Ditching Career Centric COIN

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Ever since President Obama announced that the US would begin drawing down its forces in Afghanistan, the news and commentary on our counterinsurgency efforts have reenergized the discourse on COIN, strategy, and the future of that now painful cliché called "population-centric COIN." For the last several years we have heard arguments and observed the practical scholarship of the so-called "COINdanistas" such as John Nagl and David Kilcullen. We have witnessed various spins on how best to operationalize the COIN objectives of defeating an insurgency and creating stability. Some, such as Mark Moyar have taken a different approach than specific focus on the population and examined the importance of identifying and empowering the best leadership as the key to a COIN campaign. More recently, we have witnessed the rise of an anti-COIN movement led in spirit and voice by Army Colonel Gian Gentile. The “COINtras” disparage the very idea of counterinsurgency because the most recent policies pursued in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to nest with their conception of good strategy and the fundamental purpose of our armed forces. Yet despite the energy and proliferation of the COIN discourse by all of these very intelligent and credible scholars, there remains a void, virtually ignored by scholars and pundits alike. That void is filled by the questions surrounding the actual organization of COIN campaigns. In other words, once strategic leaders have determined that the defeat of an insurgency (foreign or domestic) and the establishment of internal stability represent our desired end-state, how should one organize the campaign to best operationalize the critical tasks that bring victory?

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History does not serve to teach, but enlighten.
The discourse on this is interesting. Organization is critical, just as a strategy is critical; By implication/inference, "organization" means stacking the right expertise, capabilites and knowledge.
Why does it appear to me that we have not mentioned what training and skill sets are required in the BCT?
By default, because the civilian expertise never surged and was never there to begin with,the GPF HAD TO perform those missions in addition to the other things it was already responsible for. Adhoc formations and techniques like CST's, FET's and the VSO are a glaring example of how we first attempted "organization" to achieve skills and knowledge that did not exist to begin with; Now we are actually training and some would debate that we really are, and the FET's have now become mandatory, but for how long? We have never institutionalized the lessons learned from the last 10 years. see my paper titled: language, Culture and Doctrinal Convergence of Trends in FSO, here on SWJ. Its remarkable on what is still the same from first deployment to afghanisatn in 2006 and my last in 2010.

Addendum:

So why is my idea below -- re: accommodation -- so unrealistic?

Because it tends to deny the West/the modern world what it needs, desires and what it is actively working towards, to wit: full and complete access to and use of any and all human (for example: women - 1/2 of a population) and other resources (for example: trade routes, etc).

This (the denial of access to any and all resources) is considered as a threat to our existance and to our quality and way of life. Accordingly, we will not allow a process (accommodation of those that wish to remain unique, un-modern, isolated and exclusive) which would tend deny us that which we desire and/or require.

Should we consider that, because of this underlying fact and problem (the Western/modern world's requirement to have access to and use of any and all resources), the governments of outlier states and societies are not able to make the accomodations which, otherwise, might allow them to solve/resolve their present and future insurgency problems -- in a manner other than conflict and war?

Let us say that COL Jones has it right. Ultimately it comes down to a failure of government. The insurgency is simply evidence of this failure.

What, then, is the essence of what the government has failed to do or not do; which has given rise to the insurgency?

For our problem and purposes, let us say that what the government has failed to do is to honor the wishes of that portion of the population that does not wish to see their lives dramatically and radically changed (for our example, "modernized" along Western lines).

In such cases as these, wherein the wants, needs and desires of one portion of the population (those who want to become Westernized/modern) are at odds with the wants, needs and desires of the other portion of the population (those who does not want to make such wrenching and extreme state and societal changes), how does the government accommodate both groups (without incurring the wrath and intervention of the Western/modern world)?

Herein, the only answer would seem to be to have the government divide the country in such a way that both groups might be provided for. In this scenerio, the populations might be able to move freely move -- back and forth -- between these two areas as they might, for whatever reason, choose. In this manner, they might be able to weigh and evaluate the benefits and liabilites -- at any given point and time -- associated with both ways-of-life, and choose where to live, work, etc, accordingly. The only problem with this proposed solution is: Would the West/modern world allow such an accommodating process to take place?

COL Jones: Is this a good example of (1) the world's present-day insurgency problems, (2) a possible solution to such problems along your lines of thought (to wit: in order to avoid/end an insurgency, government must act to adequately accommodate -- rather than defeat -- those portions of the population that feel threatened, alienated, etc., and (3) the central problem with such a solution (the West/modern world would not allow it -- as this entity requires that ALL states and societies become Western/modernized).

The inertia of history as we understand it and our current reality as we perceive it are powerful forces whose grip we seem unable to break. Perhaps because we mistake it for a warm embrace. Though we are growing uncomfortable as the pressure tightens...

Insurgency is illegal political action, and the primary source of "radicalization" is invariably the government of the country in question. If we feel compelled to intervene in such internal political disputes and wish to facilitate an enduring solution formed by the locals, rather than to force an external solution shaped by us, we clearly must evolve to a centralized authority that focuses understanding the cause and effect of such political grievance, and helping the government to fix itself.

Efforts led by the military convert insurgency to warfare and focus on helping the government secure itself from the threat and to defeat the threat to a level that meets the growing security capacity of the government. That is mere suppression of the symptoms. But no military leader will feel it in his lane to fix government, and no military leader has authority to compel others who do work with governments to be the main effort even if he recognizes the problem for what it really is.

Certainly there is room for programs that develop effectiveness of government in any COIN campaign, but it should be a supporting effort. That includes development of services and security force capacity. Equally there is room for counterguerrilla operations as well, but these too are supporting efforts that should be narrowly tailored so as to not inadvertently make the problem worse. But all of these must be nested and coordinated under one leader and one overarching scheme that focus on the cause and effect of illegal political challenge.

Forced external solutions that merely suppress the symptoms used to be good enough. That is history. They are no longer adequate in the emerging global environment and should now be avoided. That is reality.

This is probably the most profound (and succinct) comment written in a long time. Many have expressed parts of this in many ways over the years but this paragraph needs to be printed and put on the wall in every room in which national security strategy development and military campaign planning takes place:

"As our planning for the campaign in Afghanistan has evolved, it seems we looked at our tools of national power several times, recognized that we could not reorganize them to suit the mission for which we were engaged and so we just drove on. Yet, in essence, we drove on to fix and reorganize the governments of an entire complex state and whole society of tribes, ethnicities, and identities. Somehow we thought it easier to do that, then to fix our own institutions."

Intelligent men (and women) learn from their mistakes, and wise men (and women) learn from the mistakes of others.

If we cannot be wise, let's at least be intelligent.

Since the discussion is starting to wane, now is a good time to respond to the thoughtful input to this article. I am thankful for the positive response it has received and to those who posted comments.

I must emphasize my agreement with Bill M’s and Infanteer’s skepticism about any assertion that changing organizational structure will lead to victory. Hence the paragraph:

“One should be forewarned though before one drinks this organizational “Kool-aid.” The theorists make clear that prescriptive organization is not the sine qua non of success. Organization structures that follow the prescribed advice of the theorists will not help if there is a bad plan or poor leadership, but organizations that are not structured to achieve unity of effort could ruin a good plan led by a good leader.”

It is important to note therefore that if a mediocre government, leadership etc attempts to execute through an ideal organization (one based upon the theorists principle but modified to the environment) they will have far more success than one trying to execute through the current organization. Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume and evident that a nascent host nation government in transition will assume some of our organizational design if it proves effective and is not in sharp contrast to cultural tendencies of the host nation.

Bill M.’s last counterpoint about the Army and their general agreement with Sepp is probably correct. Perhaps I am too critical of the Army on this point as there would be little utility in stating a doctrinal principle that cannot be achieved with existing force structure. Yet, Joint Doctrine and even the USG COIN Guide (written by DOD, DOS, and USAID) make little attempt to push for the importance of further unity of command though they each state that unity of command is the ideal. They too are constrained by organizational boundaries that are based in law, policy, and culture. Blaming doctrine is not my intent. Often however, we are too quick to assume that unity of command is impossible so we fail to ask for it, never mind argue or advocate for it when we are conducting operational design.

This further leads to Ken White’s point that our system just can’t get to that kind of unity of effort or command. While none of us can deny that there are huge bureaucratic, policy, and legal barriers, I must disagree with the assertion that it is just too hard to do. As Infanteer pointed out, we made a lot of progress in that direction over the last few years, as I point out, Komer was able to make significant progress with the backing of the President. I know Ken White states that he doesn’t think that Vietnam provides a good example because so much was wrong about that war, but there is still much to be learned. In the end, the NVA took over Saigon yes, but there were successes prior to 75 from which we can learn, and the organizational design of CORDS and Komer’s vision is one that we seem to have ignored for too long.

As I wrote this though, I was struck by a sad and profound thought. As our planning for the campaign in Afghanistan has evolved, it seems we looked at our tools of national power several times, recognized that we could not reorganize them to suit the mission for which we were engaged and so we just drove on. Yet, in essence, we drove on to fix and reorganize the governments of an entire complex state and whole society of tribes, ethnicities, and identities. Somehow we thought it easier to do that, then to fix our own institutions.

LTC Gleiman's use of the Oman campaign as an example is useful. It is, probably, best described by John Akehurst in 'We Won A War' originally published in 1982. It describes very well the organizational and command relationships - at various levels - in what we now would describe as a joint/multi-national 'coalition' force.
I only offer one more observation, in that Templar's approach to the 'C2 estimate' (not including the various versions of Churchill's instruction to Templar to grasp every lever of power and not to let them go) in the Malayan campaign resonates with on version of the principles of Mission Command. Templar - Mission Command:

Get the priorities right - Main Effort
Get the instruction right - Mutual understanding
Get the organization right - Timely and effective decision making
Get the right people into the organization - Trust
Get the right spirit into the people - Unity of effort
Leave them to get on with it - Freedom of action

Whether that is more or less an achievable ambition now than then largely depends on the context. Certainly the number of entities involved, and therefore variables, are far greater.

On COIN organization (or rather disorganization), Gleimon pretty much gets it right. His article accurately reflects my recent experience in Afghanistan, which involved multiple interagency partnerships and innumerable frustrations.

One cautionary note: as COIN increasingly comes under fire, be wary of a public hanging. Much value remains in COIN doctrine and it may yet prove effective if problematic implementation is resolved. Just as Gleimon proposes organizational efficiencies, it's likewise prudent to determine what works and explore improvements, or variants, rather than abandon ship altogether.

Lorraine:

I agree that he gets the problem right -- however, It appears that his and your experience there mirrors my earlier experience elsewhere. As I wrote yesterday, "...don't exhume Komer, trust me, that war was as badly run as is is this one. the really sad thing is that's true for the same reasons."

Those reasons are the drivers of my pessimism -- Gleiman also got those right and you appear to acknowledge them. You two are young and therefor optimistic, regrettably I'm old and while ordinarily an optimist, on this subject I'm beyond cynical due to having watched the efforts over the last 70 plus years. Best advice I can give is do, indeed, strive to bring change. Really. Go for it -- but please, please have a Plan B in event the same old same old recurs...

You IMO also get this right:

"Much value remains in COIN doctrine and it may yet prove effective if problematic implementation is resolved."

Perhaps we can agree that we must be prepared to implement that doctrine if directed but should definitely try to change things in that "problematic implementation." At the same time, in event that cannot be resolved it might also be prudent to explore alternatives to employing COIN doctrine in the future...

Many of the recommendations were instituted in late 2009/early 2010; at least in Kandahar Province.

Most counterinsurgency efforts were fused into Operational Coordination Center - Distict (OCC-D) at the district level. For example, in Panjwayi district, the Panjwayi OCC-D (POCC-D) a Major oversaw the district center, co-located with the PRT crew, the ANP District Chief and an LO from the ANA. The District Leader (later renamed District Governor) had his official residence at the POCC-D. Daily coordination was undertaken to determine activities in the district.

As far as I know, similar OCC-Ds were set up in Dand, Zharei and Arghandab Districts under the Canadian led Task Force Kandahar (TFK). The same existed at the provincial level, with Kandahar Provincial Operations center (can't remember the acronym, but it may have been KOCC-P...) where the Governor of Kandahar was linked into a similar set-up. I didn't work at the TF level, so I don't know how this functioned.

I do recall that these received high level interest, with Comd RC(S) (a Brit 2 Star) and Comd CentCom (Gen Patraeus at the time) popping in to visit. I don't know to what extent this concept was implemented within other Task Forces and other Provinces.

Overall, I don't know how effective this organizational change was (it is a good topic for study) but I always thought it begged the obvious question, the same question that is begged of the article - what will this do for the Afghans? Is this what they want?

All the organizational shuffling in the world doesn't change the fact that Karzai and his government are not very popular (or known)(at least in the South), that most rural Afghans see Kabul as someplace near Timbuktu, and that much (most?) of the insurgency exists in at the level of the walled off village, a level that for all the great district-level organization both ISAF and national bodies like the ANA and ANP cannot or will not penetrate. Add to this the problem that from top-to-bottom, our deference to "Afghan sovereignty" has allowed poor civilian and military leaders to exist at all levels. It's great if you have a slick COIN organization, but what do you do if your well-formulated and conditioned COIN plan is derailed by corrupt or stupid political appointees.

Would such measures really accomplish anything?

Bill M.:

I also agree with his recommendations. However, my point was none of those things, as he notes, is at all likely to happen and we have plenty of historical example to that effect. Thus my question: Why hope for and recommend, why plan as if, the very unlikely is reality...

"but that doesn’t change the fact that our organizational structure is dysfunctional."

I suggest it is not dysfunctional for what it is designed to do. There are certain aspects, such as DoD primacy in foreign relations that are unintended consequences of other efforts and that are not helpful but essentially the structure works well for its designed tasks. The problem occurs when -- as you mentioned -- we decide to do other tasks for which the structure was not intended (or trained...). The simple solution to that problem is to avoid doing such tasks unless there is absolutely no other option and to realize and accept that in that case there will be numerous and telling inefficiencies and the probability of successfully concluding the operation is not good..

The more complex and likely unattainable solution is to significantly change the organizational model and our budgeting process while also significantly improving training. The probability of any of those occurring is beyond slim.

We cannot wish away any of those realities.

"In my opinion the Army strongly agrees with Sepp, but realized this isn’t always possible so recommended a feasible course of action to pursue unity of effort informally in case the President doesn’t appoint a single leader to harmonize the efforts of all U.S. government elements in a conflict zone.'

I generally agree with that as well but believe that acknowledging reality in that case does not square with a senior person saying we should emulate the British Malayan experience. That's scary.

Our dysfunctional personnel system will not always insure the rather smart and aware Round Peg who changed Sepp's verbiage is available at the right time and place to go into the Round Hole that is the command slot to pursue an operation or campaign; it is more likely to provide a Triangular Peg (he'll fit in that Round hole but he'll be too small to fill the space...) who would like to emulate Kitson in Kenya (also a bad idea...)

Ken,

My comments were not intended to support bad policy, but simply stating if we're directed to pursue this strategy, then we have to be flexible enough to be able to organize correctly to do it.

Our efforts in Afghanistan are flawed in so many ways, and for the reasons I mentioned in my response and Infanteer mentioned above I don't think reorganizing at this point would change much, it would simply empower and reinforce a dysfunctional Afghanistan Government while we're there. We're still an occupying force, we can call it FID all we want, but that isn't how we're operating. The problems addressed are the Afghans to fix, not ours. We currently have a dysfunctional government, but I don't think many Americans want Canadians, Brits, Germans, or others meddling in our internal affairs even if it is in their "national" interests to see us get our economy fixed, and they do it with the best intentions.

A SF Cpt did a recent blog post on his challenges with his VSO efforts. I don't know what type of organizational structure he is tied into, but if he doesn't have LNOs/advisors at the various government levels above him that he can communicate with directly without going through the SOTF, then he is being set up for failure, because they are not organized correctly to accomplish the mission (when it comes to integrating grass root efforts with regional and national government).

I agree both Malaya and Kitson are terrible examples, people carelessly cherry pick examples from those scenarios to support arguments while ignoring the context. Context is everything.

The author may claim that Gian can talk until he is blue in the face, but the reality is he has a big impact on our national views on COIN and Nation building by force. It will take time to find a way to extract ourselves from the mess we're in, but one would hope we will be much wiser down the road, but then again if our history remains consistent that is probably a misplaced hope.

Bill M.:

"My comments were not intended to support bad policy, but simply stating if we're directed to pursue this strategy, then we have to be flexible enough to be able to organize correctly to do it."

Understood. We pretty much agree on this as most things. My comments were to state we should rarely if ever be directed to pursue such strategies because we do not and cannot have that flexibility under less than existential circumstances.

That is not a major problem as there are better ways with more likelihood of success than by playing to the other guy's rules on his turf. Particularly when our team seemingly must play with its hands tied. Constraining initiative is never a path to success...

As you know better than most, every war is different and marginal training is neither effective or really cost-efficient.

We can only hope but the signs thus far are not encouraging...

Sorry, this should have been posted below as a Reply to Bill M's comment.

Interesting article and much with which to agree. Really only one point with which to disagree -- though that point is stated variously a few times in the article. They all revolve around this statement:

"... there remains a void, virtually ignored by scholars and pundits alike. That void is filled by the questions surrounding the actual organization of COIN campaigns...how should one organize the campaign to best operationalize the critical tasks that bring victory?"

'Victory' in a current era campaign involving the US in both FID and SFA operations in any other nation is an extremely unlikely outcome for either side. The best that can generally be achieved is an acceptable outcome. Given that it seems the first effort should be to have realistic expectations...

There is no void, there is a minor pulsating vacuum created when unrealistic goals are smacked with reality. Happens frequently. Here from the article is an example of such a goal:

"As one high-ranking ISAF General Officer lamented when reflecting on Templer’s pro-consular authority and unified command structure at echelons and compared it to the campaign in Afghanistan:

"Why wouldn’t you do that? Counterinsurgency is a complex problem that required unity of effort and a unified solution. This is how it was for all players, the less unified we were the harder it was. I know that key leaders at the highest levels did not push for more power and authority. Should they have? If a commander or ambassador asks for that now he wouldn’t get it and in the very act of asking he would create scar tissue and once rejected there would be bad blood. We need a BRAC like solution, a blue ribbon panel, to design and recommend it. Then we need a President and/or Congress to approve it. It is just too hard to get done when those asking and proposing are part of the deal.”

That high ranking Officer voiced a very unrealistic goal.

The harsh reality he elides is that we would not do that because unlike the British in Malaya the US will not be the de jure and de facto government Further, in the case of Afghanistan, it did not move in forces to assist an in place functioning governmental structure. Malaya is an extremely bad example to use for US involvement in other nations -- be they is Southeast Asia, South Asia or elsewhere; earlier in time, now or in the future...

The US would also not do that because as LTC Gleiman notes correctly elsewhere in the article:

"he essence of the void in this discourse is that if we are going to embark on such a mission, we should be able to design the implementing organizations to accomplish the mission as effectively as possible and with the understanding that the prescriptive principles of those COIN theorists would likely keep costs much lower. As the DOD uses design to frame and understand problems, the government must also design the tools and organizations with enough flexibility to address the problem. Simply put, we should do it right, or change our strategy to reflect COL Gentile's thinking, which is what our organizations are better designed to support."

No question. Unfortunately, as he also notes:

"The problems in the US prosecution of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan ... lays soundly on the inability of our chosen and legacy organizational structures to empower leaders and enforce adaptation through clear lines of authority established through the optimal organizational structures ... The organizational cultures and essences of our other agencies and departments involved in foreign policy have maintained the territorial inclinations, unhealthy levels of separation ... They can be traced back to Article 2 of the constitution, but also include the structures of committees in Congress and the internal power politics of our legislative branch."

Quite true -- and that's a feature, not a bug and it therefor must be considered in formulating plans and strategies. It is, barring an existential war, not going away. Let me repeat that-- it is not going away. To fail to accept and compensate for those designed limitations is to charge blindly into failure or, at best, only marginally acceptable conclusions (See Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq).

To assist other States we urgently need better Intelligence, specifically Humint; we need better DoS led and not DoD centric diplomacy and we need to employ SF in FID early and competently. We can do that; we've done it before. What we should not do is try to employ the GPF for SFA; they will not do it well -- nor should they be able to -- ergo, best to try mightily to avoid such eventualities. We should also be very careful on the Advisor bit, we do not do that too well either, did not in Korea or Viet Nam. Problem is that if one has advisors, one will be almost impelled to use them. Unintended consequences abound.

We do need better trained forces. In many respects our individual training is better than it has ever been, in others it is not so good and our unit training is borderline dysfunctional in too many units. They could be better but the same personnel system that will not allow a more unitary command and a lean advisory force precludes better training due to forced personnel turnover engendered by flawed personnel policies. A series of one year -- or nine month -- tours in units with a 30% annual turnover is not going to 'win' anything outside of a major conventional conflict with lots of casualties...

There's never going to be coherence in any coalition effort. Nor in any 'coordinated' US government effort. Nor is unity of command or effort going to be achieved when there are five (or more...) effective US services on the ground vying for a piece of the pie (that designed in feature again...). Better to accept all that, consider it and devise a better approach. 'COIN' wil never be fully effective with third and more party involvement. A guy in Afghanistan and I were talking on the phone yesterday and, on his fifth trip to one sandbox or another -- six counting DS/DS -- he mentioned that he was firmly convinced if the decision was being made to deploy AAFES it was time to cease fire and come home. He has a point.

We can, should and must do better but more of the same is not the answer and a wish for more unified effort is just that, a wish. Oh -- and don't exhume Komer, trust me, that war was as badly run as is is this one. the really sad thing is that's true for the same reasons.

I and I think most others agree with the author’s two recommendations.

1. The national command authority should appoint one single leader of all diplomatic, defense, development, and intelligence efforts that answers to the President.

2. This single unified commander and staff should have a similarly unified command structure at geographic echelons of region, province, district, village etc. This commander and staff would be the senior advisor to the GiROA representation at that same level.

Those who have participated in COIN and FID have felt the frustration of trying to herd cats from different agencies to achieve a common objective, and then the problem is further complicated when you deal with the most important players who are the multiple host nation actors. No one said this was easy work.

For those whose experience is limited to Afghanistan and Iraq they have only dealt with the much less than ideal organizational structure that almost guarantees dysfunction and probably mission failure. However, I have seen us come very close to what the author suggests when we conducted JTF LIBERIA (State in the lead with DOD in support, led by some very capable Ambassadors and supported by some very capable senior military officers), and I suspect our efforts in El Salvador were largely controlled and unified by the Ambassador. Obviously the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq are different and on a much greater scale than Malaya, El Salvador or Liberia, but that doesn’t change the fact that our organizational structure is dysfunctional.

On the other hand, in Afghanistan I am suspect that an organizational change alone will result in decisive progress. One of the biggest underlying factors is the lack of legitimacy of the Afghan Government, and simply aligning to better enable them will not necessarily change that. While culturally and perhaps even legally we can’t do this, I can’t help to wonder what would happen if we stepped back and allowed the Afghan people to change their government and then step back in and help when the dust settles?

The author criticized the Army when he wrote, “ ‘Where Sepp observed that a single leader under a unified chain or command proved effective’, the Army replaced that with 'Encourage strong political and military cooperation and information sharing'.” In my opinion the Army strongly agrees with Sepp, but realized this isn’t always possible so recommended a feasible course of action to pursue unity of effort informally in case the President doesn’t appoint a single leader to harmonize the efforts of all U.S. government elements in a conflict zone.