Small Wars Journal

Counterinsurgency: The Graduate Level of War or Pure Hokum?

Counterinsurgency: The Graduate Level of War or Pure Hokum? By COL Gian Gentile, e-International Relations.

… This notion of counterinsurgency warfare requiring a special martial skill set because of its so-called difficulty that conventional armies by nature do not have is nothing new in modern history.  Starting in the 19th century, the French and British armies began to treat small wars (an earlier moniker for counterinsurgency) as a special form of war requiring officers with unconventional skills who can transform the hidebound conventional armies that were resistant to change…

Unfortunately, counterinsurgency is not the graduate level of war, it is simply war.  Moreover, the notion that counterinsurgency wars require the soldiers who fight them to possess special skills is not supported by historical evidence.  And contrary to what writers like Krepinevich and Cassidy say, counterinsurgency wars have not been won or lost by the tactical methods of the armies that have fought them.  Instead, as historian Douglas Porch argues, they were won or lost “because the strategic context in which the wars were fought defied a tactical remedy.” …

Read on.

Comments

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 08/20/2013 - 10:10am

In reply to by McCallister

<em>....am proud of everyone who served.</em>

As a younger physician, I never thought about working in an environment with veterans. I had a very different career in mind. And yet, all these years later, here I am. I would not do anything else.

I don't do "rah rah", it's not my personality. I have some embarrassing stories to tell about joining those groups that send letters and packages overseas in the "early" years of 2003/4, when it was all "rah rah" and ribbons and bumper stickers for your car. Uh, it did not go well. I wrote one ridiculous letter, felt totally stupid writing to some young person I didn't know, and asked to do something else or to have someone else take over. I'm not very nice sometimes. But what I feel now given my work environment is a kind of respect that I don't give easily. But it's there, that feeling. Respect.

On other points, there was an article some time back that made the same points re:

<em>"....Public Safety Manual for Occupied Germany" dated 1944?"</em>

that our system did public order and safety in the aftermath of a collapsed government pretty well in the past. Of course, this is not all about the military, civilians in charge were not interested but I'm not interested in a rehash.

Not everything can translate to today, but, yeah, I sort of don't get the morphing to capacity building as a first resort in all situations, no matter how different one situation is from the other. Well, I keep trying to understand. It is a mental construct that takes into account 90's peacekeeping which kind of mentally "Europeanizes" or "NATO-izes" experiences across regions that need to be understood on their own terms.

Some of the historical documents/manuals for "regular guys" that I've read online from the China-India-Burma theater are incredibly nuanced in there dealings with the India situation given the Quit India movement and our alliance with the British and so on as we worked in the region. Their is real delicacy in the framing, this is missed in the History Channel renderings of WWII, somehow? Wait, this relates to today, wait and see....

Our complicated history in the SA region especially when it comes to capacity building--or training armies and economic training of elites at places like Harvard--in "South Asia" during the Cold War! Where the heck did that go in the discussion? I thought nation builders should be interested in the actual history of our attempts to nation build, or in today's terms, "capacity build" there. We were plenty involved, economically, militarily, and otherwise. And this experience, glossed over or deleted? A bit strange, military intellectuals of a certain stripe....

McCallister

Tue, 08/20/2013 - 9:21am

What did "build local institutions, establish rule of law, repair and construct infrastructure, rebuild energy sector, support Iraqi efforts to resolve differences through politics rather than through violence" morph into? I take it that you never had an opportunity to work with the civilian reconstruction-modernization effort? I had an opportunity to experience both the initial military efforts at "nation-restoring"... and the civilian sectors crack at the same effort. I sat in enough "wouldn't it be great if the Iraqis had this or that" meetings. I will have to write a book someday on all the silly-little and grand public works projects we imposed on the country in the name of "nation-restoration"... from building the most modern waste disposal system in the world requiring the most educated waste disposal engineers anywhere to teaching local farmers to genetically engineer their own seeds to better grow them in the desert. We would have to send the poor, illiterate farmer to the United States to earn a degree in genetic engineering first mind you. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent and wasted.

By the way what does nation-restoring actually mean and what does it entail? Here is my take on some definitions ... A country is a place, a land. A nation is a group of people who think they have enough in common to live together in a single political unit. A state is the political-administrative structure that governs the nation in the country... So what are you restoring? I am not saying that getting the major groups of people in Iraq or Afghanistan to live together in a single political unit is impossible... Saddam Hussein was successful for many years.... but what I am saying is that an outsiders efforts at why can't we all just get along initiatives will fail if pushed by ethnic/religious/civilizational outsiders in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

... please... enough of the "should we stand aside and allow havoc to occur" lamentations and "if we can only save one life it will have been worth it" arguments.. Ever hear of martial law and its uses? How did we do it in liberated France... how about occupied Germany? Ever read the "Public Safety Manual for Liberated Territory" dated 1944... or "Public Safety Manual for Occupied Germany" dated 1944? I studied the documents before we departed on our big adventure... Do you know the difference between liberated and occupied territories and the international legal responsibilities for both? No one even considered declaring martial law after we removed the regime...

The time for excuses is actually over. The proof is in the end-result... Look at Iraq today... and in about five years look at Afghanistan... I believe everyone did their best and I am not about to question motives. In the end everyone did a grand job... I lost a dear friend in the effort and am proud of everyone who served... my boy is serving in Afghanistan as we speak. In the end, I am not too concerned any longer as to the who, what, when, and why of it all...

r/
MAC

Yup, and when it's too difficult in the first place, we've got to be honest and stop giving it the college try as we rush in headlong.

G Martin

Tue, 08/20/2013 - 10:12am

In reply to by Move Forward

We may not have entered Afghanistan to modernize them- but what I observed in 2 years of service there were many efforts to modernize them. I tend to think it is because all we know is the way we do things. So, for instance- giving them HMMWVs, M-16s, an on-line and digitized logistics system, female police training (even attempting to get them to do co-ed training at that), instructing Afghan police in Western-style domestic abuse response TTPs, nudging the government to ensure minimum ethnic percentages in government, mandating Western-style uniforms and equipment (even picking their colors for them), teaching them MDMP and power point, requiring them to fight corruption and establish merit-based systems of advancement, etc, etc,- I could go on, but from what I saw we were doing a lot to attempt to get them to come out of the Dark Ages- and, I submit, lots of it clashed with our short-term stability efforts.

Move Forward

Mon, 08/19/2013 - 10:11pm

In reply to by McCallister

In his Reflections on the Counterinsurgency Era speech, General (ret) Petraeus cited six areas related to COIN in Iraq. I added the numbers to break it up a bit:

<blockquote>There were six key elements to this strategy.

1) First, a focus on the security of the people, by living with them in their neighborhoods – in small, joint security stations – rather than consolidating our forces on sprawling, isolated bases.
2) Second, an explicit decision to aggressively support reconciliation with Sunni insurgents who were willing to become part of the solution in Iraq rather than remain a continuing part of the problem – and, later, to do the same with Shia militia fighters.
3) Third, an increase in the tempo of targeted special operations raids to capture or kill irreconcilable insurgent and militia leaders.
4) Fourth, additional attention to the reform,rebuilding and then expansion of Iraqi police and military forces – with a halt of the transition of security tasks to them for several months until the situation improved.
5) Fifth, the overhaul of our detainee operations by establishing a rehabilitation initiative – after recognizing that our detention facilities had unwittingly become terrorist universities.
6) Sixth, a host of coordinated civil-military initiatives to help the Iraqis restore basic services, build local institutions, establish the rule of law, repair and construct infrastructure, rebuild the energy sector, and support Iraqi efforts to resolve their differences through politics rather than through violence.</blockquote>

I note only one area tangentially related to "modernization theory" or nation-building...and actually it was more about nation-restoring. The USAF (thanks) and insurgents had destroyed infrastructure and the energy sector, and with the de-Baathication process, obviously some government had to start from scratch along with the military. There also is something to be said for employing Stability Operations lines of efforts to help keep folks from starving to death, running out of clean water, and dying from lack of medicine or death squads due to lack of rule of law. Or would we rather stand aside and allow havoc to occur?

Bill C is about the sole one here who routinely attributes use of our military to modernize other nations. Its pure bunk that we entered Iraq or Afghanistan to try to modernize them. Nor did we bomb Libya or train forces in Mali for that reason. Nor do I suspect it had anything whatsoever to do with U.S. military assistance activities in Germany and Japan since WWII's end in the 40s, Korea since the 50s, Vietnam in the 60s, the Sinai since the 80s, Balkans since the 90s, South/Central America, or the Philippines. Please stop that nonsense now when talking about military combat operations, COIN, stability operations, and peacekeeping.

<blockquote>... on the other hand... maybe an inability to accomplish a given task is because the task is too difficult to accomplish... and no amount of "I will try harder" is going to make a difference...</blockquote>

I note the great state of Texas has upwards of 70,000 law enforcement officers (not counting the feds and border patrol) to cover its great size and surprisingly similar terrain to parts of Afghanistan. Texas is not at war with anyone near as I can tell. Therefore, would it not make sense for a country that <strong>is</strong> at war to have similar-sized security forces? If the border patrol cannot stop illegal immigration and drugs crossing the Texas border, how could we have expected ISAF to do the same with insurgents during all those years it played second fiddle to Iraq?

Finally, imagine if those Texas law enforcement officers had to train all those 70,000 from scratch with only limited trainers and all the recruits spoke was Dari or Pashtu and most could not read. Imagine if they had to fly in all their police cars and truck-in other supplies through Mexico to reach Texas. Recall that when someone dials 911 in Texas, officers can speed to the TIC on great roads without fear of being blown up en route or ambushed by RPGs and machine guns...not so much in Afghanistan. Starting to get an idea why "I will try harder" is more than an excuse and more akin to an always "can do" and Avis attitude no matter how badly our troops get shortchanged in their mission...

Of course we could always let the 150 Texas Rangers cover the whole state by themselves. Isn't that the SF approach to the problem? Wait we'll stop the insurgents with just Naval and Airpower. AirSea Battle in Texas!

McCallister

Mon, 08/19/2013 - 7:42pm

... coming up with a good excuse for failing is actually very hard... the excuse has to pass the common sense test... the excuse has to be able to successfully deflect blame... or as the old staff mantra advises it should successfully blame someone else.

IMHO an important reason why the "graduate level of war" is so hard to execute and ultimately fails is that it is based on the misguided notion that a central planning commission can develop a comprehensive reform package (modernization theory) to build a civil society from scratch.

... on the other hand... maybe an inability to accomplish a given task is because the task is too difficult to accomplish... and no amount of "I will try harder" is going to make a difference...

How is that for an excuse :-)

v/r
MAC

We have a bad habit of describing tasks as difficult when we do a poor job of accomplishing them. It's not hard, but it's easy to make excuses for failings.

McCallister

Mon, 08/19/2013 - 3:00pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

You are absolutely correct... the notion of a graduate level of war emerges from the idea that we must build a world in our image... for the betterment of all or because its the best defense...

... too bad that the "graduate level of war" paradigm... if we can call it a paradigm... is a self-imposed shot gun blast to the leg. The paradigm is also a deadly virus and may only be battled by inoculating ourselves with General Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke (the Elder)'s notion that "no plan of operation survives the first collision with the main body of the enemy"... This notion applies equally to enemy-centric or population centric approaches.

The proponents of the graduate level of war paradigm tend also to be great advocates of the state/nation-building and social work aspects of the population-centric approach. The implicit truism in the graduate level of war argument is that central planning... comprehensive planning... a new social order (modernization theory) can actually create a better society... a better person... the better soviet man... We experience the same attitude in domestic politics with all our talk of comprehensive reforms... whether it's comprehensive health-care reform or comprehensive immigration reform, etc... I submit that the graduate level of war and its focus on central planning a new social order has done for Iraq and Afghanistan what public housing did for the inner city... All we end up doing is central planning a new social order to death.

Moltke the Elder concluded that strategy, which also includes operations and tactics, is little more than a system of expedients... Initial phases such as mobilization, transportation, deployment can be nugged down to a gnats ass... once contact is made general outlines must suffice... Moltke the Elder might argue that the same would apply to cultural interactions and/or irregular warfare.

r/
MAC

Until recently, insurgency and counterinsurgency theory had been used to consider conflict within states.

In our current case, however, insurgency and counterinsurgency are often viewed within the context of a challenge to the current world order.

Thus, Al Qaeda, a non-state actor, challenges the hegemon and its allies, whose political, economic, military, and cultural power maintains that world order.

In this circumstance, and at this level, should counterinsurgency be considered the graduate level of war?

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 08/18/2013 - 6:29pm

I suspect that the primary reason COIN has come be perceived as "graduate level" warfare is because most COIN is not warfare at all, yet we send our very best war fighters off to address insurgencies in a war-like manner.

Kind of if you sent the currently redhot LA Dodgers to Alabama to play the dynastic University of Alabama in a game of football, but with the Dodgers thinking it was just a game of "graduate level" baseball they were getting into.

War is political violence; but we all appreciate that not all violence is war, and equally all politics is not war either. But for whatever reason, insurgency causes our brains to vapor lock and simply dump it into the war category, and off we go.

But war is external. Two distinct systems battling each other over issues that no lesser form of debate can apparently resolve. Insurgency, however, at least revolutionary insurgency, is internal. It is two sides taking internal politics to an illegal and often violent level when legal internal politics are either denied or inadequate to the issue at hand.

It is not that one is harder than the other, it is that they are two very different things. The sooner we cross that intellectual bridge, the sooner we can think more effectively about what it is we find on the other side.

Bob

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/18/2013 - 12:48pm

In reply to by McCallister

<em>Finally... reference doing it better. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is also an indictment of our university (intellectual) - military complex... The social sciences departments are in need of some deep naval gazing and contemplation as to how they see the world and the stuff they are teaching... not to mention the crap we are buying.</em>

Amen to the university-military-intellectual complex problem. I've never seen anything like it in all of my doctor-as-nerd-and-child-of-an-academic life. And I've seen a lot of academic oddity and infighting too.

How is it that any sort of academic fad or kink makes its way into doctrine or that politicized think tank weirdos or retired foreign military selling something that was rejected "at home" seem to grab onto parts of the military and never let go? DOD money for intellectual activities, I'm guessing.

McCallister

Sun, 08/18/2013 - 12:36pm

Madhu,

... I like the term "expeditionary COIN"... In my gut I believe that expeditionary COIN, stability operations, et al are nothing more than force protection TTPs on a grand scale... Ethnic, cultural and or civilizational outsiders don't do COIN... they do FID and or security assistance operations. I have no doubt that should our armed forces be called upon to execute COIN operations in these United States.. we would win.

The cynic in me thinks you are absolutely correct... a kinder and gentler form of war is packaged in a hearts and minds ribbon. As you know... I am a shame and honor proponent, especially in Muslim/frontier/mountain cultures where the hearts of those we are fighting belongs to Allah.

Finally... reference doing it better. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is also an indictment of our university (intellectual) - military complex... The social sciences departments are in need of some deep naval gazing and contemplation as to how they see the world and the stuff they are teaching... not to mention the crap we are buying.

v/r
MAC

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/18/2013 - 11:51am

In reply to by McCallister

<em>What are we actually debating?</em>

"Hearts-and-minds" as apples and oranges, likely. The phrase is used in so many ways and is such a touchstone because of the way in which the counterinsurgency and nation building intellectual construct has seeped into the larger public discourse on dealing with foreign nations. It may mean third party expeditionary COIN, it may mean tactics of a classical counterinsurgency, it may mean the way in which American military operations were presented to the American people as a kinder and gentler form of war, and so on....

<em>Battalion Commander Gentile did hearts and minds to defend against an irregular threat in and around Baghdad himself.</em>

Yeah, I remember that part of his book as an example of continuity versus discontinuity in tactics as a rebuttal to the so-called "narrative arc of counterinsurgency," or the Surge narrative.

Not that your comment was specifically directed at mine, but when I wrote

<em>"Honestly, if there is that much argumentation, perhaps the ideas of "hearts and minds" were never ready for prime time. It seems to have eaten into the intellectual space needed to think through specific campaigns. A historical argument as the basis for a campaign."</em>

I was referring to the "narrative arc" that he discusses in his book, the narrative that references Vietnam and the attempt to "refight" the Vietnam war but this time, doing counterinsurgency correctly in locales like Iraq or Afghanistan as long as the correct General with the correct techniques is in place. A rote cookie cutter approach to complicated peoples and places is the "rap", I suppose.

McCallister

Sat, 08/17/2013 - 7:46pm

... they never defeated us on the battlefield... they never defeated our supported allies on the battlefield... and then we left.

What are we actually debating? Are we still debating whether the population-centric approach is the more dominant form of irregular war than the strictly enemy-centric approach? Are we to believe that COL Gentile is proposing that we strictly focus on heavy-armored enemy centric warfare? Anyone who has been engaged in this conversation for awhile understands that Gian is not arguing for strictly one over the other... Battalion Commander Gentile did hearts and minds to defend against an irregular threat in and around Baghdad himself. All warfare is population-centric... Defeat mechanisms are influenced by both civilian and fighter attitudes.

They never defeated us on the battlefield, nor our allies whom we trained and funded... until the trainers left and the funding ran out.

I just finished reading Predictive Analytics by Eric Siegel... uses and abuses of mega-data and all that... I am learning that all data is predictive... therefore... history is data and all data is history... therefore history is predictive. COIN and Stability Operations may be quite similar but in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan where if we had actually studied the "historical data" beforehand... we might have predicted different outcomes ... Gian's appears to be the wining argument.

The argument I hear is if we would only have had more time... and COL Gentile argues it was wasted.

r/
MAC

Bill M.

Mon, 08/19/2013 - 2:22am

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward,
After reading your last post where you jumped from the necessity to keeping a large Army for COIN and then global warming it is clear your arguments are about justifying a large Army, but you’re not tying them to strategy. You created your own counterfactuals by implying we have to intervene in every conflict overseas, but are not clarifying why we should? The facts are we are in the midst of a serious economic challenge, and we can’t afford to sustain the force structure you seem to be calling for. That means we need to prioritize and really focus on what is important and what isn’t. That is the context of my responses to some of your statements.
You wrote, “Bill, FID is all about assisting an existing military in securing its own nation, right? If no military exists, you must train one, correct?”
This is not correct, this assumes we’re going to assume the role of protecting a nation that really hasn’t been a nation since the Soviets invaded (and a few years prior to that).
You wrote, “No wonder the Army faces the crisis of threatened active force drawdowns. It gets blamed for not solving the problem of Sunnis/Shiite/Kurds or Pashtuns/Taliban fighting Tajiks/Uzbeks/ Hazaras/etc. seeking power after major combat operations finished.”
So you are claiming we’re downsizing the Army because someone is blaming them for failing to resolve the Sunni-Shia Civil War? Who is blaming the Army? I think there is a growing realization that there is no U.S. military solution to this civil war, but we will have roles where we have to use military force to protect critical national interests in the Middle East to achieve specific and limited objectives. What type of forces we need to do that is what we need to determine, rather than designing a force to repeat the past decade.
You wrote, “Internal Army debates over the value of COIN and Stability Operations (as if the two can be separated) and talk of “savior” Generals IMHO is hurting the Army.”
How is the debate hurting the Army? Why do you rule out the possibility that the debate will ultimately result in a better Army? Perhaps you examine your own arguments and biases and instead of coming up with claims of counterfactuals actually justify why we need to maintain the current force structure to protect our vital national security interests, instead of attempting to transform so called outlier nations. Plus we didn’t conduct COIN in Haiti, Liberia, or Bosnia so it is a false claim that they always correlate.
You wrote, “That in turns leads to policies that we can lead from behind in Libya and ignore Syria and things will magically fix themselves.”
This statement asserts it our responsibility to fix these problems and that these problems can be fixed with the application of military power. Why?
You wrote, “After all, the theory goes, we could have walked away from Iraq and Afghanistan and civil casualties would have been less, right?
Unfortunately we did didn’t stop the mass murder in Iraq while we were there, and while we may be delaying it in Afghanistan, I suspect we’ll see a very bloody civil war after we depart. This isn’t unique to the Muslim world, but if you ignore history I guess it appears to new. There were large scale atrocities in post WWII France, Italy and much of East Asia. In fact more people were killed in East Asia after WWII than during the war. History will run its course, and trying to stop it by putting U.S. boots on the ground will probably accomplish little other than prolonging the atrocities. We could afford for a while to park U.S. forces in Afghanistan, because there is much less violence in the world today than there has been traditionally. Media has warped our sense of reality and created a warped sense of global crisis. There are crises in selection locations.
You wrote, “We do nothing...we still get attacked on 9/11 despite helping Muslims in the Balkans and Kuwait in the prior decade.”
No one is proposing doing nothing, actually quite the opposite, but now we’ll be less hesitant to act when we should due to 10 years of relatively ineffective intervention. Prior to 9/11 we didn’t have the political will to act, and obviously there are many options for acting that don’t involve occupying a nation and trying to nation build. SOF was more than prepared to conduct strikes on Al-Qaeda in the 90s without sending in large scale conventional forces. We need the political will to conduct disruption operations much like the Israelis do. This will continue for years, the Army will not achieve a decisive victory even if they are successful with nation building in Afghanistan. That is not the nature of this fight.

Move Forward

Sun, 08/18/2013 - 11:08am

In reply to by Bill M.

<blockquote>Reducing violence is not an end, it is a temporary condition, one we can’t afford as a nation to sustain indefinitely or even for another 10 years. Who cares what it would have looked like if we left in 2002 after pushing most of Al-Qaeda out? I don’t think our 10 plus years there is going to change the ultimate outcome, and we may be simply prolonging the violence. No one knows what it would have looked like if we left 10 years ago, so leaves open the possibility that it could actually be better than it is now?</blockquote>

Bill, FID is all about assisting an existing military in securing its own nation, right? If no military exists, you must train one, correct? That (and country size and isolation) is the major difference between Iraq/Afghanistan and Columbia/El Salvador/Philippines. It took time to train militaries from scratch, particularly when so many Afghan ANSF were both illiterate and non-Pashtuns unlike the rest of the “country.” If we are going to insist on “one nation under God” in another land with old Colonial boundaries, some sort of ANSF must exist to keep some semblance of one nation under Allah, particularly when some ethnicities of that nation interpret requirements for being a good Muslim differently than other ethnicities.

No wonder the Army faces the crisis of threatened active force drawdowns. It gets blamed for not solving the problem of Sunnis/Shiite/Kurds or Pashtuns/Taliban fighting Tajiks/Uzbeks/ Hazaras/etc. seeking power after major combat operations finished. That was a Presidential, State Department, and Ambassador issue to fix through a strategy of ethnic partition ala Balkanization. The training of host nation forces was slow going with inadequate forces split between fighting two wars and conducting wide area security over two Texas-sized territories. Civil leaders asked our military to fight both wars on the cheap initially and failed to allow/force ground forces to plan stability operations with a sufficiently large “occupation” force. Yet the Army and Marines get blamed for long war costs and drawn out conflict because it was forced to fight both wars with a slow-drip treatment rather than forcing a partition and upfront Surge.

Internal Army debates over the value of COIN and Stability Operations (as if the two can be separated) and talk of “savior” Generals IMHO is hurting the Army. COL Gentile’s public speculation gives the illusion of authority based on his status as both semi-senior Soldier and historian which provides limited cover in bashing past policy and leadership. It also is clear from past and current articles about the “Death of the Armor Corps” and COL MacGregor’s ideas (out of curiosity, how will we identify the BGs to command and deploy/sustain these Armor groups since none commanded as COLs and they weigh and guzzle so much) that a save-Armor agenda is ongoing, just as you and Robert Jones have a save-SOF, and I push the continue Aviation’s domination theme.;)

When we write off current conflicts as a historical anecdote that never will reoccur, cover is provided for national policy proclamations that long-term Stability Operations will not drive force structure decisions as if historical insurgencies will cease. That in turns leads to policies that we can lead from behind in Libya and ignore Syria and things will magically fix themselves. After all, the theory goes, we could have walked away from Iraq and Afghanistan and civil casualties would have been less, right? Or better yet, never fight at all and there won’t be <strong>any</strong> civilian casualties. Oh wait, 100,000 dead Syrians exist and in the Balkans thousands died from genocide before we stepped in. These are the events some authoritative historian should be citing as a counterpoint to other’s unfounded counterfactual conclusions.

Other past Generals told us that if you “broke it you bought it,” and his later 4-star peers brought us 76 COPs instead of FOBs in Iraq to help “buy it” during the Surge. Yet we hear many argue that the Surges were irrelevant and it was going to fix itself anyway. That only contributes to the SecDef Rumsfeld failed idea that war can be fought on the cheap and that you fight with the Army you’ve got no matter how small the active part of it is and how long it takes to deploy <strong>after</strong> training reservists.

However, there are many areas where reservists can excel and one of them is stability operations where training delays are less critical because they don’t deploy until most major combat operations finish. Civil occupations also make many of them better "diplomats." Active forces also must be involved because war and stability operations are inherently a human endeavor by those on the ground able to interact with and protect/support those who other humans are trying to harm or suppress.

Then consider that disasters always will occur both inside and outside our nation requiring boots on the ground to assist. If climate change is a reality, we are more likely to help reduce its effects. We are <strong>unlikely</strong> to change normal climate cycles and if China, India, and other 3rd world countries continue to pollute it doesn’t matter what we do throwing trillions at the problem. Doesn’t it make more sense to spend those trillions employing a 50-state military that can wear many hats in a climate disaster rather than trying to throw money at changing the global climate?

I would submit that the best means to keep the Army and Marines more relevant is greater planned interaction on U.S. soil with other needy U.S. civilians and civil agencies as well as those attempting to cross our borders. This assistance stateside would teach Soldiers the value of “not being a jerk” and wide area security for overseas stability operations. Our National Guard is ideally suited for this purpose but active forces likewise could participate in some support for Civil Authorities. It’s hard to imagine robots handing out food or water to North Koreans in a crisis, controlling refugees, holding a shura, seeking ground human intelligence, or providing medical help.

<blockquote>Who said we facilitated their destruction? In fact our occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq was a great bonus to their recruiting and gaining a much larger cadres of combat hardened vets now to spread their jihad globally. </blockquote>

We do nothing...we still get attacked on 9/11 despite helping Muslims in the Balkans and Kuwait in the prior decade. We do nothing but bomb Qaddafi’s forces in Libya, and we don’t know what happened to lots of MANPADS and Benghazi results. We train the Mali Army with SF and a military coup occurs that al Qaeda exploits that French ground forces must fix. At least if we do <strong>something</strong> other than nothing fighting back against terror, we reduce the effectiveness of or eliminate their key leaders. From an insurgency standpoint, drone attacks of key innovators, leaders, and trainers pay far more dividends than any claimed increase in rank and file terrorists. This past week’s concentrated attacks of Yemen seem to have had some affect in that regard.

The track record of new, less-trained recruits exemplified by the shoe, underwear, or Time Square bomber is minimal other than as suicide bombers. Frankly, the Boston bombers also were marginally successful lethally if not economically by shutting down Boston. Paying attention to tips could have mattered in the Boston case and perhaps has mattered in the past week with multiple drone strikes in Yemen possibly ending that threat…who knows. Getting key players and NSA tracking (leading to 54 failed attempts) yields far greater benefits. We should not shortchange this effectiveness through misguided concerns over privacy or increased recruiting…or that we might attack Jane Fonda with a Hellfire.;)

The opposite extreme of doing nothing as in Syria, can also lead to terror. I can’t say it breaks my heart to see Sunni extremists and Hezbollah fighters killing each other, but obviously someone will emerge as a victor with access to WMD. Yes, we should consider chemical weapons as WMD in a terrorist’s hands. That is the sole area where COL Gentile’s reference to WWI relative to current conflicts makes sense.

Bill M.

Sun, 08/18/2013 - 12:18am

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward,
I’m not trying to defend COL Gentile, he has points I agree with and points I disagree with. However, I think your comments in the post above miss the mark by a wide margin.
I don’t understand his reference to the Battle of the Somme indicated the complexity of a more conventional war over a counterinsurgency. Yes it was more intense by a factor of a 1,000 plus, but WWI as a whole was more complex than counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. That really isn’t even debatable. It was a World War that involved fundamentally new technologies, new coalitions, a number of small wars that involved multiple actors (think Lawrence of Arabia), and a new world order (one that causes us many of our woes today) at the end of it. The interaction with the populace and politicians at all levels was clearly as complex as Afghanistan. Again this doesn’t mean Afghanistan is simple, it is far from it, but I do tire of the COINdistas’ exaggerated claims about how we have never been here before, this is more complex than ever, and nobody understands it but those few of us who embrace our COIN doctrine like it is a religion.

You are correct about the Soviets being unable to make the Afghans quit with their superior fire power (but they did come close), but the Soviets pursued the same political strategy we did and attempted to transform the Afghanistan’s culture. That is why they failed and we’re failing. This was an unreasonable end, and another division of armor or infantry wouldn’t change that.

You wrote, “Note how his second sentence implies the Surge of 2009 seemingly is related to more violence now. Instead, a more logical conclusion might be that more US forces replaced by fewer, less effective ANSF are unable to fully limit such violence. That leads to what would have been achieved had we just left after 2002?”

Your comment in my view is illogical. While I agree more U.S. boots on the ground controlling more territory would result in less violence, I would counter with so what? Reducing violence is not an end, it is a temporary condition, one we can’t afford as a nation to sustain indefinitely or even for another 10 years. Who cares what it would have looked like if we left in 2002 after pushing most of Al-Qaeda out? I don’t think our 10 plus years there is going to change the ultimate outcome, and we may be simply prolonging the violence. No one knows what it would have looked like if we left 10 years ago, so leaves open the possibility that it could actually be better than it is now? Our target was Al-Qaeda and we didn’t have the political will to pursue them into Pakistan, so we started nation building in Afghanistan under the false assumption if we produced stability in Afghanistan this would defeat Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda correctly assumed they could bleed us out over time if we were to pursue a strategy like this.

You wrote, “An equally unprovable but common sense conclusion would be that Afghanistan would be Chaosistan providing sanctuary for many of Pakistan’s more radical Taliban who threaten Pakistan’s stability.”

Maybe, but I suspect Pakistan’s Taliban wouldn’t have risen to the level they have if we never parked in Afghanistan. Look at the timeline and prove me wrong.
You wrote, “Look at Iraq now and speculate what it would resemble had we not stayed as long as we did. This Bloomberg article talks about going from 5-10 suicide attacks monthly in 2011 and 2012 to upwards of 30 in Iraq in the last 90 days due to Syrian Sunni insurgent resurgence. Consider whether Iraq would be seeking US help had we not demonstrated some prior commitment to their stability”

We opened Pandora’s Box in Iraq and “we” will never be able to close it. Staying there another 10 years would only result in a few thousand more maimed and dead Americans and coalition partners. We need to learn the limits of the military can accomplish and develop appropriate ends based on that. We live, we learn (hopefully).

You wrote, “If we accomplished al Qaeda’s destruction back then, what are all these groups in Yemen, Syria, back in Iraq, and North Africa...and yes still in AfPak?”
Who said we facilitated their destruction? In fact our occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq was a great bonus to their recruiting and gaining a much larger cadres of combat hardened vets now to spread their jihad globally.

You wrote, “We believed Saddam Hussein would be overthrown after we left prematurely after Desert Storm. We thought the no-fly zone would solve the problem. How did that hope and change thing work out then?”

Actually the no fly zone was working, and if you read what George Bush Senior wrote you would realize he understood what have happened if we removed Saddam and didn’t pursue it. Did removing Saddam help stabilize the Middle East, or did simply increase Iran’s influence and destabilized the region?

I agree with many of your comments, but think you are taking considerable liberty with the facts regarding Iraq and Afghanistan.

Move Forward

Sat, 08/17/2013 - 3:50pm

In the second paragraph of his article, COL Gentile says this:

<blockquote>With Cassidy’s and FM 3-24’s logic, the World War I Battle of the Somme in 1916 was easy, as compared to COIN, despite the deaths of 7,000 British infantrymen who went over the top in the first hour of the attack, and the fact that as many as 20,000 British men had lost their lives by the end of the day. In other words, Somme was the undergraduate level of war.</blockquote>

When you have a history hammer, every solution resembles a historical wooden peg. COL Gentile already has commanded mechanized units and witnessed airpower that would have circumvented what he sees as the “graduate” level of WWI. Trench warfare artillery and human wave casualties certainly weren't a positive example of how to fight for future Soldiers and leaders as Curmudgeon points out. Ask the Iranians in the Iraq-Iran War.

In addition is it appropriate for a talented historian to attempt to postulate or theorize revised history through the mechanism of counterfactuals? If enemy-centric armored force warfare was the solution in some place like Iraq or Afghanistan for post war stability operations why was it working so poorly from 2004-2006 or when the Soviets had all their armor in Afghanistan?

COL Gentile has been seen speculating about counterfactuals in past forums with James Dobbins and John Nagl and he continues that trend in a recent Op-Ed in the LA Times, “America’s Nation-Building at Gunpoint” that included this:

<blockquote>What has the United States achieved? The place is more violent today than it was at the height of the Afghan surge of troops under Gen. Stanley McChrystal in 2009, the government is one of the most corrupt in the world, and the ability of the Afghan security forces is dubious at best.</blockquote>

Note how his second sentence implies the Surge of 2009 seemingly is related to more violence now. Instead, a more logical conclusion might be that more US forces replaced by fewer, less effective ANSF are unable to fully limit such violence. That leads to what would have been achieved had we just left after 2002? If the Afghan security forces <strong>now</strong> are imperfect, how would they have fared in 2002 had we just departed unceremoniously before they existed? What kind of government would exist? More warlords, or a return to Taliban rule? If less security exists now than during the Afghan Surge, doesn’t that say something about that Surge’s effectiveness? Recall Sangin as an economy of force under-resourced British effort before the Surge, its improvement during the USMC Surge, and its current status under ANSF control. Now imagine how chaotic it would be without the forces trained by our Marines.

<blockquote>Would Afghanistan have been worse off today if the United States had left soon after toppling the Taliban and crushing Al Qaeda? Remember, the United States had essentially accomplished its core political objective in Afghanistan — the destruction of Al Qaeda there — by early 2002.</blockquote>

An equally unprovable but common sense conclusion would be that Afghanistan would be Chaosistan providing sanctuary for many of Pakistan’s more radical Taliban who threaten Pakistan’s stability. Look at Iraq now and speculate what it would resemble had we not stayed as long as we did. This Bloomberg article talks about going from 5-10 suicide attacks monthly in 2011 and 2012 to upwards of 30 in Iraq in the last 90 days due to Syrian Sunni insurgent resurgence. Consider whether Iraq would be seeking US help had we not demonstrated some prior commitment to their stability:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-16/iraqi-foreign-minister-open-to…

If we accomplished al Qaeda’s destruction back then, what are all these groups in Yemen, Syria, back in Iraq, and North Africa...and yes still in AfPak? Could it be that our persistence drove al Qaeda out of isolated areas well inland in AfPak to areas where we better can can target them now? Counterfactuals are handy tools when overestimating positive outcomes in the absence of actual action.

We believed Saddam Hussein would be overthrown after we left prematurely after Desert Storm. We thought the no-fly zone would solve the problem. How did that hope and change thing work out then? Why did we use cruise missiles to try to take out al Qaeda training camps back in Clinton’s days? Could it be that pesky overflight-rights problem that we also experienced back in the early 80s when we first bombed Qaddafi and France objected? Why assume our aircraft always could return via Pakistan and other “stans” airspace as al Qaeda and the Taliban returned to Afghanistan...over and over. By staying long enough to train the ANSF and build some relationship with the Afghan and Pakistan government, we demonstrate to all parties our commitment to not letting things return to the way they were.

Finally, I noted that COL Gentile joined retired flag officers Admiral Fitzgerald and Lt Gen Deptula in a piece in “The National Interest,” “A Cheaper, Stronger Army.” The below quote demonstrates the same lack of foresight that we saw in OIF 1 where we failed to plan for post major conflict stability operations:

<blockquote>Consider a future scenario in which the North Korean state collapses, requiring a fighting occupation of the North by South Korea and assisted by the United States military using air and naval striking power, combined with ground operations by the army. One can only imagine how a light-infantry-based army would fare in such a lethal combat environment. A replay of what actually happened to the U.S. Army in 1950 would be a real possibility in this future scenario.</blockquote>

One very dangerous aspect of any such conflict would be the occupation after most organized bullets and bombs/missiles/artillery were exchanged. The Army recently decided that MRAPs do not fit Korea, because more lethal systems are required. However, a secondary reason could be the complete absence of applicability off road and on narrow muddy roads north of the DMZ according to Ken White. Those are the same conditions that drive the need for light infantry, the JLTV, and Strykers in addition to the mechanized and aviation forces our Army already has and would need during and post war. Even if our primary role was stability operations south of the DMZ while the ROK stabilized in the north (which I’m not saying it would be) there clearly would be stability operations with some measure of peacekeeping and nation-building at the point of a gun. Otherwise NGOs, USAID, and the State Department and South Korean and UN equivalents would be attacked repeatedly leading to either mercenary security or none at all and no progress in stability operations.

Speculation will continue as to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and historians will attempt to shape views of history based on their biases. That alone calls into question history’s value as references to the Battle of Somme have little relevance to Iraq or Afghanistan, unless related to the utter stupidity of trench warfare and human wave attacks of the Iran-Iraq war. Nevertheless, these arguments should not be used to question the necessity of long-term stability operations or the next war will resemble OIF in 2004-2006.

My historically-based and common sense bet is that even though we may no longer be interested in stability operations, they will be imposed upon us if we wish to achieve positive outcomes for the sacrifices of our service members during major conflict. Like it or not, COIN and Stability Operations are very similar. Identical conditions of insurgents disguised as civilians could occur in any number of future conflicts to include Korea or Taiwan. That complicates the notion of the anti-COIN/enemy-centric crowd that we could just “go find and kill those insurgents” or employ counter-terror and SOF operations only.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 08/20/2013 - 10:17am

In reply to by G Martin

Thx for the response!

G Martin

Sat, 08/17/2013 - 2:00am

Just a few observations from the last few years that might be relevant/ offer some insight:

- In 2008, then-GEN Petraeus came to CGSC and gave a presentation about Iraq. It was a power-point display that used metrics to sell us that the surge and the "ways" (presumably 3-24, though not stated explicitly as I remember) had won the war. It was a slick presentation and very hard not to be impressed- but I remember coming away thinking that it had been not only a very good IO message- but also seemed to be delivered to a wider audience than CGSC (it was filmed and broadcast over some public channel as I recall and definitely wasn't delivered in a way that was best for U.S. Army Majors- very dry and PC). I concluded that winning in war meant selling the concept that one was winning or that one won. I also later marveled that although GEN Petraeus didn't seem to be able to do the same selling after he commanded in Afghanistan- many folks seemed to give him credit for "turning things around there" too.

- In 2012, during the COIN (3-24) manual rewrite, I witnessed time and again U.S. Army officers unable to imagine COIN in any way except for what they had experienced and/or what they "knew" about U.S. political and U.S. military institutional norms. This led me to believe that what our Army suffers from (among other things) is the inability of our leaders and their staffs to frame things in different ways. So, what I see (Madhu) from inside the institution is one set of officers (the majority) who have internalized the doctrine and therefore see the world through a 3-24 lens- and only through that lens, and another set of officers (a minority) who see the world through a different lens (but only that one lens). Very, very few have I encountered who are able to see the world through a 3-24 lens, a non-3-24 lens, and other lenses. This concerns me due to my belief that in order to conduct meaningful operations in areas in which our policy objectives are a little unclear, our strategy is a little (or a lot) broad and abstract, and our operational lines of effort are pulled directly out of doctrinal pubs with no thought to them other than using them to connect policy objectives to tactics via power point shapes- it is critical that one be able to view the world through multiple lenses.

- At that same manual rewrite conference, then-CIA Director Petraeus came and addressed the conference. He stated very clearly his belief that we needed to take our time in rewriting the manual- that the manual had really been written mainly for Iraq with lessons learned pulled from Iraq- and that with Afghanistan and post-OIF Iraq, there were many more things we have learned that would make a fundamental rewrite necessary. He ended by saying there should be no rush to complete the manual. I was often reminded of those words over the next year as I felt the pressure to not only finish the manual quickly- but also avoid changing anything fundamentally. I was left thinking that there were definite institutional and political pressures at work that kept us from taking the advice of the at-that-time-still-revered father of the manual and that maybe things that were attributed to Petraeus weren't necessarily things he believed (specifically about 3-24, Iraq, and COIN in general). In short- he was perhaps made into a celebrity general from others who gained from using his name in vain as well as his own actions for political (as opposed to ideological or personal) reasons.

- Lastly, I have seen over the last 5 years general officers attempt to initiate efforts- only to see them get bogged down in the bureaucracy of their organization. Although I think GEN Petraeus contributed to some of the perception that the surge, 3-24, and his own leadership were more or less responsible for the uptick in positive data points in 2008, I think that just as much of it came from those who had (and have) something to gain- or think they have something to gain from fostering that impression. Some of it IMO is tied to the inability of many to imagine the world through anything other than what they've read in doctrine. Others gain due to the doctrine being tied to funding and mission strategies. Regardless of the reasons, my takeaway recently has been that general officers often don't have as much influence over strategic direction as we'd like to think they do, things they get involved in often take on a life of their own- getting intertwined with partisan efforts and used by those with agendas, and changing course- even for someone as "celebrity" as Petraeus is- is often impossible taking into consideration the strength of the bureaucracy and the intractability of things once they become part of "the system" (doctrine, for instance).

Madhu- hope that helps some in describing things "on the inside".

I, for one, am not as interested in whether COIN doctrine is right or not (I'm also biased- I studied under Porch and agree with much of what Gentile writes about), but am more interested in WHY we believe in what we believe. I am fascinated with how our institution "learns" (if you want to call it that- I call it that simply because we say we learn- but I think learning in general is a very subjective term anyway, but even more so when we (the military) use the term...)- specifically how we have "learned" from Afghanistan and Iraq. I submit that beyond some learning by some at the tactical level (and most of those guys are out now or getting out)- our higher level learning has been blocked by systemic forces tied to the fight for funding and institutional paradigms. These forces tend to force behavior that makes sense at the individual level- but is killing us IMO at the organizational/institutional level. There doesn't seem to me to be any room for productive red-teaming of concepts, alternative viewpoints of strategic direction, or folks telling "the emperor" he has no clothes. The solution can't be the CJCS telling everyone they need to be as courageous in the conference room as they are on the battlefield- we have to be honest about why we aren't and work on changing that.

- GMM

McCallister

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 8:16pm

Gian... how the hell are you? Still poking the bear I see. Here is my take away after participating in the planning and the high-diddle-diddle-up the left middle push to Baghdad... plus six plus years in country doing COIN for this or that organization.

It's not strictly a matter of liking or disliking COIN... COIN is contextual.. Iraq is different than Afghanistan... or the Philippines between 1899-1913... While concepts remain steady... execution is malleable. Cultures, fighting styles, local and regional politics differ.

Reference surge. The surge did nothing more than create an operational reserve. It provided the theater commander with greater flexibility to weigh his main effort... or develop situation. The district commanders remained free to engage and recruit locals to fight AQI and or other bad men... something they had been doing anyway since 2003.

Major learning points for me... all COIN is local. The host-nation does COIN... the liberator or occupier (take your pick) does FID or security assistance after regime change/removal. Example. The local police in Springfield, Massachusetts are doing COIN as we speak... It appears that local gangs had been running rough-shad over the local population... State-troopers with Iraq and Astan experience are working hearts and minds... turning locals into eyes and ears... neighborhood building... block-by-block. COIN doctrine appears to work... when you do it in your own nation-state and not as a cultural/ethnic/civilizational outsider.

Reference "Savior-General"... a more appropriate and less irritating term might be "Celebrity-General"... Celebrity sells... and there is nothing wrong with selling a war when you are trying to win it. Doesn't mean that you should believe your own press.

Gian... good to read your stuff..

v/r
MAC

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 9:09am

In reply to by Bill M.

<blockquote>Gian repeatedly undermines several of his valid arguments when he directs his criticism at the Savior General.</blockquote>

Bill M, this isn't directed at you, but the larger conversation:

I used to think that too until fairly recently, but after reading more about the history of the narrative he is tracing (especially Douglas Porch), I see what he is saying.

There is a lot of historical ignorance out there and I'm as guilty as the next one on being played because I didn't understand the lastest--and I mean latest--historical and other research.

For some reason, it is hard to understand or accept his argument unless you really, really dig into the history of his thesis of men-as-god Generals. His book provides a brief overview but is fascinating nonetheless. Many of the recent book reviews have missed out on the method of his approach, examining the dated or rather strange scholarship that seems to permeate some Army doctrine. It isn't complete and isn't meant to be because he is talking about one facet. There are plenty of other scholars doing the same thing in the academy, it seems.

The Academy moves on and some corners of the military thought it was 1965.

I am one of those civilians that bought the Surge narrative in all its simplicity as sold to the larger public. That a new sort of man or woman was taking over, a book reading soldier, able to speak languages and charm foreign populations. And it was a sell too. I see it now but embarrassingly didn't see it before. That Vanity Fair article! The photo! I was so worried like a lot of Americans in 2006 and needed to hear a different narrative. I really believed that the entire American military moved out among the people and lived with them and the Iraqis changed their minds about the war.

Even the proponents of the Surge didn't say it was that simple, but think about the way in which most people get their news or how they pay attention to issues: a talking head, a respected General on TV, and so on.

So, when it came time for a "new General" in Afghanistan, the same thing happened. A new man will change everything, as a sort of minor god he will make sure the right inputs are in place and all friction or fog of war will disappear.

I'm not sure people in the military realize how much some of us really believed a whole host of assumptions that may seem strange now. To be fair, the civilians in charge really needed the myth to be true but that is the point of the Savior General Myth. <strong>It allows people to get out of thinking, to get out of understanding any situation, it allows a flight from responsibility. It is this behavior by decision makers that must be understood and the dangerous allure of easy answers to difficult problems.</strong>

I have a feeling as an outsider that some of the anger isn't really at Gian, it is personal embarrassment. Someone else saw the myth for what it was and said it first.

I went to a talk by GEN. Petraeus and a woman next to me ran up to him after the talk to get FM3-24 signed, to get his autograph. That's not his fault and I wish the General much success in retired life. I cringe at some of the criticism.

But I think some people in the military don't get how this affected civilians in all its permutations. Myths or simplified narratives are dangerous. Isn't that the real message of the way in which we went to war in Iraq and in Afghanistan?

Gian repeatedly undermines several of his valid arguments when he directs his criticism at the Savior General. This is unfortunate, because many people who should seriously debate his thoughts dismiss them because of this perceived personal attack on Petreaus.

As to the comments below, counterinsurgency is hardly a "wicked" problem in all cases, and perhaps not even in most; however, I agree that it is in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Still it is much less complex than a major war where a number of truly strategic variables interact in ways that will "significantly" alter the course of history. The conflicts we're involved in today pale in comparison when it comes to complexity to WWII (not the individual battles) and the Cold War. Both WWII and the Cold War had the same social-cultural-political factors we're dealing with in Afghanistan in multiple parts of the world. They were subsets of problems in a larger strategic context that poised existential threats to our national security, so they were put in context and managed in a practical manner. Neither the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan pose that type of threat to the U.S. or the West, so we have considerable freedom of choice (less complexity) to respond to these challenges. In fact, having that freedom (not being deterred) is what led to our hubris. Both of these conflicts evolved into wicked problems (combination terrorism, insurgency, civil war, etc.) due to our unrealistic policy objectives. In short our policies more than our tactics resulted in challenges that were and are not conducive to a military solution.

We continually debate doctrine and tactics, and while there is always room for improvement, these really are not the issues nor the key lessons we should take from these two theaters of war. Even if every U.S. service member executed our COIN doctrine at the tactical and operational level, that military excellence would have not resulted in a different outcome in either Iraq or Afghanistan. This I fear is what we fail to, or perhaps refuse to understand. In my opinion focusing on the tactics instead of the strategy for our lessons learnt for the future will simply lead to more self-imposed failures (regardless of how good we are tactically).

The sad and very disappointing truth is that we can afford to fail to Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course none of us desire that outcome, but consider what would have happened if we couldn't afford to fail, if somehow we perceived an existential threat to our nation if we did fail? I think we would all agree one of two course of action would have been pursued. If we decided to engage militarily we would be less concerned with the hubris related nation building and appeasement of actors like Pakistan. We would have focused on eliminating the existential threat to our nation even if that meant entering Pakistan and Iran to deny safehaven for our foes. While the population would be important (they always are), they wouldn't have been "our" center of gravity. However, the fact is that COIN in other countries doesn't present an existential threat so we half step because the strategic context allows us to.

On the other hand, we may have deemed that a military intervention presented too strategic risk, so we wouldn't have opted for a military solution (at least an overt one), we would have been deterred by the risk to our greater interests like we were many times during the Cold War. That meant we would have accepted the fact that the risk versus gain was not worth a military action. We let Hungary fall to the Soviets because of this calculus for example.

As we look to the future and how we should design Joint Force 2020 we need to stay focused on what is truly important. Al-Qaeda and other non-state actors and state actors will likely continue to wage unconventional warfare against the U.S. much like the USSR did (though in a different manner and in a different context), and we still risk future state on state wars, major cyber attacks, and host of other very real threats to our interests that require a holistic approach. Irregular warfare (including COIN) will be part of that context, but if we view this as a long war (more to come), then we would be wise to pursue a strategy that doesn't rely on unsustainable surges. In most cases we fortunately can work in a FID versus COIN context as part of our counter-UW campaign against AQ. In some cases like Bosnia and Haiti we'll be drawn in a larger manner to provide some degree of stability and the lessons learnt at the tactical level over the past decade (and the many decades prior to that) will be relevant. Don't toss out the baby with the bathwater, but we need to get a better understanding of the bathtub we're in.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 08/15/2013 - 10:11am

In reply to by Bill M.

Another commenter used the word "celebrity" which might be a better way to look at things. Maybe I'm just in the mood to see a celebrity culture everywhere these days so the argument resonates on that level?

I think that the way in which the State Department presented the late Richard Holbrooke as a potentially ground breaking envoy in AfPak showed an almost delusional belief in the ability for one man to fundamentally change complicated ground realities. Or maybe it was just marketing. I am so sick of marketing, of being spun and manipulated on foreign and military affairs.

On Hillary Clinton (I am not making a political point, but a cultural one):

<blockquote>Here’s a thought: She can save the world.

Yes, all right, perhaps that’s a trifle hyperbolic, but hear me out. And keep in mind that this works only as a long game. We may not live to see salvation but one has to start somewhere. Thus far invasions, bunker-busting mega-bombs and killer drones seem not to be having the desired effect.

Let’s begin with a working (and provable) premise: Women, if allowed to be fully equal to men, will bring peace to the planet. This is not so far-fetched a notion. One, men have been at it for thousands of years, resulting in millions and millions of corpses. Two, countries where women are most oppressed and abused are also the least stable.</blockquote>

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/kathleen-parker-hillary-clinton-…

I know there is a lot of silly commentary out there but the theme of an American "saving the world" through diplomacy, support for a particular group involved in a civil or other type of war, through development or NGO work, it's a very strange fantasy of omnipotence.

On the other hand, I have a tendency to see what I want to see. It's an intellectual weakness.

For all, a book of interest, perhaps? I almost passed over it because I thought it would be the usual story but it seems from the sample pages that it looks at contrasting historical arguments, the historiography. Honestly, if there is that much argumentation, perhaps the ideas of "hearts and minds" were never ready for prime time. It seems to have eaten into the intellectual space needed to think through specific campaigns. A historical argument as the basis for a campaign. Now I've seen everything:

http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Forget-Counterinsurgency-Doctrine-Practi…

Bill M.

Thu, 08/15/2013 - 2:50am

In reply to by Gian P Gentile

To be clear I wrote "your perceived attacks against Petraeus," and in fact these real or perceived attacks against the man instead of the false narrative that Hanson created quite frankly distracts from the many valid arguments you do make. I suspect if you wrote under a pseudonym and strayed away from the Savior General theme you're articles would generate more critical debate (much needed) on COIN.

On a side note, I do disagree with your assessment that his leadership (what I believe you're writing) wasn't decisive in turning the campaign around. Of course there were multiple factors that influenced the rise of the Awakening and other events that effectively suppressed the violence enough for us to withdraw. I'm not arguing we won or accomplished much of anything other than removing Saddam (which we did in 2003), but a change in tactics, more aggressive tactics (it wasn't about winning hearts and minds, we killed more under Petraeus than any other commander), and leadership that compelled compliance. He was a right man at the right time to help us recover from the fiasco our policies led to.

TheCurmudgeon

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 3:50pm

In reply to by Gian P Gentile

Sir, I apologize for my characterization of you as personally “hating” GEN Petreaus. None-the-less I believe that when you mix your arguments against the myth of the Savoir General with COIN as a doctrinal problem (not necessarily, as currently drafted, a doctrinal solution) then, in my opinion, you are making what amounts to an ad hominem argument. As Madhu points out to me in several places you have made reasoned arguments on what the Army’s future role in Counterinsurgency operations should look like – I just believe that mixing the arguments takes away from your point about the Savior General and adds nothing to debate on how best to deal with very difficult problems.

Gian P Gentile

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 11:10am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Building on what Madhu said let me add a a couple of points in response to some of the things said about me on this thread. First to Bill M, I reject your characterization that I make “personal attacks” against Petraeus since it makes it sound like I have “personal” issues with him, and implicitly am being unfair as a result. I have not made personal attacks against the man, instead I have leveled an interpretive criticism based on evidence on two things: his effectiveness as a general and a narrative that has been built around him to suggest that he was the “savior” (to use Hanson’s specific word) of Iraq. These are in no way personal attacks but criticism. For example is a historian of the American civil war who criticizes (rightly I might add) Longstreet at Gettysburg on Day 2 for dallying about and taking his time getting into an attack position and then after the war going off the chart in trying to place all of the blame on Lee in his post war writings, is that a reasonable interpretive criticism of Longstreet's generalship and post war activities or a personal attack? See what I mean?

And for Curmudgeon I absolutely reject your use of the word “hatred” to describe my view of Petraeus. You then say I make ad hominem attacks against the man. But I don’t, I criticize his generalship and the narrative that has been built around him, and I support my critique with evidence. You may disagree with my interpretation, and that is fine, but please Sir do not commit an actual ad hominem criticism of me when you say I “hate” the man. I defy you to find any evidence in any of my writings that shows proof of such a powerful word like “hate.”

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 10:31am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

I honestly don't see the hatred, I see two "camps" that are going at it, philosophically and intellectually. It gets heated (to this outsider) but that is the nature of things when discussing war.

Where is <strong>Grant Martin</strong> or the other Design guys and gals when you need them? They seem to understand differing military and civilian cultures and how it affects perception. My cultural background (this time as the child of college town life with a bookish upbringing) sees a rough-and-tumble intellectual and academic argument, really rough and tumble as is appropriate when talking about blood and treasure. This is just one area where I guess I don't get what is going on inside the institution.

<strong>Curmudgeon</strong>, I feel so bad about my horrible military historical background that I asked a friend about tactical innovation in WWI. I got an email that sounds a bit rough but that is just the nature of the discussion between me and my friend. This is for discussion only, I really enjoy your comments and always learn from them:

<blockquote>World War I was the hardest thing any military ever faced, and the British invented most of 20th century warfare in about 50 months, while building an army from scratch and defeating the previously best army in the world.

The idea that COIN is harder than that is laughable.

The Brits did so called COIN very well at the time. It wasn't nearly as hard beating the Germans. "He has not fought the Germans does not know war."</blockquote> - from email

<blockquote>The book examines the evolution of trench warfare, technologically and tactically, from the Crimean War to the Korean War, during which time developments in military technology often advanced far beyond tactical thinking. Trench Warfare 1850 - 1950 discusses the impact of trench warfare on military thinking and considers how the stalemate of the Western Front was overcome. Emergency technologies, from the hand grenade to the tank, are discussed to highlight their impact on trench warfare and, ultimately, on warfare as a whole. Tactically, trench warfare led to the development of the concept of deep battle which was later employed by the Red Army in the Second World War.</blockquote>

<em>-Trench Warfare</em> book, Amazon summary, http://tinyurl.com/lyq5ccr

Haven't read it, can't afford to take the time. Looks interesting.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 9:35am

In reply to by Terry.Tucker

I'm sorry, Terry, I believe you may have misunderstood my point. The point is that pacification takes a lot of time and a lot of troops. It's very complicated nature makes it unable to work in some settings.

I am not in the military but I am an immigrant from the South Asian region (India) and the history of the Americans in that region (think about our clients or allies during the Cold War) shows that anything that takes too much time runs into problems at the highest levels of decision making. That is because our allies are not interested in the same things as we Americans. We don't have the same interests.

How are we supposed to protect the population when our money in an indirect way supports the very proxy or corrupt local and neighboring forces some are afraid of? And if we build up Afghan sovereignty, others in the region view it as a threat because they prefer a weak Afghanistan. That wouldn't be a problem if our system didn't wish to retain others in the region as allies or partners, but our system does. We Americans OURSELVES have competing interests. Ain't no warrior General going to solve that conundrum, no matter how good he is. We explicitly can't protect the people because of it.

How is a focus on the tactics of 2000's-era American COIN supposed to solve, as you put it, "that there were tactical, strategic, political, and diplomatic failure at all levels from top to bottom."?

Reading <em>Soldier Sahibs</em> is insufficient to understanding the region, better to read up on the American Military Attaches that first looked at the region and came up with an idea about how the military should view it, an idea that until very recently informed military campaign planning, albeit in a sort of subconscious way, IMO. But nobody around here ever wants to know about these things, many are interested in a romanticized notion of that part of the world, and that includes our time there in the 80's. If the myths about that time didn't inform the thinking of military men of a certain age with regard to South Asia, then I'd be surprised. But it's probably embarrassing to admit that and this is not the time now, anyway.

RantCorp

Tue, 08/13/2013 - 1:51pm

In reply to by Terry.Tucker

TT,

I doubt if there is anyone in the US military who advocates more strongly the folly of undertaking a military campaign without a workable strategy than Col Gentile. Having said that I fail to understand how ad hominem attacks against certain individuals who have attempted to address this crippling deficiency casts a single shred of light into this doctrinal black hole.

Fortunately you have adopted a different approach and IMO have identified a reason for this shortcoming and in doing so opened a path toward a possible remedy.

TT wrote,

“Additionally, the emphasis on technology and over-modernization is closely related and relational to tactical and operational mentality.”

Is it possible that the necessity for a modern day junior officer to master the very technical, complicated and causal immediacy of a sophisticated weapons platform (load, ID, laze, push button, destroy) is what kills the intuitive mind-set of the emerging future strategist. Unlike the present, history has produced numerous military strategists who are still revered today for their historical achievements and their present-day relevance. The need for a junior officer to master such complicated machines at the dawn of his career was simply unimaginable in the essentially manpower and horsepower driven way of war of past millennia. It appears to me at least that the living and breathing nature of the prime movers of the past (man and beast of burden) required an understanding of the nuanced complexity inherent to living creatures and as such cultivated ,exercised and encouraged a cognitive sophistication in the mind of any future strategist.

By way of establishing how we are going wrong and where our modern-day opponents are succeeding let’s take the early careers of an Armored Squadron commander deployed to Iraq and say an insurgent UW commander based in South Waziristan and define the differences with the morning ‘Shave Test’ in front of the mirror.

As a young Armored Platoon leader the Shave Test List in order of priority -
Orders, fuel, ammo, comms, GPS calibration, ,headspace, environmental ballistic calibrations, mechanical wear contingencies, terrain, ground pressure, Blue armor, Blue dismounts, Red armor, Red dismounts, field maintenance, gun drills, logistic support, TAC, platoon chow, platoon morale, Skype messages home, well-being of men and personal well-being.

Once rolling the prioritization may change but it will remain primarily technical/mechanical in nature. The sense of dehumanization becomes acute during actual combat as a mastery of complicated and sophisticated instruments and devices demands a robotic ‘soda straw view’ outlook and frame of mind in order to survive and destroy the enemy at a moment’s notice.

Our junior UW leader doesn’t shave so we’ll settle for an Ablution Test List. His task list for the day -
Prayer, money, chow, boots, weather, donkeys, hurry up and wait, oats & straw, donkey chowkidars, prayer, snooze, sanctuary, fertilizer, local politics, chai with subordinates, prayer, third rate ammo supply, clapped out Chincom small arms, snooze, depth of snow, hurry up and wait, altitude of mountain pass, prayers, avoid helicopters, hurry up already, get someone to wipe AKSU with oily rag & very short training for suicide mission recruit.

As our two young leaders rise up the chain of command our Armored officer’s duties become more and more detached from the living and breathing doing the fighting. Being ‘blessed’ with digital Comms, he becomes reliant on a Staff that correlate electronic reproductions of voice, sight and sound. These third /fourth – hand accounts of events are processed into video or PowerPoint and fed to the commander as actionable information.

The exponential increase in processor speed half way thru the ‘GWOT’ has further complicated the actionable data served up to our budding strategist by enabling he and his Staff to peer thru numerous feeds from electronic optics anywhere on the planet and delude themselves that they can empathize with those in the thick of the fight. Few can resist the opportunity to apply their superior tactical wisdom whilst scoffing freshly brewed coffee, bagels & donuts.

Our senior UW leader is now responsible for thousands rather than dozens (likewise our Armored Squadron Commander) and many of them seem to be roaming around his HQ chewing everything. He doesn’t need 3rd hand actionable information on how far a man can walk eats, sleep or fight - he got the T-shirt back in the day. Nor does he need a daily siturep on how much a donkey can carry, eat, sleep or travel. Likewise it is a given how effective/ineffective an AK, PKM, RPG or cooking pot fertilizer bomb will be and he is equally comfortable how many can be carried and what they will cost. He doesn’t need a video link to anyone coz the people he needs to see are sitting outside his office and he knows already a cell phone can be as much as a curse as a cure. He can rest assured everyone knows how to pray, snooze, play with their kids, shoot badly and avoid helicopters. This is rounded off by the understanding that if anyone screws up they go to paradise.

IMO what this ‘agricultural’ form of war-faring gives a UW force is a sense of empathy up and down the chain of command. The UW commander’s men are essentially doing what was once described to me as ‘farm labouring with guns’. This approach to warfare imparts a genuine understanding or ‘trust’ from the lowest donkey chowkidars to our UW leader. A lifetime of execution and familiarity (some on their 30th consecutive ‘tour’) will guarantee a task is carried out – one way or another.

In modern parlance this is the essence of Mission Command, a hundred years ago the Prussians called it Auftragstaktik and two thousand years ago I dare suggest in the far-flung Roman legions in the absence of Skype it played a significant role in the Roman Army’s esprit de corps.

Is it possible that the slaughter of WW1 and the continuous development of combined-arms mechanized warfare needed to break the trench system of the Hindenburg Line has robbed us of the means to nurture strategists? Has the nuanced understanding of complex human behavior in the presence of mortal danger been overwhelmed by the technical sophistication powering our tactical and operational excellence?

Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Clausewitz, Mao, Giap would all recognize the ways, means and ends of our South Waziristan Commander. I’m not so sure these great strategists would empathize much with the approach of our Armored Squadron Commander in Iraq.

We’ll never know if our Squadron Commander had taken three hundred horses and a thousand mules to Iraq he may have turned out to be a great strategist and wouldn’t have such a wild hair up his ass about P4.

So what?

IMO the ANSF will slowly drift towards a more ‘Afghan way’ or ‘agricultural’ approach to tactics, operations and strategy in their battle with Pakistan’s UW forces. Our financial support and tactical and operational excellence will determine whether our ally wins or gets slaughtered but it will only be so if we accept that our tactical and operational efforts must not dominate our Ally’s strategy for victory.

"Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions."

Jalaludeen Haqqani

Blowing Smoke,
RC

Terry.Tucker

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 10:24pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The logic in your argument is not solid, lets explore this.
Your opening statement: "Who cares if it is more or less complicated? It doesn't invalidate his larger point because he makes many arguments supporting his larger thesis. Anyway, complicated is in the eye of the beholder. and then a few paragraphs down: "And if COIN is more complicated, that only supports his overall thesis. It's very complication is an argument against it.."

If complicated is an issue for US Forces then operations such as Desert Storm 1 and Air Sea Battle should also be scrapped because they might be overly complicated.

Your post leads me to believe that you have not done any time in Afghanistan, Iraq or South Americam planning, training and implementing COIN operations.

Additionally, because Stability Operations are barely a few degree's removed from COIN, only differing by degree of violence and who is being targeted, then Stability Operations, which are also a core NMS Task should also be scrapped.

I would also take exception to the word "Complicated" In essence the military does complicated well, look at Operation Desert Storm or how it provides for FOB's and Logistics and deployments in Theater as just a couple of examples. What they DO NOT do well is "Complex." COIN is a "wicked" complex problem that requires addressing the nuances.

HERE IS A PORTION OF MY ORGINAL POST. and if i could repost it a again, i would remove the word "truth" and use research or studies instead.

The tactical manner in which conflict is waged and the operational and strategic choices made all have a political meaning. This is the currency conversion dilemma - converting one currency, military behavior into another, political effect."

“There is a relationship, albeit not always straight forward, between the course of military events and the political consequences; there is no automatic advantage and the advantage is always transient.” (As in the perception of success or failure in an “engagement?)

“In conflict / intervention, one is fighting and intervening for peace. Not just any peace, but the kind of peace that makes it (intervention) worthwhile.This maxim has two transactions.
1. The threat of force / military power to achieve an outcome
2. This power must translate to an advantage of power on the ground and into political leverage. The Difficulties of this are legion. “

“This requires a two step thought process.
Understand what is probable & possible consequences of the action/behavior
And the consequences of those consequences.” 2

The military has undeniably taught the art of kinetic and technological technical competence in the art of war, but it has failed in integrating essential and critical skills that build the excellence required in the interdependent complexities. “Effective COIN practices runs in packs.”3

DoD still does not effectively understand that COIN is about capability and putting the right capability in the right place. The misuse of, and non-integration of Af/Pak Hands is a clear example of monumental fraud, waste and abuse,and in squandering opportunity. Not really understanding what the HTT could deliver in terms of consequence understanding or avoidance is another.

The ability to engage in multiple and mutually supporting lines of operation simultaneously, that required complex decision making, that considered the consequences of its “engagements” over time, and what political and legitimacy perceptions could be accumulated with those engagements were absent. Not at all times and places, but sufficient to tip the dynamic away from US Forces.

The pure application of Modernization Theory, throwing money at development (see footnote 4 for the SIGARS website and pull down the report or reports you choose, there are multiple instances that go back years), coupled with implementation of a Cost-Benefit approach in the metrics it developed, it never overcame the inability to gain traction in the legitimacy of its forces or the government. 4 In defense of DoD, this was not just a tactical or operational issue, it was strategic as well.

Even by 2010, while I was an COIN instructor and adviser, large amounts of personnel, more than 50% of those I was training and assisting in Theater, had never read the COIN manual or the COIN in tactics Manual.

In defense of those that did read it, FM 3-24 has a very few short paragraphs on the key principal of “Social Capital” in COIN. It might have been better had the authors left it out because not understanding the concepts of social capital in relation to doctrinal guidance in the context of a "traditional" society was a a fatal flaw. This is an absolute required complexity that must be understood in the context of the operating environment that the essay Counterinsurgency: The Graduate level of War or Pure Hokum? also ignores.

The realm of strategy is a relational one, ultimately, the enemy has to be beaten by somebody, somewhere. 5 It is an error to believe that tactics are more important than strategy, that tactics do not shape and create some form of “currency,” or "currency conversion," or that tactical competence in soft skills is not what makes strategic effect.

The political object-the original motive for war-will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires….Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Howard-Paret, 1976, Book 1 Chapter 1, Page 81.

The remaining portion of that paragraph is also very relevant. “The political object cannot, however, in itself provide the standard of measurement….The political object can elicit differing sections from different peoples. We can therefore take the political object as a standard only if we think of the influence it can exert upon the forces it is meant to move ( in connection with DIME/PMESII).

This was never completely understood in two Administrations or at all levels of the Force. That the “engagement” was where the “currency” of success was created. Additionally, the emphasis on technology and over-modernization is closely related and relational to tactical and operational mentality.

The real truth is that there were tactical, strategic, political, and diplomatic failure at all levels from top to bottom. 6 There was never any real consideration for the ‘consequences of consequences.” The failure was not embracing a doctrine, the failure was not understanding how to integrate and implement the multiple layers and levels of complexity required of that doctrine.

TheCurmudgeon

Wed, 08/07/2013 - 8:45am

In reply to by Terry.Tucker

While this is off topic, I am going to disagree with you on one point; the 5-34 was fatally flawed in that it is not a “counterinsurgency” manual but a “forced democracy through modernization” manual. Only one form of political legitimacy is offered and only one form of government is seen as legitimate. It is a “one size fits all” document. That may be the result of policy, and strategy must look to achieving the political goal, but it is hubris bar none.

I do agree with you that even with that flaw, it was never implemented correctly nor was it embraced by many units that deployed into theater.

Terry.Tucker

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 10:34pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Strategy is of utmost importance. translating that to action is something else. The doctrine of COIN in the 2006 manual is not wrong or bad. the implementation of training it and then implementing it was. Key required skills in language and culture and decision making in context were not trained well and in some cases not at all.

Please take a moment to read my orginal post on what was left unsaid,especially the tactics part.

I also agree with you on The choice of historical examples. Gian seems to have a penchant for Civil War and Conventional war comparisons.

I also agree with the both of you that studying the bio of Lady Sale and other key publications and literature of the British Empire, specifically Warburton, who was called King of the Khyber by the Pashtu, and Sandmann, would have been more than instructive, but even when we suggested that reading, it was largely ignored by units preparing to deploy.

TheCurmudgeon

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 1:33pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I am not defending COIN in its current incarnation. I am attacking Gentile for making species arguments. Gentile does not like COIN. There are some good reasons not to like COIN but that does not mean you can ignore it, which is what Gentile advocates. He has tried to move the debate about COIN away from how to do it successfully towards personal attacks on its prime advocate. This is an ad hominem argument.

We will end up here again. I would rather work on how to develop a better strategy and tactics, to understand where we went wrong, than to attack the people who at least attempted to find a solution. I would rather work on designing a tank than continue to throw wave after wave of Soldiers against a position when I already know that tactic really doesn’t work.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 1:29pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Who cares if it is more or less complicated? It doesn't invalidate his larger point because he makes many arguments supporting his larger thesis. Anyway, complicated is in the eye of the beholder.

Arguments about specifics obscures the larger picture which can be correct even if you disagree with one argument. He is making many arguments, you don't have to agree with all of them to see the larger picture or understand its validity.

Curmudgeon, you yourself called modernization theory hokum and this matters when talking about population-centric counterinsurgency as understood in the late 2000's (it's a moving intellectual target, it seems.)

And complicated means different things depending on the vantage point. Define complicated. How are populations NOT involved when entire societies are having their young men taken away from them for slaughter?

And if COIN is more complicated, that only supports his overall thesis. It's very complication is an argument against it, the British were in Malaya for how long? Even at the time of the British Mutiny in 1857, or first war of Independence from the Indian point of view, British generals were complaining that the young ones of the Raj didn't understand Indian culture, couldn't speak the languages. And yet, this deep understanding of peoples and cultures which came about after years and years LIVING there, didn't change the ultimate outcome. People wanted the outsiders out.

PS: When I see books like Soldier Sahibs on military reading lists, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to study the "early" Raj instead of the romanticized later years, at least from my American outsider vantage point looking at the American military. This is nothing against the British or their history, I am responding to a romantic or fantasy version of events that seems to have real power over parts of the American military. M.L.R. Smith talked about this?

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/a-tradition-that-never-was

But I think all people have romanticized myths and these are very difficult to approach because their are foundational, they attach themselves very deeply to our very sense of self.

TheCurmudgeon

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 12:50pm

I find it fascinating that Gentile used the Battle of the Somme as his example of a more complex war. One of the latter wars of WWI it pitted outdated tactics on both sides against each other in a largely indecisive blood bath. This is better? This demonstrating deep thinking?

Despite Gentiles apparent hatred for GEN David Petraeus he does not make any reasonable argument against counterinsurgency being less complicated than simply throwing wave after wave of Soldier against fortified machinegun positions. By its nature counterinsurgency adds a layer of political complexity over the standard tactics. It inserts civilians into the battlefield. It IS more complicated. Whether it is graduate level war I cannot say. That it requires considerations beyond simple tactics should go without saying.

Terry.Tucker

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 1:18am

In reply to by G Martin

You are absolutely correct, I got carried away on my rant, it should have said something like "research" or "studies" instead of truth.

Sadly, as you mentioned, it was treated more like a checklist manifesto and implemented as if it was a replicable template - everywhere. Additionally, this created the additional issues of more IED's and Green on Blue; and you nailed it with the comment on narrative - there really never was one and it was not linked to actions.

Terry.Tucker

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 1:42am

In reply to by Bill C.

The inconvenient truth is the key finding that overall, there was a failure to succeed in implementing more comprehensive and integrated good practices across multiple domains and lines of effort. It was never really understood that all behavior has a political effect. It was never understood that tactical actions needed to cultivate and accumulate this political effect.

Yes, there needed to also be strategic and diplomatic success and the highest echelons of leadership were unable to do so or to link it effectively with tactical and operational level actions and narrative.

“The tactical manner in which conflict is waged and the operational and strategic choices made all have a political meaning. This is the currency conversion dilemma - converting one currency, military behavior into another, political effect."

The success in packs comes from strategic and diplomatic success as well as the multiple simultaneous tactical success at multiple levels.

Those actions that were successful were regrettably overcome by larger and more frequent incidents of other bad practices, bad press, bad diplomacy, and tactical operations, KLE's, decision making and development gone awry.

Bill C.

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 1:08am

In reply to by G Martin

In Linda Robinson's April 1991 review of Stephen Kinzer's "Band of Brothers," she noted that the book described a country torn in half over the Sandinista's effort to build a new political and economic order in Nicaragua; this, alienating the ordinary citizens.

Likewise she pointed to Kinzer's understanding that this "colossal misjudgement" was not a tactical response to outside aggression but, rather, was related to the Sandinista's deep political convictions.

Today with the United States doing expansion rather than containment, it is the United States now that seeks to build new political, economic and social orders in other countries. This, alienating the ordinary citizens therein and causing these countries, also, to be torn in half.

As in the case of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, likewise today with the United States' actions to transform "different" states and societies, these activities to best be understood, not as tactical responses to outside aggresssion but, rather, as relates to our own deep political convictions.

Is this the truth that the RAND study reveals/describes?

Savior generals not being able to help the Sandinistas -- or us -- when the characteristics of the conflict are as I have described them here?

G Martin

Mon, 08/05/2013 - 9:18pm

In reply to by Terry.Tucker

"conveniently ignores the inconvenient "truth" of RAND studies..."

I am very curious about the use of the term "truth" here. I read the RAND study- and as others have noted- it leaves a lot to be desired. But, to claim it as "truth"... wow.

Regardless of what the manual says- every effort has to be evaluated on its own characteristics. This lazy approach to strategy- where we just copy the manual's lines of effort and draw ppt lines connecting them to whatever the PC end state is at the time would be laughable if people weren't dying and being maimed. When the U.S. stopped being able to be practical our operations started to mean nothing IMO.

Our lines of effort and stated political ends aren't in any way connected to a feasible regional stability narrative IMO and- worse- do not resonate with our own populace at all. I'd favor us writing a manual about how to do COIN when one's stated objective is complete social and cultural change, one's populace is against the effort, one's politicians won't (for good reason IMO) mobilize the country to conduct war, one's doctrine takes its cues from colonial efforts and cherry picks them at that, the military is about it in terms of resources, and the locals don't support the government nor the U.S.'s presence and tactics. Then we can thrown that manual out when we attempt another one...

Terry.Tucker

Mon, 08/05/2013 - 4:36pm

The bombast in the two opening paragraphs of Counterinsurgency: The Graduate level of War or Pure Hokum? conveniently ignores the inconvenient truth of RAND studies, the Defense Science Board and other documents and reports. 1

On the other hand, I do agree with the hokum of a genius savior general, that is why staffs were created. I also agree that ‘...what mattered most were the strategic, political, and social contexts in which these wars were fought.” However, the pure hokum is what is deliberately cast aside.

Here is what is left unsaid:

“The tactical manner in which conflict is waged and the operational and strategic choices made all have a political meaning. This is the currency conversion dilemma - converting one currency, military behavior into another, political effect."

“There is a relationship, albeit not always straight forward, between the course of military events and the political consequences; there is no automatic advantage and the advantage is always transient.” (As in the perception of success or failure in an “engagement?)

“In conflict / intervention, one is fighting and intervening for peace. Not just any peace, but the kind of peace that makes it (intervention) worthwhile.This maxim has two transactions.
1. The threat of force / military power to achieve an outcome
2. This power must translate to an advantage of power on the ground and into political leverage. The Difficulties of this are legion. “

“This requires a two step thought process.
Understand what is probable & possible consequences of the action/behavior
And the consequences of those consequences.” 2

The military has undeniably taught the art of kinetic and technological technical competence in the art of war, but it has failed in integrating essential and critical skills that build the excellence required in the interdependent complexities. “Effective COIN practices runs in packs.”3

DoD still does not effectively understand that COIN is about capability and putting the right capability in the right place. The misuse of, and non-integration of Af/Pak Hands is a clear example of monumental fraud, waste and abuse,and in squandering opportunity. Not really understanding what the HTT could deliver in terms of consequence understanding or avoidance is another.

The ability to engage in multiple and mutually supporting lines of operation simultaneously, that required complex decision making, that considered the consequences of its “engagements” over time, and what political and legitimacy perceptions could be accumulated with those engagements were absent. Not at all times and places, but sufficient to tip the dynamic away from US Forces.

The pure application of Modernization Theory, throwing money at development (see footnote 4 for the SIGARS website and pull down the report or reports you choose, there are multiple instances that go back years), coupled with implementation of a Cost-Benefit approach in the metrics it developed, it never overcame the inability to gain traction in the legitimacy of its forces or the government. 4 In defense of DoD, this was not just a tactical or operational issue, it was strategic as well.

Even by 2010, while I was an COIN instructor and adviser, large amounts of personnel, more than 50% of those I was training and assisting in Theater, had never read the COIN manual or the COIN in tactics Manual.

In defense of those that did read it, FM 3-24 has a very few short paragraphs on the key principal of “Social Capital” in COIN. It might have been better had the authors left it out because not understanding the concepts of social capital in relation to doctrinal guidance in the context of a "traditional" society was a a fatal flaw. This is an absolute required complexity that must be understood in the context of the operating environment that the essay Counterinsurgency: The Graduate level of War or Pure Hokum? also ignores.

The realm of strategy is a relational one, ultimately, the enemy has to be beaten by somebody, somewhere. 5 It is an error to believe that tactics are more important than strategy, that tactics do not shape and create some form of “currency,” or "currency conversion," or that tactical competence in soft skills is not what makes strategic effect.

The political object-the original motive for war-will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires….Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Howard-Paret, 1976, Book 1 Chapter 1, Page 81.

The remaining portion of that paragraph is also very relevant. “The political object cannot, however, in itself provide the standard of measurement….The political object can elicit differing sections from different peoples. We can therefore take the political object as a standard only if we think of the influence it can exert upon the forces it is meant to move ( in connection with DIME/PMESII).

This was never completely understood in two Administrations or at all levels of the Force. That the “engagement” was where the “currency” of success was created. Additionally, the emphasis on technology and over-modernization is closely related and relational to tactical and operational mentality.

The real truth is that there were tactical, strategic, political, and diplomatic failure at all levels from top to bottom. 6 There was never any real consideration for the ‘consequences of consequences.” The failure was not embracing a doctrine, the failure was not understanding how to integrate and implement the multiple layers and levels of complexity required of that doctrine.

Footnotes
1. Victory has a Thousand Fathers, Sources of Success in COIN, RAND; Victory has a Thousand Fathers,Detailed Counterinsurgency Case Studies, RAND; War by Other Means, Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency, RAND; Understanding Human Dynamics, DSB, 2009; A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility, Jeffrey Bordin, Ph.D; Decade of War, Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations, Vol One Report, JCOA, 2012

2. These four bullet points are from Modern Strategy, Colin S Gray pp 1-80

3.Victory has a Thousand Fathers, Sources of Success in COIN, RAND

4. Pick the report or reports of your choice from the SIGARS web site. http://www.sigar.mil/

5. 5 Ibid Colin S Gray, footnote 2

6. A couple of examples include: Wanat, Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008, CSI Press; and the Decade of War Enduring Lessons Learned, Volume One Report.

OpsIntel

Mon, 08/05/2013 - 9:18am

Full disclosure, I jumped over and read the e-International Relations review but have not yet read the book.

I appreciate COL Gentile's efforts, as I do the efforts of many thinkers, planners and actors dealing with the sphere of conflict. However, reading this piece triggered a thought I've had repeatedly while reading the past 10 years worth of COIN writings. Are we blind, forgetful, or do we speak without listening to what we're saying?

For many years I worked a mission area where capability was defined as forces that were "...organized, trained, equipped, and specifically directed...". Isn't that mantra the basis for any successful military plan? I see graduate level versus whatever, or conventional versus whatever, as arguments or explorations that miss the mark; the key to success is properly organizing, training, and equipping a force that is tasked with a specific mission. Quite simply, different missions (objectives) require different forces.

This simple, but far-reaching, line of reasoning explains why we have infantry and armor units, why we have marines and airborne forces, and why within certain contexts we may specialize even further - why we have SF and Rangers as distinct players within the SOF community. It also explains why, in the absence of current, fully informed strategic or operational level guidance, standing military forces are able to accomplish missions and ad-hoc military or "irregular" forces can also achieve success. "Specific direction", quite properly translated into "focus", is arguably what differentiates effective, from ineffective, forces.

Isn't the critical aspect of military planning, the key consideration, at all levels, the matching of forces with objectives?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 11:34am

In reply to by 101st Ranger

Now why can't I write a short and to the point comment like this? The last part is very well put.

It's been my experience watching these debates as an outsider, however, that arguments about the "debated" findings sometimes obscure the larger point, or are used to invalidate the basic thesis.

I also think that there are many closely associated or intertwined myths associated with the mythology of the enlightened General. They help to understand the larger phenomenon. These related myths are sometimes used to argue that there are acceptable solutions to places like Syria too, so I find looking at them in a "stand alone" fashion useful because there is more to the confusion than the notion of enlightened General's, IMO. But that is a different argument.

<blockquote>In 2009, soon after becoming president, Barack Obama found himself under pressure to define his strategy for Afghanistan. As a candidate, Obama had accused George W. Bush of neglecting the “war of necessity” in Afghanistan for a “war of choice” in Iraq. Once in office, with little choice but to live up to his tough campaign rhetoric, Obama began an agonizing, months-long policy review. As he debated his options with his civilian advisers and his generals, they turned for guidance to the history of the Vietnam War. Obama and his White House staff were said to be passing around Lessons in Disaster, a book based on the recollections of McGeorge Bundy, who was the national security adviser to both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Meanwhile, the generals were reading Lewis Sorley’s A Better War, a revisionist history arguing that Vietnam was a war that could have been won if not for faltering support at home.</blockquote>

http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/second-glance-halberstams-vietnam-and…

For me, a closely related or intertwined myth to that of the enlightened General is the idea that with a close pondering of a particular situation, with an inward gaze toward parts of America's past that hold particular meaning, our system may then be able "brainstorm" a solution to almost anything, anywhere, and at any time.

And so you have language in aspirational documents like shape, prevent, etc., whatever the environment.

101st Ranger

Sun, 08/04/2013 - 11:47pm

I purchased Gentile's book last week and read it in the same day. His findings can be debated, but his warning requires consideration.

Gentile cautions the reader and Americans in general from falling into the trap of thinking that COIN and a great General are the solution for every conflict. We would be wise to heed this warning. Despite the partisan politics that have driven criticism at President Obama, he has sacrificed short term political capital for the greater long term interests of the United States when the subject of Syria is reviewed. The COINdinistas may suggest that a General "like" Petreaus or Abrams with a strategy like Templer and the Brits brought to Malaya could bring an acceptable solution to Syria. That is the message that Gentile wants to dissect and it is critical that we do so. This myth must be muted.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/04/2013 - 6:20pm

In reply to by Bill M.

<blockquote>P4 pushed the Army to get out from behind their barriers and fight. In this case the tactics were decisive in suppressing the insurgency long enough to facilitate a withdrawal of coalition forces. It didn't change the strategic context, and Iraq is still suffering an incredible level of instability and violence. The final chapter on this conflict won't be written for a long time.</blockquote>

And even then, there is the larger strategic context as you stated.

This is why I am interested in more formal studies because I think it will take a life time of study to really understand, from careful study of such records as are available, US, allies, Iraqis, everyone, why violence ebbed and flowed and even then, there will be disagreement.

One worrisome footnote, he says that because some primary source info is digitized and no longer readable, it is lost. Written is sometimes better than computerized.

Please, please, please, people in the military or others reading reading, write things down if you feel it is helpful, preserve initial thoughts, do not let this information disappear for future analysts and historians!!!!

Bill M.

Sun, 08/04/2013 - 6:08pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu,

I'm responding to both of your insightful posts. While strategy and doctrine can be decisive, I'll think we'll find if we look at history as objectively as possible, the primary factor that determines whether we'll be successful in Small Wars is the strategic context in which they're fought (as you quoted Porch above). Most of our studies on COIN and unconventional warfare look at the conflicts through the lens of the doctrinal approach and the tactics employed, then they're falsely (IMO) attributed to whether one side was successful or not. I'm not opposed to garnering correlations that over time appear to have been successful over history (rule one don't be a jerk), but seldom were the tactics decisive. In most cases I suspect the outcome of the conflict was determined mostly by strategic context before anyone ever applied their doctrine. Most insurgencies applying Mao's doctrine have been defeated throughout history, Mao was almost crushed until the Nationalist Army turned on Chiang Kai-shek and made him divert his efforts from finishing off Mao to focusing on the Japanese threat. Randomness, Chance, and all that stuff, created a change in the strategic environment that eventually played into Mao's favor. Most Mao and Castro had relatively accidental victories. John Nagl's comparison of the Brits in Malaya and the US in Vietnam was a comparison between tactics and strategy, but he completed neglected the strategic context which was decisive in the end. In fact the U.S. attempted to use a lot of the tactics used in Malaya and the Philippines, and they were largely unsuccessful due to the context. We attempted to win with doctrine instead of understanding and adapting.

As for Gian's book, which I haven't read yet, I really thinks he undermines his credibility when he focuses his arguments on P4.

You wrote, "One thought from my reading: even if you disagree with the argument that there was more continuity than discontinuity in Iraq during the Surge, I don't think it invalidates his other points."

The Iraqi theater was relatively large and different units were employing different approaches, so while some may have been aggressively employing the tactics before P4 took command and directed them I can validate that not all of them were. P4 pushed the Army to get out from behind their barriers and fight. In this case the tactics were decisive in suppressing the insurgency long enough to facilitate a withdrawal of coalition forces. It didn't change the strategic context, and Iraq is still suffering an incredible level of instability and violence. The final chapter on this conflict won't be written for a long time.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/04/2013 - 5:03pm

<blockquote>Instead, as historian Douglas Porch argues, they were won or lost “because the strategic context in which the wars were fought defied a tactical remedy.” …</blockquote>

I think this is why I post so many things about US history in South Asia with regard to our "AfPak" strategy around here. I think the original framing--so influenced by our Cold War history and the post Cold War developmental history in that part of the world--really messed us up from the beginning.

If you want to keep allies, and they are deemed problematic, then you don't go about trying to change their entire societies. You start by figuring out what the best most cost effective and reasonable form of engagement happens to be.

It's remarkable, some of the terrible pundit histories written on the subject. The 90's policy from first Bush to Clinton is remarkable varied and remarkable engaged in its own way. Yet almost none of this makes its way into the narratives in the Anglo-American conversation, or, until fairly recently.

Weirdly, Canadian and Australian papers seem a bit better on this. We really blinded ourselves to the basic strategic nature of the place.

I'm glad that DC is developing a new cadre of South Asia experts, more varied, different generation, greater in number. We need better quality expertise in the policy arena in many areas because the military then absorbs these ideas. The military may not make policy but it is hostage to current intellectual fashions as much as any institution. I'm sorry, but someone had to say it.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/04/2013 - 5:43pm

Christopher Preble reviewed the Gentile book at Reason. I'm still working my way through the book because I want to read it carefully so that I can compare its arguments to counterarguments.

Although a relatively short read and written in deceptively simple language, the book makes a series of complicated and layered arguments.

One thought from my reading: even if you disagree with the argument that there was more continuity than discontinuity in Iraq during the Surge, I don't think it invalidates his other points.

This is the curious thing about the book. The arguments are layered so that even if you disagree with one point, the others still point in the same direction.

I sometimes think the other points (the multifactorial and contigent nature of what happened in Iraq) is given short shrift in public discussion because of the criticism of "the better war" theory. I understand the criticism of the thesis, tend to agree with it, understand its importance, and, yet, good arguments are somehow missed because of this framing. Or maybe it's only me given my lack of a military background.

Like I said, it's a more complicated book than it seems on initial read.

http://reason.com/blog/2013/07/30/christopher-preble-on-the-myth-of-the…

PS: The other thing is that I'm ready to read some of the more "staid" histories being written because I've sort of reached the limits with the broad brush pundit conversation (this is not directed at the Gentile article, I agree naturally) I'm just talking about the think tank phenomenon. I really feel burned by the shallow, reactionary nature of so much policy discussion. I used to think I was so well-informed because I watched CSPAN and listened to panels of think tank experts. Didn't help me from being blindsided by silly theories in the past decade or so....I feel remarkably stupid that I believed some of the stuff that I did.