Small Wars Journal

Is COIN Dead?

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 2:02am
Mark Safranski, aka Zenpundit, asks "is counterinsurgency dead?".

"By that, I mean contemporary, mid-2000's "pop-centric" COIN theory as expressed in FM 3-24 - is it de facto dead as USG policy or is COIN theory formally evolved to officially embrace strong elements of CT, targeted assassinations, FID, "open-source counterinsurgency" and even bare-knuckled conventional warfare tactics?"

What say you?


Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 10:26pm

<b>Robert C. Jones:</b>

I broadly agree with the thrust of your comment at 12:42 PM but your memory of the era and mine differ. This:<blockquote>"It cost Johnson his job, and he knew it would when he did it."</blockquote>is just wrong.

Johnson effectively made points with <i>most</i> Americans for the Bill, even though it was really Kennedy's Bill and Johnson just happened (funny how that worked...) to get it done on his watch.

Viet Nam cost him his job -- as it should have. That reality is also is more in keeping with pushing the futility and error of neo-colonial COIN...

Much more at the link,

"First, for some opaque reason, the list of conflicts that the military and academic worlds examine under the category of "insurgencies" is incredibly restrictive and ignores many cases of irregular warfare that could be included without undue justification. (In most cases, these ignored conflicts have for some reason been labeled civil wars or revolutions and not insurgencies.) Second, despite the number of canonical texts and individual and comparative studies, no one has attempted a categorization of previous COIN cases that differentiates among the original conditions at the start of a given conflict and the eventual strategic endstate that it wished to achieve.

Together, these two factors--the restriction of COIN analysis to just a handful of famous 20th-century cases and the mistake of examining each doctrinally without first separating them based upon the strategic aims of the government and the political, economic, and military point of departure--have greatly distorted what can be learned from existing examples of irregular warfare and what in fact the lessons for today may be. If the data set of COIN analysis is enlarged to include other 20th-century conflicts that were not analyzed as insurgencies by the RAND team (and others), the results are striking."

Bob's World

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 1:42pm

For the U.S. the best example is the civil rights movement and the actions taken by the Johnson administration to identify and address the reasonable grievances of the African American populace that were also material to their growning insurgency. Good COIN is done long before a problem goes violent, though certainly the civil rights movement would have been much more violent but for the tactical choices of Dr. King and some critical moments of restraint by law enforcement. It could have gotten much uglier. We were lucky. But we were smart too. The government identified and made concessions it did not have to make, simply because it was the right thing to do. It cost Johnson his job, and he knew it would when he did it.

The key is that COIN are the actions of a government to maintain or regain stability with their own populace. Most of this never becomes war-like, as that only occurs when the government has failed miserably to begin with. The decision to bring key leaders together to address fixes to the articles of Confederation back in 1787 was also smart COIN and turned the corner on growing revolt across the young nation.

Other nations certainly have similar stories. But when one is intervening in some foreign state specifically to stand up or prop up a government to serve ones own interests in the face of popular challenge, that is not COIN. That is "colonial intervention." Yes, I know what doctrine says. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but sometimes doctrine is wrong.

Kitson, Tranquier, Galula all wrote about colonial intervention. The US Small Wars Manual is based on British TTPs from their colonial experience as well as our own. It too is colonial intervention. These are all valuable products. There is nothing wrong with having doctrine for such operations, we just need to recognize them for what they are and not apply it where it really doesn't fit without making appropriate modifications.

In today's information and transportation age such techniques for exerting influence and managing interests are far less viable than they were even 50 years ago. We need to evolve as well.


Thu, 02/17/2011 - 4:46am


Understand the distinction you're drawing with the colonial intervention approach but just wondering of you might be able to give some examples of COIN campaigns that don't fall into the colonial intervention category? I understand the point you're making but I'm just for an example to compare it against to clarify for myself the actual differences between this and other forms of COIN.



I could have saved a whole lot of writing if I'd had the patience to pause and think for a bit longer.

"What hopefully is on the ropes is the mistaken believe that the Colonial Intervention-based "COIN" professed in FM 3-24 is about counterinsurgency"

What was it that TE Lawrence said: Something like there is always the temptation to impress upon the locals how we can do things better. To implement processes and procedures that fit neatly in a Western context or to overlay our actions with values foreign to local customs or understanding. Better the local people do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly."

Just as importantly when COIN is implemented and it doesnt go to script we need to avoid the temptation to right it off.



Bob's World

Tue, 02/15/2011 - 7:53am

"COIN" is not only not dead, it is in essence the day to day actions of civil governance everywhere in the world.

What hopefully is on the ropes is the mistaken believe that the Colonial Intervention-based "COIN" professed in FM 3-24 is about counterinsurgency.

A study of colonial intervention, heavily colored by a couple years in Iraq is not counterinsurgency, and contains a very flawed perspective on insurgency itself, as it is written from the persptective of a colonial power that is hard set on maintaining their influence over the people, resources, and government of others through the forced sustainment of some illegitimate regime.

Many of the TTPs are quite sound, but the overall context is fatally flawed.


COIN will not die as long as we are prepared to constantly evaluate and amend the guidance and framework it can provide to those in the field.

Lessons from previous small wars have been invaluable and have improve our operations in field today. There will be lessons from Afghanistan that can guide operators in the next complex conflict where winning the population is as important as killing the enemy.

Much of the challenge is not in the doctrine but in the application and having enough resources to apply the required actions.

At present the doctrine is being given a thrashing because of poor application and for most of our time in Afghanistan insufficient resources.

The other complicating factor (I think someone mentioned this earlier) is the doctrine was captured by the nation building with well meaning but completely misconceived policy developers.

It also has not helped the COIN cause through ever changing objectives and direction from political leaders. Eugene Robinson Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post on 3 August 2010 highlighted a number of confusing directions from the Obama Administration. It is not surprising then that the military are finding it difficult to know what version of COIN they are implementing. For example, when he announced his escalation of the war, Obama described his troop increase as a temporary surge and pledged to begin a withdrawal next July. The administration continues to insist that this is official policy -- but warns us not to expect, you know, an actual withdrawal.

On August 01 Defence Secretary Robert Gates said "My personal opinion is that draw-downs early on will be of fairly limited numbers...I think we need to re-emphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011. We are beginning a transition process and a thinning of our ranks, and the pace will depend on the conditions on the ground."

Robinson further highlighted the perverse logic at work when again quoting Gates who claimed that the administration's policy in Afghanistan is "really quite clear." But this is how he described it: "We are in Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan, not because we want to try and build a better society in Afghanistan. But doing things to improve governance, to improve development in Afghanistan, to the degree it contributes to our security mission and to the effectiveness of the Afghan government in the security area, that's what we're going to do."

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a similar description of the U.S. mission: "Afghanistan has to be stable enough, has to have enough governance, has to create enough jobs, have an economy that's good enough so that the Taliban cannot return" to establish a brutal, terrorist-friendly regime.

Here are some ideas for improving the COIN doctrine:

The following are suggestions for improving the adaptability of COIN for future campaigns:

1. Stress test COIN and other military doctrines against a range of insurgent scenarios taking place in potential host countries - what is unique about the cultural and tribal dynamics.

2. Anticipate the next host nations and begin a coordinated, international effort to limit the opportunity for the global jihadists to re-base themselves (Australia has done a good job with its intense support of governance, security and development initiatives in Indonesia) - almost an interntional version of COIN.

3. Develop sophisticated social networking and internet countering-platforms devised by and run by maintstream, globally recognised and respected Muslim organisations.

4. Intesify the global 'hearts and minds campaign to convince young, mobile and increasingly sophisticated Muslims that the West is not a threat to their belief systems. This must be coordinated at an international level across governments and non-government actors.

5. Identify communications strategies and tactics to undermine the jihadists perceived legitimacy in the minds of eye of mainstream media. Every time the insurgents claim 'civilians have been killed by US forces this is treated as fact by the media.

6. Avoid seeking a generic, off-the-shelf, model of COIN devised from previous campaigns to be applied to the next campaign.

These are suggestions merely scratch the surface of what could be done to prepare for the next campaign.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 02/14/2011 - 12:55pm

Whoever writes the book will win the argument, but the winner's argument will have little to do with the truth. There were many, many factors that led to AQ being suppressed (not defeated). More important than AQ was the growing civil conflict between the Sunni and Shia and the surge definitely helped put a damper on that. I question any assessment that claims we won in Iraq. We won the first part by removing Saddam (the stated objective), but we didn't install an effective government or create enduring stability. All claims to victory need to be put on hold as we watch the situation unfold. Bob Jones is probably right, we created enough security through the surge to create a decent interval to facilitate our withdrawal and little more.

Demon Fox

Mon, 02/14/2011 - 11:05am

Kenneth, I disagree on the reasoning for the Awakening. The Awakening began in Al Anbar Province in June 2006 (before the surge). It occurred about two months after we killed Al Zarqawi (AMZ)and his not-as-competent successor, Al Masri (AAM) took over. This emboldened the tribal leaders to come together and oust the AQI influence.

For an insurgency to be successful, it MUST have the backing of the population. This is where AQI failed miserably. They made enemies of just about everyone because of their indiscriminate killing and fundamentalist ideology. Most "AQI" I met simply did it for the money (since the economy was down the tubes) and some power. AQI generally paid well - usually more than an IP or IA soldier.

The people were absolutely sick of AQI and their affiliates. Once momentum started in Al Anbar it quickly spread to other areas. As you stated, the surge allowed us to saturate areas. You are correct. As the surge operations climaxed in 2007, the Awakening was transformed in Community Watches, Local Concerned Citizens, Legitimate Resistance Forces, and ultimately the Sons of Iraq program.

The surge was successful in clearing, but it never would have been successful in holding. Only the tribes and locals were capable of doing this.

I personally worked with a tribal element in Diyala Province in 2007 that fought against AQI mostly on their own. They were not in an area where the surge was taking place. Many of them were 1920 Revolution Brigade who, a few months prior, were attacking CF. They came to our FOB gate and asked to speak with us (SF). They admitted they had made a big mistake supporting AQI and Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). They knew the Americans would be leaving soon and they did NOT want ISI left in charge.

After laying down the ground rules, we formed an alliance to rid the province of ISI and it was highly successful. We gave training support, logistics support, ground support, fire support, and even air support to these guys. They gave us highly accurate intel and targeting information which made my targeting process easy. They also gave very accurate BDA after a strike.

That is how we won Iraq and it is how we need to win Afghanistan. As I said earlier, many villages are ready to stand up and defend their areas. We have to allow them maneuver room by clearing their areas with ISAF/ANA/ANP and then establishing an LDF - or whatever you want to call it. Some areas have already establish this and it is working - just like it did in Iraq.



Kenneth (not verified)

Mon, 02/14/2011 - 10:43am

The awakening occurred because of the surge. I have seen many people question how effective the surge was. The fact is, additional troops allowed us to saturate areas previously unoccupied. The security this provided allowed the awakening to get up and running.

Demon Fox

Sun, 02/13/2011 - 1:29am

I have heard more than once the argument by various people, "That was Iraq, this is Afghanistan!" They see little or no similarities between the nature of the operational environment, enemy, the COIN that is being conducted, and the COIN that needs to be conducted.

They are wrong.

Although there are many differences between the two theaters, there are far more similarities than just the basic religion. I was personally surprised just how similar the two theaters are. Colleagues of mine with similar experience in OIF had the same reaction when they moved to OEF. The most startling fact to us was how few lessons-learned were transferred from OIF to OEF.

Attending briefs, reading reports, talking to folks, etc. in Afghanistan I heard over and over practically the exact same problems, arguments, and discussions we had 3 to 5 years ago in Iraq. Problems we already found solutions to.

Yes, many factors contributed to success in Iraq. But, by an overwhelming degree, the Awakening was the primary factor. No other effort in Iraq - to include Gen. Petraeus' troop surge - would have succeeded without this event occurring. By taking up arms and securing their own villages, local Iraqis - both Sunni and Shiite - provided the means to HOLD the terrain. CF and ISF were capable of clearing, but never holding for any significant length of time.

This is not theory - it is fact. It is fact that is already being implemented in parts of Afghanistan and is spreading. Village elders are raising their hands to form their own local defense forces to keep the Taliban (and I use that term loosely) out of their areas. It is working - just like it did in Iraq.

Winning in OEF - just like in OIF - requires a coordinated effort between the locals and security forces to bring overwhelming force into an area to clear out the enemy, then immediately follow-up with a well coordinated, supported, and resourced LDF to hold the terrain and fight the inevitable counter-attacks and harassment. The HOLD is immediately followed-up by BUILD to improve the community and SUSTAIN to keep it that way.

About the only similarity between Iraq and Afghanistan is that a form of Islam is the predominant religion...the 'arm the people; theory is just that, a theory, and not one that has been particularly successful anytime recently: there are many many many other factors contributing to the current success in Iraq...

If there is any one truism in COIN it is that long term success only comes from, sooner or later, addressing those issues which are fomenting the insurgency...

...or... can just stay the kinetic path, wipe out and/or relocate anyone who looks like a dissenter...worked great guns for the Russians (Chechnya and Afghanistan almost being the exceptions that prove the rule), Vietnam (post-1975, Chinese, Japanese and probably the British and French before they got all democratic after WW2...

Demon Fox

Sat, 02/12/2011 - 9:16pm

COIN is most certainly not dead. It is very much alive and well and growing. When someone tells me we are no longer conducting COIN in OEF, then I question their understanding of the term.

COIN encompasses the entire spectrum of kinetic and non-kinetic operations to defeat an insurgency. FM 3-24 is a DOCTRINAL manual discussing the broad stroke methodology of COIN. It is not meant to discuss detailed TTPs. You can derive some more detail on TTPs from FM 3-24.2 Tactics in Counterinsurgency (Apr 09). But, just like the Ranger Handbook or FM 7-8, no manual can take the place of using your brain to adapt to the situation on the ground and create your own TTPs and doctrine. If you truly want to know about COIN in OEF, don't talk to a general - talk to a platoon leader.

In OIF and OEF I've heard people criticize commanders for conducting Direct Action (DA) and accusing them of not doing proper COIN. As SJPONeill and others discussed above, killing and capturing insurgents is an important part of COIN; however, if it is ALL you are doing then it is very poor COIN. On the flipside, there are areas in which DA must be the PRIMARY methodology due to the enemy's strength of presence. Once the enemy is flushed from the area by ISAF and ANA/ANP, the ground must be HELD through the use of tribal/village local defense forces that are given the authority and resources to defend themselves. This is how we won Iraq and it is how we will win Afghanistan.




Fri, 02/11/2011 - 5:39pm

"... is the 2011 model of COIN as we know it dead?"

I'd argue that it's the 2006 version of COIN as the broad 'new' war that is dying and that the 2011 perspective of COIN as a very limited subset of something that some might refer to as Irregular War and others as Countering Irregular Activity...

Herb (not verified)

Fri, 02/11/2011 - 1:50pm

Interesting COIN dead? Is the practice of medicine dead? As the disease evolves so must the physician and his tools.

Perhaps a better question then: is the 2011 model of COIN as we know it (relatively unconstrained resources) dead? Probably. As with medicine, the principles, lessons learned, tools, etc that have been learned, relearned, and developed over the last decade will morph to meet the emerging operational needs, and the national will to implement/fund them.

The need to effectively, and cheaply, counter insurgencies is an enduring requirement.

Radical Islam is not going away; it will morph as required to meet its malignant operational objectives; we will have to do the same to counter it. Learning to counter it with fewer resources will, I think, make it a much "closer" fight, ....but one that we will have to master.

The current COIN principles that have brought us success will remain valid in this future fight. Having fewer resources at our disposal requires much greater analysis & judgement to guide their application.

One of the enduring COIN lessons learned is that an effective counterinsurgency strategy requires the full participation/application of all the elements of DIME. As resources dwindle, we, as a nation, will have to get better (smarter/faster) at applying all of those elements much more effectively than we do now.

He who adapts faster wins, and we will adapt; the question is how long will it take, how much time, how many lives & opportunities will we waste.

bpwolf's comment: "...I am in my seven month of ILE. The death of COIN will go unnoticed here. It never made it in. MCO baby!" should be of great concern to all.

Our future COIN strategy will be built upon current successful strategies - failure to educate future leadership on the current, evolving COIN strategy ensures that time, and lives will be wasted relearning lessons we've already paid for....


Fri, 02/11/2011 - 5:17am

In late 2007-early 2008, we reviewed a good chunk of the available 'COIN' doctrine from the US (Army, Marines and Air Force - Navy didn't seem to be in the game), UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Rhodesia and across a span of time from 1965 (the Aussie Div in Battle Pam 11(?) CRW) to the developing Aussie LWD 3-0-1 COIN. With all the bad press that FM 3-24 had been receiving, I keep putting it off and so didn't actually get to it til about 3/4 of the way through the review. I found it a refreshing and pragmatic change from those that preached the 'nice' approach to counter-insurgency and it does say that the use of force is OK when it is the right tool to create the desired effect. (I also speculated at the time that 90% of those that commented adversely on 3-24 hadn't actually read it). It annoys me, from perspectives of doctrinal purity and operational effectiveness, that COIN has now been corrupted to equal development and that the myth that by being nice to the population they will rise up and support us on the way to victory...really...?

I'm not anti-FM 3.24 - I think it is some of the best doctrine that the US has ever produced but I do think that it now needs to be tempered in the light of success in Iraq and the lessons we have learned in the four years since it's release. Now, I think its title works against us as COIN is taken to be all things to all people - the title didn't matter in 2006-7: it was the content that counted but now that content is starting to be applied out of the context it was created...

I see no evidence that COIN is dead, but we may have once again realized that insurgency is just one form of conflict, and as SJPONeil stated we may have hopefully realized there aren't that many insurgencies that "we" need to counter. COIN isn't dead, but I think we now realize that insurgencies around the globe are not new, nor are all (or even most) of them a threat to our national interest.

Overall FM 3-24 is relatively sound doctrine, and no where in the document (that I can recall) did it state you don't conduct offensive operations against insurgents, but rather you have to consider the potential second order effects of doing so, and ensure your operations aren't making the problem worse. That is quite different than confusing combat operatons within the COIN context with CT or conventional warfare. These operations are still very much part of COIN. The experimental views that we can defeat insurgencies with development efforts is simply that, an experiment that hasn't proved to be overly successful yet. Now many confuse combat operations as non-COIN, because they think COIN is strictly development and Civil Military Operations. This has never been true.

COIN is not dead, and our current operations in Afghanistan have little to do with what we're doing in other locations around the world. Afghanistan may not be going well, but in my view that isn't due to our COIN doctrine, but rather due to our confusing policies that are disconnected from the reality in the region. Doctrine doesn't enable the military to impliment ill conceived policies.


Thu, 02/10/2011 - 8:54pm

To answer the original question, Is COIN Dead?

No but it is being put back in its box with the growing awareness that there are actually not that many insurgencies (by the popular definitions) to counter...

bpwolf (not verified)

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 7:23pm

I am in my seven month of ILE. The death of COIN will go unnoticed here. It never made it in. MCO baby!

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 7:17pm

Ghikas said (1:19 PM): "But kill/capture will not yield long-term results until you address root drivers of the conflict and instability."

Ghikas said (2:16PM): "Stability operations, which target root causes are now integrated into Full-Spectrum Opns."

Herein, may lie the central problem with our thinking:

We profess that the root drivers/cause of insurgencies are outdated, obsolete and now harmful societal, political and economic systems -- which we believe can no longer provide for the basic needs of the population -- thus causing conflict and instability.

Thus, COIN (which includes stability opns per: FM 3-24) is focused on addressing this problem -- by using methods and techniques which are ultimately designed to provide the population with a new and now proper (in our eyes) societal/political/economic model -- one which we believe will better meet the needs of the population and, thereby, eradicate such "root causes."

Accordingly, should we be asking, not whether "Is COIN Dead?" but, possibly more clearly and specifically, whether the line of thinking I have described above (use of the opportunity presented by conflict/insurgency to achieve "long-term results;" specifically, the "transformation of entire societies") is this approach to counterinsurgency dead?


Thu, 02/10/2011 - 4:40pm

The doctrine probably already exists, just not in the US...the UK has done some good work in the broader COE with its Countering Irregular Activity (which I think leverages off the Countering Irregular Threats that the Marines were doing about 5 years ago).

It's probably well past time to reconsider FM 3-24 (essentially a solution for a single specific theatre and type of threat) as just one subset of a broader series covering aspects of Countering Irregular Activity or Irregular War (but we really want to get engaged BEFORE it becomes warfare).

I just said it on another thread but maybe this is a ball that needs to be played at May's COIN Symposium and the IW Summit a couple of weeks later...?

Ghikas (not verified)

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 3:16pm

Well, I'm not sure we need any more doctrine. I suspect trap a lot of us fell into was this false dichotomy, "there's the way the Army does things, and then there's this COIN stuff which is something else."

Stability operations, which target root causes, are now integrated with Full-Spectrum ops. So in any given theater you could have simultaneous offensive, defensive, and stability ops. Although, in future I don't think this will be conducted on the same scale as OEF/OIF.


Thu, 02/10/2011 - 2:41pm

Good comments!

"The main "shortfall" of Army COIN doctrine is that it is based on classic, Maoist-style insurgencies. The reason current counterinsurgency methods are being applied differently is because the current insurgency threat is different"

Perhaps there should be different -hmm - not sure of the right jargon - "volumes" of COIN doctrine. so instead of FM 3-24 as COIN it is "COIN Intro & Pop-centric COIN", the next could be "COIN and CT", "COIN , Development aid & FDI" (Foreign direct investment, not Foreign Internal defense) or whatever.

Understand desire for one neat, tidy, fairly slim doctrine manual but knowledge isn't really like that... successive additions/editons do not need to revisit the historical prologue each time either.

Actually why not hyperlink it all on a firewalled .mil site like Intellipedia? Let the practitioners and clearance holding theorists edit.....

Ghikas (not verified)

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 2:19pm

COIN operations as outlined in FM 3-24 are still being conducted, but COIN is just one line of effort within the overall mission. The main "shortfall" of Army COIN doctrine is that it is based on classic, Maoist-style insurgencies. The reason current counterinsurgency methods are being applied differently is because the current insurgency threat is different. David Killcullen has written extensively about this topic.

Just because you're conducting population-centric COIN, it doesn't mean you don't still kill or capture insurgents. But kill/capture will not yield long-term results until you address root drivers of conflict and instability. Since many of these factors exist elsewhere, such as Pakistan, it just means broadening the area of interest and working those other lines of effort across DIME.

So yes, there's a lot of CT, and there's recently been a lot of ordnance dropped, etc. But these are specific lines of operation, targeted against a specific threat, which in conjuction with COIN and FID support reaching the overall endstate.

sayke (not verified)

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 9:56am

COIN is necessary but not sufficient - it can't solve political problems, and the fact that karzai's government lacks popular legitimacy, and Pakistan is trying to reconquer Afghanistan, are both political problems.

Pol-Mil FSO

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 3:32am

Just an anecdote on the ebbs and flows of COIN doctrine:

In 1996 I traveled to New York as a notetaker for then Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Ted McNamara in his meetings with UN officials. During a break, Assistant Secretary McNamara, a career diplomat with prior service as Ambassador to Colombia and other assignments in places like Moscow and Kinshasa, asked me about my professional interests. I told him that I was interested in COIN, but realized it was no longer a politically correct subject for USG officials. He responded, "Don't worry, it will come back up on the radar screen."


Sun, 02/20/2011 - 9:45pm

Todd...rather than "...For an insurgency to be successful, it MUST have the backing of the population....", perhaps all that is really necessary is the apathy of the population?

Bob..."...Good COIN is done long before a problem goes violent...", sorry, but that's simply good policy...totally agree re the desire to develop and maintain stability but simply lumping everything under one great heading of colonial intervention is just the same as calling everything COIN.

The fact is "...intervening in some foreign state specifically to stand up or prop up a government to serve ones own interests in the face of popular challenge..." is simply what governments do - look after their own, and thus your, interests. They don't have to do that by sending in the Marines (et al) and usually don't; in fact usually, it's not even everything else, the trick is in how well it is done...

To lump US interventions in nations where it has no history or relationship, with the various Commonwealth or French campaigns after WW2 is also not correct -in these cases there was no intervention because these colonies were still colonies, not Dominions or nations in their own right.

That an unpopular government is being propped up is often a matter of perspective and often hindsight...the verbal attacks on the Karzai regime are very similar to those against the Thieus in Vietnam almost 40 years ago as is the counter-rhetoric...who's to say for a couple of decades who really as right or wrong...governments act in their own interests and the perceptions of those interests...perhaps if the US hadn't propped up the French administration in Vietnam (but this isn't colonial intervention), there wouldn't have been any need for an intervention of any sort ten years later? It probably all seemed like a good idea at the time...

"...In today's information and transportation age such techniques for exerting influence and managing interests are far less viable than they were even 50 years ago. We need to evolve as well..." Yes we do, and we are...but once again, there are things that can be taken from those 50s/60s campaigns and applied successfully today - where the situation warrants it, which unfortunately requires people to think. Your sentence above is no truer than those that told us that success in Iraq was simply a matter of applying the lessons of Malaya...

Bob's World

Mon, 02/21/2011 - 9:36am


You represent the military partyline on COIN fairly well. The problem is that, as FM 3-24 lays out in the first sentence, the military looks at COIN and insurgency as war and through the lens of the warfighter. All they see is what happens after "Bang." It is what happens before bang that is interesting, and material to understanding WHY there is violence and if it is insurgency or some other form of violence. This is where one finds the clues that are material to understanding what aspect of wide range of responses that are applied actually have the most effect.

Most military-perspective histories on COIN give short attention to what happened prior to some insurgent emerging from the populace and beginning to act out. They tend to focus on the ideology espoused by the insurgent over the causation that drove him to organize and pick an ideology in the first place. They tend to focus on the actions of the military to defeat the insurgent (or lose to the insurgent) and when political actions are addressed at all it is always with the caveat that "it could only take place after the military actions that preceded them."

The insurgency live-cycle begins long before the first IED blows up, or even long before the first ideology is selected, and even before the first group of desperate citizens convinced they have no effective and legal means to shape their destiny comes together to discuss forming an organized and illegal challenge to governance.

Similarly the insurgency life-cycle continues long after the last bit of organized violence is hunted down and defeated by the state's security forces, or those of the foreign power that often comes in to help sustain a status quo that they see as favorable to their interests.

In fact, I believe it is really a continuous cycle, that ebbs and flows between every populace and their government. Typically at a nice low simmer where everyone is reasonably comfortable, but at times drifting slowly out of that comfort-zone into what sometimes manifests as illegal protests or sometimes as illegal violence. Either of those are insurgency and demand the same problems be addressed, but will require different tactics to get at those problems. When the populace has legal options and employs them it is not insurgency, and is indeed "just politics."

The fact is also that the government gets to define where the left and right limits of legal politics are; those who define those limits the most narrowly are those that are most likely to drive their populace to acting outside the lines. The range fans are pretty tight in the Middle East, and those popualces have little choice but to act outside the lines, and are drawing courage from each other to do so. Governments like the Saudis tend to make people disappear who even whisper about crossing those lines.

For me the visual is of some sort of cook stand with a variety of containers on it. Each is uniquiely positioned on the stand, uniquely sized, and also filled with a unique fluid to a unique level. Each fluid has a unique boiling point as well. These containers are like the diverse populace of any nation.

Government is the burner beneath the stand, and the flame rising from that burner to engage the containers is domestic policy. A government that does not balance it's policies and adjust them for the variety of populaces it serves, working diligently to keep all within their comfort zone will soon find itself challenged by those that are too hot or too cold. If legal means exist, it is indeed just politics. If no legal means exist or prove effective, then the natural result is to opt to act out illegally.

This is all COIN is, the daily dedication of government to keep all those diverse containers at the same low-simmer. It is easier to ignore some, and focus on others. A good constitution forces government to not only engage each fairly, but also provides maximum legal options to the popualce. Both serve to minimize the liklihood or extent of insurgency.

But if all one studies is how to smash any container that dares to boil over or freeze up, then one is missing 95% of the dynamic at work. Same if one only studies how extra burners are brought in by some external party to temporarily provide more balanced heat. Most COIN only studies the 5%; and it is not the material 5%.