This goes to Bill's and Mike's comment and it applies to both criminal organizations as well as a conflict ecosystem written back in 2004;

"The second standing order of modern insurgencies (conflict ecosystems with single or multiple existing systems/sub systems which applies as well to DTO and criminal organizations) is to generate economic connectivity in order to manufacture allies and increase the ability of the insurgency (conflict ecosystem) to fund itself. It's simple:
...grow black economies...

This requires cooperation with existing criminal organizations within "illegal" economies. This requires a variant on how the nation-state grew via becoming a protection racket -- protection at a rate worth that is worth the value provided and the willingness to expand the business potential of those being protected. Induced shortages, through network disruption, expand business opportunity. Further, broken "legal" economies, generate a plethora of free lancers that populate a self-reinforcing “bazaar of violence.”

One can literally layer this statement over the Mexican DTOs, and transnational criminal organizations and it would apply.

This is a critical part of "seeing" and or "understanding" your OE.


Very true, and people wish it away because it doesn't fit their preconceived models about how things work. Too many so called COIN experts wish this aspect away, but the black and gray economies are critical not only for sustaining an insurgency, but for an insurgency to expand its power base. Unlike us, they actually know how to use the money they control.

G Martin

Mon, 01/02/2012 - 6:28pm

In reply to by Bill C.

To back up your thoughts- a few recent incidents came to my mind:

1) when Occupy Wall Street protesters were asked if a Wall Street CEO offered them a job, would they take it- the answer was a resounding "NO!"

2) I've talked with several people who either don't like their job, don't think they are getting paid enough, or don't have a job- about moving to another state, or even China, if given the opportunity. Most said they might move to the next state, but not all. Most said they wouldn't move beyond another state away from where they are now. All said they would never move to China- no matter the pay.

3) a friend of mine in the construction business cannot get native-born Americans to work with him- even in hard economic times native-born Americans refuse for the most part to work outside doing manual labor.

It would seem to me that employment and compensation are a little more complex than some would have you believe...

For what amount of money does one abandon one's time-honored, familiar and at least somewhat understood way of life -- and adopt the completely foreign and aberrant way of life of the heathen?

Should one expect that you, or they, for a stipend, will allow someone else -- an alien -- to pick your way of life for you?

Yet our counter-insurgency program -- as a core element of its concept -- seems to require that the population (1) abandon their time-honored political, economic and social structures and (2) adopt our alien such structures in their place.

Herein, one might expect that you, or they, might "shine the enemy on" and take the enemy's money as long as they wanted to provide it; while never really having any desire or intent to re-order, re-configure or re-orient one's society in such an alien way -- and for what may be considered the enemy's (the foreigner's -- the heathen's) cause.

And then there is the question of whether certain populations, even if they wanted to, and regardless of how much money one spends, should actually be expected to "completely transform" -- and make and adapt to such dramatic changes as we require -- without constant, continuous, extensive and very, very long-term supervision, assistance, and, if need be, the continuing application/re-application of considerable discipline (force).

G Martin

Mon, 01/02/2012 - 6:19pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Not only does he describe nation building after saying it doesn't say to do nation building, he then says the intent is to "build a state"!

Couldn't agree with you more, though- those who back up 3-24 seem to make absolute comments about how to counter insurgencies and what motivates humans to act. If one compared a COIN campaign to a marriage and "winning hearts and minds" to "pleasing one's spouse", maybe they'll start to realize that there is no one size fits all (regardless of what the Rand study concluded) and that human populations- much like individual humans- are irrational.

Dr. Nagl's comments continue to give me stomach aches. First he claims no where in FM 3-24 does it state that the military does nation building, then he goes on to list a series of nation building tasks that the military "must" do in order to defeat an insurgency, which isn't supported by the historical record, and should have been disproven in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yea, maybe 70% of the Iraqis who were insurgents in his district were unemployed, but guess what? 70% of the Iraqi population was unemployed in 04. There is also a big difference between the true insurgents leveraging surrogates (unemployed kids to emplace IEDs) and the true insurgents. Removing a few kids from the IED emplacement pool will have little impact on the overall insurgency.

He simply dismisses human nature. Once blood is spilled and an identity group is formed you can't simply bribe a fighter with a low paying job to break ranks and then support the government. I hope most American soldiers wouldn't jump ship in tough times because the "enemy" was offering them a job. I guess John and the others who embrace the economic theory of COIN believe only Americans are loyal to their cause because we're the only ones with a true cause. Guess what John, the Iraqis didn't share your vision for their future, that is why they were fighting, not because they were unemployed. So instead of wasting millions (perhaps billions) of taxpayers dollars on a misdirected political correct venture, focus on defeating the insurgents.

We already addressed that money doesn't change one's ideology unless you're dealing with a simple criminal with a low IQ or an American banker, nor does money remove the power of insurgent coercion. The only way to remove that power is to remove the insurgent. If defeating the insurgency isn't worth the blood shed required, then we shouldn't get involved.

I hope foreign nations that are our allies and partners don't blindly embrace our COIN doctrine. We don't need to lead our friends down the same failed path we pursued.

gian gentile

Tue, 12/20/2011 - 6:53pm

I wonder if John Nagl still believes what he said a couple of years ago that the American Army (as part of the "whole of government" approach) will be able through armed stated building to