Small Wars Journal

The COIN Conundrum: The Future of Counterinsurgency and U.S. Land Power

Thu, 12/29/2016 - 11:05am

The COIN Conundrum: The Future of Counterinsurgency and U.S. Land Power by Dr. Thomas R. Mockaitis, U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute

Counterinsurgency (COIN) continues to be a controversial subject among military leaders. Critics argue that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the U.S. military, particularly the Army, "COIN-centric." They maintain that equipping U.S. forces to combat insurgency has eroded their conventional war fighting capabilities. Those committed to preserving and even enhancing COIN capabilities, on the other hand, insist that doing so need not compromise the ability of the military to perform other tasks. They also point out that the likelihood of even a mid-level conventional war remains low while the probability of unconventional engagements is high. This monograph reviews the COIN debate, analyzes current force structure, and concludes that contrary to the more extreme positions taken by critics and proponents, the U.S. military has achieved a healthy balance between COIN and other capabilities.

Read the entire monograph.


Dave Maxwell

Thu, 12/29/2016 - 9:38pm

Although I am a little partial to the work that has been done in the Philippines I find his recommendations quite unusual and one I cannot completely agree with, namely that the Philippines provides the model for future COIN campaigns.

It could, instead, try to train two-speed soldiers capable of conducting conventional and unconventional operations; or, it could keep COIN as a core function of an enhanced SOCOM with the capability to train conventional forces in unconventional tactics should a large expeditionary COIN mission be deployed. This monograph concludes that the forth option best equips the Army for the contemporary security environment. It then makes specific recommendations for implementing this option and suggests the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF)-Philippines as the model for future COIN campaigns. Finally, the monograph maintains that an enhanced special operations forces (SOF) capability will not adversely affect preparation for conventional war-fighting. Improving the conventional forces’ tooth-to-tail ratio, continuing to develop labor-saving technologies, and relying on contractors to perform support functions can offset reallocation of personnel to SOCOM. END QUOTE

What I find incredible is that the author bases his recommendations on two sources (and Greg's is an excellent source but I would think the author would have turned to the recent comprehensive RAND study by Linda Robinson and her team ( :

83. Details on SOF support for Philippine military from Jim
Michaels, “Philippines a model for counterinsurgency,” USA
Today, available from
03-30-secretwar30_ST_N.htm, accessed on November 27, 2015.

84. Colonel Gregory Wilson, “Anatomy of a Successful COIN
Operation: OEF-PHILIPPINES and the Indirect Approach,” Military
Review: The Professional Journal of the U.S. Army, Vol. LXXXVI,
No. 6, November-December 2006, p. 6. 77

85. Ibid., pp. 7-8.

86. Michaels, “Philippines a model for counterinsurgency.” END QUOTE

I have long argued that OEF-P is not a model in itself. It was suited for the conditions that existed there (political, cultural, and security). I can sum up the lessons from OEF-P that are enduring that provide only basis for a model: conduct a thorough assessment/estimate to gain as complete understanding of the situation as possible, develop and execute a campaign plan that supports US policy and national strategy and that is appropriate for the situation: one that supports a friend, partner, or ally in its internal defense and development programs to help them to defend themselves against lawless, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism in complete synchronization with the US country team while respecting and protecting host nation sovereignty. That is the "model" in a nutshell.