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Counterinsurgency as a Whole of Government Approach

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Counterinsurgency as a Whole of Government Approach: Notes on the British Army Field Manual Weltanschauung

An Interview with Colonel Alexander Alderson

by Octavian Manea

Download The Full Article: Counterinsurgency as a Whole of Government Approach

Can you point out the purpose of the military and of the use of military force in countering an insurgency? After all, the classic counterinsurgency (COIN) arithmetic suggested by David Galula is now the conventional wisdom: 80% political action and only 20% military.

The principal role of the military is to provide security but it is often from ideal to use soldiers to provide civil security. In many countries, this is the role of the police force. Unfortunately, in many cases when an insurgency emerges, it often does so at a point beyond which the police force can contain the situation. If it could, presumably the problem would not have developed in the way it did. But let's say that the government has not been able to stop the insurgency from developing and the insurgency goes on to challenge law and order and governance. Let's say that the insurgents have got to the stage where they control an area where they actively challenge the rule of law if not overturn it. In such a case the government needs to act. At this point extraordinary measures are needed and this includes using soldiers to support the police to re-establish the rule of law, to protect the population, and to confront the insurgent.

Of course, this is not ideal. A soldiers' principal role is to defend the state from external threats so their equipment, training and skills tend to be optimized for general war. That said, good professional armies should be able to rise to the complex challenges of a 'war among the people' by a process of adaptation and adjustment. Specialist training and some adjustment to organizations, equipment and tactics are generally required. The faster an army can do this, the more effective it can be. The initial advantage the insurgent has is that armies tend to be large and often conservative organizations. They can take too long to respond the general environmental challenges of COIN and the specifics of insurgent tactics and equipment. So unless the institutional mindset is attuned to adaptation, the insurgent will have the advantage. It is not for nothing that both US and British COIN doctrine emphasizes the need for adaptation, in fact 'Learn and Adapt' was made one of the British principles to highlight the importance of not getting stuck in one's ways.

Download The Full Article: Counterinsurgency as a Whole of Government Approach

Colonel Alexander Alderson set up the British Army Land Forces Stability Operations and Counterinsurgency Center in 2009 and is now its director. He was the lead author for the British Army's Counterinsurgency Doctrine (November 2009) and his operational experience includes Iraq, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and the 1991 Gulf War. He holds a Ph.D. in Modern History and is a senior visiting research fellow with the University of Oxford and at King's College London.

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.



Fri, 02/04/2011 - 1:50am

"...Robert C. Jones: Our challenges come far more from our refusal to recognize such commonalities that shed a disturbing light on the nature of our intervention than from our lack of understanding of the many small ways every such conflict is unique..."

Could you expand on the 'commonalities that shed a disturbing light on the nature of our intervention'? Is that saying that we commonly get the nature of the intervention wrong, and in the same way each time?


Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 6:41pm

Correction: Not "Ughar" region but, rather, "Uyghur."

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 6:36pm


1. General Dempsey says we are embracing Mission Command.

2. When discussing China and its approach to disparate communities should we not look:

a. More to how it (China) is proceeding re: their Ughar region -- and to Tibet -- for a better comparison (in Chinese eyes, these areas needing significant "transformational" assistance to provide that their societies become better organized, ordered and configured so as to better meet modern needs of their citizens and those of China).

b. And not so much their methods re: Macao, Hong Kong and Taiwan (in Chinese -- and even American eyes -- these areas are already "squared away)?

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 11:10am


This view of the situation causing us to look to foreign policy approaches generally, and counterinsurgency methods specifically, which are designed to fix this central, underlying problem (improper, outdated and now harmful political and economic order which no longer provides for the needs of the nations' citizenry -- nor that of the international community -- in this rapidly changing world)?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 11:07am

Bill C,

I actually believe that the "one-size-generally-fits-all" approach to counterinsurgency in the military has more to do with stylized ways of fighting, unity of effort and practicality than imperial or colonial ambitions. Big Army needs to be on the same sheet of music... vice that dang Marine Corps and its expeditionary mindset and out of the box thinking. Auftragstaktik doesn't work if there is no shared doctrine, shared language and meanings and commander's intent.

By the way... what are we embracing now... Auftragstaktik or Befehlstaktik?


Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 10:36am

The commonality, as we seem to understand it, is that various states and societies are not organized, ordered or configured so as to adequately provide for their citizenry; this causing them, and us, many problems -- which we do not believe will go away until this underlying problem (which manifests itself in numerous and varied ways) is fixed.

Does such thinking as this guide our one-size-generally-fits-all approach to counterinsurgency?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 10:10am


Boredom as a means of social control... keep'em fat, dumb, and bored... I like it :-)


"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 9:58am

... following the rationale that insurgencies are in fundamental ways the same only encourages the application of the same templated solutions to vastly different historical, cultural and local circumstances... While Iraq and Egypt may have suffered a tyrant... the solutions for dealing with both are not quite the same... although in the end both may well lose their heads.

... we have entered an intellectual do-loop... and find ourselves no closer to establishing what we consider an acceptable government in Afghanistan.

While I concede that the primary rules to get the ball rolling (buy low and sell high) might be the same across a diverse spectrum of social systems... the secondary rules to make it all work within specific communities are quite different.

Think how the Chinese leadership deals with disparate social communities in the Middle Kingdom... Macao and Hong Kong and in time Taiwan represent vastly different administrative systems... systems that reflect local circumstance... The Chinese leadership is confident enough to embrace and integrate different systems in a networked form of governance vice our "one size must fit all" approach. I credit Dave Maxwell for this insight... although he might not want to be associated with the ramblings of a lunatic :-)


Bob's World

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 7:11am

Just as every snowflake or every human is unique...yet they are all share commonalities of formation and nature; the differences are shaped by the environment, genetics, etc.

Far too much is made of "all insurgencies are different" as a rationale for why intervening efforts to contain them are so difficult. While it is a true statement to say they are all unique, it is an equally true statement to recognize that in fundamental ways they are all the same as well.

Our challenges come far more from our refusal to recognize such commonalities that shed a disturbing light on the nature of our intervention than from our lack of understanding of the many small ways every such conflict is unique.

Dennis M. (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 12:17am


You are my hero. You and I agree more than you might think, at least based on what you have said here. I am just trying to figure out where everybody is in this. The issues involved are all over the place, and are often not about how to deal with ambiguous "security" (for lack of a better descriptor) situations, but sometimes seem to be more about what the proper role for the military is in the abstract. Not that that is necessarily bad or unimportant...

But I think what you are saying -- and what warms my heart to hear -- is that every situation/conflict/insurgency/whatever is unique and poses a unique set of problems, and thus a unique approach is required to deal with it.

And so it is in anything involving humans. Strange creatures who refuse to conform to the parameters we expect them to...

So I say, Amen!



Chet (not verified)

Thu, 02/03/2011 - 12:11am


Okay...deep breath....still disagree, but chillin' :)


Wed, 02/02/2011 - 11:55pm might find this sequence better than what you are using which just seems to be 'type'...

Some points of fact...

I live in one of those countries so no need to move 'there' any time soon. I have already been 'there' for decades.

The US was never invited to the New Zealand COIN campaign - although in its early days, there was discussion of just pulling out and leaving it all to the Yanks or French...

Your statement that I responded to was "...our own FM 3-24, espouse a contemporary view that stresses a "resolve the problem" focus to COIN. Where has that ever worked?..." I provided examples where it DID work...

There is sufficient evidence to say that nation building WAS practiced in America post-1776 and it seems to have worked out so far...


For "MAC", peace on earth is what Europe may have experienced since the end of WW2, certainly the end of the Cold War and in the absence of a tangible threat, it has become bland and inwards focussed - no tyranny per se...just boring...

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 11:43pm

Brother DM,

no worries... no apologies necessary... it's all good...

In my opinion... COIN is a fact of social life... We will never eradicate the causes of rebellion and by default the need for counter-rebellion and COIN... and thank God for this fact. Can you imagine a world without competition and strive? You show me peace on earth and I'll show you tyranny. Fire is the great rejuvenator and fighting a form of negotiation and means to renegotiate the social contract if the powerful choose to oppress or someone doesn't get their fair share.

Sun Tzu: There are no more than five tones in music, yet their combinations give rise to countless melodies. There are no more than five primary colors, yet in combination, they produce innumerable hues. There are no more than five flavors, yet their blend produces endless varieties. In military tactics, there are only two types of operations, orthodox and unorthodox, yet their varieties are limitless.

Simply put (and not to be taken literally but figuratively)... pop-centric COIN is one of the five tones, one of the five primary colors, one of the five flavors... and the judicious mix of carrot and stick an expression of the orthodox and unorthodox... The varieties in COIN are limitless...



Dennis M. (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 10:48pm


Your points are well taken. I didn't wish to be provocative. I am merely an occasional visitor to this site and thus am not up to speed on all of the alternative strategies that have been written about here. Hence my questions...not posed to attack, but sincerely asked. I know that there are alternative ideas.

I also know that there is a whole continuum of action between bombing everything in site and getting all touchy-feely with the locals. I never meant to suggest that those who don't agree with pop-centric COIN only want to bomb everything. A hasty rhetorical flourish perhaps? My apologies...

In any event, my comments were an attempt to flesh out what are some of the guiding principles motivating those who think focusing on COIN is a waste of time...with a particular focus on the negative reaction to a discussion of a "whole of government" approach.

It seems that you and I are in agreement, for the most part. The conduct of COIN (or more accurately, as coined by another regular contributor to SWJ, colonial intervention)is terribly complex, and the success in Anbar or Salah Ad Din is hard to pin on any one factor (not that I am anywhere near knowledgeable enough to even guess what all those factors might be, suffice to say that they are many and varied and not all under the control of US Forces involved).

OK, maybe my thought experiment was simplistic. But I was responding to comments that in tone seemed to suggest that COIN is a waste of time. I wanted to explore some of the implications of that position. Maybe I did that inelegantly.

Just so you know, I am being defensive because I was not at all trying to start an argument or to brand anybody who doesn't think pop-centric COIN is the cat's meow isn't thinking clearly. I am trying to understand what the issues are that are central to the debate. My own opinion is still quite unformed...though admittedly I was at first quite taken with the idea of pop-centric COIN, and I still think there is some value to it. But as you pointed out, it is pretty simplistic and lazy to attribute everything to it.

Hugs right back,


Chet (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 9:53pm

"East Timor, Bougainville, India, Malaya, New Zealand, South Africa, Aden, Solomon Islands, America (no, you can't come back into the Commonwealth yet!, Algeria, Iraq, Northern Ireland ) probably would have worked in Vietnam if someone had got the question right..."

Are you kidding me? You assessment is relatively meaningless. News flash, we didn't practice pop-centric COIN or narion building here in America nor did we in New Zealand. All the others with, possibly, the exception of N. Ireland are such wonderful places! All that great nation building got exactly what? When are you selling your stuff and moving to any of them? Not anytime in the near future, I suppose.


Wed, 02/02/2011 - 9:37pm

That was me...sorry...hit 'post' by mistake...

meant to finish up by saying that to address the root causes is usually something well beyond the scope of a military response hence the need for a WoG or, more correctly, in the UK parlance, a comprehensive approach...

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 9:34pm

"Chet Haywood:
Lets see if I can be evn more direct. With all due respect, Col Anderson and John Nagl, as expressed in our own FM 3-24, espouse a contemporary view that stresses a "resolve the problem" focus to COIN. Where has that ever worked? The Philippines? Iraq? Afghanistan? Somalia? The Balkans? Haiti? Colombia? El Salvador? Guatemala? Peru? Vietnam? I'm sorry, but those nations are all still basket cases."

Where has it worked...?

East Timor, Bougainville, India, Malaya, New Zealand, South Africa, Aden, Solomon Islands, America (no, you can't come back into the Commonwealth yet!, Algeria, Iraq, Northern Ireland ) probably would have worked in Vietnam if someone had got the question right...

Funny old thing, often the solution is giving the 'insurgents' want they want but on your terms...probably could do this in AFG to a certain extent by easing out the faux government that is one of the catalysts for the conflict...

Just because a place is a basket case now, does not mean that it always was or that the current basket is directly related to a previous conflict...

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 9:08pm

Brother Dennis,

Couple of points... first, why is it that those of us who disagree with the universal application of pop-centric COIN always have to defend against the inevitable diversionary strawman that we only wish to use the stick i.e. "bombing everything that raises its head" vice the judicious application of carrot and stick?

Second... before we delve too deeply into this conversation, please read some of the fine essays posted on the Small Wars Journal that actually advertise reasonable alternative strategies for fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq before employing the "extending an opponents ideas" strawman.. i.e. accusations of advocating A; then accusations of the inevitable B and C to follow ... and then telling us all how terrible, foolish, or impractical B and C is. No one ever advocated B or C. I might be wrong, but I dont believe that those of us who disagree with the universal application of pop-centric COIN actually suggested that "we should NEVER engage pop-centrically" or that after we deposed the Taliban or Saddam that we should have packed up and gone home... I venture that we all agree with Secretary of State Colin Powells "pottery barn" statement... of course we have a moral obligation to sweep up the shards of broken pottery... but I might be wrong.

You write that "we toppled the existing regimes in those countries... and in installing a new regime, we created the insurgency". I agree with you completely... maybe because I expressed a similar sentiment in one of my previous posts... You then ask, "what do we do then?"

Allow me to answer your question with a question. What you believe we did in Anbar or Salah Ad Din to stifle the insurgency in those provinces? What do you believe we did in Kurd country... i.e. PUK and KDP territories? We did pop-centric COIN or "the Surge" might be an acceptable answer for some... but it doesnt get us any closer to ground truth...

I do not believe that this is an issue of blind obedience to pop-centric COIN ... In my opinion, this is more an issue of simplistically and lazily attributing everything to pop-centric COIN... I submit that there are some who believe that we have finally created the philosophers stone that allows us to finally win the Vietnam war. We now own the technical blueprint to fix stuff everywhere, anytime... as if the locals possess no distinctive history, culture and personality of their own.

At the risk of sounding combative... your questions are irrelevant... because your thought experiment depends on specific context and circumstance. Threats might require a full scale invasion or only a punitive expedition... We might wish to deploy force to support a cooperative country asking for assistance (Mubarak regime maybe... maybe not?) or to provide only a combination of SFA programs, intelligence and law enforcement activities... etc, etc, etc... I therefore cant answer, nor do I wish at this point to speculate whether we should intervene to address a threat from either a state or a non-state actor and what would be the limits of such an intervention...



Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 6:50pm

1. We believe that the problems of the world today stem from states and societies not being organized, ordered and configured such that they might be better integrated into the global economy and into the family of nations often refered to as the international community.

2. We believe that by transforming the economic and political order of these states we can cure these deficiencies by, thus, better providing for the wants, needs and desires of the citizens of these states and societies and, thereby, eliminating many of the elements which give rise to conflict and unrest.

3. We see the problems presented by Iraq and Afghanistan in this light.

4. Likewise, we see the present unique and rare posture of great power relations (at peace and in general agreement re: Item No. 1 above) as a fleeting moment in history that cannot be squandered.

5. This way-of-thinking directs how we pursue foreign affairs generally and counterinsurgency specifically today.

6. Thus, not so much "a threat" -- such as that which shaped the face of our strategy, foreign policy and intervention in the days of the Cold War -- but more a concept of "opportunity," which determines and directs how we pursue such matters today.

7. Acccordingly, we do not see "management" or "containment" as viable methods for achieving our strategic objective today.

8. If one wished to entertain the concept of "threat" today, then this might be best understood as the disaster(s) that might be forthcoming from NOT capitalizing on this moment in history to address the problems identified at Item No. 1 above.

Chet (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 12:43pm


Thanks for the kind words. I am smart enough to know that there is more than one way to skin a cat and my way isn't the only one. I am just a fan of Thomas Jeffersons "trade with all, entangling alliances with none" philosophy.



Dennis M. (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 12:17pm

Alright Chet, I can respect that answer. There is nothing to take issue with in your argument. My disagreement is more one of policy, not whether what you propose is workable or not. I just don't think its the best policy to protect and promote our interests and security. But your position is perfectly reasonable.




Chet (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 12:02pm


Again, my simplistic answer, for better or worse:

The term threat is very subjective. What is a threat to, say, President Bush, isn't necessarily what i would term as threat. Your definition of threat may be different. That is the reason the Cicero and Aristole argued the "Just War Theory". our own National Security Strategy outlines six criteria that are SUPPOSED to all be met before going to war. There must exist the right, moral intention. There must be proper authority and a public declaration. It must be a last resort. There must be a probability of success and proportionality must be used. Unfortunately, just like the term "threat", there is a lot in there that is open to interpretation.

Bootom Line, from my perspective, if we feel threatened from a state or non state actor (invasion, use or threat of use of WMD, US Embassy seized, US merchant vessel attacked, etc) we should use the amount of military force necessary to crush the threat (and I mean crush) and then go about our business as before. Notice I didn't say negotitate. Also, though I didn't state it in the first post, I wouldn't just pull out of Iraq or Afghansistan, I would pull our troops out of Europe, Korea or anywhere else for that matter and re-focus their mission on true National Defense the protection and defense of the US against all enemies FOREIGN and DOMESTIC. In other words, our southern border.

Dennis M. (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 11:41am

...Actually, a more realistic question is whether, if a country is harboring some transnational threat and will not or cannot deal with it itself, we can deal with that threat without a full scale invasion that would require Phase IV operations? Or if the country was willing to cooperate, should we not provide assistance to the country's government to deal with the threat? (my apologies, the second question is a bit leading -- I am not trying to make a point with these questions, simply trying to figure out the limits of your argument).

The question is when do you think should we intervene to address a threat from either a state or a non-state actor and what would be the limits on such an intervention?

My belief is that we should rarely, if ever, undertake such an intervention. Such threats should be dealt with either by containment (for threats from state actors), or through a combination of SFA programs, intelligence and law enforcement activities, and diplomatic efforts (for non-state actors and other transnational threats, state-sponsored or otherwise).

Criticism of our willingness to engage in COIN are well founded. It is an incredibly difficult undertaking that is, at its heart, not about military force at all. The causes of insurgency are problems of governance, and our military is ill-suited to address such problems in foreign governments. If we can create a capability in other government agencies to actually take the lead in addressing some of these problems before an insurgency gets out of hand, that would be best.

We cannot hope to remake a government from the outside. That smacks of colonialism and is likely to create distrust towards us and the host nation government among the population. And when our military takes the lead in dealing with the insurgency, I am not sure how we get out.

Dennis M. (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 10:42am


That is exactly the honest answer I was hoping for. And perfectly reasonable. I am not sure I agree with it, but at least it addresses the dissonance that arguing against COIN creates.

However, I worry that the downside risk of leaving Afghanistan in particular is much greater than simply having Afghanistan as an enemy. I think it could create a situation in the region that is much more dangerous than we would want to accept, maybe not a direct threat to us (though that would probably greatly increase, also) but to the world.

But thanks for the honesty. I do respect your answer. It is at least logically consistent.

I would ask a second question of you: given your belief that Nation Building or COIN or, I assume, other types of stability operations should rarely, if ever, be undertaken, should we ever invade a country to remove a regime that threatens us given the necessity to occupy the country and undertake a rebuilding afterwards? Or should we simply contain and isolate the threat without invading?

Chet (not verified)

Wed, 02/02/2011 - 10:14am

Dennis M.

Great post! Here is my alternative (and you can disagree with it if you want, but it is an alternative). We need to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Period. If we are threatened by them, or anyone else, deal with it. Nation Building and COIN are not necessary for security. A strong, decisive, focused and severe military is.

Dennis M. (not verified)

Tue, 02/01/2011 - 7:05pm

TO all those who are objecting the the current COIN doctrine (i.e., pop-centric COIN or what is set forth in FM 3-24), what is the alternative?

I am not asking this rhetorically, by the way. Clearly there are problems with FM 3-24, but it is not clear to me that the problems are with the doctrine itself or are with its application in Iraq and Afghanistan. The objections to it are usually based on attacks on the historical underpinnings of the doctrine. Since I am not a professional historian, I will defer to others to carry on that debate.

However, the objectors fail to offer any reasonable alternative strategies for fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. Is it right to assume that you would argue that we should not engage militarily in such situations? That after we deposed the Taliban and Saddam we should have packed up and gone home? And if we should have stayed, what should our mission have been?

Pop-centric COIN may well be crap. But as was stated earlier, insurgencies come from somewhere. I think there is a very strong argument to be made that we should never deploy military force to a country with an existing government in the hope of defending that government against an insurgency. That has failure written all over it.

But that is not what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan. We toppled the existing regimes in those countries. And in installing a new regime, we created the insurgency. What do we do then? I kind of think that we have a moral obligation to do something. The question is what.

I think blind obedience to pop-centric COIN is simplistic and lazy. Taking the whole-of-government approach may be unrealistic at best and extreme hubris at best, but at least it is an attempt to get at the underlying cause of the insurgency. So what is the alternative to those? I think bombing everything that raises its head is hardly going to address the problem either.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 02/01/2011 - 3:59pm

Correction to my sub-paragraph "b" above:

... as per COL Gentile's Jan 29, 2:18PM comment above ...

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:48am

Our WOG approach to COIN today does seem to be designed and implemented:

a. Not so much with the idea of simply putting down the present insurgency and then moving on.

b. But more as a "transformational"/"deal with root causes" measure, designed to alter the political and economic order of the country (to "modernize it" as per "MAC's" Jan 31, 9:43AM comment above?) and, thus, make the state and society more capable of meeting the wants, needs and desires of the United States (as per COL Gentile's Jan 28, 2:18PM "imperial" comment above?).

Is this "modernization-in-the-service-of-imperialism" approach to counter-insurgency so entailed, so difficult, so complicated, so-convoluted and so-time/blood/treasure-consuming as to be self-defeating; in that it is more likely to anger and frustrate -- not only the the local governments and the populations of the subject countries concerned -- but also the citizens and government of the United States?

Chet (not verified)

Tue, 02/01/2011 - 9:41am

I want to clarify my original comments (below):

<i>"How much experience does this individual have, really, in COIN or guerrilla Warfare". A few deployments to Iraq, Aghanistan, or Bosnia with the conventional military does not an expert in COIN or Guerrilla Warfare make, nor does reading about it in a book.</i>

I did not mean to infer that Col Anderson did not know anything about COIN. It was meant to be a philosophical question about judging what an individual (whoever) knows about COIN by a combination of academic study and personal experience. If the perception was that I was disparaging COL Anderson, then I extend him my most humblest apologies.

On another note;

Bill C., I can only're out there flappin'

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 01/31/2011 - 7:29pm

The Cause of All Problems: Certain states and societies do not have the correct political and economic framework with which to provide for their populations and with which to support the international community. This is the root cause of virtually all their problems and ours.

The Solution to All Problems: The United States must help these states and societies get rid of their old, outdated, obsolete and now harmful political and economic systems and, simultaneously, help them install a new political and economic order which we believe will better service and support, not only their states and societies, but also the United States and the international community generally.

State Difficulty, Conflict, Natural Disaster, Etc.: Magnificent opportunity -- that the United States military and WOG organizations must be prepared to exploit -- which we will use as a means/justification to help breach state sovereignty and intervene so as to cause/help these states and societies transform their economic and political models as we require.

United States Approach to COIN: Designed -- not so much to quickly and effectively defeat the insurgency and then move on (leaving old political and economic order still in place and, thus, not dealing with "root causes") -- but rather to (1) exploit the opportunity presented by the conflict to (2) help states and societies get rid of their now-harmful political and economic models and help them install a political and economic model which we feel will better serve their and our interests. (And, by this specific action, achieve a "better peace.")

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 01/31/2011 - 10:43am

Brothers Madhu and Ken,

Apologize for the delay in responding to both your posts...

Thanks for the clarification...

Madhu... I definitely agree with your point that we should study other cultures and historically relevant operations other than Mao's revolutionary warfare approach... as I make that same point more than most...

... but the point isn't really studying other cultures and historical/relevant operations... the point, in my opinion, is to recognize the ideological and academic foundation of COIN... namely... political and economic development theory and its impact on execution. If social development, as I propose, is thought of as progressively linear (European tradition of social analysis, histoire raisonnee) then studying the Amir Abdur Rahman Khan's approach to governance, Muhammad Ghori's approach to coalition building and management or Joshua's (of Jericho fame) approach to military campaigning is a waste of time... especially since we are now being told that we have finally found the philosopher's stone for COIN... a universally applicable technical template to fix all that ails any given society, anywhere... anytime...

Many thanks for the conversation....


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/30/2011 - 12:28pm

No worries about the spelling.

Thanks for addressing my questions.

Eugnid (not verified)

Sat, 01/29/2011 - 6:44pm

Much in PARAMETERS does an excellent job of describing what was in plain sight in all American COIN encounter, reiterating Col. Alderson's prespective: US forces go in big, hoping to get a lot done in a little time. But the issue is one of topology, as made obvious in McChrystal's map of blue dots for Obama. Commanders seem to have a hard time realizing that insurgents have legs and won't stay put... indeed, like Mao, pre-plotted their escape route. And so, when we go in all guns blasting and leave, what have we done from the point of view of the passive "collaterals" we damaged? Doesn't bigger firepower do bigger damage, surgery with an egg beater instead of a scalpel?

We always assumed that by rebuilding inanimate entities we get another chance, uor past bloody mistakes wiprd clean. But hate does not resolve like grief. It is stubborn and motivates and spreads like a virus, especially among co-ethnics. It's then up to us "occupiers" to raise the ante (Hollywood's productions more than make that case from history, over and over again-- too often making us look like the good guys) which only means control through fear of retribution. Couteraction of the flea: an IED most often is without a signature; and if we take retribution on the basis of proximity to the blast, we're sure to serve as the insurgent's recruiter. It is then up to the insurgent to show that he can cause us damage that will be satisfying. We're then left treating locals as bacteria, seeking to use our firepower as anticeptic. In the end, bacterias become ever "resistant"-- the Taliban is a hell of a lot more resistant than were the Mujahidin-- so that we exhaust ourselves killing insurgent that cost $2 to create with $2000 worth of resources (never considering how our Muslim "friends" fund the $2 cost of making an insurgent). Screwed from the rear by Wall Street, what's the Pentagon to do?

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 01/29/2011 - 3:21pm

darn it, so sorry Madhu, i spelled your name incorrectly in the above post.



gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 01/29/2011 - 3:18pm


One way to perhaps think about the term "whole of government" is America's conflicted view of empire and our role in it. One could argue that in pursuing "whole of government" by making all of the institutions of the American nation-state integrated and actionable in foreign lands we are actually talking about nothing more than establishing imperial institutions.

But of course in the American tradition, using the "I" word is politically incorrect, but that is essentially what "whole of government" is trying to achieve.


Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 01/29/2011 - 11:26am

Oops, forgot to thank <strong>zen</strong> for his response to my comments. Thanks.

<em>Have we defined our terms with precision?</em>

Interesting, <bold>zen</bold>.

"Whole of Government" is a pretty big and wide-ranging idea, isn't it? I suppose there is potential for confusion if not carefully defined.

(Regarding <bold>Pundita's</bold) excerpt that I highlighted in one of my comments above: a deputy governor of Kandahar has been assassinated, according to news reports.)

What does "Whole of Government" mean in such a context?

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 01/29/2011 - 11:13am

<strong>@"MAC" McCallister</strong>

Oh no. I picked the incorrect word in using eurocentric. I don't think the doctrine is racist and did not mean to imply that it is.

I meant <em>roughly</em> what <strong>Ken White</strong> stated in his comment @ 9:39.

<em>It isn't just about FM 3-24... The development of counterinsurgency as a set of doctrines and a set of policies has received very little scholarly attention... This may be the reason why you have received little response to your inquiry. FM 3-24 is just the latest publication in a long line of doctrinal templates drawing on American counterinsurgency/irregular warfare operations along the Western frontier, operations in the Philippines at the turn of the century, expeditions into Mexico, Nicaragua in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Greece and the Philippines in the late 1040s, and Vietnam in the 1960s - 1970.</em>

This is very interesting. In fact, the entire thread is very educational. I've learned a lot.

Does American counterinsurgency doctrine have to be drawn from the template of American operations or can it be drawn from other operations too?

Are doctrines routinely examined at periodic intervals in order to incorporate the latest knowledge and is this appropriate or in the context of operations would this lead to too much confusion?

If I am trying to study a particular disease process I would want to collect as many patients for a study as I am able so that the power of my study is stronger. I am, perhaps, too concrete a thinker for some of this stuff.

That is what I meant by my comment above but didn't state my point well.

Regarding the following comment by <strong>Chet</strong>:

<em>While some knowledge may be cumulative (like the engineering sciences), I am quite skeptical about progressivism applying to complex war/operations (and what war is not complex?).

If knowledge about war is NOT progressive, then our dialog should shift significantly away from that paradigm.

The alternative may be a kind of idiographic form of knowledge (many anthropologists are comfortable with this view--their method is ethnographic -- yielding "thick description").

So in lieu of the never-ending quest for a context free science about war/COIN (or what ever category/taxonomy we make up to mimic a hard science), perhaps we need to concentrate on uniqueness, novelty, an locality.</em>

In the first example, cumulative knowledge, shouldn't we study as many examples as possible in order to develop the largest body of knowledge? Even if such knowledge is not cumulative, wouldn't this give you more "options" to examine?

In the second example, one way to look at locality is to look at insurgencies in the region and that have some of the same "players."

Anyway, that is what I meant but I am probably misunderstanding a lot.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 10:39pm

<b>Publius:</b><blockquote>"You're finally getting there. The emperor has no clothes."</blockquote>True but in their defense, we were probably close to their age when we figured that out... ;)<br><br>

<b>"MAC" McCallister:</b><blockquote>"I don't get the Eurocentric comment... I was talking about U.S. COIN doctrine and its historical lineage... what does this have to do with racism (eurocentricism)?"</blockquote>He meant Eurocentric in the sense that we westerners tend to -- logically if not wisely -- restrict our doctrine and its lineage to the western experience. A few study Eastern warfare but the practice is not widespread, it's not racist but it is probably intellectually lazy -- and I'm as guilty as most...

Even here on the Small Wars Council where some do post accounts of Eastern operations, past and current, the threads are generally short and do not attract much comment.

domnuledoctor (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 10:32pm

So, COIN is when it's gotten too big for the police? But is that because the police was no good or the enemy was too big? Imagine what an insurgency would have to go through to reach a point when only the army can deal with it. Is it like when a scalpel is no longer enough so you resort to an egg beater?

American troops commitment in Vietnam occurred when, in 1964, LBJ got word from the CIA that the guerrilla war changed into attacks by mobile regular units. At the same time, Le Duan informed his Southern Command that the goal was to organize regular units to destroy ARVN before the Americans could come in. Once the US got involved, the USSR insisted war was hopeless and Chicoms that small units using small arms could outmaneuver the Americans because the Chinese knew from Korea that Americans would prefer to use the egg beater on all "gooks" rather than stick to the scalpel. As a result, any hamlet knew that once VC units of any size came there, ordnance would rain upon it limitlessly as that's how Americans fight: kill all, pulverize everything but don't lose men. The "body count" came from reading the bone fragments.

Caught in the crossfire, the peasant "sea" ran off to the cities while Americans sent in platoons as bait to be reinforced by air mobile companies. This drove the war to the periphery. 70% of all contact was initiated by PAVN/PLAF. The VC served as logistic arm. By 1967 Westmoreland finally achieved his mission: destroying more PAVN men and supplies than could come down the trail. That won the war per Hanoi's COSVN commanders.

But there's that issue of casualties. By suffering 10:1, Mao told Le Duan, Hanoi could still make the cost unbearable to the Americans. And so it went, endless jungle warfare in which our casualties could never be reduced, only the enemy's could be increased. We were thus exsanguinating domestic political support for the war as we were maintain Hanoi's losses greater than its replacements. This Hanoi could afford as it had a million men distributed through the region.

What caused the Tet Offensive was indeed that, in this process, South Vietnam, instead of undergoing a revolutionary Maoist land reform, underwent a revolutionary American urbanization. The people became what Hanoi decried as "petites bourgeois" adapted to urban life while the countryside remained fallow, damaged by tons of Agent Orange. Hanoi was desperate for it had no urban infrastructure. So it attacked the cities and lost all that rural infrastructure that it had developed since the 1930s in the Southern countryside. Skilled operatives were lost pointlessly attacking Cholon. Unable to hold it, there later were no VCI to stop the rational repopulation of the countryside under ARVN control farming Miracle Rice, now with rural modernization spreading. The Mekong Delta proved to be Saigon's ultimate "safe rear" when Hanoi's tanks attacked the cities in 1975.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, we underestimated how many people were willing to die avenging the chaos and death resulting from mindless American invasion. All that insurgents had to do was mobilize and organize all that massive resentment. So the question is: what did we do to make the enemy so attractive to otherwise passive people myopic with localitis?

The idea was that we secure areas, hold them, develop them and pass them on to the native government. As Petraeus made clear to Obama, we never got past "hold" and what we had to hold with was so little that the idea became to show spot "presence." In Iraq this meant driving around the cities in SUVs. We invited a high casualties rate from IEDs. In Afghanistan it involved calling in air strikes. That invited massive resentment and recruitment by the enemy. And so we went on the defensive, protecting our MRAPs in Iraq and our spotters in Afghanistan with constant fire.

We built very little. To date, none of the infrastructural "metrics" in Iraq on which our attractiveness depended ever reached much near the Saddam Era levels. In Afghanistan, population control consisted of disruptive interrogating through translators who could neither speak English nor/or the local language well. US intel was through a distorting lens. So it always saw a distorted picture without a background against which to adjust it, as admitted by Flynn. Shooting blind, we had to shoot plenty. That meant paying the Taliban 15% of our total logistic costs as protection. Supposedly, lesson No.1 from Vietnam was not to plot action against tactical objective unless its backdrop is fully appreciated. Yet, once again, it was tactical objectives that became meaningless because there was no strategic tapestry against which to measure them. In contrast, British tactics in Malaya were always planned in context of an intel grasp of the enemy's strategy and British counter-strategy. Had the military not been given a blank check by Congress, it would never have treated those two theaters as roulette tables where they could play any number blindly, any number of times, for any amount because the purse was limitless and so for sure we'll eventually hit the big jackpot that more than makes up for all the blind losses.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 8:06pm


Do you believe it is possible that current Indian and Pakistani military doctrines express a British influence? If so, maybe some overlapping doctrinal features? If so... then India and Pakistan are also infected with the histoire raisonnee virus... not that this is necessarily a bad thing... I only submit that we should know what influences our present thinking.

Chet explained that there is nothing new under the sun... especially in terms of military operations... I submit that Joshua of Jericho fame would be able to hold his own discussing military strategy and campaigning with Muhammad Ghori or General Petraeus.

I don't get the Eurocentric comment... I was talking about U.S. COIN doctrine and its historical lineage... what does this have to do with racism (eurocentricism)?


Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 7:46pm

Why not study Indian and Pakistani insurgencies given the current conflicts? Why so Eurocentric?

The participants, the ideologies, the terrain, the methods show some overlapping features. Does this happen but I don't see it as a layperson? I mean in terms of doctrinal publications?

Publius (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 7:36pm

"MAC" McCallister: "I'll say it... FM 3-24 is wrong."

Chet: "If it is shown to be wrong, why, that would mean that we have been wrong for the last 10 years for sure and, maybe, even the last 70 or so. Can't have that."

Ask yourselves just how long it's been since this nation has actually been smart in fighting a war. We're coming up on sixty-six years since VE and VJ Days. Unless you want to count Desert Storm and those dandy little adventures in Latin America as wars.

You're finally getting there. The emperor has no clothes.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 7:16pm


A very short attempt at an opinion why...

It isn't just about FM 3-24... The development of counterinsurgency as a set of doctrines and a set of policies has received very little scholarly attention... This may be the reason why you have received little response to your inquiry. FM 3-24 is just the latest publication in a long line of doctrinal templates drawing on American counterinsurgency/irregular warfare operations along the Western frontier, operations in the Philippines at the turn of the century, expeditions into Mexico, Nicaragua in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Greece and the Philippines in the late 1040s, and Vietnam in the 1960s - 1970.

Why are the ideas found in FM 3-24 that actually distort reality and cripple efforts to respond effectively to cultural realities remain so appealing - even though wrong? The nature, popularity, longevity, and failure of the ideas underlying our pop-centric COIN doctrine can best be explained in terms of their familiarity, utility, and method.

Pop-centric COIN, like COIN doctrine before FM 3-24 is an expression of political development theory. I won't bore you with a detailed discussion of the European tradition of social analysis exemplified by Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Weber, or Durkheim... nor eighteen-century histoire raisonnee or natural history and its nineteenth-century version, the Comparative Method. Suffice it to say, from these social theories we have assembled a smooth, universal, evolutionary continuum of logically linked stages through which we proceed, propelled by equally universal forces of change. All that is needed is a technical blueprint with which to manage change. Statistically speaking... we should have won years ago... The key assumption of the technical blueprint is that individuals are unified wholes whose values, attitudes, and behavior form a coherent system; that their societies are also coherent wholes of interdependent values and institutions; and that the values, attitudes, and behavior of individuals in a society and the values embodied in its institutions, replicate and reinforce each other... Simply put... a Sioux warrior is a Philippine, is a Nicaraguan, is a Greek, is a Vietnamese, is an Iraqi, is a Pashtun. As if the inhabitants of Fallujah or Marjah ever read Weber.

FM 3-24 expresses the main lines of traditional Western social analysis. Familiarity by most policymakers and military with traditional Western social analysis makes pop-centric COIN easier to peddle since the consumer (policymakers, military, media) immediately recognizes the product brand. It is brand recognition pure and simple. It doesn't hurt that many of our esteemed academics are pushing the crack. Brand recognition turns into market shares and a high barrier to entry for truly new ideas irrespective of their quality.

The utility of familiar ideas offer a powerful and parsimonious explanation of the complex nature and politics of change. It explains, prescribes, and serves ideological requirements.

Lastly, we are now subject to the tyranny of method.

What fascinates me about it all is that we continue to give lip service to the doctrine while taking our cue from the locals so as to respond effectively to cultural realities and ground truth... Creating the conditions for an "awakening" in Anbar... or establishing the Sons of Iraq in Salah ad Din isn't really in line with traditional political development theory now is it? Remember the gnashing of teeth and pulling of heir by the popular press when we decided to arm the locals?



Seems like many of these arguments are based on a "progressive" view of knowledge -- a Western idea predicated on the enlightenment.

Evidence of progressivism in our community:
--there are such things as "best practices" (TTP) that are transferable to other situations (what works in the Philippines should work in Vietnam; what worked in Vietnam should work in Afghanistan, and so forth)
--FM 3-24 can be rewritten/improved (belief that doctrine is a cumulative science--gets better)
--there can be principles of war

There are other views of knowledge...some might be considered by the progressivist as "pessimistic."

While some knowledge may be cumulative (like the engineering sciences), I am quite skeptical about progressivism applying to complex war/operations (and what war is not complex?).

If knowledge about war is NOT progressive, then our dialog should shift significantly away from that paradigm.

The alternative may be a kind of idiographic form of knowledge (many anthropologists are comfortable with this view--their method is ethnographic -- yielding "thick description").

So in lieu of the never-ending quest for a context free science about war/COIN (or what ever category/taxonomy we make up to mimic a hard science), perhaps we need to concentrate on uniqueness, novelty, an locality.

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 6:35pm

Correction to last section of the last paragraph:

(2) if the population will be both willing -- and able -- to accept and adapt to such changes.

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 6:29pm

If my analysis above is correct, then one might suggest that the idea of using the opportunity presented by conflict, natural disaster, etc. -- as an opening and justification for intervening in states and societies for the purpose of establishing a new political and economic order therein (deal with the "root causes" approach/achieve a "better peace" theory) -- that this may be a deeply flawed and dangerous concept.

Why? Because this approach:

a. May not adequately take into account the extreme obsticles to and great difficulty with achieving such rapid and sweeping societal changes in such dramatically and distinctively different, and often very conservative, countries and

b. May (illogically?) subordinate the immediate requirement (for example: the defeat of the insurgency) to the attainment of factors that should understood as requiring a much longer period of time (for example: the successful implementation and adequate acceptance of a completely new, novel and often alien political and economic model -- one which will dramatically transform not only these populations' way of life but also the realms of power, prestige and influence existing therein).

Bottom line: Prior to proceeding along these lines ("root causes"/"better peace" approach), should not an adequate assessment and careful determination be made to determine (1) if the government will be both willing and able to implement the required changes and (2) if the population will be both willing -- and unable -- to accept and adapt to such changes.

Chet (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:26pm


Even though I believe Gen Petraeus is unfairly credited with the publication of FM 3-24 (trsut me, GOs don't write FMs, they are VERY far removed from the process), he did bless it. Where does he work now and isn't he a favored individual within the administration? If it is shown to be wrong, why, that would mean that we have been wrong for the last 10 years for sure and, maybe, even the last 70 or so. Can't have that.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:21pm


I agree.

So here is my question (which by the way I have yet to get any kind of satisfactory or substantive answer) if it (FM 3-24) is wrong, why hasn't it been revised?

Folks realized pretty soon after the release of Active Defense Doctrine in 1976 that it was wrong too, and then a vigorous process of revision of it occurred.

Why not that with FM 3-24?

Is it because perhaps that 3-24 has moved way beyond simple operational doctrine for countering insurgencies to the point where it dominates strategy and even policy? And if this is the case then to revise the doctrine would also mean to revise the strategy, namely in Afghanistan.


"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 5:00pm

I'll say it... FM 3-24 is wrong.

Pop-centric COIN is a pervasive, compelling, but distorted vision of the United States as the manager of modernization (indirect rule) and our clients as beleaguered modernizers. It is distorted because it is based on a number of faulty social premises and assumptions about governance, security and political/economic development in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Policymakers, academics, military, political and media pundits have consistently and fundamentally misperceived the cultural and political context of rebellion or revolutionary wars directed against our clients in both places. What makes this conflict/effort worse and very complicated is that it is religious in nature... and we all know how uncomfortable we get when religion raises its controversial head... There is no separation of warfare, mosque and state.

Chet is right... some things can't be "fixed"... only endured and managed. The question is whether we want to manage the unpleasantness from near or afar.