Small Wars Journal

Deconstructing Galula

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 11:58am
Deconstructing Galula

Much ado surrounds the myths of T.E. Lawrence and David Galula. So much so that academics fawn, foreign policy is derived, and military manuals preach their stories as holy works. From the practice, beautiful theory was born that enlightened western interventionists can deploy into the hinterlands, win hearts, minds, and souls, and unilaterally transform societies through the spread of democracy and capitalism.

After the traumatic events of 9/11, our stubborn refusal to study and learn from the Vietnam War, and our slow start in Iraq and Afghanistan, these are the stories that we wanted to hear; we needed to hear. As with every myth from George Washington's apple tree to Greg Mortenson's schools, the truth is often much messier and complicated. Essentially, it's a human story filled with emotion, exaggeration, pride, and greed.

In February, Bing West challenged that "the new religion of benevolent counterinsurgency has been defined by the best writers. Especially in Big Army, attracting attention and prominence is helped enormously by an advanced degree and by the publication of theoretical papers on macro topics at the high level of warfare."

Today, as the study ebbs and flows, a new wave of counter-counterinsurgent academics are beginning to deconstruct the myths. The research question is simply "what really happened?" Of significant note, Grégor Mathias's Galula in Algeria: Counterinsurgency Practice versus Theory begins to carefully scrutinize Galula's claims. From the website,

Galula in Algeria:Counterinsurgency Practice versus Theory

by Grégor Mathias

Translated by Neal Durando

Foreword by David H. Ucko

This groundbreaking investigation uncovers serious mismatches between David Galula's counterinsurgency practice in Algeria and his counterinsurgency theory—the foundation of current U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus and Lt. Col. John Nagl, coauthors of the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual, credit David Galula's Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Praeger 1964, 2006) as the single most influential source of the doctrine they set forth. What does an informed, objective study of the basis of Galula's work reveal?

Given the centrality of David Galula's theory to U.S. Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is striking that there has been no independent evaluation of Galula's recollection of his COIN operations in Algeria. Galula in Algeria: Counterinsurgency Practice versus Theory delivers just such an analysis, exploring the colonial French counter-insurrectionary theoretical milieu of which Galula's COIN theory was a part, the influence of Galula's theory on U.S. COIN doctrine, and the current views of Galula's theory in France and other NATO countries.

French defense researcher Gregor Mathias compares each of the eight steps of Galula's theory set out in Counterinsurgency Warfare with his practice of them as described in his writings and, now for the first time, in the SAS archives and those of Galula's infantry company and battalion. The study shows that Galula systematically inflated his operational successes to match his theoretical scheme, and that he left field problems unresolved, causing his work to unravel almost immediately when he left his command. Mathias concludes that, however heuristically fruitful Galula's theory might prove for U.S. COIN doctrine, it must be interpreted and implemented under the caveat that it was not successfully field-tested by its author.



The more I study this, I tend to agree with your assessment that what happened during the Cold War has influenced the strategic calculus in S. Asia more than anything else. Not only does it shape our relationship with Pakistan, but with India (or more accurately India's perception of the U.S., and their continued distrust of our intent based on dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan).

Carl, I think in general you are right. There is no political unity in Afghanistan that is uniting against Karsai. There is an insurgency being facilitated by Pakistan, and if you solve the Pakistan problem it may very well be possible to reach an acceptable conclusion of our military mission in Afghanistan. I don't think we can get to an acceptable end game by focusing on Afghanistan and ignoring Pakistan because it is too complicated. I also think we have too many Americans (as Madhu pointed out) that buy the Pakistani propaganda they are really on our side, and these suckers continue to push for continued funding and more patience...., of course the strategic question is what is the alternative?

Carl, where we probably disagree is your definition of terrorists as evil. Terrorism is a tactic (not necessarily a group of people). Evil certainly isn't restricted to so called terrorists. One need only to look at what the Imperial Japanese and Nazis did during WWII to see a scale of evil that far surpassed anything AQ has employed, as has the evil perpetuated by Stalin, Mao, Ho, etc. Millions killed, tortured, mutilated, etc. Terrorism is simply a tactic of the weak that non-state actors employ, yet when a State employs tactics such as fire bombing of cities we call it coercion. So yes, AQ is evil, they're motivated by hate, etc., that is all true, but it is important to put it in context, so we develop the right strategy.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 06/13/2011 - 12:49pm

Mr. Jones:

No Councilor, I am not frustrated that the Pak Army/ISI carries on with their two faced, dishonest, murderous, cynical and immoral machinations that may result in the ruin of Pakistan and the deaths of unknown numbers of innocents. They are what they are. They are the scorpion.

What frustrates me is our political/military elites keep insisting that we play the frog to their scorpion. Not only that, they insist it is to our benefit to keep giving the scorpion a ride across the river, no matter how many times the damn thing stings us. They keep telling me their is no other way to get the scorpion across the river and by golly it is imperative that the scorpion get to the other sides, so important that we pay the scorpion to ride on our backs. It frustrates me is even a frog would have figured it out by now, but not our betters inside the beltway. They keep giving that scorpion a ride even though dead Americans are the result.

I agree with you that after 10 years it is time to try something new. Stop being the frog to the Pak Army/ISI's scorpion. Cut the rat-b******s off.

No Councilor, I don't fixate on the importance of ideology. However I do recognize its importance and existence.

Bob's World

Mon, 06/13/2011 - 10:55am


You are frustrated because Paksitan will not subjugate their vital national interests to meet the latest definitions of US vital national interests in that region. Prepare to stay frustrated, they will not change an enduring position just to appease the latest whim of US policy toward their neighborhood.

You fixate on ideology and ignore fundamental causation. Many share your fixation on the rallying cries employed by the leaders to motivate the masses to action, but ask yourself: Under the current constitution of Afghanistan is it legally possible for any movement opposed by the sitting president of Afghanistan to compete for influence? (No.)

You are focused, IMO, on the wrong issues. Ten years of engagement and the problems now are worse than when we began. A pretty good metric that you are not alone in that misfocus. If something isn't working, try something new. The US is used to defining and forcing specific outcomes. That is becoming a policy that will grow increasingly less viable in the emerging information environment. We are going to have to leard to work with people as they are, not as we want them to be.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 06/13/2011 - 10:23am


This is not directed at <em>anyone</em> particular in this thread but at a larger issue: it is an often told story among people of South Asian heritage (and others who kept an eye on the sordid saga), that the American military - only parts of it, to be fair - "went native" over the Pakistani Army during the Cold War. That cohort think that because the Pakistani Army cooperates with us behind closed doors, that this represents reality. That they, and they alone, know the reality of the situation. Their dear friends in the Army cooperate with the US at their own expense because America is not popular with the people. They do us a great favor. Sure, for billions.

Hard to believe but you have to go back to the Cold War to understand how the American Army cherishes its relationship with the Pakistani Army. I mean, at the higher levels - and only some people - and that too institutionally. Old habits die hard and old ideas die harder.

They have told themselves a fiction over decades. We two didn't fight the same war. We fought communists. They fought infidels. It was never the same war. Institutions that lie to themselves will not be able to protect the American people.

This is decades old and no amount of evidence changes minds. Won't happen. Don't look for it to do so. It's not just the "afpak" issue, either. You see it everywhere in Western society today. We live in an era of elite told fictions.

Empathy should not be a suicide pact, to paraphrase a well known phrase....

And, as always, maybe I'm wrong about this. But someone had to say it. We are a republic of free men and free women. We cannot survive as our founders imagined if we keep lying to ourselves.

*I mean no disrespect to anyone here or in the American military. You are amazing people and I admire you more than you can imagine. But this stuff is out there. It's festering and people are confused. So I might as well be the chump who says it out loud, here in comments.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 06/13/2011 - 4:46am

Mr. Jones:

This is in response to your post of 0810 from June 11. This may take awhile because I have to clear a straw man or two and some distractions from the field in order to see better.

First, I did not propose we expand our attacks on the "revolutionary leadership" in Pakistan. You said I proposed it. I proposed pressuring the Pak Army/ISI to remove the sanctuary Taliban & Co currently enjoy in Pakistan. If that sanctuary was removed they would have to go to Afghanistan and take their chances there. I would prefer if you allow me to state my position for myself.

The following paragraph must have required 6 acres of high quality alfalfa to construct.

"But do please spare me the moral agenda. In WWII we firebombed the holy hell out of the cities of Japan in efforts to terrorize that popualce into no longer supporting that war. The efforts of AQ, which I do not validate, pale in comparison. You can say that our actions were legal and that the Japanese attacked us first at Pearl. True. AQ would say that their acitons are only illegal becase we write the laws, and have forced our influence onto the people of the middle east for generations. It is all a matter of perspective. If you cannot empathize with your enemy, particularly in an insurgency-based conflict, you are not apt to craft an effective scheme of engagement."

Where shall I start? How about with this. In a post prior, you made the remarkable statement that "Most who employ the terrorism we seek to quell today are motivated by issues of nationalism and liberty more than hate, evil or religious fervor." I pointed out, using several well known examples, that terrorists of today are most certainly motivated by hate, evil and religious fervor. I was highlighting the unspeakable viciousness of terrorism. Their actions are immoral.

Now rather than addressing that point, you responded with the classic rhetorical diversion, the old "Yea! Well what about this other thing?" We aren't talking about the other thing. You minimized, not minimized, changed beyond recognition the motivations of terrorists. I responded to that. Please stick to the question at hand Councilor.

No sir, no sir! I will not spare you the discomfort of pointing out that you are minimizing the mind numbing evil of terrorist acts. I am well able to imagine how evil ones think without going so far as to give them a pass on it.

Now for several observations and questions. You say you are able to discern the sameness of New Hampshirites of the Amer. Rev and the people of Afghanistan in their current rev. So then are all the Afghans united behind Taliban & Co. or is it just the Pashtuns? You have indicated in the past that this fight is because the Pashtuns are upset and it well known that most of the non-Pashtuns do not want the Taliban back. I think you are making a grand rhetorical flourish at the expense of accuracy.

Russia half an ally in WWII? Maybe. But they killed Germans. The Pak Army/ISI doesn't kill the Taliban who kill us, in fact, they subsidize and support them. The Pak Army/ISI is no ally at all, they are the enemy.

You stated the fight in Afghan is funded by the Taliban rev leadership in Pakistan. Tell me, where do they get the money from?

Now you stated, given the context of the sentence, that Taliban & Co. is a former gov of Afghan in exile. Are they a legitimate government of the country of Afghanistan in exile? Were they the legitimate of gov of Afghan when they ran the place? They came to power through violence. They inflicted their rule upon most of the country by force even though they were violently opposed. They ruled, not with the consent of the governed, but by the gun. They were not recognized by any nations other than Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, their bankers. I think it inaccurate to dignify them with the term "government in exile."

Please Councilor, stick to the questions at hand. Don't speak to things you say for me, speak to the things I say. I grow frustrated.


Sun, 06/12/2011 - 2:14am

Carl, Ken,

There is never enough time but, your local university may carry some copies of
some interesting books to browse through.

The Roman Economy, A.H.M. Jones, edited by P.A. Brunt; The Economy of The Roman Empire, Quantitative Studies by Richard Duncan-Jones, Cambridge at the University Press 1971; The Cambridge Economic History of The Greco-Roman World edited by Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris, and Richard Saller, Cambridge University Press, 2007

Roman Roads and Aqueducts by Dan Nardo is worth the money, and has a good list of references. Mr Nardo talks about the Assyrian influences upon the Romans and I used to check out the actual remnants of that civilization in and around Mosul during my time there...incredible...Sennacherib's (Assyrian King) solutions to rebellions by Babylonia and Judeah and their backers as wells his development work ;) is interesting. His sons were trouble, the locals in Mosul told me that his sons used swords to dispatch him so that they could take over :o


carl (not verified)

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 1:26am


I am beginning to get my Carls mixed up.

I still think we are standing in the same place. The Romans should probably get a pass because the French and the Spaniards aren't still Roman. 4 or 5 hundred years ought to count as a win. And I might add Spain and Gaul were both conquered by outside forces. They fell as Romans.

Most things done in the ancient world couldn't be done today. Nobody really knows what happened to that legion. Being massacred by the fierce Scots makes a good movie but who knows. There are so many things we don't about the Roman army and its units.

Scotland and Germany were both at the edges of the empire. The Romans pretty much had stopped their expansion for various reasons anyway. They got their vengeance for the 3 lost legions.

People mis-understand the way the Romans worked. It wasn't all slaughter and command. I believe they worked a lot through the local elites. In any event being part of the empire brought some great benefits. Pre empire, celtic towns were fortified on hilltops. During the empire, un-fortified in valleys. Post empire, back to fortified hilltop towns.

Mr. Jones may be right about popular backlashes. I think not though. But then, the south may still rise again, or the Welsh may march on London in alliance with the Burgundians.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 12:29am


I may have hit 'Post' too quickly. With respect to "<i>You figure out what should be done then do it."</i> from your Post above, it's not quite that simple IMO. You do figure out what should be done -- then you have to determine whether or not you can do it and at what cost to all involved.

Sometimes what seems to need doing can create more problems than are solved. Most current applications of COIN theory are in that category -- as are many operations aimed at oppressive regimes and such.

One can "just do it," that's the American way -- but that often does far more harm than good. If one cannot do 'it' successfully, whatever 'it' is, one should probably look for alternative methods to accomplish much the same thing. Goal, method, constraints...

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 12:17am

Um, yeah, that's right -- but ( a) they failed miserably in many other places (see Arminius, or Legio IX Hispana) and ( b) they did things then that societies today will not tolerate where they were successful...

This quote from <b>Robert C. Jones</b> adds a bit of context to the failure of Empires:<blockquote>"Good econonics or the perceived prevention of some greater evil will delay a popular backlash, but at some point it will happen."</blockquote>Note that today's Spaniards and Gauls are not citizens of Rome. ;)

In fact, in a sense, there is no Rome. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. Our turn will come.

RtoP is Responsibility to Protect, the quite flaky doctrine that posits Wealthy Nations have a responsibility to intervene in lesser but other sovereign nations to protect those nations populii from various evils like genocide and so forth. Sounds good; make many feel good; doesn't work at all well in practice, generally doing more harm than good. See ( a) Libya, ( b) Kosovo, ( c) Politically imposed constraints on military action, ( d) Proper application, ( e) <i>What</i> is the goal? ...

Oh -- and ( f) Who's going to clean up the mess? And there will be a post operational mess of some magnitude. That doesn't even address the costs of all sorts to intervenors or innocent bystanders.

<b>Bill M.:</b>

Good post. Amen to all that, Bro. Re this:<blockquote>"In short we're fuc*** up, and I see no indication we are learning the right lessons."</blockquote>Roger that. Durn shame, too. Not at all necessary, either. Good news is that most of our opponents tend to be just slightly -- or a lot -- worse. :>

Bill M.

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 12:12am

Carl, I almost fell over laughing when I read your response. Not because of what you wrote, but how you interpreted my post. I meant the best UW leaders have been lawyers, doctors, and teachers (and they were far from perfect, but they had their successes). Examples include, Giap, Ho, Castro, etc. I am definitely not talking about parachuting in our lawyers, doctors and teachers, although Wild Bill Donovan from the OSS was a lawyer (as much as it hurts me to admit that).

Lawyers, and some doctors and teachers are very savvy politically in their own countries, and understand grass root political organization better than most military professionals.


Sat, 06/11/2011 - 11:50pm

"But rather lawyers, doctors, and teachers who understood how society worked. "

That's insane. Lawyers, doctors and teachers do NOT know how society works. These professionals understand how the institutions that give their professions meaning work.

That these institutions are the building blocks for a modern democracy aren't in dispute, but that doesn't mean that they would have any competence articulating force to achieve American foreign policy goals overseas, most especially in the midst of murky insurgencies.

A lawyer with 30 years of experience in the New York criminal justice system would understand as much about the complex society of a village in Sierra Leone or Kandahar or Peru as a randomly selected barber from East Lansing, Michigan.

The notion of parachuting an American teacher, lawyer and doctor into Goateffistan to understand their society nevertheless has a certain frisson and I do hope a cable TV channel makes a reality show out of the premise.


Sat, 06/11/2011 - 11:41pm

"First, I think the fire bombings of Japan and Germany did achieve our goal of breaking the populations will to fight after we occupied those countries,"

There's no empirical proof of this. Which might be why you didn't understand my question.

Bill M.

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 10:34pm

Carl Prine,

I would be happy to respond if I understood your question:

""To bring this back to Galula and his hackneyed ideas and (by now obviously faked) perspectives on COIN, Bill M, might we mention that strategic firebombing of Japan and Germany to "break" the will of the people (a most pop-centric effort wherein the "people" were the COG) also failed to achieve our goals?""

First, I think the fire bombings of Japan and Germany did achieve our goal of breaking the populations will to fight after we occupied those countries, but that was far from the only factor that contributed to this. Another major motivation for accepting our benevolent occupation was that we now had a new common enemy (the USSR). Unlike the populace in Iraq or Afghanistan, the populace in both Germany and Japan knew they were defeated.

Second, the U.S. is quite simply terrible at war, while superb in combat. Our understanding of the political environment is quite simply naive. We don't understand the levers of power in most small wars we get involved in (since Vietnam), how to attack them, or how to empower them. We don't know how to organize an effective political entity for these countries we liberate, and then wonder why the communists or Islamists (another political ideology) is effective in organizing the masses, while we are busy spreading chaos by promoting democratic elections in a power vacuum. Democracy in that scenario is nothing more than mob rule, and the strongest mob will win, not the will of the majority. Until we can shed our naive views of the way the world should be and learn to work with the world the way it is we will continue to struggle needlessly in our efforts to reform the world. There are a lot of steps between power vacuum (when we overthrow a government) and a functional democracy.

It didn't take me long to learn during my studies of unconventional warfare that best unconventional warfare experts were not those in uniform or the intelligence agencies, but rather lawyers, doctors, and teachers who understood how society worked. Special Forces are experts at Guerrilla warfare, and their familiar with unconventional wafare. The CIA has a long history of taking the most expedient path (who can they pay off), which generally backfires, while our opposition in my view has an actual "political" strategy that is partially facilitated by using warfare as a means. In contrast we focus almost solely on a military solution (yet we won't fight hard enough to break the enemy's will to fight), and then naively call for democratic elections in a foolish attempt to develop a legitimate government before we help develop a functional one. In short we're fuc*** up, and I see no indication we are learning the right lessons.

carl (not verified)

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 10:11pm

Mr. Jones:

"The Brits saw it across their empire, as did the Italians, the French, the Spanish, and the always happens."

Always? No it doesn't. The Romans incorporated Spain, North Italy, Gaul etc into the empire to the extent that most all those people were citizens.

Bob's World

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 9:23pm

BL: Exercising one's will over the populace of another, even if one attempts to do that through the government of that other, is a tricky business that one should give serious thought to before setting out down that path.

When those two countries are peer or near peers such an activity is called a treaty, or alliance, or partnership. When it is done by a powerful nation with a smaller or weaker nation it more often than not becomes dysfunctional in short order. This is true if it is done in order to allow the British East Indian Company to operate, or if it is to elevate the Shah of Iran back into power to deny potential Soviet influence outside a box we are working to contain them within.

A lot of things naturally occur in such relationshships:

The powerful external nation tends to begin to take liberties within the smaller nation that no near peer would allow, and that they certainly would not allow themselves if roles were reversed.

The weaker "host" nation government tends to begin to answer more to the outside stronger nation than to their own populace, or at least certain segments of their populace. They also tend to begin to act with a growing impunity toward their own populace or segments of it. They give up critical aspects of sovereignty to the larger nation and correspondingly come to be seen as less legitimate in the eyes of their populace. How severely the stronger manipulates processes that should belong to the people, or how far off the path the host drifts drives the impact on how the populace feels.

"The Populace" is the wild card. Almost always a diverse blend, and almost always there will be at least a few significant and distinct segements of the populace who will at some point grow weary of this arrangment. Good econonics or the perceived prevention of some greater evil will delay a popular backlash, but at some point it will happen. We see this in Afghanistan following our elevation of Karzai and our facilitation of the currently constituted government there. We see this across the Arab world in "Arab Spring" as well. The Brits saw it across their empire, as did the Italians, the French, the Spanish, and the always happens.

Galula wrote about a set of tactics for how to maintain that overt control. So did Kitson. So did Tranquier. So does FM 3-24. To call this "COIN" is really a horrible misnomer. One can apply "population centric" approaches or "threat centric" approaches. The effect is the same. One can focus on counter guerrilla operations or development operations, the effect is the same. The crux of the problem invariably is within the nature of these relationships, not the nature of the tactics applied to suppress popular blowback against the relationships.



(Oh, and when such "conditions of insurgency" come to exist due to such dysfunctional relationships there will almost always be others outside this mix who will seek to leverage it to their own advantage. In US military doctirne we call this "unconventional warfare" and it is the primary core task that we build our Special Forces ["Green Berets"] around).

carl (not verified)

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 8:45pm


I think we are standing in exactly the same place. You figure out what should be done then do it. What does RtoP mean?

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 8:03pm


The issue is not that Galula or anyone else is a dope nor is there the slightest aspect of a game in anything to do with wars of whatever size. I don't have any problem at all with violence or warfare and in fact engaged or helped train others to do so for over 40 years so I even encourage warfare as a source of fun and profit -- but it has to be applied properly or it will do more harm than good...

You can cite Spain as a Roman success -- others could cite Germany or Scotland (among several others) as Roman failures. In essence warfare works to achieve some things from some people and fails badly against other peoples and, most importantly, if misapplied to inappropriate goals.

The principle issue must be "What's the goal." One must then determine the methodology most appropriate to achieve that end. As <b>Bill C.</b> has figured out and written just above, attaining the current set of goals in most such small wars is simply applying the wrong method to attain the desired result.

The process of so-called COIN is currently being misapplied in futile attempts to modify group behavior, to do nation-building or state-building by transforming and incorporating outlier states and societies. Wrong answer. Didn't really work in Malaya or Kenya for the British, didn't work for us Viet Nam. It likely will not work in Bosnia or Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan Too early to tell in all those). Nor does applying air power rather indiscriminately with no concomitant action on the ground work. See Kosovo or Libya.

Successfully prosecuting small wars is possible, no question. Not only have all those folks you cite been able to do it, I've even got to help out in a couple and thus know successes can be achieved. Small wars may be necessary, frequently are. Nothing wrong with them but there should be a cost-benefit analysis up front and there should be a realization that warfare is not an effective modifier of human or national behavior. Its sort of like applying a "Support Mental Health or Ill kill you." approach to the issue of state failure and / or national intransigence.

That is particularly so in the current era when 'excessive' violence is not tolerated by many. Some actions performed by the US Army, a generally pretty well behaved instrument of violence, even as late as Viet Nam cannot be performed by the US Army today. Whether that should be so is immaterial, it is fact.

Thus Galula and whether or not small wars should occur are not problematic. The issues are that the goal, the method and the <u>constraints involved</u> have to be considered. All those factors indicate that COIN, the population centric theories and the fallacy of RtoP -- not small wars -- are deeply flawed for most applications today.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 5:21pm

I have always wondered whether the move toward Galula can be explained this simply:

a. What we wanted to do in the 21st Century was nation-building or state-building (transforming and incorporating outlier states and societies),

b. And Galula's approach to counterinsurgency, we thought, was more compatible with this goal.

carl (not verified)

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 3:56pm

I get completely confused when people go round and round with COIN, pop-centric, warfare, no it's not, Galula is a dope, no he's not etc., etc., etc.. It is almost as if it is a game the object of which is to have your label triumph over the others.

Small wars have been successfully prosecuted and won from the beginning of time. We've done it, the Brits have done it, the Indonesians have done it as have the South Koreans. Just about everybody, including the Romans, maybe especially the Romans seeing as how Spain became an integral part of the Empire and provided several emperors after the Romans suffered defeat after defeat subduing the place.

The title of this site is Small Wars Journal for a reason. That term encompasses most the whole range of these conflicts and if you stick to that broad term, in my view helps you figure what should be done and then to do it without getting hung up on which term to use in the powerpoint presentation.

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 2:25pm

"But Carl, we <i>have</i> to try. It's the American Way. Quixoticism r us..." he said, rolling his eyes...

As Carl suggests, population centric approaches and warfare are contradictions in terms. Pretty basic, that...

Galula was and is no more. COIN never was. Never. The Romans couldn't make it work, the British and French could not, really. We most assuredly have not.

Only Genghis did -- and we can't do that today.

I bought and read the Galula book in 1964. It didn't square with my 1962 experience and it certainly did not match later in the 60s experiences. I thus decided the book was a waste of trees. My observation of the world in the last 40 years seems to pretty much confirm that.

Galula doesn't need to be revisited, he's dead, he's buried -- leave it at that.


Sat, 06/11/2011 - 2:04pm

"But do please spare me the moral agenda. In WWII we firebombed the holy hell out of the cities of Japan in efforts to terrorize that popualce into no longer supporting that war. The efforts of AQ, which I do not validate, pale in comparison."

To bring this back to Galula and his hackneyed ideas and (by now obviously faked) perspectives on COIN, Bill M, might we mention that strategic firebombing of Japan and Germany to "break" the will of the people (a most pop-centric effort wherein the "people" were the COG) also failed to achieve our goals?

Even if the French had waged war across the human topography much as the Army Air Corps did in WWII against German and Japanese civilian populations, would it have worked in Algeria or Vietnam?

Why must be default to either notion that the people are the COG or the "objective" (thereby actually shifting what Galula meant, which was much the same thing)?

Because essentially classical COIN evolved to mean that this was a psychological treasure that we or the HN proxies could accrue from "the people."

But perhaps that wasn't the key all along. Perhaps.

If we follow COL Maxwell's prod, perhaps we might take the world as it is and not Quixotically seek to change it, especially when those methods of changing it don't work.

Bill M:

Or said another way "deal with the world as it really is and not as you wish it be be"


I agree that today's Taliban is very different from the post Soviet Taliban. History is not static (even if our perception of it tends to be). Understanding history is important, but only if we don't get misled by it. For lack of a better phrase at the moment, we have to recognize, understand and appreciate the "new or current" normal, and not cherry pick a period of time in the past that we prefer to be what should be normal. Hope some of this makes sense.


I agree that today's Taliban is very different from the post Soviet Taliban. History is not static (even if our perception of it tends to be). Understanding history is important, but only if we don't get misled by it. For lack of a better phrase at the moment, we have to recognize, understand and appreciate the "new or current" normal, and not cherry pick a period of time in the past that we prefer to be what should be normal. Hope some of this makes sense.

Bob's World

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 9:10am


I look at the problem differently than you do. I can appreciate the similarities between the people of New Hampshire during the American Revolution and the People of Afghanistan during this current revolutionary insurgency. You focus on the differences.

I can appreciate that our mission in AFghanistan is to protect Americans from future AQ attacks; you have become drawn into the frustrations of trying to resolve a current insurgency there that we set in motion, but that is embedded in age-old issues of the region that we will never fully appreciate. The more we engage the insurgency, the worse we make it. We also put Americans at home at greater risk of terrorist attack by inflaming Muslim perspectives and validating AQ's PSYOP on the US.

You look at alliances on their face, and grow frustrated when all is not as it seems. I look at the interests of the parties and for points of friction within those agreements. Pakistan will never live up to the face value terms of the agreement, they never could and we should have appreciated that going in. Half an ally was the best we could hope for and it was naieve to ever expect more. Russia was only half an ally in WWII and they were essential to our ultimate success in that conflict. One only gets in trouble when they come to mistake a partner in an endeavor where one has a shared interest as some how being one's friend who now shares all your interests. They don't. This is true for our NATO partners as well.

But do please spare me the moral agenda. In WWII we firebombed the holy hell out of the cities of Japan in efforts to terrorize that popualce into no longer supporting that war. The efforts of AQ, which I do not validate, pale in comparison. You can say that our actions were legal and that the Japanese attacked us first at Pearl. True. AQ would say that their acitons are only illegal becase we write the laws, and have forced our influence onto the people of the middle east for generations. It is all a matter of perspective. If you cannot empathize with your enemy, particularly in an insurgency-based conflict, you are not apt to craft an effective scheme of engagement.

In Afghanistan the insurgency has two components. A revolution between the current government of Afghanistan and the former government of Afghanistan in exile. That is the political driver of the conflict. Under the current constitution, and protected by the US, there are no legal venues for that exiled party to re-enter the system in any capacity. That is the crux of the problem. We ignore that fine point.

Then there is the resistance insurgency within Afghanistan, that while led, motivated and funded by the revolutionary leadership in Pakistan, is primarily a reaction to our very presence. The more we push against the resistance, the more it pushes back. We cannot resolve the overall insurgency by attacking, bribing, or suppressing the resistance. Yet that is our entire plan.

Your proposal is that we need to expand those efforts to attack the revolutionary leadership in Pakistan as well. You must appreciate that even our current insistence that the Pak government push up into the FATA is creating previously controlled resistance insurgency there into a growing problem. A larger push by us into that region would not make the revolution go away either, but would vastly expand the scope and strength of the resistance to threaten both governments of Afg and Pak to failure. Not wise.

So we must focus on addressing the issues driving the revolution first and as our main effort. This will require talks between Karzai and the Taliban leadership, this will require a major constitutional loya jirga, this will NOT require a massive US operation against the resistance. It is time to work smarter, not harder. To become more focused, not more expansive.

People are people. As to Bill's excellent post, I would only add that we need to remember that "Taliban" is a very broad label, and that most Taliban fighters today were not even alive when the original students organized to clean up the post-soviet mess. Today's taliban is quite likely a very different organization, as it is shaped by this conflict far more than the last one.




We are often guilty of assuming insurgencies are due to local politics, and try to ignore or minimize the impact of foreign influence. Not all politics are local, perhaps not even most. The Taliban is a radical religious movement that is not organic to Afghanistan. The behavior is actually abnormal (or it was) in Afghanistan. It was a movement founded in the madrassas of Pakistan, funded by both the Pakistanis and Saudis. The students (Talib means student) were young boys and men from Afghanistan (many were orphans due to the Soviets), and they were radicalized, trained and equipped, and then sent into Afghanistan as Pakistan proxies. This had little to do with bad governance, it had everything to do with a struggle for power by many different actors both local and foreign that continues to this day. However, in the end it is the Afghans fight. We can provide more support to Afghanistan than Pakistan can provide the Taliban (especially if we quit funding Pakistan), but we can't make the Afghans fight the Taliban. That needs to come from within, and if they are not willing to counter the Taliban threat, then we are wasting our time, blood and money in my opinion.

carl (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 11:48pm

Mr. Jones:

Sometimes discussing things with you is like talking with a disciple of the Maharishi who used to be a political commissar before he saw the light. This is not an ad-hominim (sic) attack, you have done more and seen more than I have or ever will, but man, you seem to come from left field via the stargate sometimes. I don't mean offense but that does express how puzzling I find your views to be on occasion.

You actually do use language to obfuscate, often. And your right, it does get frustrating. I would like to separate the issues of Pakistani sanctuary from American tolerance for Afghan gov failings, but you won't do it. That is a frustration because they are two separate issues and we would profit from treating them as such.

An example of the left field delivery is the paragraph above dealing with Taliban & Co. You say you have no love for them and their brutal tactics and yet you end with "Live Free of Die"! The people of New Hampshire would probably be surprised at the connection. The paragraph as constructed equates Taliban & Co. with the Pashtuns as a whole, or maybe I just draw that implication from all the other things you have written over the months. But you always refuse to answer when I bring up the standard m.o. of Taliban on both sides of the Durand line when confronted by Pashtun leaders who oppose them, they kill them. That doesn't fit in with anything but Taliban & Co. being just another warlord group distinguished only by a milleniumist (sic) ideology and the muscle of the Pak Army/ISI.

Let's make a deal. I will stop saying Pak Army/ISI and say Pakistan if you will stop saying Northern Alliance and start saying anti-Taliban Afghans. I read that at Registan and it makes sense seeing as how part of the ANA is Pashtun (42% is what I read at Registan) and an awful lot of the throats Taliban & Co. slit had been connecting Pashtun heads to Pashtun bodies. Is it a deal?

Where did superior firepower come from, at least as far as the Pak Army/ISI goes? You are setting up a straw man Councilor. What those of us who have no love for the Pak Army/ISI advocate is cutting off the money, not firepower.

Terrorism is merely a tactic of the weak and those who employ do so in the spirit of nationalism and liberty rather than hate, evil or religious fervor?! The most notable act of terrorism in history was motivated by a yearning for liberty and not hate, evil and religious fervor? I guess the whole world misjudged Mr. Atta and his pals. The Mumbai killers yearned to breathe free and that truck bombing west of Mosul a few years ago that wiped out a whole town and killed hundreds was motivated by something other than hate? Councilor, often you mystify me.

Tyrtaios (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 11:25am

Anon at 9:24 am was me. I apologize to SWJ for not using my sobriquet for background tracking purposes.

Thank you for your erudite and succinct response. . .a response I agree with; specifically separating Galula from his era.

Bob's World

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 11:09am


There is no question that Galula was a French military officer, raised in French Colonies, and a life served dedicated to the purpose of suppressing popular uprising against the puppet regimes established by and for French Control over others. He and Tranquier differed primarily in the tactics they believed to be most effective.

Today we must recognize that Containment strategies are nearly as disruptive of local systems of legitimacy as Colonial strategies were. GWOT strategies and our current COIN doctrine are distilled from both of the above. Thus the adoption of Regime change, occupation and democratization as an approach to defeating "terrorism."

Terrorism is, of course, merely a tactic of the weak and those who lack legal means to address their grievances. (Also the evil and deranged, but that is a very narrow slice of the whole). We will avoid discussion of the fact that terrorism is also a tactic of the strong and those with legal recourse, as when it is applied by those actors is not branded as "terrorism." Most who employ the terrorism we seek to quell today are motivated by issues of nationalism and liberty more than hate, evil or religious fervor.

We move forward when we can separate the teachings of Galula from the era and the perspective they were derived from. There is much good in Galula, but only once one has distilled the Colonial perspective from the original product.


Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 10:24am

"The choice you offer them is submit or die. The choice they choose is live free or die."

An in depth study of LtCol David Galula would reveal he was a bit of a biggot toward Islam, and was very comfortable with those that didn't submit. . .to kill them. . .lots of them.

Just some food for thought in deconstructing Galula, and applying our most recent implementation (or interpretation ) of COIN in Afghanistan and that of Galulas approach in his petit sous-quartier of Algeria.

Toujour Fidele

Bob's World

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 7:05am


While I appreciate your passion, I cannot get behind your passion-driven solutions.

I do not use words to confuse issues, but rather in an attempt to clarify them. When they go in directions counter to your belief/understanding it frustrates you.

Life is both simpler and more complicated than you make it out to be, appreciateing where to draw those lines is the hard part.

As to the AFPAK region I do not write to convince you, your mind is made up and I am ok with that. Many people share your position. Many others do not and they retain open minds as they seek to acheive a clearer understanding to help them make sense of this situation.

I have no love for the Taliban, their beliefs or their tactics; but I can appreciate why the leadership is in revolution against the government we helped the Northern Alliance to form. I can also appreciate why there is such a powerful resistance movement that has grown right along with the Coalition surge over the past several years. Their only other choice is to submit to a government forced upon them by a powerful foreign nation, one that is equipped by a constitution that turns the historic system of local patronage in Afghanistan into a centralize ponzi scheme that vests all patronage from the District level up in one man at the very top. This is a government that they have no legal means to address under the current rule of law.

The choice you offer them is submit or die. The choice they choose is live free or die.

We have to take responsibility for our role in shaping the current sitation. When what we helped shape went horribly wrong, instead of starting over and getting it right we opted to get out a hammer and attempt to beat it back into shape. Why? becuase we had defined the problem poorly, we were armed with an archaeic COIN doctrine designed for maintaining a colony, and we were too biased by our un-blinking belief that "we are the good guys." In some parts of the world where we get off track in how we pursue our interests, we are not the good guys. We played a major role in causing this problem; to blame it now all on the Taliban or Pakistan and then resort to the fact that we have superior firepower to settle it all in our favor is not what I would either recommend or validate as a smart approach.

Colonel Robert C. Jones, USA Special Forces (Ret)
Director of Strategic Understanding
Center for Advanced Defense Studies

carl (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 2:17am

Mr. Jones:

Let's not cloud the issue by stretching the word sanctuary to cover every little thing, or every big thing. If you want to talk about the strategic implications of not holding the Afghan gov to task as they should be, that is a fine topic for discussion. But let us state clearly that is what we are talking about. Do not twist it up with something different and call it the same. It comes across as an attempt to divert and deceive. (As I wrote that the image of the Bob Ewell character in To Kill a Mockingbird popped into my head. "You gotta watch those tricky lawyers like Atticus Finch." Bet you this is the first time you've been compared to Atticus Finch.)

How are we going to expand the conflict in Afghanistan and FATA by fighting the conflict in Afghanistan and FATA because it has already expanded to Afghanistan and FATA? That reminds me of all the odd talk during Vietnam about escalating the war if we shot at somebody who was shooting or about to shoot at us.

The Pak Army/ISI is doing a grand job of destabilizing Pakistan, better than anybody else in the world. We should not concern ourselves with fretting over whether we contribute to their Olympian penchant for error. We should concern ourselves with the deaths of our people at their hands.

Sanctuary is a very convenient piece of dirt especially if when you are standing on it rifle platoons can't hunt you down and shoot you. You may pooh-pooh the significance of that but if that sanctuary, the dirt you see, is not removed from the use of Taliban & Co we have an impossible task.

You almost always construct your sentences in such a way so as to lead people to believe the Pahstuns are united in their desires and aspirations and that Taliban & Co are the true agents of those aspirations. The Pashtuns are not so unified I think; and seeing as the standard Taliban & Co m.o. when they move into an area is to murder all the leading citizens if they won't play ball, I think Taliban & Co in many ways is the agent of the Pashtuns as the KGB was the agent of the Russians. You never have explained to me how you reconcile all those dead Pashtun elders with the view that Taliban & Co somehow represent the Pashtuns.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 06/09/2011 - 11:51am

Should we consider the that:

The powers that be were enamoured with Galula and his proponents -- not because they thought that such an approach was the only or optimum way to deal with an insurgency --

But, rather, because the Galulan approach was considered the best method which would allow them (the powers that be) to pursue their true objective, which was: outlier state and societal transformation and incorporation?

Thus, it was not COIN that drove the doctrinal train here, but the overall state and societal transformation and incorporation goal of our foreign policy generally?

Bob's World

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 2:19pm

Carl, Bill,

The "strategic sancutary" that hinders us most in Afghanistan is the functional one of our own creation that we have wrapped the Karzai/Northern Alliance government within.

The FATA? To expand military and diplomatic efforts to deny that region to AQ would only serve to expand the conflict in both countries and also to further weaken and destabilize the government and country of Pakistan.

Such actions would also serve to steel the resolve of the Pashtun populace (the true source of sanctuary, not some piece of convenient dirt) to the cause of insurgencies in both countries. Harder faster is not always the answer when one is falling behind. Sometimes smarter and a softer touch is what does the trick.

Militaries wage COIN the way teenage boys have sex. Only thinking about one thing, focused on short-term, measureable objectives; little concern for long-term consequences or the effects on the target of one's engagement; quick to disavow ownership of any unintended consequences; and equally quick to brag after the fact to anyone who will listen about how great your efforts were.

We need to learn to take a more mature approach to these situations.

Swothunters (not verified)

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 8:40am

For those interested, the GAO recently posted to documents relevant to this discussion (more CT vs COIN)...the focus is on sanctuaries/safe havens. I reference them in the below link.

GAO released two NEW Reports addressing Counterterrorism

Combating Terrorism: U.S. Government Should Improve Its Reporting on Terrorist Safe Havens
GAO-11-561 June 3, 2011
Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 51 pages) Accessible Text Recommendations (HTML)


Combating Terrorism: U.S. Government Strategies and Efforts to Deny Terrorists Safe Haven GAO-11-713T June 3, 2011 Full Report (PDF, 13 pages) Accessible Text

Cheers all,

Mike in Hilo

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 11:34pm

Bill M.,

Re: Yours of 6 June 8:39 and 7 June 1:18:

I think the referenced two posts taken together state the case for possible, alternative "Strong Points"/COGs succinctly and with clarity. I say this as someone whose posts, over time, have tried to illustrate the impact of sanctuaries on adjacent populations in one specific conflict.


Absolutely, and we have been trying to address that issue, but as all know it is complex and slow going, but in my opinion until it is addressed we are doing nothing more than a holding action and conducting attrition operations (that is O.K. as long as we recognize and accept it). Our actions in Afghanistan can't be decisive until the sanctuary issue is "effectively" addressed.

Of course like most military proposals this is simply an opinion, but I have yet to seen a reasonable opinion to counter this view.

carl (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 2:32pm

Bill M:

Would you say the strategic fight that must be won is in large or some part the denial of the external sanctuary in Pakistan?

I think SWO hunters made several excellent points, but disagree that the population is the COG. The COG is generally defined as the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. While I agree that hostile population can limit their ability to act, it doesn't prevent them from acting in all cases. It is always important to look at the context obviously. If you look at the communist insurgency in the Philippines (a nation isolated geographically), they receive little to no meaningful external support, there is no sanctuary for their fighters, etc. The population is critical to their long term survival. In Afghanistan there is considerable foreign assistance and sanctuary for the insurgents, and the population is more diverse (Although the Filipino population is also quite diverse, just not "as" divided as the various ethnic and political parties in Afghanistan). In Afghanistan I agree with Slap that the population is an objective, and I'll go one further it is a tactical level objective. Much like taking physical terrain, winning a village, region, city etc. requires constant effort to hold. As soon as we (all concerned) reduce our effort at holding that particular area insurgents will leave their safehaven and take it make through a combination of persuasion and coercion. That is the tactical fight (still important) in Afghanistan, the defeating the insurgent by denying his sanctuary is the strategic fight. The tactical fight cannot be successful until we win the strategic fight (seems backwards, but I think it is appropriate) in this case. Then the good efforts directed at the population will be a needed mop up operation to consolidate the victory. I guess I am arguing the COG can and does change over time, but at this phase the population is NOT the COG. I am firing from the hip, so I am sure there are holes in my argument, but I think some of the points are worth considering.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 11:31am

RCJ says:

"The problem lies in the nature of the relationship between the government and the significant and distinct segment of the populace from which the insurgent emerges."

If we look at this today, as many do, from a "grand scale" perspective, wherein: the so-called "international community" considers itself to be the world's government and the United States considers itself to be the leader of said international community/world government,

(This perception being brought on by "our" winning of the Cold War.)

Then, from this grand scale perspective, what is it in the nature of the relationship between (a) the world's defacto governor and government (the great and rising powers?) and (b) the significant and distinct segment of the world's population from which the insurgents emerge (the lesser, more-subordiante states?) that is the cause of our overall problems?

Can an understanding of Galula help with this?

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 7:55am

To Mr Jones.

Agree on all, especially your bottom line below because I think it is one of the reasons there's a big misunderstanding about COIN, what it can do, and how it may be considered effective...

"We need to frame our arguments properly, or otherwise we are merely making passionate noise in their defense or attack."


Bob's World

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 7:40am

Well, the populace is certainly at the center of things, they are the prize for whose support the insurgent and the government compete. If a "COG" they are a shared COG, which is unique to insurgency (and just one of many reasons why I argue that insurgency and COIN are not war. Both can be very violent, but the terms of success and nature of the parties are so very different, that to conflate as one is to suck at both).

Galula's work is far more good than bad; but for those who make the argument one of "hug the people" vs. "kill the insurgent"; one of Galula vs. Tranquier; they miss the point. They are still thinking at the root of their decision process "How do I defeat this enemy and win this war."

Secretary Gates is out running his mouth on this very topic; talking in terms of how we owe it to the American people and the troops to "Defeat" the Taliban and to "win a decisive victory" in Afghanistan. Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, you don't get it.

This is a military perspective on insurgency, and the military is just one of many tools that must be applied in concert to truly resolve an insurgency, and frankly, they are not the best arm to LEAD the overall effort. On that point Galula is spot on.

The insurgent is a symptom of a much deeper problem in a society, one that must be managed, often with war-like violence and hard military action; but the insurgent is not the problem that once defeated is resolved. The problem lies in the nature of the relationship between the government and the significant and distinct segment of the populace from which the insurgent emerges. One must make understanding and addressing the roots of those problems their main effort; and worth adding is that while often exacerbated by bad economics and poor infrastructure, those are contributing factors and not the true problem either.

We need to frame our arguments properly, or otherwise we are merely making passionate noise in their defense or attack. Galula has flaws, but if an understanding of his perspective is not in your mental arsenal, you are not fully armed for COIN. Similarly if he (or Kilcullen, or any single other person) is ALL you carry, one is ill-equipped as well.



Swothunters (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 1:57am


while I do agree that the population is the objective, I also still believe they are the COG, and here is why:

Center of Gravity (COG) - is the population; without the population insurgents have no way to sustain the movement or to infiltrate and subvert society

Critical Capabilities (CC) - are the insurgents warfighting capabilities e.g. intelligence, logistics, command/control, fires, force protection, recruitment, propaganda, etc. Conventional forces bring their capabilities to the fight; insurgents have to rely mostly on the preexisting environment for their capabilities. This is why the population is the center of gravity

Critical Requirements (CR) - Psychological dominance of the battlespace. The insurgent requires the local populace to support him, or he cannot succeed. If the insurgent cannot buy popular support, he will force popular support via terrorism, blackmail, torture, extortion, kill informants, etc. Disrupt this and the counterinsurgent disrupts his operational capacity; the population will often side with the perceived winner to survive.

Critical Vulnerabilities (CV) - Social Seams, and varying reasons to fight, are most susceptible to attack. The population supports the insurgent for different reasons; find those reasons, the seams, and fill that void if possible with alternatives so locals avoid terrorism and insurgency, or even fight against it. This will allow the counterinsurgent to reserve killing for hard core members while turning the population against the movement. Exploit social seams and lack of trust... undermine the mutual trust, or leverage to the point where the population see the relationship with insurgents a liability... most of the tactical COIN effort should be spent here... everything else (COG, CC and CR) are tied to this, particularly the CR.


Swothunters (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 1:43am


With respect to TITLE VII--IMPLEMENTATION OF 9/11 COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS... begin reading the following this explains why we are doing what we are doing in Afghanistan...not saying right or wrong...this is what the law says. Hence, this is maybe one reason why COIN is getting a bad name for the wrong reason. Below is the mission and intent as noted by policy.

(a) SHORT TITLE.--This section may be cited as the ''Afghanistan Freedom Support Act Amendments of 2004.

You can access the IRTPA here:


carl (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 1:35am

Bill M., Slap and Swothunters:

Your 3 posts complemented each other well and cleared things up for me, especially the part about confusing objective and center of gravity. I shall strive to be more shrewd in my use and understanding of the terms.

Bill, I am glad you put as one and two foreign support and sanctuary. I think the importance of those two things are not well appreciated in Afghanistan.

Say what you will about Galula, but if he helps, he's good. I remember several years ago an exchange between and N.G. (I think) Special Forces SGT and one of the usual anti-Galula suspects on the blog. The usual suspect said Galula is without merit and the SGT said Galula helped him to do a good job in Afghanistan. I thought the SGTs reply was a pretty good one.

Swothunters (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 1:10am

"From the practice, beautiful theory was born that enlightened western interventionists can deploy into the hinterlands, win hearts, minds, and souls, and unilaterally transform societies through the spread of democracy and capitalism."

I don't see how anyone could think COIN was about going soft on people. From Galula's perspective, the whole idea is to develop enough rapport with the population in order to identify who needs to be targeted and captured/killed...COIN was not ever meant to be a strategy, but a set of approaches and way of thinking to be affected via a series of complex, continuous tactical actions that have strategic implications. These efforts would therefore help shape the conditions for governance to set in.

Galula's actions focused efforts on keeping presence patrols on the surface level (overt) in an attempt to force the insurgents away from the population, or to lie low. This was meant to be followed up by lethal actions via clandestine means and ramp up a targeting cycle to force the enemy to react. The combination of those actions buy time for indigenous force capabilities to take the fight to the enemy via overt and clandestine means (the 'minority' he notes in belows excerpt). This is exactly why the Awakening movement in Iraq was effective. And this is how Galula's thinking remains relevant. More of Galula's thinking is noted in the term of winning the 'battle of silence', page 4 of

To find your targets, you need cooperation which is gained through various forms of coercion and persuasion...not love. If anything Galula notes is that COIN is just as violent, if not meant to be more violent for the reasons noted below.

Those who think COIN is going soft has not read this part of Galula's second law from his book on page 56 and 57...

"The answer lies in the following proposition, which simply expresses the
basic tenet of the exercise of political power:
In any situation, whatever the cause, there will be an active minority for
the cause, a neutral majority, and an active minority against the cause.
The technique of power consists in relying on the favorable minority in
order to rally the neutral majority and to neutralize or eliminate the hostile
In extreme cases, when the cause and the circumstances are extraordinarily good or bad, one of the minorities disappears or becomes negligible,
and there may even be a solid unanimity for or against among the population. But such cases are obviously rare.
This holds true for every political regime, from the harshest dictatorship
to the mildest democracy. What varies is the degree and the purpose to
which it is applied. Mores and the constitution may impose limitations,
the purpose may be good or bad, but the law remains essentially valid
whatever the variations, and they can indeed be great, for the law is applied
unconsciously in most countries.
It can no longer be ignored or applied unconsciously in a country beset by
a revolutionary war, when what is at stake is precisely the counterinsurgents
power directly challenged by an active minority through the use of subversion
and force. The counterinsurgent who refuses to use this law for his own
purposes, who is bound by its peacetime limitations, tends to drag the war
out without getting closer to victory.
How far to extend the limitations is a matter of ethics, and a very serious
one, but no more so than bombing the civilian population in a conventional
war. All wars are cruel, the revolutionary war perhaps most of all because
every citizen, whatever his wish, is or will be directly and actively involved
in it by the insurgent who needs him and cannot afford to let him remain
neutral. The cruelty of the revolutionary war is not a mass, anonymous
cruelty but a highly personalized, individual one. No greater crime can be
committed by the counterinsurgent than accepting, or resigning himself to,
the protraction of the war. He would do as well to give up early.
The strategic problem of the counterinsurgent may be defined now as
follows: "To find the favorable minority, to organize it in order to mobilize
the population against the insurgent minority." Every operation, whether
in the military field or in the political, social, economic, and psychological
fields, must be geared to that end."

Source link:…

While I agree some valid points were made in how we approached the fight, our approach was not necessarily congruent with what Galula promoted because the truth is the west lacks the intestinal fortitude to prosecute the fight in the manner he prescribe's above, by ensuring the population remains pitted and pressured between the insurgent and counterinsurgent so they are forced to take a side.

I will add and say we ARE NOT fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, which is why the COIN approach is more complex...we are nation building and trying to shape a culture into that mode. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act, unfortunately or fortunately, makes COIN methodologies the nearest tool to affect that effort. You will find this under TITLE VII--IMPLEMENTATION OF 9/11 COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS.

Great post by everyone, I simply wanted to add a point or two.


slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 06/06/2011 - 11:15pm

Galula never called the people the COG, he said they were the Objective,(there is a thread over on SWC where I raised this point some time ago) at least that is what he said in the version I have. For the people to be the Objective that implies that there is some other force (COG) acting on or against the people and that force should be the COG. The question is who decided that the people were the COG and why did they change or omit what Galula actually said.


First the caveat, every situation has a unique context, so there are no generic answers. Possible COGs other than the population (again depending upon the insurgency):

1. Foreign support (political, finance, moral, other forms of support)

2. External and / or internal sanctuary

3. Insurgents (either physical or will to fight)

4. Occupying power (had to say it, if we just leave that will change the character of the fight)

The real question is why is the population the center of gravity? Which people? How does it result in defeating the insurgency? There are several underlying issues that cause insurgents to fight, so beyond the tactical level how does focusing the population defeat the insurgency? Isn't the COG(s) the underlying issues driving the insurgency, or the insurgents themselves? If for example the underlying issue is the insurgents want to implement shari'a law we can either facilitate it (address the underlying issue), or we can physically defeat the insurgents to the extent that they realize they will not achieve their objectives through insurgent tactics. As part of the defeat we can work through the populace, but ultimately the insurgent must be defeated. I find the COG concept to be misleading, but if we are going to use the construct, then clarify why the populace is the COG. Not all insurgencies require popular support, just enough tacit support to facilitate their attacks, so winning the people's hearts and minds (assuming there is such a thing a monolithic population somewhere) will not destroy the insurgents' ability to continue on.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 06/06/2011 - 5:09pm


You asked "why must the people be the center of gravity, why cant it be something else."

Ok. To follow up Anonymous above, like what?