Small Wars Journal

Aligning FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency with Reality

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The TRADOC doctrine writers are busy revising FM 3-24 and hope to publish the new version in December of 2013.  The rewrite, by all accounts, will continue to embrace the concept of placing American Army and Marine brigade combat teams into the fight against foreign insurgents in attempts to keep host nation governments in power.   This essay will argue that this overseas COIN approach, codified in FM 3-24, has proven itself seriously flawed and must be fundamentally reconsidered.   Whether we like it or not, our experience indicates that deploying U.S. combat units to preserve the power of a foreign government against domestic insurgents is a fool’s errand.  War outcomes will most likely be unfavorable and our heavy combat casualties and enormous dollar expenditures will be unredeemed.  Based on the evidence so far, there is little data that would give us confidence that U.S. forces, assuming the principle counterinsurgent role, can win an overseas COIN war and deliver the desired war aims.  From a strategic perspective, therefore, the FM 3-24 hypothesis must be rejected as improbable, perhaps impossible.  On the other hand, our experience shows that comparatively small levels of American security force assistance (SFA) can succeed in defeating overseas insurgencies and preserving allied governments consonant with our global strategic interests.

Our current doctrine offers the following relevant definitions:

Insurgency: The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself. (JP 1-02)

Counterinsurgency: Comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to defeat an insurgency and to address any core grievances. Also called COIN. (JP 1-02)

Security Force Assistance: The Department of Defense activities that contribute to unified action by the US Government to support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their supporting institutions. (JP 3-22)

Host Country:  A nation which permits, either by written agreement or official invitation, government representatives and/or agencies of another nation to operate, under specified conditions, within its borders. (JP 1-02)

From the perspective of U.S. forces battling insurgents overseas, the COIN/SFA dichotomy is not one of operational approach, tactics, or techniques, but of principal combatant.  When U.S. forces conduct COIN, as described in FM 3-24, our combat forces provide the majority of the combat effort.  To use the common military and political parlance, America is “in the lead.”  During SFA, host country forces are “in the lead” and American forces in country provide only assistance—advising, logistics, training, planning, and intelligence.  U.S. ground combat forces, meaning brigade combat teams, are not engaged in direct combat with insurgents and most likely not even deployed into the country at all.

Of course, the United States enters into counterinsurgencies with two principal war aims, to defeat the insurgents and assure the survival of the friendly government.  The figure below summarizes our performance in achieving our war aims based on whether we limit ourselves to a supporting role or, alternatively, assume the role of the principal COIN combatant.

As the figure shows, America’s SFA missions have been mostly successful.  After World War II, the U.S. Army formed U.S. military assistance commands in Greece (1945-9), South Korea (1946-53), and the Philippines (1945-55) to assist allied indigenous armed forces defeat communist insurgencies.[1]  In each of these instances our adviser teams and the support they provided proved sufficient to tip the balance in the favor of the friendly government.  (North Korea conventionally attacked in 1950, after the ROK army, with American advisory and materiel assistance, had largely defeated the Communist insurgency in South Korea.)   Decades later, smaller assistance programs supported host country governments in Central America, namely in Honduras and El Salvador, in their struggles to eliminate domestic and regional insurgents; both the Honduran and El Salvadorian campaigns (1980-92) ended victoriously, and as a bonus helped our successful  clandestine effort to topple the Sandinista Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega.  In the past decade, especially in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., modest American support of the Colombian government’s Democratic Security and Defense Policy COIN strategy has greatly reduced the FARC (Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces) menace to both the government and the population.[2]   In all of these FID efforts, U.S. ground forces never conducted combat operations and never took the lead from the host nation military and police forces.  Instead, the U.S. Army, in coordination with the larger interagency effort, provided the host country militaries with advisors, weapons and other material assistance, training, both in country and sometimes in the United States, and intelligence support.   On rare occasions, the American military would assist with precision fires and special operations.  The costs of these wars, measured in American soldiers and dollars, were strategically acceptable, often even minor-- typically a few hundred or fewer advisors and budgets measured in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per year.[3]   Except for the Central American campaign in the 1980s, none of these SFA programs became politically divisive within America.

Not all of our SFA missions have succeeded.  Despite two billion dollars and the best efforts of our thousand-man military advisor group, we were ultimately unable to save Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese government from defeat at the hands of Mao Tse-tung’s Communists.[4]  Sensing that neither the U.S. military nor the American people had the stomach for a large commitment of American combat forces in that vast civil war, the Truman administration conceded defeat in the effort, opting to cut American losses.  Not so in Vietnam two decades later,  when our Military Assistance Command, Vietnam failed to create a South Vietnamese military that could both defeat the Viet Cong and defend against North Vietnamese aggression.[5]  However, rather than abandon our South Vietnam project, President Johnson decided to commit U.S. Army and Marine combat divisions to take the lead, a move that ultimately increased our losses.  In both China and South Vietnam, the unpopularity, corruption, and incompetence of the “friendly” host country regimes no doubt played into the hands of the revolutionaries and undercut the American SFA efforts.

When the U.S. military is the principal COIN actor--when U.S. sovereignty has been the issue-- we have been uniformly successful in achieving our war aims.  In our victories over the Indians, the Confederacy, and the Philippine insurrectos in our newly proclaimed Pacific territory, American forces have invariably found the combination of combat and civil –“all of government”—policies that would create, restore, or extend U.S. governmental rule and create our necessary monopoly on the legitimate use of force.  An enlightened and powerful government can generally find the appropriate combination of “carrots” and “sticks” needed to assure its own sovereignty in its own land.

Unfortunately, we have yet to find a formula that allows U.S. military forces to take the lead role in a foreign counterinsurgency in a so-called “host country” and create the conditions necessary for achieving our war aims.  All of our recent experiments with COIN overseas have failed.

Even though we escalated the Vietnam War in the 1960s until we had over a half million men in country, we were unable to achieve victory.  As the American public grew exhausted and demanded an end to the politically divisive war, we once again put our hopes in the development of the South Vietnamese Government and its Army of the Republic of Vietnam (SFA), only to see the house of cards collapse during the North’s 1975 military offensive.  The war cost the U.S. military over 55,000 dead and the American treasury almost three-quarters of a trillion dollars, measured in 2011 dollars.[6]

Our recently ended war in Iraq spawned the “new” COIN doctrine, FM 3-24, which was published in December 2006 near the height of the Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq.  Though American forces had been “in the lead” in counterinsurgent efforts since our 2003 invasion, the violence in Iraq was escalating in 2006 to the point that catastrophe seemed imminent.  In 2007 and 2008, the U.S. “surge” of additional combat brigades into Iraq overwhelmed the insurgency and nearly destroyed it, but at a high political price.  Our war aims at the time of the invasion were to emplace a government in Baghdad consonant with our interests and establish long-term bases to support an American force presence of around 25,000 troops, similar to our residual forces in South Korea.[7]  But in 2008 the al-Malaki government in Iraq insisted that the Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the United States require all U.S. forces to leave his country by the end of 2011, an agreement that President Bush signed and President Obama honored. Despite the American effort,  Iraq remains a fractious, unstable area.   To our disappointment, the al-Malaki government has moved ever closer to Teheran diplomatically, even siding with Iran in supporting the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. earnestly seeks to remove from power.[8]  Hardly the strategic victory we desired, Operation Iraqi Freedom nevertheless cost the United States nearly 4,500 lives and over three-quarters of a trillion dollars.[9]

Neither is it evident that our war in Afghanistan will end in strategic success.  As the war drags on in its eleventh year, the American and coalition support for the effort dwindles and nation after nation announces the termination or downsizing of its commitments over the upcoming year or two.[10]     Despite years of the United States and other coalition partners leading the counterinsurgency effort, the Taliban is still characterized as “resilient” and progress “fragile and reversible.”  Making matters worse, Afghanistan’s principle neighbors—Iran and Pakistan—still have no interest in seeing the American experiment in their strategic back yard succeed, and Pakistan even allows its territory to be used as a sanctuary and training ground for Taliban insurgents.  Our hope is that Afghanistan’s coalition-created national army and police forces will be able to “take the lead” in providing security throughout the country prior to the end of 2014, when coalition combat forces are scheduled to leave.  Only the most Pollyannaish still envision Afghanistan emerging from Operation Enduring Freedom as a stable and modernizing nation state governed effectively from Kabul.  Hedging their bet on the new Afghanistan, well-to-do Afghanis are sending their hard currency spoils of war overseas for safety in record amounts, a capital flight that possibly portends the elite diaspora to come.[11]  Much of the money now exiting Afghanistan is part of the $641 billion dollars the U.S. has spent or will spend on the war from Fiscal Year 2002 through Fiscal Year 2013.[12]  Over 1800 Americans have died in the war so far.

The Vital Role of Legitimacy

Why are the strategic outcomes of our American-led COIN efforts abroad so disappointing?  Simply put, our “Americans in the lead” COIN operations undermine the legitimacy of the government we are attempting to support.  As FM 3-24 itself observes, “Political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies; each side aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as legitimate….Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government’s rule.”[13]  Judging by the historical record, legitimate host country governments rarely--if ever--invite in the army of another nation to take the lead in quelling their domestic insurgencies.   Allowing foreigners to kill citizens would only inspire further rebellion and indicate a loss of governmental sovereignty and legitimacy.   (American Patriot’s became righteously inflamed by England’s use of Hessian mercenaries in our Revolutionary War.[14])

 In all of our failed COIN efforts in Asia—Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan—we created the governments in question and then sought to defend those regimes from their countrymen who opposed them.  Our very presence in these nations provoked what FM 3-24 describes as “resistance movements, where indigenous elements seek to expel or overthrow what they perceive to be a foreign or occupation government.”[15]  Given the decisive nature of governmental legitimacy, our FM 3-34 COIN approach, while perhaps tactically and operationally gratifying in the short term, is ultimately counterproductive. Simply, the foreign counterinsurgent force cannot transfer his hard won, Hobbesian monopoly of violence to a domestic political entity without fatally undermining that entity’s legitimacy in the eyes of the population.

As it inevitably turns out, the “host country” government’s quest for legitimacy causes its leadership to distance itself from American support and our war aims as a technique for developing its base of domestic popular support.  Again from authors of FM 3-24, “Military action can address the symptoms of a loss of legitimacy. In some cases, it can eliminate substantial numbers of insurgents. However, success in the form of a durable peace requires restoring legitimacy… A COIN effort cannot achieve lasting success without the [host nation] government achieving legitimacy.”[16]  Counterinsurgent “host nation” governments cannot achieve the victory they desire as long as they are seen kowtowing to foreign occupiers.  Our strained relations with the leaders of our “host nations”—Diem (later Thieu), al-Malaki, and Karzai—all reflect the crippling contradictions inherent in their situation: the U.S. military presence both underwrites and undermines their governmental legitimacy and their national sovereignty by our very actions.  To achieve their war aims, they must eventually, insofar as possible, reject ours.  Diem became so uncontrollable that we averted our eyes while his military assassinated him.  Al-Malaki negotiated the American exodus from Iraq and shifted his base of international support to Iran.   One can only speculate how the mercurial Karzai will navigate his crisis of legitimacy in the final act of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Has the COIN Strategy Described in FM 3-24 Ever Succeeded in a Foreign Land?

Curiously, there is little evidence that the FM 3-24 approach to COIN has ever achieved overseas victory, at least in the post-colonial era.  What has been achieved at the tactical and operational levels of war has not translated into lasting strategic success.  Much of the modern counterinsurgency doctrine traces back to the work of two French officers, David Galula and Roger Trinquier, who based their writings on France’s wars in Vietnam and Algeria, both of which were strategic debacles for the French Republic.  Robert Thompson, the British general who led the COIN campaign in Britain’s Malaysia colony in the 1950s and later advised the Americans in Vietnam, is often cited as another favorite of the FM 3-24 authors.  Though over a period of years Thompson defeated the largely ethnic-Chinese and Communist insurgency, Britain nevertheless failed to keep Malaysia as a colony or even a protectorate, the Malays in 1957 achieving complete independence from England.  Similarly, the British defeated the Mau-Mau uprising (1952-56) only to cede their Kenyan colony to their former enemy, Jomo Kenyatta, in 1963. Outright defeats and ephemeral victories are the historical legacy of the FM 3-24 “foreigners in the lead” approach.

 Using more heavy handed methods not recommended in FM 3-24, the Soviets in 1979 invaded Afghanistan to save the Communist government the Kremlin had helped empower in a coup the prior year.  Though the influx of Russian units temporarily stemmed the mujahedeen insurgent offensive, the Red Army’s presence inspired a far larger insurgency and a lengthy, bloody, and costly war.  The Soviets eventually retreated from Afghanistan after ten years of exhaustive combat and the Communist government in Kabul fell, in time, to the Taliban. 

In all of these recent cases, some cited as models in FM 3-24 or its predecessor documents, major world powers were unable to secure strategic victories as the principal COIN actors against local insurgents in a foreign country.  All these wars were, ultimately, defeats.

In contrast, both the British and the Russians have recently proven themselves capable of defeating insurgencies and maintaining their sovereignty in their own countries—the British in Northern Ireland and the Russians in Chechnya.   COIN efforts aimed at maintaining domestic sovereignty are simply more likely to succeed than those attempting to extend sovereignty overseas or defend a foreign “host” government’s legitimacy.  

Give SFA a Chance: Rethinking our Strategic Approaches in Iraq and Afghanistan

Our most recent COIN wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan-- were a reaction to our invasions of those two countries and the deposing of the previous governments.  The insurgencies grew to fill the post-invasion deficiencies in governance and security and to contest the American presence.  

Clearly, the U.S. military should have better thought through and resourced our occupation policies in both countries.  As the Department of Defense now recognizes, the U.S. Army needs to create a military governance capability to stabilize foreign societies that we occupy as a result of our offensive military operations.[17]  Deploying trained military government units as part of our invasion force prevented civil anarchy during World War II, and the approach could work again.[18]  Civil security is, of course, an indispensible component of governance and stability, especially in preventing and defeating insurgencies.  The urgent post-invasion requirement is for the Army to co-opt local security forces and place them under Army supervision so that social order is maintained.  Rather than make our forces the cops on the beat and the primary counterinsurgents, we would be better served by enlisting local allies and existing security structures for these purposes if at all possible,  using a SFA approach to bolster and coordinate their capabilities.

We missed our opportunities for using SFA in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and paid an enormous price for our miscalculations.  In Iraq, we initially failed to employ, then quickly disbanded organized Iraqi army divisions that were willing and able to maintain civil order in collaboration with the American occupation force.   Prior to the invasion, American officials had contacted Iraqi division commanders, requesting they sit out the war and promising their incorporation in the post-Saddam Iraq.   Perhaps some of compliant units, provided with American advisors, could have helped maintain order in Baghdad and elsewhere, minimizing the looting and chaos that accompanied the “liberation.”  Making matters worse, in his first days in Baghdad, Coalition Provisional Authority Jerry Bremer III reversed the Army’s Phase IV planning assumptions and disbanded the Iraqi military.[19]  As Jay Garner, who had led the short-lived Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, later related, “So on Saturday morning when we woke up, we had somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 enemies we didn’t have on Wednesday morning, and we had no Iraqi face of leadership to explain things to the Iraqi people.  We began to pay significantly for those decisions.”[20]  The dismissals provided immediate recruits, many with military training, to the already growing insurgency.[21] As a consequence, U.S. military personnel, without the necessary language, cultural, or local knowledge, become the primary counterinsurgents in Iraq, fighting a war against an enemy they could hardly identify in a land they didn’t understand.  The downward spiral of violence that engulfed Iraq into 2008 is a matter of historical record.  We can only speculate whether a SFA approach based on employing and strengthening the Iraqi army would have better served our strategic war aims at far less cost.  But we had an alternative that many key actors at the time believed we failed to exploit.

In Afghanistan, too, we elected to ignore the existing security structures, such as they were, in an attempt to create a new national army and police force from scratch.  As the battle of Tora Bora raged in December 2001 and CENTCOM became refocused on Iraq, the United States shucked off its responsibilities for post-war security and SFA on the UN-created International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a mostly European patchwork coalition of the willing, so under-resourced that it could barely secure Kabul at first, and only after years grew its presence throughout the remainder of Afghanistan.  Overreaching its grasp, the UN and ISAF envisioned a wholesale transformation of the country into a modern, functioning nation state administered from Kabul, a practical impossibility, given the regions culture and development.[22]  Meanwhile, the Taliban regrouped and gained ground as our hopes for an effective Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police force was slow to bear fruit.  In 2008 we began the Americanization of the counterinsurgency effort, with American forces gradually assuming the lead in the most active insurgent areas, as the Army “surged” from Iraq into Afghanistan.  By 2012 the 130,000 ISAF forces in Afghanistan battling the Taliban included some 90,000 American personnel.

There never was or will be an ideal or assured solution in Afghanistan.  Nor can we ever prove the counterfactual.   But we did in 2001 have the option of attempting to secure our interests in Afghanistan with a modest, small-footprint SFA mission aimed at bolstering the capabilities of the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban partners, some of them branded as “warlords,” that existed in the country at the time.  Some suggested that arming the traditional village militias [arkabi] would likely suffice to secure rural populations in many instances."[23]  Many voices in the Special Forces community argued against a “large footprint” conventional force presence in Afghanistan, preferring small-scale SFA instead.  However, U.S. support for a centralized government in Kabul and a new national army and police force precluded a small SFA mission based on and expanding from the base of preexisting security forces.  Perhaps a tribal and local approach could have worked, at least in many areas of the country.  It definitely would have been far cheaper in both American lives and dollars.  And in all likelihood, the strategy would have been sufficient to guarantee our only core interest in Afghanistan—sufficient access to see that al Qaida would never be able again to use that nation as a platform for attacking the U.S. homeland.

SFA Practice and Doctrine

The primary rule in SFA is that the host nation counterinsurgent government, through its own security forces, must do all the killing.  Only then can it gain its monopoly of violence, establish its legitimacy, and begin the decades- long trek toward national reconciliation and, eventually perhaps, some sort of democracy.   Understanding this imperative, U.S. military advisory groups in the pre-Vietnam period, often restricted by executive order, maintained small footprints, strengthening and transforming the host nation security forces outward from their institutional centers.   U.S. advisors rarely if ever accompanied tactical units in the field and, when they did so, were often prohibited from carrying arms, even pistols for personal protection.    To the people in the contested areas, the visible counterinsurgent was always his countryman.  Until Vietnam, the post-World War II Army never seriously considered becoming the principal COIN force in an overseas country or “partnering” with host-nation forces in combined COIN operations.

Unfortunately, COIN discussion is missing from the Army’s new SFA doctrinal manual, FM 3-22, Army Support to Security Cooperation, published in January 2013.  To be fair, FM 3-22 is written to address a wide gamut of security cooperation possibilities, not getting specific about any particular scenario.   Still, FM 3-22 allows U.S. SFA units to conduct combat operations and advise host nation security forces down to the lowest tactical levels.[24]  Moreover, while there is no text in FM 3-22 describing the organization of a military advisory group in a COIN scenario, the manual devotes an entire chapter to the subject of rotating regionally aligned brigades—tactical units-- in and out of theater and their “partnering” with host nation forces.[25]  In some forms of warfare, perhaps, the second- and third-order effects of these SFA practices allowed by FM 3-22 may not prove deleterious.  But in COIN the introduction of foreign combatants into the tactical fight will predictably lead to unwanted escalation as sovereignty issues, specifically nationalism and governmental legitimacy are made ever more volatile.    

My thesis is that the “Americans in the lead” FM 3-24 COIN doctrine is a path to strategic disappointment.  However brilliant the manual may be at describing operational and tactical detail, at the end of the day the approach leads to inadequate strategic results at exorbitant costs.   Based on the evidence, the U.S. military would better serve the Nation’s strategic aims overseas by resisting the impulse to Americanize our current and upcoming COIN efforts.  Small-footprint SFA is almost always, perhaps even invariably, the better approach to defeating insurgents overseas.  Indeed, we would be better served doing all in our power to avoid situations where we could or would become the principal counterinsurgents in somebody else’s country.  SFA should probably be our first--and last--response to defeating foreign insurgencies.

The rewritten FM 3-24 COIN doctrine appropriately should describe how a national government and its security forces can defeat an insurgency.  But, based on the clear pattern of strategic results, the new FM 3-24 should clearly state that SFA is America’s only sanctioned approach to defeating insurgencies overseas and direct that combatant commanders must take all measures necessary to ensure that U.S. combat forces will not be put in the position of conducting the operations described in FM 3-24 with “Americans in the lead.”  Overseas, we should teach and support COIN, not do it ourselves.   And, if SFA should fail, we should probably infer that the government under attack is not worthy of the American commitment required to save it.  Most likely, cutting our losses better serves our strategic interest at that point.

[1] Birtle Andrew J, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine 1942-1976, Center of Military History, 2006, pp 42-55, 55-66, 85-98.

[2] Diaz-Mateus, Juvenal, “Democratic Security and Defense Policy: A Successful Counterinsurgency Model,” CGSC MMAS, 2012.

[3] JUSMAPG-Greece was staffed by about 100 officers and men and total aid to Greece through 1950 was $2 billion. The Korea MAG had less than 500 officers and men in 1949 and its FY1950 budget for military assistance was $11 million.  JUSMAG-Philippines had 60 officers and men and provided $117 million in military aid over six years.  Soto Cano Airbase, established in 1981, is home to some 5000 U.S. service personnel and contractors, a portion of whom conduct SFA in a variety of manners.  The U.S. advisory group to El Salvador had 55 trainers and advisors.  US military aid to Columbia has been several hundred million dollars a year for over a decade and dozens of trainers and contractors are in country, though no MAG (military advisory group) has been constituted.  Data from various sources, including: Selected Aspects of U.S. Military Assistance, Historical Division, JCS, 13 Dec 1961; Congressional Research Service Report RL30172; and Birtle, ibid.

[4] Birtle Andrew J, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine 1942-1976, Center of Military History, 2006, p 31-42.

[5] MAC-V began with 685 advisors in 1954, growing slowly until President Kennedy decided, among other things, to put U.S. advisors with each ARVN battalion and provide aviation and air support as well.  By 1963, the U.S. had 23,000 military personnel in Vietnam, two-thirds from the Army.  Birtle, pp 622-6.

[6] Daggett, Stephen, “Costs of Major U.S. Wars,” Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2010, p 2.

[7] Hanley, Charles J., “Elaborate U.S. bases raise long-term questions,” Associated Press, March 23, 2006, and Packer, George, The Assassins' Gate, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, p 133.

[8] Schmidt, Michael S. and Ghazi, Yasir, “Iraqi Leader Backs Syria, With a Nudge From Iran,” New York Times, August 12, 2011.

[9] Daggett, Stephen, “Costs of Major U.S. Wars,” Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2010, p 2.

[10] Quinn, Patrick, “French President Says Afghan Mission Completed,” Associated Press, May 25, 2012.

[11] Green, Matthew, “Afghanistan acts to curb flight of capital,” Financial Times, March 18, 2012.

[12] Cordesman Anthony H., “The U.S. Cost Of The Afghan War: Fy2002-Fy2013: Cost in Military Operating Expenditures and Aid and Prospects for “Transition”,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 14, 2012.

[13] FM 3-24, 15 Dec 06, p 1-1.

[14] As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “He [King George]is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

[15] FM 3-24, 15 Dec 06, p 1-1.

[16] FM 3-24, 15 Dec 06, p 1-22.

[17] Department of Defense Directive Number 5100.01, December 21, 2010, p 30.

[18] Melton, Stephen, The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (A Way Forward), Zenith Press, 2009, p 52-68, 159-176.

[19] Packer, George, The Assassins' Gate, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, p 190.

[20] Garner, Jay, cited in Turning Victory into Success: Military Operations After the Campaign, Brian De Toy, general editor, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2004, p 265-6.

[21] Chandrasekaran, Rajiv, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, p 74-77.

[22] General Dan K. McNeill, address to Land forces Symposium in Islamabad, Pakistan, 13 April, 2007, reprinted by Strategic Studies Institute, p 3-4.

[23] Yochi J. Dreazen, "Britain Sees Role for Afghan Tribes," Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2008, p 4.

[24] FM 3-22, Army Support to Security Cooperation, January 2013, p 4-3, 4-8, 4-9.

[25] FM 3-22, Chapter 5.


About the Author(s)

Stephen L. Melton (Lieutenant Colonel, Army, Retired) is an Assistant Professor in the Department for Army Tactics at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  His recent book, The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (A Way Forward), was published by Zenith Press in 2009.  His latest article, “Conceptualizing Victory Anew: The Need to Rewrite U.S. Law, Doctrine, and Policy Regarding War and its Aftermath,” appeared in the January 2011 edition of Joint Forces Quarterly.  He contributed a chapter to the Combat Studies Institute’s 2012 publication, Addressing the Fog of COG: Perspectives on the Center of Gravity in US Military Doctrine.


G Martin

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 10:47pm

In reply to by Move Forward

I would agree with you that Design- at least in the way it has been incorporated into doctrine- attempts to offer a psuedo-scientific approach just like we already have. It was stripped of its post-positivist foundation and simply incorporated into the existing philosophy of the institution. Too bad for us.

As for CoGs- I fail to see how a linear analytical tool can be helpful in appreciating complex entities.

Lastly, I'm not surprised anyone can bring up technological "successes"- though I'm a little surprised that you would bring up so many tactical successes. I would agree with you that technology and science approaches can and have helped us tremendously at the tactical level. But I'm struggling to see where it all helped us at the strategic levels. All of the King's horses and all of the King's whiz-bang toys didn't help us "win" in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. I'm all for using those things at the tactical level- but to assume it will secure a strategic effect for us or help us measure progress or predict human population behavior are invalid assumptions from where I sit.

Move Forward

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 10:00pm

In reply to by G Martin

<blockquote>Science definitely has its place in both- but what I am against is either relying solely on a psuedo-science for both or- placing that psuedo-science as paramount. I'd say we vacillate between those two.</blockquote>

The counterargument is that SOD and EBO are pseudo-science and even its Israeli founder saw it discredited in the IDF's eyes after 2006 Lebanon.

<blockquote>The reason I think it is a psuedo-science is two-fold: Bill M's point below about us using our metrics to get away from personal responsibility and/or confirm what we already think, as well as my belief that human dynamics doesn't conform to mathematical equations.</blockquote>

Invented language to describe Design concepts likewise could be considered a smokescreen to make others believe they too would understand Design if only they were as smart as the person using the big invented words who draws wiring diagrams of relationships to infinity and beyond. The complexity of human relationships and warfare <strong>is</strong> extreme. That's why certain areas must be prioritized which is why CoG is important.

That doesn't mean that EBO can claim they've done all that's required if they target CoGs. Soldiers adapt and hug/hide to avoid airpower. Also, the Easter offensive Wikipedia spoke of enormous volumes of artillery raining down on ARVN defense daily...upwards of 7000 rounds a day...yet defenses survived. That kind of puts into perspective the 1500 or so long range missiles the PLA might be able to launch at far more dispersed and hardened targets with lots of inertial nav error built-in before we add our ballistic missile defenses.

However, to prioritize does require assigning relative values with higher priorities receiving higher numerical value. Aviators do that as part of their risk management process and higher commanders must sign off on riskier missions which somewhat counters the notion of failing to take personal responsibility. As a result, Aviation accident rates in these wars and for the number of flight hours flown have been almost miraculously low.

However, read a Battleland account of a California ANG F-16 accident and you can see an example of how science helped assign personal responsibility where we otherwise never would have known. Black box recordings of data revealed the pilot ignored numerous warnings that aircraft systems attempted to provide him. Sometimes math and science works if only humans would pay attention.

Math and science also must examine the sorry shape of our foe's air and seapower today to speculate that we don't need as much of our own in Cold War numbers. There is no huge Japanese or German blue water Navy as in WWII. The Soviet fleet of old is rusting or gone. The PLAN still has a long way to go to match us and any monies spent are just monies waiting to be sunk by our superior stealth airpower. We definitely need the F-35 for all three services...but do we need them in as great numbers, or in the active component? We already know many commercial airline pilots can fill reserve component fixed wing slots. Doesn't that make more sense than sending 40 year old Soldiers off to war who are out of shape and not nearly as trained and ready to go as the airline pilot who flies daily?

<blockquote>Your example of helicopters is interesting- since I've talked to veterans of the Easter Offensive in and around Da Nang who refused to evacuate on helicopters after seeing so many shot down- that they instead chose to exfil by foot through enemy lines. Again, I don't think technology isn't helpful in certain situations- but to assume hubristically it will overcome the "fog of war" or any of the other problems soldiers have traditionally faced IMO is naive.</blockquote>

Perhaps they recalled Lam Son 719 as that seems more applicable to lots of helicopters being shot down vs. the Easter Offensive a year later. I researched the latter battle on Wikipedia (OK, I'm not a scholar) and the ratio of lost aircraft to lost NVA armor and personnel was rather lopsided with 134 T-54s (out of 400 the Soviets provided), 56 PT-76s (out of 200 Soviets provided) and 60 T-34s being destroyed along with 100,000 casualties. Linebacker 1 was kind of a fiasco but the second one later on based on lessons learned was far more effective.

However, if we can point to history of decades to a century plus ago and try to make a point using ancient history, what if we applied new technology to old make a point. Imagine Linebacker I and II today using stealth aircraft and smart munitions. Imagine Predators, Reapers, and Gray Eagles patrolling the Ho Chi Minh trail with bombs and Hellfires and some future foliage penetrating radar or other sensor yet to be developed. Could Vietnam have turned out differently?

Imagine the Easter offensive with Longbow Apaches and A-10Cs. Imagine how much lower are casualties would have been with more effective body armor, helmets, medical procedures and evacuation. Add in greater redundancy in our helicopter air assault and aerial resupply systems and superior ASE to thwart air defenses.

Don't get me wrong, we still would have required many ground forces to set up COPs to mimic CORDS and perform night raids ala Phoenix. A few M1s and Bradleys would have ruined the NVAs day during the Easter offensive just as they would the DPRK today with T-62s not that much more advanced than what the ARVN faced in 1972. We also would have needed large ground forces to train and mentor the huge ARVN Army to defend against an equally large NVA.

But would we have needed to trudge through the jungle on foot in deadly search and destroy that destroyed lots of our finest? I screwed up and mentioned LZ X-Ray when I should have said the march to LZ Albany is what proved to be far more deadly. We could have set up lots of COPs from the start near populations to limit the number of air assaults and insertions making the bad guys come to us where cleared fields of fire and superior night sensors would have had a field day.

G Martin

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 9:53am

In reply to by Move Forward

I apologize for giving anyone the impression that I "understand" Quantum Mechanics or Warfare. At best I'd say I am a student of Warfare (and probably a terrible one at that- as I haven't read half of the "required" readings a true student probably should) and someone who is "QM-curious"- if that makes sense. Not having a background in the hard sciences leaves me mostly flabbergasted by QM. Of course, I am much more interested in its implications- so maybe that is okay.

And I also apologize for giving the impression that I "reject any scientific approach to war and procurement". Science definitely has its place in both- but what I am against is either relying solely on a psuedo-science for both or- placing that psuedo-science as paramount. I'd say we vacillate between those two.

The reason I think it is a psuedo-science is two-fold: Bill M's point below about us using our metrics to get away from personal responsibility and/or confirm what we already think, as well as my belief that human dynamics doesn't conform to mathematical equations.

Your example of helicopters is interesting- since I've talked to veterans of the Easter Offensive in and around Da Nang who refused to evacuate on helicopters after seeing so many shot down- that they instead chose to exfil by foot through enemy lines. Again, I don't think technology isn't helpful in certain situations- but to assume hubristically it will overcome the "fog of war" or any of the other problems soldiers have traditionally faced IMO is naive.

I do agree with your assessment of the current state of military history analysis.

Move Forward

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 9:11pm

In reply to by G Martin

<blockquote>IHO (and others) the U.S. military is ruled - and has been for some time - by a love of all things scientific. That is, we are convinced that if we study something and analyze it in just the right way- no matter what it is- we can understand it and master it.</blockquote>

I'm simultaneously amused and intimidated by anyone who can compare warfare to quantum mechanics, and seems to understand both, yet appears to reject any scientific approach to war and procurement. After all, there is no logical reason to presuppose that flying over a jungle to bring reinforcements at 100 kts sure beat trudging through the jungle at 1 km per hour. Ask the Soldiers of LZ X-Ray who were annihilated point blank by a comparable size force vs the U.S troops who hours earlier were pummeled but suffered far fewer losses relative to the much larger near-division sized enemies due to the science of helicopters.

The contrasting idea to your quote above is the appearance of a ground military almost entirely devoid of common sense analytical thinking when it comes to analyzing historical and civil considerations in warfare. We see an author comparing all manner of historical warfare separated in some cases by over a century of military technological progress. Then we compare islands and tiny nations in both size and population (at the time in the case of the Philippines) with huge land masses and larger populations. Some examples involve ethnic differences while others do not. Some involve ideological considerations such as communism while others are ostensibly the product of religious differences.

Honduras and El Salvador have just 8 and 6 million people now and no doubt far less 30 years ago and both have small land masses and are nearly entirely Mestizo and Christian. How does that compare remotely to Red China or the American Civil War? Why would we consider our Civil War an insurgency vs. all out warfare involving large proportions of what then was just about 27 million Americans. How do you compare the 44,000 Native Americans of 1860 (a fraction of 1%) to the 58% of non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan who did not like being ruled by the Taliban embraced by most Pashtuns. And oh by the way while there are just 12 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan, over 25 million Pathans hang their hat in Pakistan, yet they are dwarfed by Punjabis in Pakistan in a nation with 180 million.

Numbers matter be it populations, square miles of area, demographics of the insurgency's specific areas, and how close and accessible neighboring troublemakers/supporters are to the site of insurgency.

Would I be out of line to argue that if the country is small in population and area that SF and SOF can do it alone? Does it not also make sense that if the area and population are Texas-size, a security force comparable to the 70,000 peace officers of Texas is required? A final argument I would make is that if division of the tiny Balkans with relatively small populations worked to isolate ethnicities under self-rule, you should be able to do something similar in far larger areas and diverse populations such as found in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria?

It's too late for the former two. Syria is a work in progress and any future solution should consider safeguarding Alawites and Christians, while giving Sunnis and Kurds a place and rule of their own. Does anyone not see the irony in some claiming Israel needs a separate Palestinian state yet will argue that Syria would work just fine as a solely Sunni extremist and Hezbollah-influenced nation with WMD adjacent to Israel.

This also points to the major flaw in RCJ's argument of let the Muslim masses decide on their own. Keep our filthy influence off those poor huddled masses no matter how their government turns out. Other nations, like Israel, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, etc also have a huge stake in the outcome of Syria and have no intention of not trying to influence events. We can sit back fat, dumb, and happy knowing that Syria could not use WMD on us. Israel, Turkey, Jordan and other neighbors lack that luxury and like it or not, NATO Turkey is our problem, and Israel as well by virtue of the huge Jewish and Israel-loving Christian population of the U.S.

One last thing: funny how when you separate Taiwan from the mainland, that both actually seem to get along rather well despite diplomatic protestations and claims of imminent invasion. So perhaps the example of a failed insurgency in Red China is not altogether accurate. And when you look at how similar southerners and northerners are now and then, it's pretty clear why there is/was no major insurgency after the Civil War ended. Heck they even speak the same language unlike the Afghan ethnicities.

G Martin

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 10:38pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I admittedly borrowed its usage from Chris Paparone- who I think borrowed it from others. My over-simplified take on it is that understanding implies an end: once you understand something, you "know" it and are a master in terms of everything about whatever you understand. This, according to some, is simply impossible when it comes to complex entities (the political situation in Ghazni, for example).

Appreciation, on the other hand, implies a lack of absolute knowledge. It implies that one appreciates the complexity, perhaps understands why one can't truly understand everything there is to know about the complex entity one is studying.

Supposedly the Brits used to use the word "appreciation" before taking on the NATO term "estimate"- which implied to some a more scientific approach.

All of this is to get away from our doctrine's assumption that a commander can understand anything from a staff analysis. It is an illusion- and it - according to some- would be more accurate to say one may appreciate a situation more- appreciate its nuances, complexity, multiple causalities, etc.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 11:47am

In reply to by G Martin

What is the difference between appreciation and understanding in your comment and why did you separate the two words out. Are you afraid that the military culture will assume it understands the situation completely and has a magic bullet for any situation? What is the substantive difference between appreciation and understanding based on commonly understood usages of either word?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 11:22am

In reply to by G Martin

Thank you for that reply. You have helped me to understand something that I didn't "see" before.

I think a lot of my confusion around here is a cultural disconnect between military and civilian (obviously).

It may be that what I mean by analysis and testing is different than that of the military with its supposedly rigid doctrines.

There is room for admitting and accepting complexity and "we may never understand this" in medicine. My view of analysis and testing comes not from engineering but studying biological organisms. So it may be that you and I are thinking of different things and talking past one another?

I didn't look at this paper as a blueprint, I looked at it as highlighting a key feature which must be considered carefully along with other factors.

If we send our troops in aid of the government of another nation that is facing internal disorder, then we need to be very clear what that means in terms of any affects on the populace. FM 3-24 assumes we can heal that relationship.

This paper suggests that our own experience in this regard has proven rocky.

Not a blueprint, but an important consideration.

If you start immediately at the level of "okay, we need to help these guys, how many troops do we need and what should we do with them," you miss this initial step that needs to be considered in conjunction with other factors.

I never look at a paper as some kind of authoritative final word; medicine doesn't work like that. True, cures ARE found, but it is a complicated process, getting to the cure. The end result of the process is never certain at the outset.

I really think this is a cultural disconnect. That has been the point of some of your papers around here, I think. What do others think?

And is this what you have been talking about, eliciting this sort of understanding by bringing design into the planning room? But this is where I suggest the language of post modernism is sometimes a hindrance. A translator may be needed which only slows down the process, it seems from my "cultural" standpoint....

Bill M.

Tue, 04/16/2013 - 1:15am

In reply to by G Martin


I like SOD for one reason, it encourages critical thinking that is not restricted by a doctrinal thinking process, which in theory frees us from blindly following unproductive paths. Like you I have been frustrated with the application of pseudo-science to drive operational decisions for many years. My first serious push back was in the early 90s when I was finally in a position to challenge the way SOF used CARVER to facilitate target analysis. Considering all the factors in the CARVER acronym is a must at a minimum, but where we misled (and probably still do) ourselves was subjectively applying a number value to each factor and assuming the total number represented best target based on using the scientific method, when in fact the numbers rarely or ever indicated the best target or targets based on reasons related to each factor that didn't logically equate to a 1,5, or 10 rating, rather a discussion among reasonable men about the factors led to the appropriate course of action. Of course the numbers then had to be adjusted before the mission backbrief so the pseudo-math equaled our operational art so the commander could believe his men derived their answer using the laws of science. Sometimes I think our focus on metrics is an attempt to escape personal responsibility for judgment. There is no need for experience and judgment in our current approach to war, it is simply a series of actions responding to set of normally bogus metrics. We lost sight of the forest by focusing on the trees.

G Martin

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 12:26pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I probably worded that last part incorrectly. Looking back on it I should have expounded on the "other concepts" and talked about a post-positivist approach that encourages a multi-paradigmiatic approach.

So, I wouldn't discard analysis and testing, but wouldn't let it be the be-all/end all we make it out to be.

Likewise, complexity theory, etc.- isn't the be-all/end-all either. All of these different approaches, when combined, would perhaps allow us to appreciate the reality more- that is all. This deeper appreciation (note- not "understanding") could get us to be more effective- or at least less confident of our "success" enough to caveat everything with massive grains of salt- lest we fool ourselves into thinking we are making much more than surface "progress".

But, you're right- many in the Design world are arguing for a different magic bullet. I would think a critical approach- one more in line with post-positivist theory- would conclude that there is no magic bullet- and there never will be.

Shimon is great- but he even has said anything he wrote a few years ago is most likely different than what he thinks now...

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 11:36am

In reply to by G Martin

Grant, I was nodding my head to everything you wrote until I got to the last part about emergence, complexity, systems thinking and the rest of it.

In a way, some of you in the design world are doing the same thing as the McNamara whiz kids did; you are convinced you have found a magic bullet known as design. It may be that these ideas will help you. Or they may not. Only time and implementation can tell.

There are no magic bullets in the realm of human affairs. There is only trial and error, which, by the way, works for both the enlightenment era and post-modernism, in some ways.

What else are varying, different or changing narratives but a constant testing and questioning of one's own interior self?

Shimon Naveh has not done you all any favors, from my outsider perspective.

But I could be wrong about this. At any rate, good people can disagree. That's okay. That is one part of design-ish thinking that I do like.

G Martin

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 11:18am

Barrister98: <em>"If someone could please enlighten me as to why the military's thinkers stubbornly insist on keeping a doctrine that has failed miserably time and time again, I, as someone with no military experience, would really appreciate it."</em>

<em>"I guess I simply just want to know - what is wrong with the people who plan our military engagements? From what little I can tell, war is not something to be viewed as an intellectual exercise."</em>

IMO (and others) the U.S. military is ruled - and has been for some time - by a love of all things scientific. That is, we are convinced that if we study something and analyze it in just the right way- no matter what it is- we can understand it and master it. So, if we are attempting to develop a "smarter" missile or transform a culture- it is all the same: we are hubristically sure we can make a plan with our current processes and structural components, act, observe, gather data, analyze the data, and repeat until we are successful. Thus, 3-24 is at worst slightly flawed- and we can gather our lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, tweak the doctrine a little, and keep getting better at this stuff called "COIN".

Unfortunately, human social groups may not be like missiles, and instead require a different approach. Many people intuitively acknowledge this, but our profession is going the other way. Note this quote from a recent USASOC "Human Domain" conference:

<em>"The workshop focused on the opportunity to learn more about the field of quantitative social science and what it can do to help give military experts and opinion leaders a better understanding of the human domain.

<em>"My belief is we can now measure how well Special Operations is doing in an area of operation through quantitative metrics derived from things like levels of violence, sentiment and other indicators in an area of operations and use that to guide strategic flexibility," said Morgan.

<em>"One of the most important things that we need to look at as we look forward is what does the world look like?" said Col. Ernesto Sirvas USASOC G9 director. "What are the emerging trends? As it relates to culture, social issues, political layout and everything is important as we look forward; defining that and trying to basically get at what we think our future operating environment will be."

<em>"We're trying to define what the future looks like, so we can also prepare for it," said Sirvas, "Prepare for it by having the right equipment and having the right knowledge set within our soldiers."</em>

This entire logic- that we can crunch numbers and be able to conclude the "right equipment" and the "right knowledge" set is something that McNamara thought he could do in Vietnam with his Whiz Kids and business approach to things. Today many cutting edge businesses have moved away from relying on quantitative analysis and instead are delving into emergence, complexity, systems thinking, and other concepts to assist them in developing multi-paradigmatic approaches to their environment- since human groups seem to defy logical analysis. We in the military are still stuck in the Enlightenment Era: convinced that we can measure our way to victory. If only the world would cooperate.

What aligning FM 3-24 Counterinsurgeny with reality may mean is:

a. Discarding -- at the least for the time being -- the recent notion that different populations have similar "universal values" and "universal wants, needs and desires."

b. Re-embracing -- at the least for the present moment -- the understanding that different populations may have very different values, attitudes and beliefs -- and very different strategic goals and objectives. And

c. Causing FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency to conform to this reality.

The move to use our military in more of a SFA -- rather than principle combatant role -- also to be seen in this light?


Fri, 04/12/2013 - 12:39pm

In reply to by Sanford Sheaks

Thanks for your comment. I reread Dr. Paul's 2010 study and looked through the prepublication/not for attribution slides of the new version. In his 2010 study, Paul stated he could not analyse the impact of "putting a local face on it" on the COIN effort because only 3 of the 30 sample cases were characterised by foreigners providing the preponderance of the COIN effort, so the sample size was too small. (Unfortunately, the published report did not name the 3 and did not include the raw data.) I look forward to seeing Paul's expanded data set and his new analysis, when published. A quick review of the slides indicates that we disagree considerably on the fundamental data set. I find it interesting that some of the cases I looked at, i.e., China, South Korea, Columbia, and Iraq, are excluded from his sample. Nor does he include the French COINs in Vietnam and Algeria in his analysis. Paul counterfactually scores Chechnya as a COIN loss.

Sanford Sheaks

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 2:32pm

I would like to address three points about Stephen Melton’s article: the rewrite of FM3-24; that SFA should be America’s only sanctioned approach to defeating insurgencies overseas; and “US in the lead? COIN approach usually fails.”

Regarding FM3-24 revision. Just having an FM on COIN does not mean the Army embraces the concept of placing Army and Marine brigades into the fight against foreign insurgents. The FM will provide doctrine for US land forces to consider if they are given the mission to conduct counterinsurgency operations. It aims to incorporate lessons the US has learned in OEF, OIF and other operations. The Army has sought to gain the insights of many voices during the revision process and all of the writers are aware of the criticisms of COIN theory. Senior Army leaders are being kept informed of its progress and have had input to the content. There are now two chapters in the final draft on SFA. None of this guarantees a successful outcome, but I can say with confidence that the manual is not intended to promote the use of counterinsurgency. I think for the commander that has to plan or advise on countering insurgencies, it will be beneficial.

I believe it would be nutty to limit US prerogative to strictly an SFA solution for combating insurgencies overseas. What if it turned out that a COIN approach was appropriate for the given situation? How would one know that? Instead, ensure our education system has appropriate discussion of the pros and cons of conducting COIN, so that when called upon to advise US civilian leadership, officers can give sound advice on feasibility, suitability, acceptability, and the second and third order effects. I think it would be tremendously valuable for students in the Officer Education System to study COIN doctrine and read the criticisms, as well as the research. One day their knowledge will be the basis for this advice. They should know the history and the consequences.

Last month RAND researcher, Dr. Chris Paul, conducted a webcast with the Army IW Fusion Center. He provided an advance look at his second round of research on counterinsurgency. His first, Victory Has a Thousand Fathers examined 30 insurgencies worldwide between the time period of 1978 and 2008. In the new study, Paths to Victory: Lessons from Modern Insurgencies, he and his team went back to just after World War II and expanded the cases to 59 and refined the analysis. His research contradicts Melton’s article which says that the “COIN/SFA dichotomy is not one of operational approach, tactics, or techniques, but of principal combatant.” Melton says that when US forces are the principal combatant in a COIN fight, they fail. He implies this will always be so. Dr. Paul’s analysis shows something different. Instead, Dr. Paul found there is “no difference in the success of the approaches between external actors providing limited direct support (only advisors, SOF, and/or air power) and those providing significant ground troops (up to and including spending time as the primary COIN force).” While Dr. Paul’s study was open to all insurgencies worldwide and Melton seems to focus his article on US efforts in COIN, I think the lesson about external COIN forces is applicable. The lesson is that being an external actor, even as the dominant COIN force, does not damn the approach. Other parts of Dr. Paul’s research indicate there are other more important reasons why the insurgents are not yet defeated in Afghanistan, and the most important has to do with not stopping support to the insurgents. There are many interesting lessons drawn from his latest study, which will be released in the coming months by RAND. In the meantime, if you want to see the major take-aways, go to the US Army Irregular Warfare Fusion Center website, then drill down to “Webcasts” and select the tab for Dr. Paul. There is an excellent slide deck and a summary of the webcast. There is also a link to the audio if you have an account with Defense Connect Online.

Sanford Sheaks, Contractor, US Army IW Fusion Center. This statement is my own and does not constitute an endorsement by or opinion of the Department of Defense.

Have Gun - Wil…

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 12:44pm

Regardless of what anyone may think of Galula’s approach to COIN, his definitions of the various types of warfare are clear and logical. This article lists the American Civil War as an insurgency/counterinsurgency, and that simply doesn't hold up to scrutiny. The differences are fundamental.

Second, was Vietnam really a COIN disappointment? The Viet Cong insurgency was destroyed in the 1968 Tet Offensive. Thereafter, the enemy consisted of North Vietnamese regulars. In 1972, after all US ground units were gone, South Vietnamese ground forces repelled a conventional invasion. South Vietnam only became a house of cards when the US Congress cut off all support, including ammo and spare parts. But that was more a result of Watergate than opposition to the war (we were already out of South Vietnam, for the most part).

Instead of arguing that COIN failed in Vietnam, maybe the author should emphasize the successes of Special Forces among the Montagnards and Marine Combined Action Platoons in I Corps. Those examples would still support his thesis without erroneously (I think) declaring that the overall COIN effort a failure.

Having gotten in my two cents, I should add that I agree with the author in general, if not in detail.

Bill C.

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 12:58pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

If it has been determined that we will intervene/engage, then I am thinking that the "means of engagement" (for example, SFA or principle combatant) must also give due consideration to the degree to which:

a. Our/the host government's overall goals and objectives

Correspond to or clash with

b. The wants, needs and desires of the population.

In addition, note the question asked by the author above (in the paragraph re: legitimacy):

"Why are the strategic outcomes of our American-led COIN efforts abroad so disappointing?"

His answer to this question seems to be: (1) having Americans in the lead, (2) undermines the local governments, this (3) resulting in disappointing outcomes.

I offer a different perspective, to wit:

a. Whether the foreign entity is physically in the lead or not is not the issue.

b. The issue is the contrary nature of the purposes, policies and agenda of the foreign entity (as compared to the wants, needs and of the local populations) -- purposes, policies and agenda that the foreign entity often pursues by, with and through the local "host" governments.

c. These contrary purposes, policies and agenda being the true matter that (1) undermines the legitimacy of the local "host" governments and (2) causes disappointing counterinsurgency results.

Thus, if we really do wish to align FM 3-24 Counterinsurgeny with reality, then the reality that we must address is not so much in the realm of SFA v. principle combatant (this is a subordinate matter?) but, rather, in the arena of how our overall goals and objectives may, even today, be vastly different from -- and in direct conflict with -- the wants, needs and desires of other peoples.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 10:08am

In reply to by Bill C.

You are both saying the same thing, in a way.

The paper is discussing the means of engagement, once a strategic rationale for engagement is developed and vetted.

You are discussing <em>the rationale</em> for strategic engagement, does the host government's purpose match up with our own and can it match up with those of the people. We cannot always assure the latter, no matter what we do.

It is not so much the manner of the foreign entity's PRESENCE

As it is the foreign entity's PURPOSE

And whether this purpose is compatible with -- or clashes with -- the wants, needs and desires of the local populations involved.

This being the case whether the foreign entity (for example, the United States) operates in an assisting role (SFA) or as the principle combatant.

The legitimacy of the governments involved (foreign and/or domestic) likewise being determined by whether the purpose and policies of said governments correspond to -- or run counter to and against -- the will of the local populations.

Thus, I would suggest what needs to be measured and evaluated -- and be understood and acknowledged -- is not so much

a. SFA v. Direct Combatant (this seems to avoid or miss the point).

But, rather,

b. Foreign entity/host government purpose v. the will of the people.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 04/11/2013 - 11:08am

In reply to by Barrister98

<blockquote>And I will know this country is back on the right track when Congress closes the National Endowment For Democracy and the governance initiatives at USAID, replaces some or all of them with more Peace Corps, and we have a president who again hails the virtues of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine!</blockquote>

Great comment, especially the above. The consensus doesn't see the potential problems or tripwires with its haphazard, yet weirdly durable and poorly implemented, "democracy doctrine". And this all mixed in with certain ideas of muscular or militarized humanitarianism which causes a certain amount of death and disorder too. Strange form of humanitarianism.

Perhaps the following might interest you:

<em>American Force: Dangers, Delusions, And Dilemmas In National Security</em>, Richard K. Betts:

<blockquote>"In the first half of the post-Cold War era, until complications in Iraq and Afghanistan, American natonal security policy was driven not by threats but by opportunities-or rather what an overambitious consensus in the foreign policy elite mistakenly saw as opportunities.</blockquote>

I'm pretty sure the American people and our allies want problems attended to with a certain amount of focus, when, instead, the consensus begins immediately 'window shopping' as soon as a crisis occurs.


Thu, 04/11/2013 - 12:04am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I believe I misspoke when I used the term "intellectual exercise" and sincerely apologize to anyone who took offense (especially the author, if he did!). But let me see if I can try again by referring to the "inertia" of the "Washington Consensus" another poster wrote about.

I do not believe that there has ever been a time in our nation's history when the so-called "military-industrial complex," "intelligence-industrial complex," "foreign policy", "national security establishment," and ranks of people in national security-type positions - junior and senior, Republican and Democrat, and primarily, but not exclusively, in the executive branch, think tanks, and contracting communities - has been so filled with individuals who have never seen combat, much less worn a uniform, but have so enthusiastically been willing to accept and help implement faddish theories - like Galula's COIN doctrine - that have been (a) proven failures,(b) resulted in so much loss of life, and (c) comprised overall policies that have damaged the national and global economy. I believe that we know who all these people are and need not mention them by name. If you are someone who has been there and see this as appropriate and necessary (e.g., General Curtis "Bomb 'Em Back Into The Stone Age" Lemay), I can listen to you. But if you are some young (or iddle-aged or old) policy wonk w/o such experience at some think tank or the DOD/NSC etc. and you still believe and are still contributing to this nonsense, let's just say I'm increasingly having a difficult time accepting the explanation that your skills are not marketable elsewhere! Please make a strong national security case and nothing else. And I will hold women to the same standard as men in that respect.

More and more, I watch Meet The Press or read foreign policy articles by such people - most of whom serve, or have served, in government - who talk about "counterinsurgency" and "democracy promotion" and "U.S. interests" and, yes, who do the research for publications like the manual described in the article and seem to not be affected a whit by those Americans and innocent civilians who die as if they were guinea pigs. I am not some pacifist - for example, I agreed with the Bin Laden raid. But how dare everyone who leaked even a pint of information about that, especially after the Taliban shot down a helicopter carrying members of the same unit, who truly did not appreciate what they were doing. And now it seems, according to today's papers, that this administration (and the last) has been working with the same two-faced ISI, also profiled in these pages, that kills our soldiers to drone people who are not a threat to us.

Yet it seems to be a continuous game to some people - read the second chapter of "Deep State" by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady ("The Curious Case Of Primoris Era") or accounts of the not-so-dignified behavior of many CPA personnel in the Green Zone, which we got a little hint of during the failed McGurk nomination, for an extreme example of what I'm talking about. I have more respect for potentates like Mubarak (don't worry - not Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein) than I do for some of these people. And I'll tell you about an episode in history that has eerie parallels to where we're headed considering how overstretched the military is.

Portugal was the first and last colonial empire - first because of discovery and last because years after the British and French etc. had moved on (e.g., 1974-75), the Portuguese stubbornly continued to fight nationalist insurgencies in Cape Verde, Guinea-Buissau, Angola, and Mozambique. Portugal had, like neighboring Spain, gone through, in the early twentieth century, much economic turmoil and witnessed the fall of its constitutional monarchy. And they too were taken over by an authoritarian regime that ruled from the 1920's until 1974. Here's the difference with Spain though - Franco was distinguished general. His Portuguese equivalent - Salazar - had been a mere finance professor and civil servant, part of a group that somehow took over the government and passed authoritarian laws. The military was not involved and was apolitical. Through the years, this clique just bankrupt Portugal into practical third world status while they sent their military to fight the Portuguese Colonial Wars. Then in a 1974 coup, the government was overthrown and the top officials expelled to Brazil - by the military. The military government lasted briefly for 2-3 years, during which they very happily granted the colonies independence. Then they restored democracy and went home. I can only advise someone who reads this to not write about the Portuguese Colonial Wars - failed counterinsurgencies - because of this outcome, if, of course, they value their Beltway career prospects!:)

Please forgive my rants and rambling. Maybe I've read too much history for my own good. And I was deeply inspired by many WWII/Korea/Vietnam veterans as a boy and am the son of immigrants from a communist dictatorship. I was in law school on 9/11 and was thinking of joining the JAG Reserve. Then there was Abu Ghraib. Things like that inevitably happen in war, even under the best leadership. But something smelled wrong, especially after hearing some talks by an adjunct professor at my school teaching national security law who gave some talks for the whole student body(and some accounts of his class) who worked at the CIA general counsel's office. He never said or revealed anything, but I'd read enough etc. to think something was off. Then the rendition program was revealed. The man has not returned to teach.

Comments and criticisms welcome. Lt. Col. Melton, I wish you the very, very best. And I will know this country is back on the right track when Congress closes the National Endowment For Democracy and the governance initiatives at USAID, replaces some or all of them with more Peace Corps, and we have a president who again hails the virtues of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine!

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 8:41am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Part 2:

<strong>But how about testing one's initial assumptions with real intellectual vigor, first and foremost?</strong>

Say you think Galula has something to offer. Well, you don't just stop at reading Galula and reciting certain passages.

You keep testing and digging and thinking. An actual intellectual exercise.

What was the basis for Galula's theories? Why are his theories superior to others? Were they actually implemented and what does the evidence say about them? What data do we have and how good is it? Were there errors in his thinking? If so, what? Even if it all supposedly worked in one theater, why would it work in another? What are the gound realities in the next war or theater of war? Don't those matter as much as any military theory? Maybe more?

Well, I always ramble too much, and all this isn't directed at your comment which was very nice.

I have no military background, but I do have a bit of a background in education (medical students) and what I see from my outsider perspective is a tendency to regurgitate material, as opposed to attempting to understand or master the material. Perhaps this has to do with the hierarchical nature of the military or the credentialed nature of American society where a degree is used as a proxy for ability.

I hope I am not being overly critical and I mean no disrespect. I could never be in the military or be an officer at the level of a general. I wouldn't have what it takes. This doesn't make me a lesser mortal, you know, it just makes me different :)

I have the same educational behaviors, too. I have so much admiration for some of the people I have encountered while attempting to become better educated in military matters, you have no idea how much.

You do plenty of things correctly, too, so I am not trying to say that you are always wrong....

But the best part of the American system is its self-correcting nature. That's all this is. An attempt at understanding.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 8:38am

In reply to by Barrister98

I could not agree more, good comment.

GREAT article. I've been struggling with the question of "why" too, as a civilian that has never served in the military.

But it's not just the military, it's the entire foreign policy 'apparatus', military and otherwise.

I guess some scholars call it the Washington Consensus and there is an entire literature on the subject, why such institutional inertia and why such status quo thinking?

I have one minor quibble, though, about the following in your comment (but I might be misunderstanding your point. Apologies if that is the case):

"From what little I can tell, war is not something to be viewed as an intellectual exercise."

This article is itself an intellectual exercise, so intellectual exercises are useful. The military officers discussed in the article thought about things, which is an intellectual exercise. Strategy is an intellectual exercise.

The problem isn't necessarily the over-intellectualization of war, but a certain lack of clear thinking and a misunderstanding of ground realities.

You don't stop at the first level of analysis, you have to keep digging, you have to test your assumptions, you have to stop sometimes and assess where you are versus the ground reality, even in the midst of the madness.

(It is chaotic and mad in the midst of war, so I am more empathetic with some military intellectuals than it may seem from my comments. Here's my old mantra: it's easy to criticize, hard to do).

Someday, we may develop a science of human behavior that is more reliably predictive, but we are not there yet and should understand it. Political and social science is not yet at the point that, say, medical science or engineering is, and may never be, depending on how we think about human systems and information.

Even if you think we as a species can get there someday, human beings--even intellectuals--are not there yet. This needs to sink in. More study is needed and even then, ethically, we will have to think about what using this information on human beings means....

Some military intellectuals claim the antidote to the problem of uncertainty is a certain type of post-modernism.

(Part 1, comment split in two for easier reading).


Wed, 04/10/2013 - 6:18am

If someone could please enlighten me as to why the military's thinkers stubbornly insist on keeping a doctrine that has failed miserably time and time again, I, as someone with no military experience, would really appreciate it. My understanding is that the objective of France in Vietnam and Algeria was to stay in Vietnam and Algeria. They failed. And in Algeria, the so-called "pacification" from 1956 to 1958 was followed by the renewed uprising that led De Gaulle to tell his military leaders (at risk to his own life) that it was over. What in heaven's name, when these mistakes have cost the lives of so many, is the infatuation with Galula? I mean, I don't think the French even used his theories afterwards, or so I have read that that has been the case in Mali.

The Malayan Emergency is, and always will be, subject to debate. If you look at it from the point of view of wanting to keep a colony, the UK lost. But from a Cold War perspective, it was a victory (the UK has a defense arrangement with Malaysia to this day). Templer btw advised the Wilson government to stay out of Vietnam. So far as I can tell, the best example of a COIN victory might be Oman's Dhofar Rebellion (1962-76), but you don't always get to work with leaders like Sultan Qaboos.

I guess I simply just want to know - what is wrong with the people who plan our military engagements? From what little I can tell, war is not something to be viewed as an intellectual exercise. Great article.


Tue, 04/09/2013 - 6:24pm

Interesting story and the subject is worth thinking about. Since 2006 USA is working very hard to reinvent the COIN and in my opininion, many reasons why USA have met such big problems in Vietnam, Iraq and Afganistan are major strategic errors in the prewar planning.
In Vietnam Westmoreland was convinced the overhelming conventional army would blow NVA away and finally lost the peoples support. There was success with the MC CAP and the CORD program but to late.
In Algeria the French did a very effektive COIN but failed because the idea that torture was ok. Like Guantanamo.
Sovjet failed beacause of exhaustion in the end of there era. The support from USA to Mujahedin was quite big and put charcoal on the reds head.
Afganistan was a mistake from the beginning. The country is to big and have to many "bad neighbours". USA is spending 20% of the Iraq cost on Afganistan and there have been COIN experiments since 2009.
Historic COIN need 8-12 years to work.
The government have been to weak from the start, foucus on bombing BL to hell make it hard to make good coin now. In fact are the taliban outgovering the Karzai authority.
There are many special points why Templer/Thompson made success in Malay.
First of all they promise independence by 1957, this was impossible for MCP to match. Malaya is an Island and its hard to get reinforces. The gerilla was native chinese and easy to recon.
Every conflict is unique and the key to peace is in the heart of the conflict.
Find the right unique strategi, for each country is essential, like the right leader to execute it.
SFA will probably work together with a comprehensive mix of civilan support where lokal loyal sequrity forces are the key.
This can be done with right politic goal that the people accept and thogether with a mission that cover the whole region the insurgency will probably starve.
So small SFA units, patience and COIN without UAV is my proposal

Bill C.

Tue, 04/09/2013 - 10:58am

Let's cut to the chase:

What often undermines the legitimacy of the governments that we support,

And what often causes us to be unable to achieve the strategic victory that we desire,

Is our desired ends.

Ends which we pursue through various "host" governments.

These ends often being vastly different from and largely incompatible with the wants, needs and desires -- to wit: the strategic goals -- of the populations in whose country and region we are operating.

This becomes much like trying to drive an oversized square peg through a narrow round hole.

There are going to be a lot of failures. And, if a degree of success is achieved, there is likely to be one hell of a lot of collateral damage. (The nation, the people, "regional stability," etc., may, in fact, be destroyed.)

And, because of the contrary nature of this project, the "hammer" used to pound the square peg through the round hole (the instruments of power of the foreign entity and the various "host" governments through which it operates) cannot and should not expect to be viewed favorably.