Language, Culture, and Doctrinal Convergence of Trends in Full Spectrum Operation’s

The purpose of this paper is to provide research information on doctrinal convergence and divergence, and elaborate upon the role of language and culture in counterinsurgency operations.

Language and culture are not mission enablers to Full Spectrum Operations (FSO); rather they are now  in direct support thereof. For those in the field, this has been very clear for some time.

In January, 2010, Major General Flynn addressed this serious deficiency in our understanding of the operating environment:

“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about whom the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers–whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers–U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.[i]

In the journal, PRISM, A Journal of The Center For Complex Operations (CCO), LTG Robert Caslen said: “The most pressing obstacle hindering our cultural understanding is an arrogant and haughty attitude. It is critically important to understand the fabric of the society that we are working in...”[ii]  The most salient problems [in COIN and SO] are attitudinal, cultural, and human.”[iii]

In a Defense Language Office (DLO) commissioned report, “respondents consistently expressed that the time allocated for this training should be expanded. Warfighters view the training as critical to mission success and believe that additional time investment is necessary.[iv]

Although this report focused on survival language skills, the need for expanded training has also been expressed in Unit After Action Reviews (AARs). One might wonder if the survey respondents really meant that training should provide a greater “direct support” role in select missions and tasks within Full Spectrum Operations (FSO) or Counterinsurgency (COIN). The trends outlined below appear to imply this.

A review of the convergence and divergence of contemporary and historical trends, reveals that, these elements are interdependent, evolve operationally, and require familiarity with a number of disciplines–a thorough understanding of the “role of resident networks in society,”[v] and one might add, within the operating environment. The common element in Hybrid, FSO, and Counterinsurgency Operations (COIN), is that they are difficult to understand, and are inherently messy in devising plans and methods.

A review of the trends reveals they do not neatly align in either a population-centric approach, or an enemy-centric approach, and much like a measure of effectiveness, success or failure is contingent on several simultaneous variables.

The counterinsurgency manual describes several insurgent approaches such as: conspiratorial, urban, and protracted. It also lists six dynamics that can be used to  assess strengths and weaknesses. The dynamics are infered in the analysis matrix – ASCOPE/PMESII – used by the Counterinsurgency Training Center. [vi] In theory, the prerequisites of the insurgency  are identified  in this interplay of approaches and dynamics in order to attack and address the insurgency’s root causes.  Understanding the interplay  of these approaches  and dynamics becomes the framework for assessing and developing counterinsurgent approaches. The complexity of this interplay starts to become apparent when looking at the logical lines of operation and the goals and objectives along the lines of effort.   

Counterinsurgency theory and subsequent debate describes two COIN approaches: a “population-centric” approach, referred to as “hearts and minds,” and an “enemy-centric approach,” that focuses primarily on engaging insurgents and insurgent leadership.

At its heart, a “hearts and minds” approach is the struggle for the support of the population. It is a proactive approach involving all the elements of national power; even down to the tactical level. It is a competition with the insurgent for the right to win the acquiescence of the people.[vii] It is those military, paramilitary, economic, psychological and civil actions employed to defeat armed resistance, reduce passive opposition and reestablish legitimacy. General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency guidance lists twenty-four rules that capture the spirit and intent of this approach.[viii]

Is the lack of a “woven” understanding of language and culture into doctrine and training the missing common denominator in these trends? Numerous documents outline required predeployment language and culture training, but is the moniker of predeployment misleading? Does “predeployment” infer a “basic” level of training, when in actuality; the language and culture training should be more intermediate, advanced, multidisciplinary, and included in training critical FSO or Operating Environment Mission Tasks?

A fair percentage of the Force have three to five deployments by now. An understanding of the AOR has evolved, as well as, what mission based predeployment training should look like. If success in COIN/SFA is the ability to successfully implement doctrinal principles in "packs" along multiple  and simultaneous LOO and LOE, then what tactical tasks should be better enabled with specialized language and culture training?  At what level?

Intuitively we recognize this by having developed adhoc formations such as FET’s and CST’s  to meet operational needs.  The now mandated requirements and formalized training for these FET's, CST's and VSO are designed to teach (advanced?) cultural awareness, language skills and critical thinking capabilities.  It is further inferred in how Units Task Organize for Advise and Assist Missions or Security Transition Teams.   Units “stack’ capabilities and effectiveness in these task organizations in an implied effort to implement success in “packs” along multiple LOO/LOE

The following comparisons of convergence and divergence are taken from the historical lessons learned during the counterinsurgency era of 1947 to 1975, and from contemporary studies. (See the listed sources at end of the document.)

These Operational trends are a comparison of British, French, and Portuguese doctrinal lessons learned in Algeria, Yemen, Aden, Indochina, Malaya, Kenya, Angola and Cyprus. They are compared with contemporary sources to show Post 9-11 (theoretical) convergence.

Convergence Trends in the Counterinsurgency Era (1947 to 1975) and the Modern (Post 90-11) Era

The trends below seem to easily align into one category or another, this is misleading.   A review of after action reviews against historical trends reveal a number of  unit identified “Best Practices” and trends that are cross cutting. Units identified training in command and control (C2), intelligence, movement and maneuver,  logistics, and humanitarian assitance as “Best Practices”.  These warfighter functions and the tactical tasks within them are cross cutting elements that enable success or failure as a trend that converges or diverges from past operations, yet no where was it stated that language and culture training was a “best practice.” Units and historical monographs state the need for language, culture, and linguists for successful intelligence operations. Contemporary operations consider FET’s and CST’s an “operational” best practice, articulate a need for language and culture; yet language and culture itself as a best practice that enables success in these tactical and operational teams is never stated.    By way of example, these contemporary issues are historically cross cutting with the development of Special Forces, Unity of Effort, and Army-Centric appraoces to COIN during the era of Counterinsurgency, 1947-1975. 

The Convergence Trends during the era of counterinsurgency (1947-1975) included the common theme of:

  • communist revolutionary ideology and strategy
  • widespread use of propaganda as a tool for promotion of this ideology and strategy
  • exploitation of local grievances
  • the use of tactics of subversion
  • geo-political alignment with Beijing or Moscow (often with sanctioning or support by these states)
  • politically savvy insurgency movements
  • high levels of mobility
  • the use of clandestine operations
  • a firm collective conviction of the possibility of preventing revolution
  • the use of special forces and their operations in counterinsurgency
  • unity of effort
  • the identification of control with power
  • the reaction of an international system galvanized to influence outcomes
  • the use of nationalistic sentiments and causes to disguise hidden political agendas
  • operational gauges for the effects of insurgency and counterinsurgence
  • an “Army-Centric” approach to the counterinsurgency problem (relying upon expertise and a knowledge base derived from a national approach).

Convergence Trends occurring during the Post 9-11 era include:

  • the preeminence of religious based (versus communist) ideologies
  •  subversive techniques, tactics and strategies
  •  geopolitically dispersed ideologies (aligned with the Magreb, the Levant, the Fertile Crescent, the Golden Crescent) with divergent ideological interpretations (For academic discourse, can one consider this a fragmented version of the Cold War trend of  geopolitical alignment? )
  •  politically savvy insurgency movements
  • global support for operations
  • variable State-sanction (if any)
  • the exploitation of popular grievances in the use of propaganda to fuel these movements
  • the development of theoretical models to deal with asymmetric conflict
  • the larger, sooner role of the international system in combating insurgency
  • the exploitation of grievances and religion disguising hidden agendas.

These elements of doctrinal convergence show that the presence or absence of these subsets of factors when applying the principles of counterinsurgency doctrine was related to the ultimate outcome.

The convergence or divergence of  doctrinal principles and overarching trends can be stated succinctly as:

When synchronized in support of Campaign Plans and Security Cooperation Plans, the combined effect of successful implementation of  engagement activities is greater than what can be achieved in isolation.

Adaption and learning has taken place as evidenced in contemporary and historical reviews but has the right learning and right adaptation taken place?

The convergence and divergence of trends looks at “engements” but, more importantly, infer the “shaping” that takes place at multiple levels. Tactical shaping is as important as strategic and policy shaping. These trends are a composite synthesis of success and failure.

There are a couple of admonishments that describe this paradox: first, no good deed goes unpunished, and secondly; to paraphrase General Rupert Smith, there is no such thing as impartial humanitarism.  In the end, the shaping is continous and is advertent or inadvertent. Coercive actions and selected precision targeting can work with positive effect just as advising, developmental, and reconstruction actions can have a negative effect.

Language and culture is the strategic corporal of counterinsurgency and full spectrum operations. A recent article in Parameters calls for educating officers on the history of islam. This education has been largey parsed and conducted as a self-help project at the BCT level and below.

For a contemporary look at how this merges with convergence or divergence trends the method of how the Taliban take a village is instructive. They are politically savvy and yet also coercive and subvert a village through its social structure. Generally speaking, an Afghan village has three components to daily life; political/administrative, religious, and security. The Malik, or Village Elder because of his political and administrative role;  the Imam, or religious leader is another element, and the last element is the village men that provide security.  The Taliban build networks and exploit issues by shaping and influencing any one of the three and not just one. US Forces generally seek out just the Malik because he seems to be the most visible, but neglecting the others and opting  strictly for the Malik will result in “security issues”.  The misstep or success of a seemingly simple tactical action has operational repercussions with strategic consequences at stake.    It might also be an example of why closed loop, self help training at the BCT needs outside resources to better prepare for its FSO missions.

The evidence for language and culture is specifically stated in AAR’s and Center for Army Lessons Learned Publications (CALL), yet also anecdotally inferred by ambiguous comments.  A telling indicator of this is found in the anthology of collected vignettes in  documents such as: Counterinsurgency on the Ground in Afghanistan and the vignettes written by the Counterinsurgency Training Center instructors[ix]. The vignettes show the complex yet unstated linkage of imperatives . 

A presence or absence of trends does not guarantee success or failure.  However, a review of these common threads shows that these subsets of factors – success and failure, convergence  and divergence – were in cases operationally applied , not applied, misapplied, or neglected in “packs.”   

Another telling indicator, the “District Stability Framework (DSF), a USAID analytical tool, developed in conjunction with the Counterinsurgency Training Center-Kabul, is based on the same premise as current US Doctrine- a comprehensive situational awareness is required to identify true grieviences.[x]  The DSF uses a series of filters to ensure a holistic awareness. The DSF is a nuanced version of the same current US processes outlined in FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterisnurgency, but provides process clarity and design function not found in current manuals. Its disadvantage is it is considered a labor intensive method.

The running of the packs in both principle and in tasks begins to become clearer as culture and language aid design transitions and planning at the tactical and operational level. 

Resident within the “role of resident networks in society “requires  developing trust across and with multiple components, to achieve the moral, political, and physical isolation of the enemy by cutting or severing the old networks of social capital/ social trust and the forging of new. As the French so aptly describe it: “ it is to legislate in the void.”  The insurgent legislates this void in the “resident networks in society” by establishing new, sometimes even creating the new, while maintaining congruence with the old. He exploits the distribution of poverty by providing essential services and governance tied to  the existing social base, identity, and order. The primacy of politics and governance at the local level  is demonstrated by the simple fact that prime attention is paid to the human and social dynamics. For Western Forces, even of similar cultural affliations, language and culture is the key to these human and social dynamics.

Doctrinal convergences across both Eras included the following:

  • Politics has primacy (at least theoretically/also tied to national approach)
  • Insurgents want ideological/political change
  • Politics as pragmatism or mandate
  • Interagency approach
  • Economic aid programs
  • Coordinated civil-military response
  • Unity of command
  • Change forced by coercion, intimidation, terror, direct action, subversion, propaganda
  • Decapitation strategies (vs. isolation of popular support)
  • Search for effects
  • COIN is Army Centric  (theoretical base of expertise)
  • Material power asymmetries (technology, weapons, logistics, money, etc.)
  • Institutional resource requirements
  • Culturally determined identities
  • Intelligence driven (strengths and weaknesses of self and enemy)
  • Propaganda/Information Ops
  • Mechanisms to control the population
  • Protect local population
  • Why the imbalance in power is not a good predictor of COIN outcomes
  • Underlining the balance of the Threat and perceived enemy notions
  • Recognition of the asymmetry of wills
  • Doctrine developed centrally or “in loco” never fully institutionalized
  • Lasting doctrinal change tied to immediacy of perception of conventional threat vs. COIN
  • Presence as provocation

Doctrinal divergence across both eras include:

  • Type of political strategy (Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, (What is the purpose of the new State?)
  • Use of Special Forces seen as highly militarized approach
  • Use of Special Forces seen as highly integrated approach
  • Intelligence within the civilian branch
  • Intelligence within the military branch
  • Intelligence branch seen/viewed as a tool of oppression
  • Counter-gangs of “turned insurgents”
  • Resistance to militarized approach requires higher degree of flexibility and coordination
  • Lack of precision in targeting propaganda
  • Fundamental overhaul in policy, organization, doctrine and approach to deal with a “weak” enemy
  • Willpower and interest is highly transitory and tied to political/military success
  • Use of Draconian Control/Techniques
  • Modern doctrine specifies that security and stability operations have primacy

Doctrine and history speak to macro levels of strategy. Macro studies appear to generally assume that unitary actors, elites, and populations are fused and amalgamated. Counterinsurgency  doctrine seems to give one this same impression. When we infer or suggest what appear to be clear and coherent preferences we fail to match the vast complexity and ambiguity of what we encounter on the ground. Most of the time we are confused by this dissonance but can’t seem to put our finger on why. Additionally, military operations generally fall outside the scope of main stream social  scientists and researchers, that is until recently, and the complex social dynamics of language and culture that are inextribly linked are [still?] hardly considered.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly a comparison with history might be appropriate. In a very profound sense, World War II was a struggle of societies, as brutal and dark as anything in past history. Peoples and societies felt that belief systems, values and their very existence were at stake; there could be, no discussion, no compromise.  Media and governmental messages effectively wove the cultural, the values, the beliefs, the real and percieved existential threat to existing grievances.  There was a use and abuse of history, culture and context  woven into the political, economic, and other elements.  This takes more than deftness,  and requires a comprehensive knowledge of language and culture.  

Although todays conflicts are not conducted to that extreme (some will debate this), the sentiment, fear and perceptions are just as real, just as heightened, and some groups feel that existing conditions are an existential threat to their society.

Observations of Systemic Challenges for Language and Culture Operationalization

Observations culled from a number of sources reflect what appear to be systemic language and culture challenges. However, in comparison with the trends above, these challenges might also reflect multidisciplinary training issues, operational design issues, intelligence missteps, and a host of other reasons.[xi]

Some of these reasons include the lack of consistent, relevant and continuous language and culture training woven into the individual and collective training  beginning at unit “reset.”   Units consistently identify the best language and culture scenarios as those at the Combat Training Centers.  BCT’s and Bn’s don’t have the resources and compete for those same resources to conduct training. Naturally, training is conducted in-house using available in-house resources.  This is not always sufficient to broaden the depth and breadth of needed mastery at the tactical and operational level. 

The following observations indicated the need for:[xii]

  • At least one Language Enabled Soldier, subject matter experts on: Tactical Site Exploitation, Escalation of Force, Culvert Clearance, Weapons Experts, Detainee and Riot Control
  • Language enabled capacity to let contracts and services
  • Language and culture capability to enable Recons, Partnership and Mentorship, Fire Fighting Training and Extrication, Joint Multinational Convoys
  • More cultural, language and mentorship training at different levels of NCOES and Officer Courses, supplement with MTTs prior to deployment
  • Utilization, guidelines and training in the use of Female Engagement Teams (FETs)

Comparative observations from Umbrella Week Collections, AAR’s, AF/PAK Hands, and other reports express similar views as follows:[xiii]

  • Language and cultural training received is not enough, and or considered not reflective of the operating environment or assignment.
  • Many respondents in positions as advisors and mentors report not being utilized.
  • Respondents indicate they “seldom” or “almost never” use the language.
  • Key language and culture modules not studied are also reflective of respondent comments and concerns over relevance and usefulness of training.[xiv]
  • Umbrella week respondents (through anecdotal evidence) indicated that they also infrequently use the language, or use it only for low level conversations. Yet BCT AAR’s indicated a need for greater language and culture capability beyond what was received.
  • Impediments to studying language and culture are similar for all units: No time to train in Theater, no bandwidth in Theater.
  • The appearance of contradictions in training effectiveness and use of these skills/skill sets raises questions about the BCT and Af/Pak hands ability to utilize and maximize these crucial mission enablers. It also raises questions regarding at what level manning and tracking of these assets should occur (outside of and in addition to the educational institution.)
  • AAR’s and Observation reports from  the field indicate that they need and want more training in tribal organization, tribal ethics, corruption, civil-service, rural development and religion yet these modules are not studied by Af/Pak hands or the GPF 10.
  • The appearance of contradictions in the survey results appears to reflect both a unit training issue and a “how to” operationalize issue by the respondents.
  • The appearance of contradictions may reflect a lack of knowledge of doctrine, operating environment, and required roles.
  • Required and implied tasks may not be understood, or may conflict with perceptions of tasks related to job title.

In conclusion, a look at stated success in current operations reflects that successful operations were multidisciplinary, multi-approach, and followed multiple simultaneous Lines of Operation. An analysis of British operations, 2006-2009, in Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, reflects an either-or-approach, and a failure to understand the “role of resident networks” of its Operating Environment. The Combat Studies Institute, Wanat, Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008, shows how operations quickly devolved to “enemy-centric.”

The Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) runs a training program that promotes enhancing the adaptability at the individual and team level. This program is known as the Asymmetric Warfare Adaptive Leader Program (AWALP). Though this was not the purpose of the AWALP, AWG mentors have observed the participants’ performance and formed some conclusions about the levels of skill demonstrated. Some of the skill deficits observed in leaders attending the AWALP, are skills that most Army leaders consider to be fundamental. These skills are often trained in both the institutional and operational domains. Several skill deficits were listed, most notably is:

Leaders are not well attuned to seeking opportunities when conducting operations in and amongst civilian populations. Awareness of cultural issues is only one aspect. Leaders lack the deeper understanding of discerning what is important, significant or relevant when interacting with civilian populations. Many of these skills would also benefit when partnering with host nation forces or conducting advisor and training mission.[xv]

BCT’s largely self assess and self train during much of the predeployment training. They have a depth of knowledge and experience that is warfighter oriented. This knowledge and experience is collectively tested at the National Training Centers yet, current conflicts are driven by cultural, political, and religious dynamics than by raw military effectiveness.

Small Wars Models and Full Spectrum Operations

Counterinsurgeny doctrine and observations is a synthesis of observations and insights culled from insurrections, rebellions, and insurgencies. In current doctrine and operations there is an implication of total underlying logic.  Journalists with conflict experience have remarked that the analogies with Afghanistan are remarkable; scholars  remark to the incredible cross-cultural similiarties in the violence, and Che Guevara pointed to  the wide  differences in practice yet added that “the general methods were the same.”

One way to think about Small Wars is in terms of frequency and amplitude.[xvi] In this metaphor, frequency is the rate at which events occur within a conflict, not the number of conflicts themselves. Amplitude is the degree of power employed by a system. Conventional wars are high frequency conflicts. They are also high amplitude because of the large amount of combat power and destructiveness that is employed. However, amplitude is not entirely related to the amount of destruction caused. It could come from the psychological impact generated by a well-publicized attack from an expected source that produces an inordinate reaction or serious consequences.[xvii]

Small Wars are a form of low frequency warfare because significant events are separated by long periods of time. Their protracted nature is seductive, until the calm is punctured by a sudden strike. The amplitude of Small Wars may be distinct and much higher. The intersection of both great emotional drives and advanced technology produces a rising number of disruptive attacks.[xviii] An example of amplitude is the Mumbai Attacks of 2008 and 2010.

The current doctrine, approaches and strategy have been highly criticized. However, a “good strategy presumes good anthropology and good sociology.”[xix] While learning must also encompass strategic and political lessons, history and past experience do not teach, they enlighten. The art of learning comes from understanding linkages and conditions under which the events took place.

Doctrine and history seem to scream that although the problems that arise are remarkably diverse and complex they are seldom ever new; what is new is how it is applied, nuanced, understood at the local level in the context of the local politics, language and culture.

This is the part of “securing the population” and understanding the resident role of social networks in society that is not replicable, scalable or repeatbale.

The trends of counterinsurgency, compared with the observations on language and culture training, appear to reflect that breadth, depth, and multidiscipline approaches better serve operational need. Evidentiary support for this comes from RAND, in which they indicated that successful COIN practices tend to run in packs.[xx] Additionally, Much of what entails success in these “packs,” is contingent on integration of many elements with language and culture at multiple levels simultaneously.

  • Navigate the internecine Politics
  • Identify potential supporters
  • Identify spoilers and detractors
  • Maintain neutrality from power brokers
  • Fight the enemy
  • Protect the population
  • Make friends
  • Keep the friends you have
  • Integrate your actions with others outside your chain of command and span of control

In a recent ARR, an example of the cognitive elements that give depth, and breadth, to create the space needed for COIN principles to run in packs, described the perfect Female Engagement Team (FET) as a medic and an analyst that could ask the locals open-ended questions.

Recent developments such as, the Afghanistan Experience Program, and the Army Reserves Theater Security Cooperation Program involve many organizations and serve to cross-level knowledge and experience. “Blending” military skills and civilian skills will enhance success but, is this sufficient or, will this supplant specialized instruction?

Engineer, Medical, and Civil Affairs Units will be the “force of first choice” and will require warfighter support. This force of first choice will require language skills, cultural capability, and regional expertise within that warfighter support.

The apparent contradictions in trends serve to convey the complexity of Full Spectrum Operations, the need to develop a depth of mastery and a requirement for multidisciplinary familiarity and multidisciplinary training in languages and cultures to identify issues, decide effects needed in correct sequencing, lead and direct the elements of the war within the war, and understand the complexity of resident networks.[xxi]

Drawing on history, there is significant myth and legend regarding the ability of US Officers during WW II. The fact is that Patton, Marshall, Shirley Wood, and other like-minded officers, were fortunate enough to prepare for a war that basically conformed to assumptions and conditions. It is said that Wood showed his disdain for the military training at Ft Leavenworth by reading a newspaper during academic lectures.

Over the last ten years have appeared to follow in this same tradition of self study? Where and at what level have we institutionalized the lessons learned? Does current language and culture training provide the basis for these needs? The answer appears to be yes for the basic survival language training. Where, then, and how, does this training progress to meet the advanced operational need?


Historical and Contemporary Sources used in this paper include:

Blaufarb, Douglas S., The Counterinsurgency Era: US Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present. Free Press (New York), 1977.

Cann, John P., Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese way of war, 1961-1974. Greenwood Press, 1997.

Fall, Bernard, B., The Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency, Naval War College review, 1998 (from a lecture in 1964).

Gompert, David C., John Gordon, “War by Other Means--Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency,”  RAND Counterinsurgency Study,Final Report.

Hawkins, Jon,  Lieutenant Colonel, Australian Army, “Assessing Afghanistan against Aden and Oman,”Australian Army Journal, Volume VII, Number 1, 2010; found at:

Long, Austin “Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence--The U.S. Military and Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 1960-1970 and 2003-2006”, RAND Counterinsurgency Study . Paper 6.

Long, A.,  On ''Other War,', Lessons from Five Decades of RAND Counterinsurgency Research.

Mackinlay, John and Alison Al-Baddawy,”Rethinking Counterinsurgency”, RAND Counterinsurgency Study , Vol. 5

Mockaitis, Thomas R., British Counterinsurgency in the Post-Imperial Era, Manchester University Press, 1995.

Paul, Christopher, Colin P. Clarke, and Beth Grill, Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Detailed Counterinsurgency Case Studies, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, MG-964/1-OSD, 2010.

Paul, Christopher Counterinsurgency Scorecard, Afghanistan in Early 2011 Relative to the Insurgencies of the Past 30 Years.

[i] Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan, MG Michael Flynn, CPT Matt Pottinger, USMC, Paul D. Batchelor, DIA: page 4.

[ii] PRISM 2, no 3, page 7.

[iii] Authors added to note to  PRISM 2, no 3, page 9

[iv] Culture Knowledge and Survival Language Skill Pre-Deployment Training, Phase II Final Report, prepared for DLO, by Cognitive Performance Group, LLC, 15 March 2011. page iii. Accessed  Sept  4 at the following web site

[v] PRISM 2, no 3, page 7.

[vi] FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency, Dec 2006 paragraph 1-25 lists six insurgent approaches; the six dynamics are in paragraph 1-69

[vii] David, Kilcullen, 28 Articles

[viii] COMISAF Counterinsurgency Guidance, 1 August 2010.

[ix] Counterinsurgency on  the Ground in Afghanistan, How different units adapted to local conditions, July 2010, CNA; the Instructor Vignettes were developed with Col Kolenda and Col John Agolia, COIN Training Center Commander, based on instructor experience in Theater. Each Vignette specifically looks at one or more means  and causes of mobilization in insurgency and how it applies to the aspects of insurgency. For example: reaction of abuses is multiple linked to the 6 dynamics and the aspect of isolation to support and protecting the population.  They are also linked, instructionally  to the contemporary imperatives and Dr Kilcullens, 28 Articles.  

[x] The author was part of the CTC-A instructor team that worked with USAID and helped  develop the CTC-A proof of concept that presented the District Stability Framework to Coalition, GO, NGO and ANSF at the Center and Down Range.  

[xi] The  author used extensive sources taken from the CALL, JCISFA, and CALL Sharepoint Database. Not all are listed for security reasons and only the opensource documents used are listed below. If you want a complete list, contact the author and he will provide it if you have a valid secret clearance and can verify it through the chain of command. following were primary sources used to conduct this comparative analysis:

Wanat, CSI Study, 2010;

Counterinsurgency on the Ground in Afghanistan, CNA, 2010;

Korengal Valley Observations, SWJ,2010;

Defense Science Board, Understanding Human Dynamics, 2009;

Recent Trends in Thinking about Warfare, CNA, 2006;

Training for Full Spectrum Operations, RAND, 2009;

CAOCL Operational Culture, 2008;

Counterinsurgency as a Cultural System, David B. Edwards, Small Wars Journal, 2010;

Clausewitz, Carl, On War, 1976, Ed, Michael Howard and Peter Paret

Stathis N. Kalyvas, 2006, The Logic of Violence in Civil War,

David Kilkullen, Counterinsurgency Redux

[xii] These observations were taken from the 402D BSB, 5/2 ID (SBCT) L2, AAR, OEF 7 dated Dec 2010.

[xiii] The  author used extensive sources taken from the CALL, JCISFA, and CALL Sharepoint Database. Not all are listed for security reasons and only the opensource documents used are listed below. If you want a complete list, contact the author and he will provide it if you have a valid secret clearance and can verify it through the chain of command. following were primary sources used to conduct this comparative analysis::

Wanat, CSI Study, 2010;

Counterinsurgency on the Ground in Afghanistan, CNA, 2010;

Korengal Valley Observations, SWJ,2010;

Defense Science Board, Understanding Human Dynamics, 2009;

Recent Trends in Thinking about Warfare, CNA, 2006;

Training for Full Spectrum Operations, RAND, 2009;

CAOCL Operational Culture, 2008;

Counterinsurgency as a Cultural System, David B. Edwards, Small Wars Journal, 2010;

Getting it Right Quickly, Maj Fred W. Johnson, Military Review, March-April 2000.

[xiv] AAR’s and Observation reports from  the field indicate that they need and want more training in tribal organization, tribal ethics, corruption, civil-service, rural development and religion yet these modules are not studied by the Af/Pak Hands or the GPF.

[xv] Asymmetrical Warfare Group, Leaders as Trainers, A description of currently observed training challenges as seen by AWG AWALP cadre

[xvi] Robert R. Leonhard, Fighting By Minutes: Time and the Art of War, New York: Greenwood, 1994.

[xvii] USMC, Small Wars/21st Century, p3.

[xviii] Ibid

[xix] Bernard Brodie, War and Politics, New York: MacMillan, 1973, p. 332.  Brodie goes on to add, “Some of the greatest military blunders of all time have resulted from juvenile evaluations in this department.”

[xx] Christopher Paul, Colin P. Clarke, and Beth Grill, Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Detailed Counterinsurgency Case Studies, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, MG-964/1-OSD, 2010. See also, Evidentiary validation of FM 3-24, Published in: Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ), Issue 60, 1st Qtr 2011, Jan. 2011, p. 126-128; Discusses the demonstrated efficacy of the COIN principles embodied in FM 3-24, historical evidence and data collected from 30 case studies for recent resolved insurgencies. The vast majority of governments and COIN forces that adhered to multiple tenets of the field manual prevailed over the insurgencies they opposed.

[xxi] COIN and the War Within the War, Douglas S Blaufarb, The counterinsurgency era: US doctrine and performance, 1950 to the present, lists the following:

  1. Legitimacy
  2. Shooting war
  3. isolation of internal support
  4. Isolation of External Support
  5. Popular Support
  6. National Will to Stay the Course
  7. Intelligence and Information war
  8. Unity of Effort
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@ Will P,
Will, your comments are so spot on!! the glaring deficiencies are that, as you say, both breed the cultural gaps and distance. The academics view soldiers with as much disdain as soldiers view academics and NGO's.

Thinking out loud, these capability issues we discuss will be a long time coming. Yes, it will take time to train and develop and integrate and link all this with expereince, doctrine and skill.

One method that I gave some very superficial thought to was the use of SOF in a reversal of FID, in that SOF could potentailly act as a temp consultant, or train the trainer role to the BCT and Bn's. I know, all you SOF Guys, dont lynch Me.
Maybe a commander and staff go tdy to the SOF for specific train the trainer courses ? Maybe we get DoS or USAID to send people to the BCT during the predeployment training. Another option? Screen select retiree's from the service to provide that training in a semi/mini academic consultant role?

Other resources? what about using elements from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency?
Half the time we dont need a TDY , units could use VTC, Skype, DCO or some other technology to aid the train up from a remote area.

Your Comments are spot on and the Military might consider taking the lead to change the culture and mind-set. This kind of work will be ongoing for at least another 10 years.

I am currently in discussions with the Monterey Institute of Strategic Studies to do brown bag lunches and or short, for credit, seminars on how to bridge this gap.


I won't shoot you Terry. But to beat a dead horse we do not have enough SOF to do the missions assigned and do you advocate. However, there are an awful lot of very experienced SF retirees who could be mobilized through the right kind of contract vehicle to provide this type of "reverse FID" and advise and assist regular forces in FID or SFA. If I were a businessman I would be hiring retired SF guys and pitching this service to the Army and Marines. :-) I think MARSOC probably employs the largest number of SF retirees designing their qualification course and other training for them. SF retirees could do this effectively for regular units as well.

Speaking as someone with no direct military experience, US or otherwise, this article covered alot of ground. Language and culture have become nearly synonimous with COIN. However, that language and culture is nearly always framed as a meeting between East and West. The ideal situation is portrayed as being one in which a soldier with long term experience and extremly well developed language skills uses diplomacy with personality and energy to achieve objectives which may not therefore require a higher intensity kinetic operation etc. Creating such soldiers is a very good idea. It is also very expensive and time consuming, assesets which even the US does not have indefinite access to. The British scholar Frank Ledwigde in Losing Small Wars has identified a more critical cultural failing, that of a discord between soldier and civilian (His work focuses mainly on the British Army, but it is probobaly applicable to many different forces). In summary, soldiers don't understand civilians. There are many reasons to explain this. Firstly, those who wish to be soldiers are a very small minority of the population and are thus unique. Secondly, many potential soldiers wish to distance themselves from the civilian. Thirdly, training and education encourage these tendencies. An emotive term would be to describe this as arrogance. While steps have been made in years past to remedie this by getting soldiers out into academic and civilian government departments, this still fails to produce the civilian aware soldiers. This is arguably becuase academia and civilian government are themselves small, unique and eltist places which most civilians have no access to. Fundamentally, those working in the Forces, Academia and Civ Gov all seek challenges, risk etc, and may view real civilian life as boring and static. The real challenge future forces face is to produce civilian aware soldiers who can firstly talk to civilains (harder than expected), secondly appreciate thier problems as genuine (even harder). The good news however, is this sought of education is cheaper than producing a top tier FOA as it can be conducted anywhere on the world especially at home, and perhaps the best way to do it is to give soldiers more leave and encourage them to get civilian jobs while on leave, so as to broaden their outlook on civilian life. Soldiers need to learn to revell in the mundane.

Apologies for the long winded nature of this post, the poor spelling and bad grammar.

I would like to hope, which of course is not a plan, that we develop the capabilities. All the current strategies indicate the requirement for this advanced capability beyond just FAO's. It is articulated in the Army Learning Concept, just to name one such recent document.
But unfortunately, the training in the military is overly compartmentalized and neglects integration with academic institutions. The exception to this CGCS and the War College. But, the paradox is that the BCT, Bn and below need access to real time intellectual rigour and civ-mil integration now, not later when they mark some score card for promotion and development.
Training is a huge "self-Help" project at the BCT. Commanders have some smart and capable guys with multiple tours but the knowledge is narrow not deep and wide. the knowledge bandwidth could be improved a little if the BCTs and BN could get access to intellectuals outside the DoD.

In some respects I don't see much change in the training; The story goes, maybe its myth, that Gen Shirley Wood of WW II, 4ID fame, showed his disdain for the instructors at Ft Leavenworth by reading a paper during the course lectures. He felt that the school house was out date and not providing relevant information.

In some degree we network our knowledge at places like this, or twitter and other social sites but is this enough? Sometimes the social sites are an echo chamber and the knowledge bandwidth is not developed, sometimes even regresses.

I really hope we figure this out quickly.

Terry Tucker

Some interesting analysis and arguments on language and culture in the US military. And I will beat my horse more dead and remind us that it took us 8 years to develop the concept of AFPAK Hands, recognizing the need for understanding and developing at least some familiarity the language and culture of the region (because it will take years to gain some level of expertise). Where are the China hands? The Africa hands? The Korea hands?, etc. Other than FAOs is anyone really developing an AFPAK Hands like capability in anticipation of future conflicts? But I am sure that in today's fiscally constrained defense and national security budget environment there will be little stomach for investing in people.

You only get "hands" when an emergency calls for it - our military is incapable of seizing on good ideas until all other options are exhausted or emergent conditions dictate the bypassing of those other ideas.

Best that's happened to me in my career thus far is to have a boss in theater that was SF - learned things that just never come up with the conventional side. Pains me now to see the hard-headed nonsense on the conventional side that I do, time and again.


your user id is telling, :-)) I spent 51 months in theater and definately sympathize with you and your feelings. Please persevere, you are the next generation and can impact the military where its needed most, at the BCT and Bn level, where all the heavy lifting is done. Influence the Lt's, Cpt's, Majors, and Junior enlisted now.