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War is about Killing and Destruction

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War is about Killing and Destruction, It is Not Armed Social Science

A Short Response to Andrew Mackay and Steve Tatham

by Colonel Gian P. Gentile

Download the full article: War is about Killing and Destruction

I feel sorry for the British Army for they seem to have been taken in by the American Army's consumption with Counterinsurgency and its theoretical premise that military force can "change entire societies" for the better. Of course this quote is attributed to one of America's leading Counterinsurgency experts retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl.

The irony is that the American Coin experts in their own campaign to transform the American Army to a Counterinsurgency force from 2005 to 2007 used the British Army as an example of the proper way to do "classic" Coin: e.g., Malaya, and Sir Robert Thompson's recommendations for the United States in Vietnam. Yet as the Iraq Triumph Narrative is now written, the British Army lost their way and failed in Iraq where the Americans succeeded. Now, just as with the American Army, the British Army based on this essay by Mackay and Tatham have succumbed to the flawed theories and notions promoted by General Rupert Smith in his hugely influential but deeply flawed book The Utility of Force.

Download the full article: War is about Killing and Destruction

Gian Gentile is a serving American Army Colonel and teaches military history at West Point. He commanded a Cavalry Squadron in West Baghdad in 2006.

About the Author(s)


Tenay Guvendiren (not verified)

Thu, 12/16/2010 - 1:39am

To the author,

You asked if I have proof that population centric tactics works. Yes, I do - not through other peoples' articles, books, or experiences - I personally participated in both kill-centric vs people-centric operations over two deployments and witnessed that the former only increases instability while the latter results in permanent security. Sometimes, capturing, killing, destroying the enemy is a necessary action to get a foothold, but too many tacticians stop there. A foothold is just that, an opportunity to either move forward into permanent security (which requires governance, infrastructure, and economy to maintain and improve it) or backward into killing, again.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 12/16/2010 - 4:07am

Tenay, I'm not questioning your experience or observations, but I do question your conclusion about achieving permanent security? Does permanent mean during your 12 plus month rotation, or does permanent mean permanent? Obvisously the latter can't be true, because we don't know yet. You wrote it yourself, there are times when killing is necessary, and there are other times when it creates more instability. My experiences tended towards the latter, when we killed the disruptive influences in our area a much greater degree of stability was established. It varies conflict to conflict and region to region within the same conflict. There are no blanket answers or rules.

Bill Moore (not verified)

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 6:27am

Bauduin, both the conflict in Sri Lanka and Kashmir were/are separtist campaigns, they are not focused on overthrowing the government, so I disagree with your comment that either one of these are classical insurgencies.

COL Gentile makes an argument that our current doctrine is largely based on the people's wars of the past (largely communist insurgencies or anti-colonial insurgencies which were frequently led by communists), thus our doctrine doesn't address the reality of Afghanistan or Iraq. I agree, but caution all not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In India their most serious threat is a large and rapidly expanding Maoist insurgency. In Nepal the Maoists won (though victory has led once again to instability, and there is potential that conflict will re-emerge), in the Philippines their greatest threat is their communist insurgency, in S. America we're seeing the rise of communist insurgencies again (this time funded with by the narcotics trade), with the Shining Path in Peru being but one example. In all these cases are current doctrine has some merit.

Clausewitz was right about a couple of things, especially the requirement to understand the nature of the war (or conflict) you're about to engage in. Each one is different, so understanding it and applying your doctrine (if you must have it) in a nuanced manner that is appropriate is what is important. If doctrine undermines our ability to think effectively by encouraging a book endorsed response, then the doctrine does more harm than good and that applies for both conventional and so called irregular warfare.

Getting back to COL Gentile's argument on what the Army should train on I agree on many of his points. There are other elements in our government (USAID), contractors, etc. that can provide humanitarian assistance in most areas of the world. Just how far do we want to go in redesigning our combat formations to do this type of work? The military is the only U.S. organization that can prevail in any combat of significance (not the CIA, FBI, or contractors), prevailing in combat is our core reason for existing. We can and should do other things, but that doesn't mean we should redesign the force significantly to deal with irregular threats. This is largely the role of SOF, CIA, DOJ, and DOS with "some" GPF support. Use the right elements and resource them appropriately. God help us if we called out to fight another major war and we find that much of our combat power has been converted into soft skills to support so called irregular warfare.

WWI was the last major war, then WWII, and then we had Task Force SMITH. How many times do we have to relearn this lesson?

If you want to see a classical COIN campaign, Sri Lanka and Kashmir are good examples. There you have a state attempting to regain control over a recalcitrant population, opposed by insurgents with transborder support and infiltrators. The campaings have a political level - attempting to meet the grievances of population so that it stops supporting insurgents, and a military level - destroying insurgents militarily.

Indian example suggests that lots of cheap light infantry is useful- if you can get it. Except for that, the military requirements do not seem that different from a regular campaign. Obviously, the work of intelligence is very much different, and the support of police or experience in police work would be helpful. But this by no means requires a radical restructuring of the army.

In both cases what is entirely absent are Advise and Assist BCTs, etc. In Sri Lanka the main "civil affairs" run by military are internment camps.

It is so because the majority of those "civil affair" duties have nothing to do with counterinsurgency per se, but are intended to either support or replace the ineffective local state. In other words, West tries to run what is essentially a half-hearted colony or at least protectorate without acknowledging it. For that reason those NON-MILITARY tasks are performed by the army. Since the military is not given the necessary authority and has to pretend that eg Afghanistan is essentially a functioning modern state, they are performed ineffectively, sometimes ridiculously so.…

"Just before Friday's terrible news that, with eight more deaths in a day, the Army's death toll in Afghanistan has risen above that
in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence explained why Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and Trooper Joshua Hammond, killed the previous week by a roadside bomb in an unprotected Viking personnel carrier, were not travelling in a mine-protected Mastiff. A 23-ton Mastiff, said the MoD, would have been too heavy for the weakened bridges over which they had to pass. Strengthening the bridges might have been a useful way to spend some of our £510 million aid programme to Afghanistan. But the Department for International Development (DfID), as part of its drive to promote ''gender equality'' for Afghan women, preferred to pay for a nearby ''park for women'', complete with a Ferris wheel.

DfID is also very generous in providing Afghan farmers with 25 kilogram bags of fertiliser, which have become the Taliban's preferred source of explosive for roadside bombs of the type which blew up the Viking."

So, the problem is not COIN as such, but an attempt to transfrom the army into a colonial administration. Those "administrative" components have nothing to do with war, and will be obviously useless in a combat.

If the army tries to run a day care in order to support COIN, the day care-BTC will be useless against Russian, or perhaps now Chinese, tanks. But that is because day care is not a military task.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 12/28/2009 - 4:52pm


Disagree with Van Crevald. I can give you lots of examples of conventional armies that adapted well in Coin as well as lots of examples that show armies optimized for irregular war had a very difficult and bloody time adjusting to higher end fighting.

We know in the future we may do coin, stability, hic, whatever. So in my view we should build an army around the principles of firepower, protection, and security and optimized for combined arms warfare. I am not calling for regression to 1984 and more M1 tanks, hardly. Indeed the American Army needs to be transformed but not toward a Krepinevich-style bifurcated force or further, one that has been gutted of its armor so as to produce a light infantry based force with coin enablers.

We can't have it all. We have to make choices. As I have said in a previous post if I am an infantry battalion commander and am told in 12 months I will be passing out humanitarian supplies in Darfur I would much prefer to go in with one trained at combined arms at all levels but with the additional educational component to prepare for the specific areas of operations. Too, I hope my infantry battalion still has four rifle companies instead of two after the other two had been replaced with MPs, civil affairs, engineers, psyops, etc. A stark difference but the path that we may be traveling down with this fetish of coin and irregular warfare might very well lead to this kind of restructuring.


Bryan (not verified)

Mon, 12/28/2009 - 3:04pm


I believe this article and on-going discussion illustrates another point posited by McCormick - mainly, FM 3.0's Spectrum on Conflict is a poor model to frame organizational design around. The Spectrum stipulates that general war and insurgency are part of the same dimension - that the only difference is the level of violence per unit of time. Utilizing the Spectrum allows our Army to say the same force able to operate in a general war scenario can also operate in a counter-insurgency effectively. Martin Van Creveld's "Transformation of War" debunked this myth almost twenty years ago. His analysis of failed conventional military applications to COIN illustrates that you need two separate forces: one to fight what CvC would recognize as war, and one to fight people's wars. MvC says " that organized violence should only be called "war" if it were waged by the state, for the state, and against the state was a postulate that Clausewitz took almost for granted; as did his contemporaries." CvC spent sparse time discussing People's Wars. Our military, for the most part, is trinitarian in nature. Why would a force trained, manned and equipped for one way of warfare even be put in a situation that called for a totally different type of force.

We have effectively used a model that starts with a standing organizational design (the BCT), defined the problem (an insurgency), and posited a solution (clear, hold, build).

What we should have done is defined the problem, posited a solution, and built the proper organizational design to most effectively execute that solution. I would argue that large scale US troops presence, rather than indigenous forces, in Iraq and Afghanistan added complexity and risk to our efforts. The BCT-A and our rediscovery of COIN (outside of the SWCS at Bragg which never forgot it) are solutions to problems of our own making. Even now, we are trying to build Afghan security forces in our own image to conduct COIN in the American way- again, not really thinking through how to exert control at the local level.

Our Army has adapted (through lives and treasure lost while on the learning curve) to the ill-thought out application of general purpose forces as the primary instruments of COIN onto the Iraqi and Afghan battlefields. We need to rethink the Spectrum of Conflict, and support force structure that reflects the reality that there is trinitarian warfare, and then there are people's wars below and above the state.

Don't want to put words in his mouth, but believe a major concern COL Gentile is alluding to involves possible tough choices on future force structure. Do we want an Army tailored to COIN or to combat?

Some of that troubling dilemma is evident in Andrew Krepinevich's studies and briefings to Congress. He has advocated turning some 30 IBCTs and HBCTs into Security Cooperation BCTs, leaving 30 fewer Active and Guard combat BCTs which would wreak havoc with ARFORGEN.

Now, eight Advise and Assist BCTs are being formed which may reinforce that concern because ultimately they will be a major portion of Iraq coalition forces. The first unit is getting good reviews for assisting COIN while retaining the combat capabilities of 4th BCT, 1st Armored Div M2A3 Bradleys and tanks. This link discusses that success. Other stories speak about augmented COIN capabilities rather than stripping BCTs of combat capability.…

So in theory, a mix of lethal and non-lethal capabilities remains in Advise and Assist BCTs. Spoken or not, believe those unit will stick around in Iraq or Kuwait for deterrence in the event things get interesting with Iran.

Perhaps a better echelon for funneling in Advise and Assist capabilities is a 3rd "maneuver" battalion added to maneuver BCTs whether Heavy or Infantry. These could be MRAP and M-ATV based so that task organization with combat battalions would permit greater use of wheeled instead of tracked armor for COIN and limited initial air deployment. Combat equipment for COIN primarily would be employed for "clear" and subsequent "hold" COP/OP stationary area security. Its not what maneuver guys want to hear but MRAP/M-ATV/JLTV are far less threatening, gas-guzzling, and road-destroying than moving big boys around to get to where you want to dismount and interact.

Advise and Assist Battalion HHCs could be COIN-leader field-grade intensive to do most of the heavy lifting with local elders/authorities. Sean DeCoursey points out the disconnect and varied results of having young Soldiers negotiating with old local leaders. In all testimonials of Iraq shieks in the recent SMJ pieces about Marine history in Anbar, all shieks mentioned senior leaders they had dealt with...not one under the grade of major.

More senior field-grade Advise and Assist officers would have time and educational opportunities to develop contracting and negotiating expertise. Having relatively few enlisted troops in Advise and Assist Battalions to primarily drive and maintain the MRAP/M-ATV and its turret weapon would reduce the number of combat BCTs sacrificed to the altar of COIN to pay the force structure bill.

Returning to Afghanistan, the current COIN/counter-terror strategy is more likely to sway administration resolve to stay the course. Green technology and rapid local community-building (versus nation-building) are more likely to appeal to most members of Congress as opposed to purely kinetic operations that might hasten plans for early departure and ended war funding.

But because of a more rural Afghan environment and more local maliks as opposed to fewer Iraq shieks, the Advise and Assist battalion capability could assist PRCs and combat leaders, to allow the latter to concentrate on patrolling, securing the population, gathering HUMINT, and interacting with the locals to a greater extent than the leaders.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 12/27/2009 - 9:39am


Understand your point. However, there is nothing necessarily "new" about the idea of the so-called strategic corporal. Although the term has become loaded with notions of a new Coin era of warfare, etc. Yet Pershing during his expedition into Mexico in 1916-1917 faced similar challenges with the tactical actions of junior leaders as he and President Wilson were trying to walk a very careful line with the government of Mexico. In wars that are limited that are very sensitive to immediate political action and response, the tactical actions of small units and leaders can have immediate and dramatic effect. Again, there is nothing new about this dynamic.

Yet the Coin crowd has elevated the dynamic of small unit tactical action in Coin which sometimes has dramatic political effect and by the nature of tactical action in Coin is often infused with direct local political effect into a world-view of sorts that Coin warfare is somehow more attuned to the political nature of war. Yet as Clausewitz teaches war is fundamentally a political act and at least in theory there is nothing more political for a LT talking to a sheik in Baghdad to a rifle platoon leader getting ready to assault the Colleville draw on 6 June 1944.

Also Sean, your above post seems to assume that present and future conflict will be of the Afghanistan/Iraq, small and irregular war model. To be sure the future involves more wars of these types, but it also may involve more. The IDF's experience in South Lebanon is instructive here. As Israeli Army officers have themselves noted in the 6 years prior their leadership and formations had become tightly focused on irregular war in the territories where small unit leaders became the defining point of tactical action. But when these small unit leaders had to apply combined arms against a sophisticated Hizbollah enemy in 2006 they ran into serious problems.

So yes, agree, that we should be educating our small unit leaders to be able to interact, discuss, communicate, and ultimately influence locals in a Coin operation. But first and before those skills acquired by education our combat formations must know how to fight using combined arms. That should be the bedrock of our existence. If we consume ourselves too much with these fancy Rupert Smith-like notions of future conflict being only "fought amongst the people" with the utility of force being mainly of influencing behaviors of locals we risk taking our eyes off of what the basics of our armies should be.


Sean DeCoursey

Sat, 12/26/2009 - 9:25pm

COL Gentile, Zenpundit,

I was unclear when I mentioned war becoming more complex. I was referring to the ever increasing complexity of individual soldier tasks, responsibilities and decision making at the 10 and 20 levels, not the complexity of theater, logistical, or political operations. Re-reading my comments it's obvious I was not clear on that point. My apologies.

This also brings up a potential weakness I have noticed in discussions on these boards. No matter what is decided at the high levels, policy execution ultimately comes down to what a couple of 18 year olds led by a 22 year old decide to do when they're out on their own in a remote village.

The debates that occur among the general staff also occur among junior enlisted personnel, and the consequences of those discussions are felt by the local populaces with a much greater immediacy. Yet I rarely read on this board about plans to get the squad and team leaders on board, and to give those first line leaders time to bring their men around. Population focused ops are about attitude as much as actions, and changing attitudes requires time, directed debate, and experience.

I'm sure I'm not the only one here who's witnessed two units interact with locals and earn wildly different reputations, even though both units followed the regs and ROE to the letter. If the war is fought valley by valley and village by village, then the attitudes and demeanors of your sergeants and lieutenants are in many ways more important than those of your colonels and generals.

Each society, state and government is organized according to its own basic principles. There are many typical sets of those principles, we can call those "civilisations". Our own civilisation has also a set of such principles. Democracy is not a fundamental principle of our civilisation, there was a lot of undemocratic Western states, and there were democratic states in the Greece before the West.

Western democratic states require to function a common understanding of law, relationship between religion and state, role of science, mass-media and elites. A government is not simply a matter of winning elections. To understand this better, Americans can imagine that a Ku-klux-klan member has serious chance to win presidential elections. The whole educational system, universities, mass-media, Hollywood actors, etc would be mobilized to defeat him.

Each system of authority relies on a complex system of persuasion and education to cause the subjects/citizen to obey its rules. Elections are not enough.

In the West, the key element are educational system and mass-media, which serve to indoctrinate citizens in the proper way of thinking.

Unfortunately, in the Middle-East that role is played not by the Western style secular universities, but by Islamic clerics.

Of course, theoretically it would be possible to create an educational system which would so indoctrinate the children that they would follow the Western democracy and would reject the political Islam - that is, Islam as it is described in the Quran. But, taking into account the typical reactions of Islamists, this would require an enormous effort of enforcement - and could never be executed in a democratic country.

This is merely a beginning of the problem, of course, but it serves to show that any attempts to set up a typical Western democracy in Iraq will fail. In Afghanistan after the last elections there is no longer any pretension of democracy. The problem is setting up any functioning government at all. Unfortunately, getting rid of democracy will not help. It must be replaced by something as a source of democracy.

It is quite obvious that such things have nothing to do with the military. But exactly such things must be decided to "win" an irregular campaign; and they cannot be conceivably debated by the American military.

That is why no "COIN" doctrine or rules of engagement or reform in military or light infantry will help. First of all, it is necessary to decide on a system of government which can function. Next it is necessary to understand what means are necessary to set up this system of government.

As a good example, I suggest the reform of Ataturk. It was the only (temporarily) successful example of introducing a Western system in an Islamic country. Obviously, Turkey was NOT a typical Islamic country, and it was entirely different from Afghanistan. It was a unified country accustomed to absolute monarchy, and Ataturk was its unquestioned leader. The elites of Turkey understood the necessity of reform. Despite that, he was unconceivably brutal. As an example, he changed the writing system and language itself, so that earlier books cannot be read by modern Turks at all.

In Iran, Shah attempted much smaller reforms, and was overthrown by popular reform led by clerics.

Setting up a Western style state in Afghanistan would require eradicating the power of clerics, destroying tribes, etc. This is inconceivable today.

The only other possible option would be setting up of an Islamic state - even more islamic than at present. Of course, it must be ruled by an absolute dictator and dispense even with the pretense of democracy. It would extremely difficult for such a state to avoid being the enemy of West in general, and of USA in particular.

This is all independent from the international problems - Pakistan, India and China.

Only after the system of government has been set up and all necessary decisions have been taken the military can become useful. But here again it would be probably necessary to do things beyond the pale for modern sensibilities - that is, introduce collective punishments for recalcitrant tribes.

Since American troops can burn the crops and destroy homes only in the course of "war against the drugs" here it would be necessary for the putative Afghan tyrant to do such things on his own.

As a good example of the kind of difficulties connected with that kind of project, I suggest to study Israel. NOT the Arabs, but the relations between orthodox Jews (haredi) and modern state. Orthodox Judaism is a bit similar to Islam.

Or search for "haredi" on Google. Here is a typical example…

"Police officers on Thursday morning were attacked by a haredi mob after being dispatched to the ultra-Orthodox Beit Yisrael neighborhood in Jerusalem to tend to a woman who was assaulted by the "modesty patrol."

When the law enforcement officials arrived at Rehov Admon, haredim began to congregate and throw stones at the officers. "

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 12/25/2009 - 11:20am


My first oped should have been about three times as long with a more fully developed argument. But discussions on this thread with very thoughtful points of criticism helped me to flesh out what I was trying to say. The initial short oped was really just an immediate reaction from me more on a philosophical level toward the Mackay/Tatham piece.

Also, Bill, I agree strongly with your last paragraph.

Happy holidays


Bill Moore (not verified)

Fri, 12/25/2009 - 2:17am

Found much to disagree with in this short article; however, agreed with many of gian's subsequent posts.

In short the Army's primary and no fail mission to triumph in "combat" against any foe (regular or irregular). Any activity that distracts from remaining focused and honed in this skill set does present some risk.

I'm not aware of too many cases where victory was consolidated without occupation/stability operations (Germany, Japan, S. Korea, etc.), which implies that the Army must maintain a wide range of skills, we are not and cannot be a one trick pony.

The Army didn't fail in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Haiti, our political leadership did. What military task was not accomplished? You may say we didn't kill or capture Bin Laden, but it was a political decision not to pursue him and his merry men into Pakistan, not inability on the military's part.

Political goals like military objectives must be obtainable (not just wishful thinking). The military has suppressed the threat repeatedly in numerous areas, but there is rarely political agreements afterwards that allows us to consolidate the victory. Instead Soldiers and Marines are making political agreements at the tip of the spear that are agreements of convenience that will never hold over time.

War is about killing and destruction, but the application of military force is not always war. Furthermore something must come after the killing and destruction, and the military plays a role in that also.


Fri, 12/25/2009 - 2:15am

I greatly enjoy the comments here and on many other threads. However, other than intellectual pleasure, I doubt anything of utility will arise, because--sooner or later--we reach a fundamental impasse on the possibility of fundamental change.
Proponents of the current plan in AFG believe--or at least argue--that fundamental change can be achieved with available resources and excellent execution of 3-24. Naysayers argue that it will not happen within the likely timeframe (i.e. July 2011) necessary to guarantee continued US domestic support. Hence, impasse.
My own USD.02 is that, in fact, neither side is correct. Rather, sitting here seeing what is going on at NTM-A now, I believe what will happen is metrics will be reduced/modified/spun to enable COMISAF to shape a report that "demonstrable progress" has been made to whatever degree he/CENTCOM/Pentagon/OSC feels necessary to justify continuing efforts at/near current levels. I also feel that the only way POTUS will not accept that view is if he feels it will imperil his reelection chances (he is a politician, and has demonstrated no commitment to AFG per se).
As far as my view for what is happening in AFG goes (and it is perhaps skewed by being in Kabul and not down south), it is pessemistic. Despite valiant efforts to reform the ANSF, the inertia has so far been too great. There is no interest in the MOD/MOI in reform beyond that minimal degree necessary to keep the international spigots open and flowing. Karzai's decision to retain both ministers means that greater change will not happen in the foreseeable future. Of course, the reports and multitudinous powerpoint presentations will say otherwise, just this side of blatant dishonesty.
And the thing that really bothers me about this whole mess is all the effort will be for a chimera (modern day domino theory, reliability of the US as a partner, pretense that we do indeed have a vital national interest in wholesale reform of AFG societies--since there are more than one, arguments that we are stabilizing PAK by our efforts here in AFG, etc.).
And to offer two comments back on-thread. One, while war may be and usually is many things in addition to killing and destruction, I believe the latter have and will for the future remain the sina qua non of "war". To think otherwise is to propound that 5000 years of history have no applicability today. Two, while "pop-centric COIN" may in fact be the single best method to defeat an insurgency, AFG will not the place to demonstrate this in anything close to its pure form. Its requirement--sooner or later--on good governance and honest, reliable, competent HN security forces will not enable it to succed. Merry Christmas to all.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Thu, 12/24/2009 - 7:53pm


In Afghanistan we have plopped ourselves down in the middle of a civil war and we are attempting within it to build institutions of government and society where none really existed before. How is this not changing an entire society and intruding into the lives of the population?

Where was the radical social change in the Mekong Delta? Well it was at the business end of a rifle; or, what brought about revolutionary change in the Delta was not the myth that Abrams had a better war going on and was successful at pacification. Nor was it because of an adherence to Marxist revolutionary principles. No instead what brought about fundamental structural/social changes in the Mekong was the hard hand of war of death and destruction combined with massive amount of resettlement of the population that fundamentally altered the previous feudal system of land ownership.

See but in Afghanistan many folks have convinced themselves that we can do social engineering on the cheap in a short amount of time, with a few more troops, armed with better generals and doctrine, and with restraint. My point about Kalyvas and control was simply that yes military presence can establish control and reduce violence. But it must remain for a long, long time. Coin theory, however, tells us that a military force can establish presence, clear and area, then inject indigenous forces and programs to build institutions that lash people to their government. All of this in the middle of a civil war in only a handful of years. I dont buy it and history I dont think shows it.



Appreciate your links on Afghan history. Believe it applies to why COIN is an Afghanistan necessity more than any history of Malaya, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Iraq, or any civil war. Every war and it causes is wholly unique. Afghan history of a weak central government, however, and recent history in particular, may be key to our governmental actions there, IMHO.

To address a few of your points:

1) In a nation with low literacy and lots of word-of-mouth I'm doubting many Afghans are re-telling what occurred in their country in the 1930s let alone before that. I doubt many can tell you what occurred outside their valley before the 1970s. Bet they remember Soviet ferocity, though, as well as any instance where we errantly bombed civilians.

2) With so many Afghan ethnic groups, Pashtun tribes, and other "qawm" solidarity groups, the answer will never be a strong central government but rather a grouping of highly autonomous states, and very autonomous provinces and districts.

While I appreciate your history of conflict between the Ghilzai and Durrani Pashtun tribes, I was more intrigued by reading "My Cousin's Enemy is My Friend: A Study of Pashtun Tribes" coupled with Major Gant's work "One Tribe at a Time." Both put a more local spin on governance and problems requiring governance that central governing could never address.

Major Gant and his equally heroic team may have gotten it wrong implying that there is strong tribalism in Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimak, other less Pashtun-dominated areas, or in larger cities, except Kandahar perhaps. But believe he and his team were spot on in their application of Pashtun-area COIN. Although not sure normal non A-teams could duplicate those successes with equally small forces.

And to oldpapajoe, understand what you are saying, but sure saw a picture of a girl's school in MAJ Gant's piece. He also described that Taliban-demanded Sharia Law differs from Pashtunwali. Liked his idea of using a laptop to show the malik the twin towers coming down and saying that many women and children were lost in those attacks. "Honor of women" should be exploited to better put theory into practice, provided we suggest it to locals rather than demand it...and provide the requisite incentives such as hot meals and medical care for those attending. The idea is to provide something the Taliban WOULDN'T.

Along that same theme, so locals can decide to choose the better side, we should have Pashtun ANA and ANP in Pashtun areas so that shura conversations can occur sans an interpreter. Make the ANA and ANP the strongest Qawm in cooperation with the local community defense initiative group. If Baduin and common sense are correct, the last thing we need and surest thing to start a civil war is to have Tajik troops bossing around Pashtun villagers. ANA Pashtun troops could attend the same mosques as locals to limit hanky-panky going on there, and reinforce the sense of common identity, rather than occupation.

Finally, collocate coalition and ANA/ANP security forces in the same COPs, with government offices, contractors and civilian aid workers, and utilities such as cell phone towers and electrical generators in and near COPs. That way, locals would associate central and provincial government with things they really need, rather than as interfering, clueless and corrupt bodies days away from daily reality.

The way ahead is multiplication of strongest local qawms rather than an irrelevant central government. Deal with the latter so they do the least harm and waste the least money. But funneling funds and support directly to local government, security, and economic development will make and retain the most progress with the least waste and fraud.

tequila (not verified)

Thu, 12/24/2009 - 4:08pm


What about the ISAF effort involves changing the entire Afghan society? Where is the radical social and institutional intervention in the lives of ordinary Afghans that we are attempting?

Indeed, where was it in the Mekong Delta or Hau Nghia or Binh Dinh provinces?

I think the history argues that the Taliban and the NLF were the ones who were actually bringing radical change at the point of a gun to their respective societies.

I also like Kalyvas' work on social control, but I don't think he argues one way or the other in a convincing way on the overall stability of control once a military end state has been achieved.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Thu, 12/24/2009 - 9:35am


Maybe; but your post rests on a theoretical construct of the "population" that is essentially a counter-maoist one. That is to say it accepts the newer version of counter-mao of FM 3-24 that sees the population as essentially malleable (except of course for the extremes on each side) just waiting to determine which side--insurgent or government-- they want to ally with. Much current research shows that populations are not necessarily that way at all. For example, what happens if the population is not malleable but divided evenly down the middle with trenchant tribal, sectarian, or political loyalties?

I agree with what you say about control. Kalyvas's work is especially insightful in this regard. I also believe that a military force through presence, on a long-term continuing basis, can establish control of a population. But what happens when that military force departs? Pop centric coin theory with its method of clear hold and build says that the factor of military force to control can be replaced by indigenous forces but more importantly the winning over of the population through social engineering processes to lash them to the government. That is the theory that many Coin experts treat as fact. But it is highly dubious if this theory actually works in practice. The Mekong Delta in the Vietnam War or Binh Dinh province are good examples that show yes an American infantry brigade or two can establish control through presence, but that control does not at all equate to radical social and institutional change in a very short amount of time.

And it is almost a theological belief that this theory works in practice that has captivated many folks in the American Army and defense establishment today which is why one continually sees reports like the one on 1-17 Stryker or the eighty deuce in Wanat chastising those outfits for not carrying out specific pop centric coin methods because the theory tells them that it WILL work. I say that history suggests that this theory does not, NOT, work in practice when applied by a foreign occupying Army trying to change and entire society at the barrel of a "restrained" gun.


This discussion about COIN, Nation Building etc seems to me both comic and tragic. Here we have a lot of extremely diligent, intelligent and experienced people trying to reinvent the wheel. That is not their fault; the military has been ordered to do something it has no experience in doing; moreover, because of political/political correctness considerations it is not allowed to notice most obvious facts. As a result, we have a plethora of acronims, theories, and texts, which studiously avoid mentioning the obvious.

But, since I am not a soldier, I will mention a few basic facts:

What COIN, nation-building etc tries to do is to do is simply to set up an authority, to govern a given territory. This is covered by a lot of politically necessary terminology, like "heart and minds, control" etc. But as long as it is impossible to even mention the actual goal, it will never be attained.

Bad government is better than no government. Talibans set up their authority everywhere they go. Americans do not govern themselves, and actually obstruct the already inefficient puppet Afghan government. Neither talking with people nor bombing them will replace actually governing them.

Secondly, Afghans may not have the tradition of efficient national government, but they have a system of authority and government, based on tribes and Islam. Taliban of course know exactly how to benefit from those traditional system and how to manipulate them. American can perhaps learn the traditional governance system of tribes, but can hardly manipulate it - for one thing, they are alien and infidel, for the second, they for political reasons cannot manipulate it the way Taliban does. In short, Americans cannot shoot Imams or village elders.…

In Iraq, there was a 6 thousand year old tradition of strong unified government. Although Americans couldn't govern themselves, they in the end could set up a local government which proved able to more or less govern. Of course, the present government of Iraq is not friendly to America, and it can very well be replaced by one friendly to Iran. Of course, this government was supported by the majority of population and their religious leadership, and it had at least a conditional acceptance of surrounding countries, including Iran. Victory of a sort happened only after a widespread ethnic cleasining of Sunnis by Shiite militias.

Whatever American goals in Afghanistan are, they require setting up a government which is able to survive with only limited outside support. (I will not mention the fact that any such government will be opposed by either Pakistan or India.)

The problem is that there are two ways of setting up a government: relying on the local tradition or opposing it, and introducing our own system.

The second means in practice a colonial government. No puppet government will be strong enough to overthrow the traditional model of society and governance the way Ataturk did in Turkey. West used to be able to do such things - see British empire in India. As colonial governments are not popular now, and prohibitively expensive anyway, this solution is impractical.

Anyway, it would be extraordinary difficult. This was what the Russians wanted to do - to destroy the traditional Afghan society and set up a new one, based on the Soviet model. They used to do such things successfully, eg in Central Asia. Their fault was twofold - they did not considered the strength of the opposition, and they did not understood that Afghanistan is very different to Central Asia.

Central Asia, the area of the Great Steppe, is actually culturally very similar to Russia, except for the religion. After exterminating the basmachi, the Soviet could easily introduce their system, which was undestandable to locals and survives there until today.

The second option is setting up a traditional Afghan government. Unfortunately, there are only two effective native tradition of government: Taliban and bloody tyrants in the style of Abdur Rahman.

The pseudo-democratic government of Kabul is merely a joke. The only chance of "victory" is therefore allying with or setting up a Taliban-like Islamic movement, or an Islamic tyrant.…

"Kinetic" operations will be relevant only when there is some useful government in Kabul. As for now, Americans could kill all Taliban tomorrow, and it would change nothing in the long term.

Bryan (not verified)

Thu, 12/24/2009 - 3:44am


Rather than "convincing", I'd suggest the word control -it's not about winning hearts and minds, and it's not about killing insurgents, it's about controlling the population. Some hard core insurgent elements need to be taken off the battlefield, but the vast majority of insurgents will side with whoever is clearly in control.

Prof. Gordon McCormick at NPS built on Leites and Wolf's supply model with a breakdown of pure preferences vs cost of pursuing those pure preferences ( assisted preference) ( attitude may be for the state, but actions can be for the guerrilla)
-people make choices on a cost / benefit basis
-the insurgent and government are in competition with each other to control the populations behavior
-the population is judging/ watching the credibility of the insurgent and the counterinsurgent to implement their threat and carrots
-the population weights the likelihood of success by either party
-simple surrogate variable used to represent this weighing of expected value on behalf of the population: WHO CONTROLS MY NEIGHBORHOOD

Is a rifle platoon the right tool for controlling a neighborhood? Maybe. Probably a better tool would be folks from that neighborhood, tied to the national government in theory and mentored by a small element selected, trained,and equipped to work with a partnered nation. Slapout9 was on point with "what type of war are you fighting.'" Painter and White offer a contemporary solution in the JIWC.


Ken White (not verified)

Wed, 12/23/2009 - 1:28pm


You're absolutely right -- and it worked as designed and we did know which force to deploy where.

Unfortunately, instead of sending Pacific veterans to command in Viet Nam, we consecutively sent two NW Europe folks -- so the personnel effort did not support the designed unit focus system...

Still, the <i>system</i> insofar as unit focus and training were concerned worked as designed and worked quite well (until individual rotations dismembered it. Personnel processes fail <u>again</u>...).

Perhaps we will return to this effective model that employed Seventh Army for one task and a Strategic Army Corps -- XVIII -- for the other. STRAC worked, the Army worked and we could and were prepared to do both kinetic MCO and less violent FID jobs. It is not that hard -- and war is not one ounce more complicated. Mediocre training just throws folks into situations for which they aren't prepared and they <i>think</i> it's more complicated. It is not...

slapout9 (not verified)

Wed, 12/23/2009 - 1:05pm

What I find strange is that the Army had a good solution to the problem in the late 50's and 60's. You need a conventional combined arms force and you need an unconventional force and when you answer CvC most important question.....what type of war are you going to fight? You will know which force to deploy. Maybe the Army will return to this very sound Systems principle of how to handle complexity.

COL Gentile,

Sir, your last two articles have been extremely fluid. I agree with more most of what you write. As I read through the comments section, I find myself going back and forth. Perhaps, it's best to say that every war is different with varying complexity and uncertainty. A couple of examples from our own history that crossed my mind.

- Nation-building in the 19th Century. Our Army and USMA engineers literally built our nation.

- Building the Panama Canal. I think this feat was more complex than anything we're dealing with today. Throughout construction, you had a joint Army-Navy fight, sovereignty issues and skirmishes with Colombia, the liberation of Panama, irregular fighters, rampid "new" diseases, the daunting task of creating new technology, and building the canal where others had failed. Dr. Hoffman would probably call this hybrid war. Regardless of what we call it, the venture was a daunting task.

- Mobilization and Deployment of US Forces in World War II to Pacific and European Theatres. In and of itself, the scale of this effort is still amazing.

- The Manhattan Project.
- Reconstruction and demobilization post-World War II.
- Putting a Man on the Moon.

Throughout our history, the military has been asked to do many different things. We've always adapted to meet the challenges (sometimes well, sometimes not so well). I think it is naive to believe that we will not fight another conventional war. That seems to be an American trait that remains constant over time :).

As far as warfare being a catalist for social change, that is a fact and a law of physics. Anytime you introduce rapid change into a system, the system will be significantly disrupted. That change may not necessarily be positive, and this may be one of the biggest learning points from Iraq/A'stan adventures. Planning for reconstruction in Europe began in 1941. If we spent more time planning our PH IV operations, then we might not have the seemingly intractable problems that we are seeing today.

Looking forward to comments and any corrections on my version of history.


gian p gentile (not verified)

Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:15am

Thanks again for the very thoughtful debate. I find this blog seductive similar to an email Loop that I am on because when ideas are expressed they are treated intellectually and either wither or flourish on their own merit; it is in this sense I think that one can see the value of blogs and the ability to openly and immediately debate important issues.


I wasnt chiding at all when I state that the military must be able to do multiple things and will comply with our political masters when we are told to do this or that in whatever place they send us. This is our constitutional duty and we will comply with it. I mean that seriously! Again, the point Bob that I was trying to get at is that after at first acknowledging that the military must be able to do many things as the examples I list in the original piece, first and foremost it should be optimized, trained, and organized to fight using combined arms. If it can do this then it can do almost anything else. Of course a Brigade that is told to move into Darfur to pass out humanitarian supplies needs an element of education to learn the culture of the area, its specific mission, etc. But that combat brigade also needs to be grounded in the basics of combined arms. This is what the Israelis learned after Lebanon in 2006. It is also what Slim was getting at when he said in his memoirs that all that he really needed to accomplish anything was well trained rifle battalions. Further Bob, I am confused when you say war is "not" about killing and destruction. Please clarify what you mean. War is at its most basic level about fighting, Clausewitz says that and also that if you dont have fighting and combat then you dont have war. My point which admittedly as you point out dips into the theoretical is simply to state this fundamental aspect of war. Sorry Bob, when I read pieces like MG Mackay's and others like Rupert Smith's it presents to me the worrisome notion that we are losing the fundamental understanding of what war is about, and that it is not an armed social science project. To be sure war involves many other things than just fighting, destruction, and death; but those qualities are fundamental to it and we shouldnt try to gussy war up with terms like "behavior conflict" to make it seem otherwise. As to my students at West Point, I think I gave them a good grounding in the history of the military art with free-wheeling discussions that often tipped toward today. In fact I had an excellent student, Cadet Sam Wilkins, when discussing the Mexican War and Resaca de la Palma, make the argument that armies prepared in irregular war can make the quick adjustment to higher end fighting. I pointed out to him immediately the value and importance of that observation and that it had turned almost everything that I have been arguing on its head. I thought about his point a lot after that.


Interesting point about one of your former students. Maybe you are right and he is wrong when he stated that he and his Squadron should be focused on killing the enemy. But why do you assume that you are right and he is wrong? I think one can make a reasonable argument that in certain places today in Afghanistan in order to gain the initiative against the enemy we should, at least first, focus on killing him. Actually one could also make the argument that this would even fit into a broader pop Coin approach since one of the requisites in these kinds of campaigns is to first clear. Why cannot killing be a part of this initial effort to clear? Your post though at least to me betrays the deep seated dogmatism that we now face to the point where the only, ONLY, correct tactical action for a combat unit anywhere in Astan is to immediately move into the village and win hearts and minds. You seem to assume that Coin theory actually works in practice. How do you know this to be the case? Do you have proof? Have you read some of the current scholarship on the Vietnam War in the latter years that show that pacification really didnt work as it was touted to have? Have you read Kalyvass "Logic of Violence in Civil Wars"? My only point here is to question what seems to be this rock solid assumption that the theory of population centric coin when put into practice actually works. This assumption has gone viral. The President himself in his speech at West Point a few weeks ago when commenting briefly on what the Surge of troops in Afghanistan would be doing stated that they would be used to "secure" the population. He made this statement as a matter of fact. Why do we think that these extra troops will actually be able to do it, because our theory of pop centric coin tells us so?


Excellently stated. I agree fully! To be sure different wars over time have had different levels of complexity as you so correctly point out. I imagine if we could ask Napoleon what was the most difficult and complex Campaign that he had to carry out he would be hard pressed to decide between the Peninsular and Russia. He might even say that he wished for the relative simplicity of his earlier Italian Campaigns. So too today. I think one can rightly argue that LTC Neumanns command of 1-17 Stryker in Kandahar, as a matter of relative complexity, is actually more complex and difficult then what my Cavalry Squadron faced in West Baghdad in 2006. But it is the a priori statement by so many Coin aficionados that war today and in the future is automatically more complex and difficult than in the past that I reel from.



Wed, 12/23/2009 - 1:31am

A vigorous essay by Col. Gentile. And I think the US military can no more choose between having the capacity for fighting great power or waging COIN/irregular warfare well than it should have to choose between having an Air Force and an Army.

Let me quibble though on one point. This is a subject that has been raised repeatedly by different folks at SWJ/SWC and it has always troubled me a great deal though I've never expressed well why it does.

Gian wrote:

<b>"Come on please, how simple was life for Henry the V before and after Agincourt as his hungry and tired Army was tramping around France. How simple was Frederick's tactical dilemma of terrain combined with his own inexperience at Mollwitz? War by its nature is complex and complicated and to say that it is somehow more so today than any other time in history is arrogance run amok."</b>

War is by nature a complex activity, that is true. And I'm certain that every war seemed terribly complex to the people who fought at the time. Let's grant that.


I'm not sure it follows that the *degree* of complexity in warfare has remained constant over time.

Or that the different *kinds* of complexity were all present to the same degree, or at all, over time.

Or that the relative level of complexity in warfare has remained constant as complexity in general society has increased over time.

The complexity of intra-Roman warfare in the Balkans by Imperial pretenders during Late antiquity might mirror the level of complicated political problems of warfare in Iraq or Afghanistan today. It does not mirror or approximate the systemic complexity present in Iraq and Afghanistan in the logistical and mechanical senses. Complexity is not simply a matter of the number of variables present.

I'm pretty sure we can, without much difficulty, come up with dozens of examples of how complexity differed in warfare throughout history. With some academic blood, sweat and tears we can probably quantitify the differences as well.

This is not to say that COIN type wars or insurgencies are always more complex than conventional wars. I don't think that is true and further, we need to look at each war's distinctive circumstances.

It does mean though that COIN type wars are likely to come embedded with a higher degree of a certain kind of complexity - political/cultural/policy problems - that commanders and soldiers will find frustrating and difficult


Tue, 12/22/2009 - 11:57pm

Somehow, the so-called threats of N. Korea, Iran, et. al. seem to be a dual air-force navy role. I think a limited strategic campaign against those nations, if ever at all, would be the only recourse the American people will accept, at least within the foreseeable future. China and Taiwan going at it is unlikely; their two economies are more integrated than ever. Given our response to Georgia, there is no way we're going to risk a confrontation with Russia. Iran and N Korea are more likely to collapse from internal pressures than engage in an all out engagement with us. That's where we (and by we I mean the Army/USMC) once again, may be called on to do our armed social science stuff. I think the days of even swift Grenada-type campaigns will not be seen for years to come. The important lesson from Iraq is not who is better prepared, but who adapts faster.

An excerpt from General McChrystal's guidance to ISAF, issued on 26AUG2009:

We must understand the [Afghan] people and see things through their eyes. It is their fears, frustrations, and expectations that we must address. We will not win simply by killing insurgents. We will help the Afghan people by securing them, by protecting them from intimidation, violence, and abuse, and by operating in a way that respects their culture and religion. This means that we must change the way we think, act, and operate. We must get the people involved as active participants in the success of their communities.

COL Gentile,

You ask your readers what the Army's place is in the modern world, then chide those who believe the military (not just the Army) must be able to do multiple things as irresponsible. You veer into the theoretical in this essay, when pragmatism would serve the military better. What are we doing right now, and what are we likely to be asked to do in the future?

War is not all about killing and destruction. You blatantly disregard the argument many leaders (including COMISAF) make that "it is not how many we kill but how many we convince, but offer nothing to the contrary. In the end it is about achieving objectives, and if the military is required to do things other than fire and maneuver to accomplish the mission, so be it.

Over the past two decades I have watched or participated as the military has deployed to places like Haiti, Colombia, the Balkans, Somalia, Ecuador, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. While the military must be prepared to fight, if you're in uniform, you'd better be ready to do a great deal more than that.

If you are fortunate enough to be one of Colonel Gentile's students at West Point, I certainly hope you are learning economic theory in another classroom later in the day, and perhaps studying Dari or Pashto prior to cracking open the Thucydides in history. All these subjects will serve you well when you graduate and get out here.

I'd like to respond to the original author as well as one of the follow-on contributors.

When you say, "War is about Killing and Destruction, It is Not Armed Social Science," then you come very close to what a RSTA Squadron Commander recently told me in response to a block of instruction I had given on COIN-centric Priority Intelligence Requirements. I had argued that Army BCT intelligence assets should focus on figuring out WHY the human terrain is passively or actively facilitating enemy activities because unless the human terrain is changed, attacking the enemy directly is like mowing grass. In return, he said, "We're not in Iraq to find out the WHY. We're there to destroy the enemy and that's it." He is wrong and although I do not believe that the author maintains this narrow view, I think the message may be perceived as such by some audiences. Yes, we still need to know how to do what we did in WWII, but we need to know a whole lot more than that, too.

One of the contributors discussed the importance of figuring out the WHY by saying, "Second, we don't understand why people make choices. We ASSUME they will act rationally in their own best interests, but this view is flawed." It is because we think they will do a certain action for this reason or that reason that we DECIDE to then conduct "conventional" tactics or "counterinsurgency" tactics. But are our tactics ever going to be as successful as intended if we don't really know WHY we need to use them on the human terrain or against the enemy, in the first place?

B.C. (not verified)

Tue, 12/22/2009 - 10:05pm

Within the broader context, we do not seem to be talking about "counter-insurgency" here but, instead, something which might be called "counter-society." Herein, counter-insurgency would seem to be a method which might be used to achieve the desired end-state (to wit: a society transformed).

Accordingly, when I see the phrase "change entire societies," the first thing I want to know is: What definitive "society(ies)" are we talking about?

The second question I have is: Counter and/or change this society "from" what "to" what?

The third question I would have is: "Why" do we need to do this?

And the fourth questions would be, considering the above: (a) What kind of resistance are we likely to run up against and (b) should we consider that such an ambitious endeavor could easily backfire and place us in a more difficult position than we are already in?

Lastly, I would want to know: Are there alternative approaches (other than confronting this/these society[ies] head-on) which might better serve our purposes (such as working with and through these cultural groups)?

Only after these questions had been answered would I be willing to, if it still seemed prudent, go further and discuss such things as what "means" might be employed to achieve the desired "ends" of something that might better be understood as "counter-society."


Tue, 12/22/2009 - 9:49pm

Thanks for elaborating. I think that makes sense.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Tue, 12/22/2009 - 9:35pm

I am not dreaming of Russian MRRs streaming through the fulda gap. My point in this short missive was to try to re-ground ourselves as to what war at its most basic element is: as St Carl states it is fighting which produces death and destruction. I fully acknowledge that wars in the present and future will not look like those in the past.

As I stated in this short article the American Army will have to do many things. If we are told to deploy to Mogadishu to try to "influence" the population there from supporting pirates then that is exactly what we must do. But we should not optimize and organize ourselves for those kinds of missions and instead should build our Army around the pillars of firepower, protection, and mobility with competency at combined arms at all levels. If we have an Army optimized around those things then if told to fight a sophisticated and coordinated enemy then we can, and if we are told to do stability operations then we can do that also. Schmedlap, this was the point that I was getting at. I agree, Schmedlap that a professionalized Army should be able to do many things, but how we organize and what we optimize it for matters and we do need to make choices. Again, this is not an argument to build a "conventional" army that sits and waits for the order to deploy to China. No, it is an argument for building and army that can fight, and then if told to do other missions then it can do so. The idea that an Army optimized for Coin and stability operations can easily step into a different direction and fight at the higher end of the conflict spectrum is dangerous and potentially bloody. Look what happened to the South Vietnamese Army in 1973 and more importantly in 1975.

I never questioned the valor, bravery, and combat experience of MG Mackay, what I do question his ideas as expressed in his essay which seems to me for an Army that believes in tolerating dissent and discussion is fair game.

Yes of course war can be a socially transformative event. The American Civil War certainly falls into this description. What I was getting at in this short article was a critique of the idea that the American (or British) Army as a foreign occupying force can inject itself into the middle of a civil war like in Afghanistan, do nation building quickly with a handful of combat brigades, kill a few insurgents along the way, and thus transform Afghan society. That notion of armed social science or "behavioral conflict" seems to me to be a chimera. It didnt work for the US in Vietnam.

Lastly I dont buy the idea that war now is more complex because of jihad, transnational terrorism, the internet, information, facebook, bla, bla, bla. Wilf has written eloquently on this idea. Come on please, how simple was life for Henry the V before and after Agincourt as his hungry and tired Army was tramping around France. How simple was Frederick's tactical dilemma of terrain combined with his own inexperience at Mollwitz? War by its nature is complex and complicated and to say that it is somehow more so today than any other time in history is arrogance run amok.

thanks for the discussion.


Who would we fight conventionally? Possibly Iran, North Korea defending the south, China conventionally defending Taiwan, Venezuela defending Columbia, Russia conventionally defending Ukraine or other past satellites...

A more appropriate question is "who in Afghanistan?" Would COL Gentile advocate invading Pakistan where many fighters are hiding and future ones are waiting for an excuse? Bombs away and fire for effect amongst the population? If counterinsurgency is a strategy of tactics as claimed, what value is a kinetic strategy that even when successful, promotes jihad amongst citizens of countries with hundreds of millions of Islamic true believers?

And wait, this is U.K. Major General Andrew MacKay who kinetically restored her majesty's honor by retaking Musa Qala after an earlier leader's failed "cease fire" attempt. This is the same British General who walked over a mile in no man's land and performed C2 from a hilltop 700 meters from the fight. From there he controlled attack/lift helicopters and infantry for several days who managed somehow to fight sans many millimeters of rolled homogeneous steel, chobham, and depleted uranium.

Heck, for all we know Major General MacKay may have honorably resigned several months ago in protest over the lack of helicopters, additional troops, and construction monies to finish the job.

But as a fellow Bay Area Californian who did not attend U.C. Berkeley but briefly dated a girl there, I can understand why COL Gentile has more than honorably spent an entire career wanting to kill things...perhaps imagining it was some classmates and professors.;)

While I comprehend George Santayana's concept of "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," every war and its strategy, campaigns, and tactics are wholly unique. Technology and the operational environment change. Know for a fact that the technology and assets of OIF I differ substantially from those of today less than 7 years later. Given that reality, is there truly overwhelming value in learning lessons from leaders and battles that sacrificed more Soldiers in one hour 145 years ago than we will lose over 10 years of these wars?

Believe the more appropriate quote is in the often brilliant MacKay/Tatham paper:

"The words of US futurist Alvin Tofler ring true: 'The illiterate of the future are not those that cannot read or write. They are those that cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."


Tue, 12/22/2009 - 8:12pm

<blockquote><em>"Should we be optimized to fight using combined arms or to do stability operations. And please, the lovers of the word "balance" dont come back with the B word as magic wand for wishing away touch choices."</em></blockquote>

I agree with Gentile more than I disagree. But, if I understand the above passage correctly, then he is committing the same error that many of the COIN faithful make. Why must we choose between HIC and any other type of operation? Shouldn't a professional force, if it is truly professional, be able to wage warfare across the full spectrum? Or we are just technicians who hope to guess at what type of operations we will conduct in the next war?


Tue, 12/22/2009 - 6:21pm

So who are we going to fight conventionally? And don't give me that China nonsense. I don't see any conventional fight looming on the horizon. What we will have is another several years of this unconventional fight; so we may as well adapt for that. Hate to say it, but I think modern 4GW is an armed social science.

Sean DeCoursey

Tue, 12/22/2009 - 5:18pm

COL Gentile argues (as I understand it) that in our haste to adopt COIN centric measures we are losing sight of the kinetic aspects of warfare and will soon lose our capability to fight conventionally. COL Gentile also seems to be arguing against such a broad-based definition of warfare and against war as societally transformative. These are presented as one cohesive argument, but in fact, they are several separate points.

As the author noted, the real purpose of warfare (via Clausewitz) is to break the enemies' will and convince them not to fight you. In traditional state vs. state action this generally involved killing enough of the other guys to end their will to resist. COL Gentile's first argument, that COIN isn't warfare because it's different than traditional kinetic combat is patently absurd. COIN vs Kinetics is a tactical difference with strategic implications, but the strategic goal remains the same - break the enemies' will to resist. Different methods are used to accomplish this goal vs. different enemies because state and non-state actors fight in such radically different ways.

The authors second argument, that the current definition of warfare is too broad because it includes non-violent means is extremely narrow and shortsighted. If an enemy stops fighting us, does it matter if he did it because he's dead, because we're paying him, or because his family now supports our side? (Ok, yes, it does matter a lot, perhaps a better example would be does it matter if you kill your enemy with shraphnel, bombs, or bullets as long as they're still dead?) If we accept Clausewitz' definition of the goal of war - breaking the enemies will, then all acts attempting to accomplish this goal are acts of war. Sun-Tzu's chapters on spies and diplomacy make this abundantly clear.

COL Gentile's next argument is that we can either be good at COIN or Kinetic warfare and must choose which to focus on. This is a false choice, as is the idea of balance. The truth is war just got harder and we must be good at both. In the American Civil War all soldiers had to know for combat was how to march in step, keep in formation, follow orders, and volley fire. Today, soldiers must maintain complex electronic and communications systems, work in loose formations where emphasis is placed on moving organically together, and keep awareness of complex, non-linear battlespaces. War today requires smarter, better trained soldiers than in the past, this trend is accelerating, not slowing down. We have to be better at more things than previously.

COL Gentile's final argument is that war cannot be, or is not, societally transformative. There is no single historical event that has been as universally societally changing as war. America has undergone massive social change after every war since the Revolution. Controlling the social change that takes place in another society as a result of war is a much dicier business however, and it may very well prove impossible to shoehorn society X into social pattern C when it really wants to go into social pattern A or B. The result may be that we need to learn to identify that society X can only go to A or B and then push it towards one or the other, but it will take time, effort, and likely some failure to acquire the institutional skills and knowledge to accomplish these goals. Dismissing the effort because of bias fails to provide any useful information for improving or ultimately abandoning the program.

This is a better written version of the treatise's that argued for the continued use of horses during WWI and battleships in WWII. I performed more useless and ultimately damaging missions in Iraq under theories like the ones promoted in this article than under any other. The war we have may not be the one that many people in the military want to fight, nevertheless, it is the war we are in, and we need to win it.

oldpapajoe (not verified)

Tue, 12/22/2009 - 4:29pm

As I have mentioned to this agust body before, the majority of junior officers and field grade officers with Afghan experience tell me that there is no way to win Afghans' hearts and minds. They maintain, however, that it is possible to "get their attention", and to find some mutual areas of interest. But, to the rural Afghan, we are first and foremost, Infidels. As such, we aren't going to win their minds, or their hearts, at least not in any enduring, meaningful way. They do understand things like revenge (as in "we are here to kill Al Qaeda because they killed our women and families"), and giving them money to not do this or that (such as telling us where the foreign fighters are hiding). All else appears to be wishful thinking. Oh, and these rural Afghans think sending their daughers to school makes as much sense as sending their dog to school. Women in rual Afghan are merely workers and child bearers. There is no expectation or desire that their women become Westernized Muslims. After all, women are bought and sold to become wives. That is "their way" as one of them told an SF lieutenant colonel.

M.R. (not verified)

Tue, 12/22/2009 - 4:22pm

Is war about killing and destruction? Or is it about hearts and minds (i.e. "convincing")?

I would argue that they are two sides of the same coin (the carrot and the stick, so to speak). In other words, people respond to incentives, and convincing implies offering incentives, while killing and destruction are most certainly disincentives.

Our problem here in the American Army (in a general sense) is that we rarely understand what incentives people are likely to respond to and how they are likely to respond.

The reasons for this are numerous, but I would point to two primary reasons:

First, our mechanistic view of warfare as evidenced by our obsession with "effects". While cause and effect is a good model for a physical, energy-bonded system, it is a poor model for a socio-cultural system. People are not machines - they make choices.

Second, we don't understand why people make choices. We ASSUME they will act rationally in their own best interests, but this view is flawed. Choices are a confluence of rationality (a subjective, not objective view of self-interest), emotion, and culture. When they don't act they way we think they will, we dismiss them as backwards and irrational.

COL Gentile's frustration is understandable - when all that matters is killing and destruction there is admittedly less complexity. And addressing the problem of Al Qaeda through a process of simply killing and destruction would have been simpler - but would it have been effective?

On the other hand, it is true that the military is NOT the correct tool for development, governance, public works/civil engineering and education. The State department, USAID, and NGOs are.

BUT, the current reality in American politics is that ONLY the Department of Defense gets anything close to adequate funding. And it is all about the funding. DoD takes on the mission, instead of insisting that State get the mission and commensurate funding because that's how end-strength is protected. Congressional support is provided in order to save bases and local federal jobs as well as defense contracting plants and employment. Let's face it, if there were such a thing as a "Diplomacy factory" that employed voters, Congress would support the funding.

So, unless and until Congress re-prioritizes funding to provide the other agencies in government the necessary resources, the task will continue to be taken on by the one Department which does have the personnel and funding.