Small Wars Journal

The 2014 Counterinsurgency Field Manual Requires Pre-Publication Review

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 3:03pm

The 2014 Counterinsurgency Field Manual Requires Pre-Publication Review

Bing West

A new field manual on counterinsurgency (COIN) is about to be published. The FM states, “Many important decisions are not made by generals.” COIN is conducted by captains, not generals. So why not let the captains decide about the merits of this FM? Ask a dozen company commanders from Afghanistan to respond to the following query:

Rate the 2014 COIN FM on a scale of one to three below:

1. This FM contains overly-optimistic advice and unachievable goals. It leads down the wrong path.

2. The FM is not worth the time it takes to read. It leaves me indifferent. It is a signpost pointing to a dozen different paths.

3. The FM clarifies the principles that must be followed in the next COIN. It must be read and followed by all at battalion level and above. It leads down the correct path.

As currently written, the 2014 FM endorses and enlarges upon the 2006 FM that declared, “Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders as well as warriors.” If doctrine collapses in practice, do not repeat it. We tried COIN as nation-building twice, and twice it failed.

“Write this down,” President George W. Bush said in 2003. “Afghanistan and Iraq will lead that part of the world to democracy. They are going to be the catalyst to change the Middle East and the world.”

After 3,000 civilians were murdered at the Twin Towers, the question was how to destroy Al Qaeda. The answer, enthusiastically endorsed by the US military, was to build two democracies in the Islamic, authoritarian Middle East. That was a non sequitur. Thus the American military hurled itself into host nation governance, economic development and politics, where it had no expertise. Disaster followed.

In Iraq, the US military, after easily destroying the Saddam regime, uttered no protest when an inexperienced American pro-counsel abolished the Sunni-centric Iraqi Army. For the next four years, we waged war against Al Qaeda, disaffected Iraqi officers and Sunni tribes. In 2006, a breakthrough came via the Anbar Awakening. In 2007, Generals Petraeus and Odierno adroitly deployed a surge force courageously ordered by President Bush. The FM claims the Sunni tribes went over to the government side. Abu Risha, however, told me they came over to the strongest tribe – the US military. They remained disdainful and deeply suspicious of the Shiite sectarian government. Nonetheless, civil war was averted. It seemed the COIN FM was confirmed.

However, the COIN FM demanded four tasks (lines of operations/effort) of our units: 1) security; 2) development; 3) establishment of good governance; and 4) rule of law. Security seemed to succeed. Development was a sinkhole. Good governance and rule of law were abject failures. We were batting one for four.

Then, according to Mr. Bush, Petraeus and Odierno agreed with him to pull out all US troops. Thus our commanders were key in making a political decision that threw away success. Maliki, a sectarian tyrant, disenfranchised the Sunnis. The tribes stood aside while Al Qaeda re-seized Fallujah. Today, Iran has more influence in Iraq than does America. The US military did not build the stable democratic nation in Iraq that was the objective of FM 3-24.

In Afghanistan, Karzai was more an opponent than ally. The urban dwellers have voted for a new president in 2014. But democracy in Afghanistan is similar to that in Russia and Pakistan: a kleptocracy where oligarchs divide the profits. Afghanistan is rated as the world’s most corrupt state. Any future president of Afghanistan will share the wealth of America among his cronies.

Hundreds of billions in aid were wasted and stolen. There was no rule of law. There were no Pashtun villagers driving out the Taliban. Because we are not colonialists, we did not fire the people in charge, even when they were corrupt, weak, inept or as antagonistic as Karzai. We did not destroy Al Qaeda, or defeat the Taliban, or create a true democracy. Our basic mistake was handing freedom as a gift and doing the fighting for others.

Our most revered generals enthusiastically embraced the effort to change the Afghan culture. They knew it would take decades to succeed in counterinsurgency defined as nation building. Yet they dribbled in their requests for more manpower and more time. The high command believed that our nineteen year-old soldiers could change the character of Islamic nations. But the Pashtun tribes never came over to our side.

Worse, our high command was unable to decide whether the Taliban were a distraction or a mortal enemy like Al Qaeda. Which was it? Were we in a death struggle with the Taliban? Or were they a legitimate force in Afghan politics, deserving to share in the political power? If so, why were we fighting and dying against them for 13 years? To this day, no US official will answer that basic question. Our military leaders lost their way by trying to do too much. The gains from defining COIIN as nation-building were not worth the costs.

Despite that track record, the 2014 COIN FM repeats the canard that COIN must be nation-building. Yes, the new FM lays out a spectrum of responses, explaining COIN is not a strategy. But it then proceeds to sanctify the four lines of operation/effort cited above. The FM is a model of opacity, offering something for all tastes and employing the subjunctive and conditional tenses of grammar in place of declarative sentences. E.G., “The U.S. could enable a host nation, that may be capable of providing civil control.” Without the conditional “may”, the FM would be three pages in length. Using one hundred words wherever ten suffice, the document bombards the reader with bromides. No tautology is overlooked. E.G., “When the U.S. directly involves itself in a counterinsurgency, stability may be essential.”

“Warfare,” according to the 2014 FM, “remains a clash of interests and will between organized groups characterized by the use of force.” That bowdlerized sentence supports General McChrystal’s philosophy while commanding in Afghanistan: “I wanted to take away any incentives that might drive commanders and their men to see killing insurgents as the primary goal.” We saw how well it worked to convert the Marine Corps into a Peace Corps.

War remains the act of killing until the enemy capitulates. “Military history must never stray from the tragic story of killing,” wrote the eminent historian Victor Davis Hanson. “To speak of war in any other fashion brings with it a sort of immorality. Euphemism in battle narrative or the omission of graphic killing altogether is a near criminal offense of the military historian.”

After five frustrating years, Secretary of Defense Gates concluded in his memoir that the US military should have focused on two objectives: bashing the Taliban and developing the Afghan army. Leave politics and economics to others. 

The 2014 FM hurtles down the wrong track. It offers no advice about resolve, cohesion, morale, ferocity, trust and victory. It offers no insights into partnering. If we cannot put our enemies six feet in the ground and infuse that same fierce, implacable, winning spirit into the host nation forces, friendly persuasion and development aid will be seen by our enemies as weakness and fecklessness.

In place of firmness, the 2014 FM endorses our Afghanistan doctrine: War will be won by gaining the support of the population and transitioning a stable situation to dedicated host nation forces and officials, while reintegrating the insurgents who have seen the errors of their ways and convincing neighboring countries to desist from aiding and sheltering the terrorists.

Question: how well did that doctrine work out? How many Islamists came over? How many village militias proved reliable? When did Pakistan cease aiding and sheltering the Taliban?

I was an adviser in Vietnam and a Marine grunt. Later I served as assistant secretary of defense for international security. During the past ten years, I’ve embedded with dozens of platoons on dozens of trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, conducting a hundred patrols. Over those years, I saw a large gap grow between how our grunts fought and what they believed, versus COIN doctrine regurgitated as catechism by the generals.

The fact is the generals did make the decisions, with little input from the grunts who had well-founded doubts about persuading Pashtun tribes to support us as the midwives, let alone to support the mendacious government in Kabul. Communications were distinctly one-way: down. The four-star command in Kabul even sent a tactical directive to all platoon leaders, many of whom had to submit power point briefs before leaving the wire. It is untruthful to claim that COIN as nation-building succeeded in destroying the Islamist terrorist organizations or their safe havens.  In the end, we pulled out of Afghanistan – leaving the Taliban intact in the Green Zone and Pakistan as duplicitous as always.

The first objective of any doctrine is: above all, do no harm The COIN FM is harmful because it teaches war as sociology. In a future ground war, the enemy will not wear uniforms and will seek shelter among civilians. Our grunts will be kicked in the teeth if they fight with a naïve doctrine. 

We need to pause to rethink. But large bureaucracies rarely halt production. This FM has been on the production line for several years. Like the tape cassette player, it will soon be among us, already obsolete.

About the Author(s)


Ned McDonnell III

Mon, 05/26/2014 - 9:56am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Interesting analysis. I will assume you have this G-2ed. The plot thickens. If Transnistria is the next stop on the Putin Polar Express, I would view that as a stutter-step tactic for his real target, eastern Ukraine. There would be something of an I.W. pincer on those southeastern provinces to infiltrate from two ways for the 'civil strife' and then intervene.

That speculation of mine aside, I would be interested in reading what you see as the I.W. opportunity with the restiveness of the people in eastern Ukraine and the loose cannons unleashed by the Putineer. Could the West respond by:
1. stating publicly that a gangster regime has unleashed gangsters on the innocent people of Ukraine?
2. stating through other channels (I.W. / psy-ops) to the rogue mercenaries, "Hey, people understand your desire for self-determination (or whatever); pity the Russians abandoned you..."?

In these cases, I would still prescribe some type of response along the lines of a naval quarantine on Crimea; aerial blockade (no-fly zones) over eastern Ukraine; and, exercises by the SOF and California National Guard (300 total) across the Ukraine outside of Crimea, if requested through the U.N. and U.S. by Ukraine.

Lastly, is the sequence you are laying out, in effect, empowering democratic (or pro-Western) elements in Russia to rise up and say: "Hey what about us?" That is: is the Maidan 'mayhem' heading north? If so, at least the gangster regime and its ex-KGB cronies will be busy for a while, eh?

Outlaw 09

Mon, 05/26/2014 - 2:47am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Ned---there has been a subtle mistake that they Russians have made in their own UW strategy as mentioned in the Latvian article.

In their version of UW they mobilized the criminal elements into an irregular force that was the lead element in the taking of the admin buildings together with "nationalists" that streamed into the Ukraine from Russia with Putin's blessings.

Now comes the problem for them---they cannot control them on the ground and there has been a backlash from the population against Russia even though they are Russian speaking.

There has been some fear voiced in the "official" Russian media that they have a deep concern that these "nationalists" are moving towards merging together and forming for the FSB a serious insider threat to Russian internal security.

It seems that where the armed separatists were in the Ukraine and the locals could vote even under threat that the actual voting percentage for the new president was quite high---that is in fact interesting.

There are indications now that the Moldavian enclave is the next area of interest as a high number of single males in civilian have been flying into Moldavia and then going by the bus loads to the enclave and estimates are that the number of Russian troops are twice the number allowed by agreements.

Ned McDonnell III

Mon, 05/26/2014 - 1:12am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


As always I appreciate the time you take to educate me on the basics of I.W. Truthfully, I agree with what you say. My micro-quib is that we are conflating COIN (a subset) with I.W. The doctrine here needs to address other scenarios. And since this new manual has not, the Putinista has kindly shown us the way. He has won thus far in Ukraine because he took Crimea without a fight; the Latvian warfare manual referred to the necessity of respecting Russia's national rights in the area.

It is as if the West had pretended the Crimea was always Russian without question. I have seen headlines recently that speculate about Putin's next target. There is no next target; he is still eyeing eastern Ukraine. Thank you for the head's-up on the cyber-sabotage of the electoral process in Ukraine. It convinces me all the more that President Putin is waiting for the complaisance to settle in and for the West to focus on something else (e.g., Thailand).

So, look for something like a spike in Syria to give Russia cover to protect the 30-35% of eastern Ukraine that speaks Russian. And poor old Secretary Kerry will throw a tantrum (more to try to manage up by nudging his boss to do something) and be called ridiculous when all he is trying to do is galvanize his la-la colleagues into doing something, anything. When Silly Putty is strutting along Omaha Beach, perhaps the French -- and Germans -- will realize how many more people died due to the immorality of inaction in 1938 against another tyrant.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 05/25/2014 - 5:46am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Ned---this debate on COIN has to go deeper into UW and IW and the FM does not do that---Putin wants the current events in the Ukraine to be viewed as a second Cold War as that allows him to condition his population for isolation and economic hardship just they were use to it under the Communists---but in reality it is a war of "values".

Why "values" he views the West mainly the EU but also the US to be decadent and "lost"---it is the economic development of the EU coupled with their requirements of rule or law and good governance as membership requirements that "threatens" him and Russia. It is these "values" that threaten him---why--because his country and Belarus have not had their "colored" revolutions. that is why the Ukrainian events are such a threat to him---not the unrest itself or the driving out of a corrupt President---but the "values" the Maidan drove ie rule of law and good governance as determined by the resident population on their own---that is the key-- on their own.

He is playing with his messaging---and I always go back to his recent Duma speech as it is the core of his thinking and he spells out this "fight" of values in an open way---he is speaking in that speech to to the neo nationalist right that is up and coming now in multiple EU countries as well as with our own Tea Party and the British UKIP which is a spinoff of the US Tea Party. He views them as the key to destabilizing for good the EU and for driving a wedge between the EU/NATO on one side and the US on the other.

Example---has one wondered in the US just why Putin is attending (actually invited himself as he was not invited before his announcement that he was coming)the 6 June Normandy celebrations?---he will use it to try to get one on one meetings with say the French and attempt to drive a wedge between the French and the US ---especially since Putin knows that the French and US are in conflict over their 1.6B carrier sale to the Russians and he knows the interrelationship between the French and Germans---he is simply not going there as a "tourist" to see the beaches.

Example---Putin utters "kind" words on the eve of the Ukrainian election and the West "calms down" and sees just maybe Putin is coming around and the sanctions are working---BUT then the Ukrainian election data center is hit with a massive cyber warfare attack rendering it dead in the water and of no use---and yet Putin appears in the West to have "calmed down" and is accepting the Ukrainian developments?---come on he has never for a moment left the new Russian doctrine of political warfare being supported by a UW strategy call the New Generation Warfare. It is all there to be read and understood.

It all goes back to "political warfare" and their new doctrine.

We in the US really need to understand this "values" fight because it is not going to go away any time soon and it is far more deadly to Europe and the Europe US relationship than anything was during the Cold War.

And my parting shot against COIN---COIN took the US Army in the wrong direction and lulled us into a false sense of security because many claim we "won" the COIN fight.

The Russian strategy for this "values fight" is openly mentioned in their new doctrine New Generation Warfare and it is UW based in support of a political war and this FM simply does not answer that regardless how many commenters want to spin the FM to cover it.

And by the way in no single DATE scenario exercised either in the US or in Europe since 2013 has come anywhere close to say 30% of what we have seen n the Ukraine been even mentioned in any of the DATE scenarios and we claimed in 2013 that the DATE training scenarios were the be all end all of our last 13 years of combat experience and it was the TRADOC "way forward".

Then comes along the Russian Army/Intelligence Services and deploys UW/IW in support to a political warfare in ways that make us look like military amateurs.

And we debate the COIN FM for what reason? ---especially since world political/military events have move far past the concept of COIN.

We must as an Army and country learn to view the world in 3D instead on 1D and especially a 3D model that is constantly evolving.

Robert Jones has mentioned it here a number of times---it has to do with "revolutionary populations", the rule of law and good governance that is the new 3D world we live in.

This new COIN FM does nothing to address this new 3D world and as everyone knows due to AFG and Iraq the American Army will never be deployed again with boots on the ground in a so called COIN environment.

Even Putin know this to be a true fact.

Ned McDonnell III

Sun, 05/25/2014 - 1:39am

In reply to by Bwilliams

In reading (too quickly) through this interesting debate and speaking as an interested outsider, my sense is that COIN is really a form Irregular Warfare. That distinction might be important in trying to assess recent adventures in Iraq and AfghanLand.

Iraq started out as an invasion to liberate a beleaguered people from two tyrants: Saddam Hussein and sanctions. An insurgency arose for various reasons, not the least of which was the viceroy approach of AMB J.Paul Blunder, nixing the less arrogant and more grounded approach of General Jay Garner. The U.S. succeeded in its counter-insurgency during the Bush presidency but lost it under President Obummer when the latter failed to exert the influence necessary (and available with 50,000+ boots still on the ground) to induce Prim Minister al-Maliki to transfer to Alawi in 2010. By putzing around from 2009-2011, the U.S. allowed P.M. al-Maliki to consolidate tyrannical power under the protection of our troops. So COIN and I.w. did not fail; President Obama did through a loss of nerve.

In Afghanistan, COIN signally failed mainly because there was no 'IN' to 'CO'. We led an overthrow; if anything ISAF was the insurgency. But semantics aside, counter-insurgency implies a nation-state, a reality that does not exist in Afghanistan. The fact is I.W. did not succeed in Afghanistan, either, at least in the here-&-now. Perhaps, victory will emerge in twenty years with the rising generation, but we will have to wait and see. This problem is somewhat applicable to Pakistan. It is not clear to me that it is a country, either. We have this unsustainable rump of India populated by two twins--one that helps the U.S./ISAF and suffers losses facing another darker twin (mainly, the ISI) that aids the Taliban, hosts bin Laden, etc.

As to the centralized fornication better known as the pathetic Western response to Russia, everything Outlaw-09 is on-the-money. Our force structure is skewed toward highly trendy, incredibly expensive unconventional warfare at the expense of traditional deterrence and psy-ops. Russia knows this and sees a window of opportunity to act for the greater Russia and its other jingoistic pretensions. NATO can barely act, thanks to a gutted conventional array and, given deadly indifference toward Syria and empty threats to date, the U.S. will not for the next three years. Give an easy five bucks to a bully, he will start going for ten.


Sat, 05/24/2014 - 3:52pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The new FM doesn't have "COIN LOEs". If you are going to disagree with something, one should at least disagree with what is actually there.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 05/24/2014 - 2:24pm

In reply to by dfil

dfil---if you define the success of COIN being we could withdraw our forces out of those two countries and declare "victory" which was done by the second Bush administration in the case of Iraq then why was there in fact a "need" of a "surge" in both countries if all was going well on the ground?

Secondly, if one looks at the Iraq and now at the AFG engagement just what really was achieved by COIN? Are both countries stable and fully capable of taking care of themselves after what 8 to 13 years of our support WITHOUT still having some form of US support---was 1) good governance and 2) the rule of law established in both countries and was both successful?

Not that I can tell--did we using the various COIN LOEs dampen down and or eliminate the growing of poppies and allowing say AFG to be the number one producer of heroin and did we stop also using the COIN LOEs in both countries massive corruption---not that I can see.

Thirdly, while we were chasing the end of the rainbow theory called COIN what did we lose in the process---the standard fighting skillsets we were once famous for---fire and movement, massed forces, the ability to defeat tank on tank, the ability to mass and move large forces and even better the ability to fire artillery, then the inherent ability to be able to simply read a map without relying on GPS and something that has been totally forgotten-- how to fuel on the move large convoy's.

So come on dfil---while we were off "fighting and winning" with COIN we forgot everything else the Army was built on in the last 100 years---does that sound like "victory" to you especially since Iraq is spiraling out of control and Maliki "wants" US drones and pilots on the ground again in Iraq still without a SOFA---so would you be willing to go.

Now let's see how the COIN victory has effected our NATO allies the last 11 years or so of supporting the US----in the just released study by NATO on how NATO could defend the eastern Baltics states from say a Russian attack guess what -- it was stated by NATO it cannot defend them in it's current configuration.

WHY---it was buried in the 15th or so page of the report---most of the NATO countries can fight in small units in a MOUT environment but cannot conduct large scale maneuvers WHY because they adopted our COIN concepts and TTPs and forgot along their way the same fighting skillsets we have lost.

They focused on MOUT assumed the issues of Russia where in the past and have reduced their military defense budgets to 2008 levels---actually following our led.

So does not that seem to suggest the maybe COIN took everyone in the "wrong direction"--does it sound like COIN was "victorious" not that I can see.

If we look at the new FM 3-24 and we assume that in fact everything that is mentioned in it cannot be found fully functioning as predicted on the ground in AFG and it failed in Iraq then why are we using it to be an "accepted" fact that it worked and was successful-- pray tell?

The FM 3-24 cannot handle the current UW driven Russian strategy ---WHY because the regular force has never been trained for UW and especially irregular warfare---just where in a DATE (Decisive Action Training Environment) is say the Ukrainian events even remotely being exercised?

Can you and or anyone currently serving define the term "political warfare", or say "unconventional/irregular warfare" and or explain what our national strategies are for both political warfare and UW/IW?

Are the DATE computer simulations being created by the TBOC in Virginia even remotely coming anywhere close to the Ukrainian events? No not really.

Let's see---massive pys-war being delivered 24X7 by Russian speaking radio and TV stations aimed directly at the ethnic Russian population, irregular forces hired as private contractors, torture being used as well as executions against non ethnic Russians, hired Russian military trained reservist snipers being paid $1000 per killed Ukrainian officer, Ukrainian intelligence service completely undermined by the Russian FSB, Ukrainian police, security service and army personnel being bribed to walk away, Russian "journalists" of military age "leading" irregular fighters on actual firefights and then claiming their rights as "journalist's" are being violated if they were captured, ambushes constantly being carried out, massive use of criminal elements in the recon and attacks, use of unarmed civilians shielding armed fighters and shielding captured admin buildings, and criminals used to force submission of the ethnic population if one is of another viewpoint, economic chaos by stopping functioning governance, "fake elections", economic blockade of Ukrainian produced products, the use of natural gas as a weapon system, the use of smuggled MANPADs and new Russian anti-tank weapon systems, the use of a 50K man invasion force as a strong arm political leverage point, the active use of Russian special forces and GRU intel officers in civilian clothes and the list can go on literally forever.

And even more importantly a "radicalized" revolutionary population that believes every word of the "radicalizing" messaging.

And all of the above is being exercised in exactly what type of DATE scenario?

How could even 50% of the above even be able to be inserted into an ROE that US Forces could even comprehend and or somehow carry out?

Again I go back to the statement where and how has COIN been successful?

Where are the examples of a truly successful transfer to an existing government all COIN operations by the US military without having a large scale force required to support them after the transfer which was being envisioned in Iraq and now for AFG?

Show me in Iraq and currently in AFG where the national governance was able to on their own "own" the problem without the US being there in some form

Is that not what a COIN "win" really is all about---"working one's self out of a job" and being able to go home and never return?

So four trillion USDs later, with how many killed and wounded service members later--- you still want to conclude COIN was successful?

Ned McDonnell III

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 9:57pm

In reply to by dfil

Dfil, since I had posted Mr West's article on F.B. by pinging the 'like' button here, I placed your comment -- quoting you as dfil -- as a counterpoint in a comment. Outlaw-09 brings up an interesting point, which you answer. Here is an independent take I had, as an interested spectator here, on things (which just posted on F.B.)...

Well, here is the distraction for the Putinista to roll-in his cherished Anschluß after he revises his support for Sunday's elections in Ukraine and deems them invalid; followed by hell raising in Eastern Ukraine; then, Putin saying the West has failed to prevent civil war....…
Meanwhile more people die in Syria each day -- as much from the USG's indiscriminate indifference as from the Assad killing machine's indiscriminate bloodshed -- and, oh yeah, there's Thailand but out come the those three or four honoured and hated words: "We're on it..."


Fri, 05/23/2014 - 7:23pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

COIN did work in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military objectives of both surges were met, the difficult was translating it into political success, which was achieved in Iraq but not sustainable after the withdrawal. And I feel that your reply needs to specifically understand this from my original comment "It does not make sense to say counterinsurgency will always fail because it can mean a huge variety of efforts, and COIN has varied greatly in history and in smaller contexts within individual conflicts." In regards to Ukraine, Russia is clearly taking advantage of a state that was handicapped by the turmoil of an upheaval of the existing regime. The COIN manual does adress IW, and Ukraine would have to take control of the narrative for its own sake, but rather the United States has led the way in articulating a narrative counter to that of Russia's. In terms of separatists and special forces detachments, it simply could be a matter of controlling contested areas along with rejuvenating lost state capacity along with finding a way to reduce the significant penetration of Russian intelligence into Ukraine's military and government. Not specifically stipulated in the COIN manual, but in the same spirit of working towards a legitimate state that can support its own sovereignty. That specific nature of the forces opposing Ukraine in the context of individual population centers is just another instance of foreign elements mobilizing, arming, and fighting alongside locals. The use of IW and legal warfare has more utility in terms of international relations and earning international support as well as setting precedents than it does in grassroots mobilization, control of populations by armed political actors trumps pre-existing social cleavages and preferences. And in this way, the 40,000 Russian troops that were exercising just out of Ukraine could perhaps embolden separatists nearby instead of those on the other side of the country.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 1:10pm

In reply to by dfil

Are you by chance asserting that COIN has actually worked in Iraq and AFG?

Thus if COIN worked in both countries and had the Ukraine been a NATO member would COIN as described by this new FM actually work in say the Ukraine or for that matter any country dealing with the new Russian doctrine of heavy UW/IW supporting political warfare?

Frankly I find it quite disappointing that this site would publish Bing West. There are people who will always hold a grudge against counterinsurgency, and Bing West has been consistent in his criticisms. I've read his book The Wrong War, and it's quite obvious that he reported on instances of counterinsurgency working and instances of it not working. It does not make sense to say counterinsurgency will always fail because it can mean a huge variety of efforts, and COIN has varied greatly in history and in smaller contexts within individual conflicts. And bear in mind that when invited to a conference on Counterinsurgency when the field manual was being written, and someone reported that some troops in Iraq were fixing dead bodies of insurgents to the hood and driving around to intimidate the locals, Bing West derisively retorted 'Why isn't that in the field manual?" What is irrefutably clear in the four lines of operation that West critiques is that those four lines of operation address factors that affect the strength of an insurgency, especially one in places that are trying to stand up new governments. And the Field Manual itself states that soldiers and marines will be forced to wear multiple hats simply because there will never be enough civilian advisers to perform the huge variety of tasks necessary to building state capacity, his gripe should be with the numerous IGO's, NGO'S, and civilian agencies who haven't managed to field enough personnel.

And Mr. West also fails to make insightful conclusions on topics that he depicts himself on being knowledgeable of. Pakistan has lost more troops fighting the Taliban than ISAF has. Pakistan has also launched large operations against the insurgent safe haven, most of them in succession after failed or broken peace negotiations. Most of ISAF's supplies are through overland routes going through Pakistan, and Pakistan has experienced plenty of domestic unrest as a direct result of its conflict with the insurgents in its FATA provinces, which it has historically exercised little control over.

With regards to Iraq Mr. West fails to mention how MFN-I commanders helped the anbar awakening proliferate, and use it as a platform to build dialogue between Sunni community leaders and the predominantly Shiite government, and how the U.S. made plenty of efforts to curb Maliki's sectarianism. But the reason that Iraq has gotten worse after U.S. withdrawal can't all be blamed on the U.S. because every counterinsurgency war of this nature involves a handover of responsibility to the host nation to take charge of its destiny. When American troops left, Maliki had no obstacles to his sectarian agenda and his actions caused a large Sunni political coalition to withdraw from the Iraqi parliament. The resurgence of Islamists in Iraq is attributed to the fact that Syria functioned as a conduit for radical jihadists into Iraq during the occupation, and when the Syrian civil war broke out the largest ever influx of jihadists occured. Naturally, Al Qaeda in Iraq was able to rapidly reconstitute itself the very year American troops left.

And in terms of Afghanistan, I don't think people who have seriously invested an effort into following the state of the war will share West's pessimism. Sure the Afghan government is tied with North Korea for the most corrupt government in the world, yet the Taliban approval rating is near or at single digit figures. And his rhetorical question on reconciliation with the Taliban is yet another indication that he does not understand the fact that the Taliban is well suited to join the list of insurgencies that last decades, and that war does not always have to end in decisive destruction of one party or another but rather a negotiation where one party may be able to negotiate from a position of strength.

It is very obvious in this writing as in other writing from West that the primary reason why he does not like counterinsurgency in that it forces soldiers and marines to do something other than kinetic action. And if there is anything clear from the history of counterinsurgency wars that kinetic action alone is not decisive, unless it is very liberal amounts of indiscriminate violence used to deter collaboration.

Ned McDonnell III

Sun, 05/25/2014 - 1:40am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Unfortunately, I have been overwhelmed in my training for a new career (at 57!) in digital marketing. And so I haven't had the opportunity read much or think about stimulating discussions like this one. Outlaw, if I get to Berlin, you may regret your invite! Obviously, if you are in Tijuana, please look me up. Your link was interesting and I will consult it more in the days ahead.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 4:36pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Ned----would highly suggest reading the last 60 days are so from the

Be sure to take a flak vest and have kidnapping insurance.

Outside of that ---enjoy the new employment and if you are ever in Berlin give a shout.

By the way you might like this link---interesting that AFG refugees in Iran are fighting in Syria.…

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 10:14am

Outlaw-09 and Carl as well as MoveForward,

I have been off-the-radar as I prepare to train for a new career in digital marketing and with an imminent move to Tijuana. Mexico is a hoppin' place these days, as this snip-it from yesterday's hearing points out:

First of all, Carl, congratulations on your new position in the private sector. With self-discipline drummed into you from your first career and your open-mindedness leave me envying your future success (assuming, of course, that I have the same Carl here as I do in Linked-In).

MoveForward, on your comment about the relative casualties of the Army versus other services in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army -- and those that count in it -- are the ones who bear the brunt. A reduction of the officer corps of deadwood would actually save lives.

Competition for attention promotes the lure of micro-management characterized by the nit-picking of various alternatives. This constant bickering by officers (0-6 and below) "with stars in their eyes" tends to leave the soldiers in the field uncertain as to what to do.

First to go would be most, not all, of reservists who activated to full duty during the last decade. The level of commitment of too many is too low since these people are punching a card toward retirement. God, the stories I have for you! These people's interests are not in line with the mission.

Outlaw-09 and Carl, thank you for some valuable insights. Mobility of information and infantry almost certainly reinforce the age-old temptation to micro-manage, premissed on that "next datum" or quick extrication that avoids adversity and possible, if apparent, failure.

As you pointed out, Carl, the 'ink-blot' never settles and spreads from a long-settled area outward to surrounding areas. Perhaps, the military as a career path has promoted risk aversion to a counter-productive level as officers tend to push problems along to the next group.

Lastly, I am sure you all have something to say about Russia's slowness on pulling troops off of the border with Ukraine, notwithstanding the public announcement of their withdrawal. Also, does it make sense to re-frame many insurgencies as crime waves? Would community policing work in these cases?

Thanks, as always,
Ned McDonnell.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 05/18/2014 - 1:23pm

In reply to by carl

carl---during my training of Bde/BN and higher staffs on mission command---one of the things I spoke about in great detail and openness was the issues of micromanagement and or mismanagement and the use of power point for decision making and yes many officers would agree with my critiques which did not set well with my own bosses.

Both kill commanders their staffs and the adeptness that is needed at the lower levels---but try to get LTCs and COLs and yes even MAJs use to backing out of micromanagement and heavy reliance on power point for decision making.

Micromanagement as occurred with the steady use of what I call a checklist mentality that pervades most commanders and their staffs.


Sun, 05/18/2014 - 10:57am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III


Brian Linn in one of his books (… ) says one of the reasons the US military was as effective as it was during the Philippine Insurrection was poor communications. There were no radios, phones, trucks, helicopters nor C-130s. Units couldn't be shuffled around the islands easily when the men had to walk and their supplies had to go in a wagon or on a pack horse and both had to take a boat if transferring between islands. Higher commanders physically couldn't micromanage when written orders and reports didn't move any faster than the men could. There was no other real choice but put the men in a place for a long time and mostly leave them alone to get on with it. Which they did.

Nowadays that multitude of officers in higher command can bug the hell out of the line units, which they do. Modern transport allows units to be shifted around at will instead of being left in one place for a long time to learn that place. So maybe a bigger part of the problem is the US military as an institution doesn't have to strength of character to resist committing the small war fighting abuses that modern communications allow.

Which gets us back to the military as an institution being the problem.

(It occurs to me that micromanagement is a big war fighting abuse too.)

Ned McDonnell III

Sat, 05/17/2014 - 2:00am

In reply to by carl


Very interesting comment. I wonder if the difference between the 'then' and 'now' lies in the condition of General MacArthur's time: the United States was in an existential contest with Japan. One side was going to win, perhaps pyrrhically, and one was going to lose, most likely badly. The stakes were too high for the inefficiencies of micro-managing and too many hands in the pot. The challenge that I see, as an outsider, with intervening to support or engineer a counterinsurgency is that at least one side does not have enough at stake to last out the long time it takes to regain trust and re-establish basic law and order.

The other question that crossed my mind when I read your reflections was whether these interventions would proceed better if three quarters of the staff officers stayed in the Pentagon. When the median rank in the Pentagon (or civilian equivalent) is a MAJ or LTC as a colleague told me recently -- especially when these people are well educated, thinking and prone to ideas -- over-thinking and in-fighting may be the order of the day.

The problem with the new FM 3-24 isn't with the details of the doctrine or that it emphasizes this or that over that or this. The problem is with the US military. Small wars require leaders pretty far down the chain of command to adapt what they do to the local conditions. There seems to be no dispute about that regardless of which school of small war fighting you are an acolyte of. An army in which 4 stars send down tactical directives to Lt.s and demand power point briefs before going on patrol can't adapt to local conditions. With an army like that the most perfect FM and doctrine, even one posthumously endorsed by Pershing, Marion, Magsaysay, Mao and Lt. W. T. Johnston, won't do any good because the general officer corps, the military, won't follow it. Conversely in a military that allowed local commanders to adapt to local conditions wouldn't have to sweat so much the details of a doctrine because the very smart guys on the line would be able to figure things out to a large part on their own. The problem isn't the details in the book, the problem is the military.

It is a terrible shame because we used to have a military that could adapt to local conditions and would hear the things the men on the line had to say. In the Philippines Lt. Johnston wrote a report that actually got to Gen. MacArthur who actually read it and who then made big changes based upon it. That military could do it. That military could arrange for Capt Pershing to lead an important expedition because he was the best man for the job regardless that several officers senior to him had to bypassed. This military can't in 13 years get it across to itself and its civilian masters that unless the Pak Army/ISI was dealt with the task was nigh impossible.

This goes beyond expertise in small war fighting and into ability to fight war. This is very bad.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 11:01am

Not so sure why everyone is debating the FM at all as TRADOC in 2012 released it's new concept called Army 2015 which structured the release of all new publications starting with ADPs, then ADRPs, then ATTPs and FMs.

ADPs are the core doctrinal manuals with the ADRPs giving a more detailed understanding of the released new doctrine with ATTPs and FM providing the TTPs and references needed to implement the new doctrine.

So really this particular FM is nothing more nothing less than an attempt to save whatever the lessons learned were from COIN operations in both Iraq and AFG which the Army has stated a number of times it wanted to preserve going forward. This FM is not a doctrinal manual at all.

I am not so sure why many feel that the FM is in fact the COIN doctrine--I would be far more worried as to what exact ADP is being used for COIN than the FM which is really all about tactics at the tactical levels.

What concerns me is the debate on COIN which is focused in a totally different direction than where the world currently is headed and that was not reflected at all in the new doctrinal releases since 2012.

Both Russia with it's New-Generation Warfare which is steeped in a heavy UW strategy and which supports the current political warfare being used against the Ukraine and the new Chinese Three Strategies of Warfare are not discussed anywhere/at all in the new doctrine and when one looks at both the new Russian and Chinese strategies COIN is a total waste of time as it answers/provides nothing about those two new strategies.

And really where after the US public has soundly now rejected anything like Iraq and or AFG ever happening again is the Army ever going to engage in COIN? What in the Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, CAR or maybe Mexico or South American---really do believe COIN is now forever dead and the FM is just a historical document to be used IF we ever get into another COIN type environment which based on the current US political environment will never happen.

Drones and SOF yes but boots on the ground ever again in the name of COIN--never in our lifetimes.

Heck we cannot even get military grade tires to the Ukraine when requested.


Thu, 05/15/2014 - 4:51pm

In reply to by TominVA

I have not read the DRAFT 2014 Counterinsurgency Field Manual, nor do I believe I will since I tend to judge a book by its cover or read the reviews since I am too lazy to read the stuff myself. But, I thought COIN was a host nation responsibility and that when U.S. forces are in support of host nation forces conducting COIN operations we call it FID. Why do we bother to publish a COIN manual for expeditionary warfare when we should publish a FID manual instead. I can embrace the notion of a COIN manual for use by U.S. military forces engaged against home-grown insurgents in the United States. A COIN manual for use by U.S. forces in continental U.S. would deal mostly with populace, resource control and military operations in support of local or national law enforcement. It probably wouldn't hurt to throw in some hearts and minds stuff and social work principles for good measure.


Thu, 05/15/2014 - 3:18pm

In reply to by TominVA

Should be published Friday or Monday. Sometime next week at the latest.

Does anyone have a link to the draft? Can't find it anywhere. Thanks!


Thu, 05/15/2014 - 3:54pm

Thanks for the review. I have a few of my own thoughts regarding your review. First, sending the document for another review will not produce the document you wish to see. Doctrine is a product of an institution and, in this case, two institutions. If the military were going to produce the doctrine, you would want to see, the first step would be to change the military by convincing individuals within the military that you are correct. Another review of the current document will not accomplish that.

On that thought, I think your argument has some flaws. When one makes their way past a narrative that describes possible past mis-steps, one comes to a sentence that I think contains what you think the military should be doing in counterinsurgency: “the US military should have focused on two objectives: bashing the Taliban and developing the Afghan army. Leave politics and economics to others.” What I find ironic is that is what the military would be doing in a post-BSA Afghanistan, does in the Philippines, and is doing globally. While I think, the manual is agnostic to policy decisions, various other reviews have stated that the manual advocates for this smaller and more defined effort. (See reviews by Nagl and Burke) I find it interesting the new manual would preclude the military from following the strategy the United States is currently moving towards. In fact, it does not. Nor does it advocate or provide doctrine for "nation-building".

The biggest flaw of your review is that you set up a straw man that is not there. You state the FM “proceeds to sanctify the four lines of operation/effort cited above.” Yet the document states, “Figure 7-2 illustrates one example of lines of effort in a counterinsurgency. However, while this is an example that may apply well to a counterinsurgency after large-scale combat operations, it may not apply well to other counterinsurgency operations. The U.S. could be providing only enablers for a counterinsurgency effort. For example, U.S. forces might be combining capabilities such as counter threat finance, signals intelligence, and a direct action force to enable the host nation by stopping the insurgency from attaining the means to fight, providing intelligence on an insurgency’s communications, and providing a means to neutralize insurgent leadership. “ Lines of Effort are simply a planning tool. The FM does not direct one to use any particular line of effort nor does it direct any particular operational approach. There is nothing in the FM that should suggest it would “sanctify” anything, as noted yourself when you mention its “employing the subjunctive and conditional tenses of grammar”.

That said, it does not ignore the possibility of another situation after Iraq. One has to have some doctrine for what battalions and brigades will do if they face an insurgency after a war. In those situations, it is not practical to think the military will only be “[bashing the [enemy] and developing the [host nation] army.” In doctrinal terms, they will have to perform some stability tasks, especially if there is a power vacuum. However, recognition of that fact does not mean the FM advocates “nation-building”. Again, you are setting up a straw man for what you want to be there, not what is actually there.

Finally, on language I have a few points. Several reviews have noted the length of the document. I would first point out that it is 80 pages shorter than the 2006 version. That said, I, as an individual, think it could be much shorter. However, there is disagreement about counterinsurgency within the military and various groups will believe different elements are important. Including all the elements increases the length. You in particular mention “the subjunctive and conditional tenses”. You are right, it does do that. Most involved in the process agreed that the document should not be declarative about what operational approach to take. That decision does hurt the prose.

The group dynamic of writing doctrine both hurts the document’s writing and is the product of what doctrine is. It is the conventional wisdom for the military. It is the common frame of reference and language it uses. It is the product of many and not an individual. That will affect writing, especially when the subject covered by doctrine is an area of debate and disagreement. However, like all doctrine, it will frame the education and training of the force on counterinsurgency. It is therefore important, but certainly not the final word. I think you are likely right that, “In a future ground war, the enemy will not wear uniforms and will seek shelter among civilians.” The military must certainly continue to refine and change the way it performs its responsibilities and protects the American people.

Again, thanks for taking the time to look at the document and write this.

Bill C.

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 12:59pm

a. A foreign policy -- and associated counterinsurgency doctrine -- which is based on a fantasy (to wit: the "universal appeal" of our way of life, our way of governance and our underlying values, attitudes and beliefs); this such foreign policy -- and associated counterinsurgency doctrine -- would look, one might suggest, much like that which has been produced in recent years and again today.

b. A foreign policy and corresponding counterinsurgency doctrine, however, which was based on a reality, such as, the general incompatibility of our way of life, our way of governance and our underlying values, attitudes and beliefs; this such foreign policy -- and associated counterinsurgency doctrine -- would, one might surmise, look entirely different.

What Bing West is suggesting, I believe, is that we:

1. Discard the fantasy foreign policy and the fantasy counterinsurgency doctrine based thereon (as noted at item "a" here) and, in its place,

2. Adopt a realistic foreign policy and a, corresponding, realistic counterinsurgency doctrine -- both of which run more in-line with the thinking presented at item "b" above.

Thereby, eliminating the destructive "sociological" aspect of both our foreign policy -- and our counterinsurgency doctrine -- which has led us down the primrose path of failure re: both these matters.

Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 6:17pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


First let me commend you on your moniker. For years, years ago, I dubbed myself a "curmudgeon before my time". The years went by. Things changed. I did not; now I am just a curmudgeon on schedule. Truthfully, you and I are closer in our thinking than may first appear. What I posted here was about a quarter of my draft response. What I really meant, in a nutshell, was:
1. nation-building takes too long for a kinetic operation since one is discussing a fundamental change of culture;
2. kinetic operations for COIN are likely to be too costly for the willingness needed to conduct them; as well as,
3. the world may be hitting the limit of the nation-state model and AfghanLand is a perfect case-in-point.

As far as a narrow definition of legitimacy goes, I agree with you to some extent. I do believe the desire for liberty is a universal value. How it is manifested through governance is a different story, one I learned the hard way. Iraq is a wonderful example. Democracy could work there, if it permitted an executive with:
1. strong leadership latitude but still ultimately accountable to the people or the Parliament; as well as,
2. harnessing traditional social structures (e.g., the sixty powerful clans / tribes tied into a House of Lords look-alike).

Instead, what we left behind was a mish-mash that runs a high risk of civil war with flaws dating back to AMB Bremer's temporary constitution. The silence of the U.S.G. when al-Maliki perverted the election machinery in 2010 -- when the U.S. had 50-75,000 troops still in-country -- will all but guarantee a civil war during the next generation.

What is most distressing to me is the fact that the U.S. won in Iraq in 2008 and then the civilian leadership basically squandered it in 2009 and 2010, through its best efforts and billions of dollars. The foot patrols that won the day during the surge saw the most, endured the most and often gave the most. So why did nobody listen to them. Working in the Green Zone felt like working in the Vatican.

Working on a PRT under far too many restrictions represented a marginal improvement. As I said many times in Afghanistan and Iraq: it wasn't the Taliban, insurgents, al Qaeda et al. who stressed me out. They wanted me dead: simple, transparent and direct. It was other U.S.G. civilians worried about their departmental turf, worried about looking bad when they would not work or worried by some other trivial reason that made life difficult.


Thu, 05/15/2014 - 11:52am

This was meant to be a response to Ned McDonnell III below:


Whether nation-building can succeed is not the issue. My issue with “nation-building” is that it is a confused term. It often includes creating democratic institutions. The problem is that, as I have written elsewhere, democracy requires a specific value system that is not universally accepted.

“If there were only one valid form of political legitimacy and that form was based on individualistic ideals then our current COIN and stability doctrine would probably be sufficient. [Previously I argue] that there is more than one valid form of political legitimacy. This means that liberal values and democratic governance are not going to be accepted by every single society. It explains why other forms of political legitimacy are going to have a more powerful influence on the population on a very basic human level than the individualistic legitimacy will have. This means that our current doctrine is likely to fail us in places where communal legitimacy is preferred by the populations.”

You cannot say that legitimacy is the key to countering an insurgency and then attempt to use a form of legitimacy not acceptable to the population.

Iraq was not ready to transition to democracy on a timeline acceptable to the U.S. But at least Iraq was a state. Afghanistan was more a territory consisting of largely independent fiefdoms. You had to create a state before you could think about creating a democracy. You are correct that the seeds have been sown, but it may be decades before they can truly take root in the society and that is only if the conditions are right.

The military should not confuse fighting an insurgency with creating a democracy. If that is our mission, then we need to create doctrine to support democratic transitions and consolidations that is separate from our doctrine on counterinsurgency.

J Harlan

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 8:20pm

In reply to by carl


I'll start by mentioning that I am speaking only of COIN when conducted by foreigners with a heavy footprint/ occupation as it is fundamentally different from COIN conducted by the host government as the factors of nationalism and homeland public opinion are absent.

I am most certainly not for collective punishments and terror. They are illegal, immoral, harm the discipline of your own army and have a good chance of rebounding against you at home (France in 1962 being a good example). For a good history of how the British used coercion in post WW 2 COIN see David French's The British Way in Counter-Insurgency 1945-67.

Since we can't or won't use the "old school" techniques for suppressing rebellion what are we left with? Armed nation building as tried in Iraq and Afghanistan was more of a hope than a doctrine based on experience or even historical study. We expected the vast majority of locals to not be nationalistic or even tribal in return for an improvement in their material wealth, education and health. This idea is at odds with history where people usually put their national freedom ahead of personal safety or wealth. In fact when most don't- such as the Vichy period in France- we look at them with contempt.

Since you mentioned FRI I think the point to take from the discussion there was that development could be delivered in a more cost effective and less disruptive way by smaller organizations with a very small security apparatus i.e. no western PSDs or armoured SUV etc. much like NGOs. That, however, was not the way most US development dollars were spent. The military (largely via PRTs and CERP)and big development corporations spent much of their budgets on security and self administration. Force protection was the primary concern. A short visit out to a nearby job site could turn into a mission involving three armoured vehicles, 14 people and requiring 48 hrs notice. Rapid turnover of principals didn't help either. Aggressive convoy techniques probably undid whatever goodwill was gained by projects.

There is a leaner, less overt and more cost effective way to deliver development and aid not that either will lead to COIN success for an occupier searching for a way to keep a corrupt and incompetent local government in power.


Thu, 05/15/2014 - 5:25pm

In reply to by J Harlan

J Harlan:

When I used to read Free Range International I got the idea that properly run development projects have very beneficial effects upon the overall state of the country and by extension the struggle against the insurgents. In any event it is just one small tool to be used when it seems appropriate to do so, as I am sure it is in some cases, some cases not. I will say that your points seems a little odd, since I said a guy who is insurging solely for money may find it preferable to get money for doing something less risky if the opportunity is there. Your points all are taken care of if the small war fighting is done properly. Remember I said it was only a small tool.

You said they insurgents will stop only if they win or the foreigners leave. I pointed out that they also stop when they get beat. That had little if anything to with whether one of the reasons the insurgents lose is because they got a better job or not.

Tell me something so I can be clear about your position. Do you advocate using terror and collective punishment in small war fighting? Notice I didn't say will the West do those things. I asked whether you advocate terror and collective punishment. If you do it would be helpful if you could give some examples of how the terror would be done and outline the hows of collective punishment too.

J Harlan

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 3:41pm

In reply to by carl

You've summed up the "jobs remove guerrillas" argument well. I was unaware that Stalin provided jobs (other than in the Gulag) for his enemies.

The problems with "jobs for guerrillas" are that:

1. the guys with jobs can feed, pay taxes to or give donations to the fighters.
2. a temporary 48 hour per week job (even worse a ghost job)leaves lots of time to plant IEDs or fire rockets. The influx of cash may even free up some people to fight.
3. The job can serve as "leave" for guerrillas to help out in their village before going back on the war path.
4. The projects can have unintended consequences such as ISAF's irrigation projects in Helmand which provided water for record opium crops.
5. The big development companies and the military made enemies by using aggressive convoy tactics enroute to development jobs and over promising on projects.

Whether the projects were really needed, bypassed traditional methods of development, were fraudulent or inflamed inter-community conflict are other questions.

The west has decided that collective punishments and terror are not to be used in COIN. Instead of terrifying the insurgents and their families into compliance we'll look after their social welfare over the short to mid-term in the hope that they will come round to appreciating foreign occupation. It's a pipe dream.


Thu, 05/15/2014 - 2:59pm

In reply to by J Harlan

J Harlan:

The plucky insurgents also stop fighting when they get beat, like in Poland after WWII and many other countries and places over the history of the world. One of the little tools used to beat them maybe is give jobs to the ones who insurge for money and those do exist. A paycheck without the risk of getting shot can be a very attractive thing.

J Harlan

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 11:37am

There is a widespread assumption that development aids in defeating an insurgency. In the recent COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan it did not. It actually fueled the insurgency by providing the insurgents with a steady stream of cash, food and material resources without the upside of showing how the host government is competent and fair.

If development, particularly agriculture, is successful villagers will have a food surplus that can feed the guerrillas along with extra cash to pay "taxes" or provide as tithes. Huge amounts of development money also fuels corruption and the insertion of large numbers of foreign staff who usually require high levels of security.

The notion that development can put the enemy "back on the reservation" is rather insulting. What self respecting US soldier would admit that he's submit to foreign occupation if he could get a good job? Ditto for the Taliban and various Iraqi insurgents. They stop fighting when they win or the foreigners leave their neighborhood not because they get a job digging ditches.

Move Forward

Sun, 05/18/2014 - 10:42pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RantCorp buddy,

This link to a Rand study shows that as of December 2011, the U.S. Army has contributed 1.08 million troop-years deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. That contrasts with 333,000 troop-years for the Navy, 309,000 for the USAF and 280,000 for the Marines. Add reserve component Army and the total is 1.5 million troop-years. In other words the Army reserve components have deployed more than the active Navy, USAF, and Marine Corps.…

As mentioned in my initial comments, it would be interesting to see how many of the 400 a month in suicides are from the Army and Marines vs. in the other services. There is a direct correlation between the proportionally lower numbers of active Army Soldiers and the number of longer deployments. That is why it is pretty troubling that the Army has been chosen to bear the brunt of downsizing to finance the expensive Navy and USAF systems you note.

This trend is not new. Looking at Vietnam, the following correlation exists between troop numbers in country and deaths in country:

Year.......Number deployed.......Number killed

I would wager that of the number deployed in Vietnam, the overwhelming majority of troop-years were endured by Soldiers. It also appears there is a point of diminishing returns in large troop numbers. I realize we were more aggressive in 1967-1969 as well. Suspect that the lower totals deployed and threats of 1965 and 1971 were closer to those of Iraq and Afghanistan during the surge years. In initial OIF there were far fewer dead despite large troop numbers indicating that today we are far better at major combat operations than stability operations or COIN.

Dead by service in Vietnam:

U.S. Army 38,224
Marine Corps 14,844
U.S. Air Force 2,586
U.S. Navy 2,559

I have seen Major General (ret) Scales repeatedly point out that we spend disproportionately far more on systems for the USN and USAF, who in recent history have suffered far fewer casualties. Recently, even the once thrifty Marine Corps has spent more as well when considering the MV-22, CH-53K, F-35B, and amphibious ships that the Navy may technically finance. When you add up the money spent on systems for these services, the Army invariably gets the short shrift in force structure cuts to pay for other service's systems that suffer the fewest proportional casualties and endure the fewest troop-years in combat tours.

In Vietnam, the draft reduced the number of tours. With that eliminated, it isn't uncommon for Army Soldiers to have four and five year-long tours. No wonder the suicide rate is so high.

As for the VA, perhaps they <strong>should</strong> build barracks and dining facilities at VA hospitals to house homeless vets or those who can't afford a motel and live some distance away until they actually get an appointment. That would be one means to gauge the true nature of the problem and provide an incentive to expedite seeing patients, while covering emergencies as required.

Another solution would be for retirees to pay an inflation-adjusted amount for Tri-Care. My Civil Service wife pays $205 per 2-week pay period for our health care. I understand retirees have made long commitments to the services. However, my wife has 30+ years of civil service and NAF time taking care of Soldier's kids, has a commercial drivers license, supervisory lead responsibility, and hours that extend well past 40 a week to finish all the required computer reports that some D.C. PhD no doubt thought was a good idea. Did I mention that my wife makes about as much as an E-4? Retirees could pay more so their brothers-in-arms who are hurting could have the barrack/dining facilities and better care that Tri-Care recipients benefit from.

Shoot, I'll never get a job with my attitude. I'm a docile wimp in person I promise...but I did bench 378 lbs six times on the HammerStrength machine to celebrate my 59th birthday. Still compared to RCJ and you Marine, SF, and Infantry guys I'm nothing but a wannabe and never-was. Please don't mistake my occasional smart ass remarks for lack of respect. I get the feeling you are the same way, but you guys have the multiple combat tours to explain it.


Sun, 05/18/2014 - 7:17pm

In reply to by Move Forward


Good answer, appreciate your time.

First up I believe it is important to remember that the course of 'war among the people' turns very much upon the perspective of the majority of the general population who choose not to be actively engaged in the conflict. What we and those we are actively fighting believe to be the COG of the conflict can be little or no importance to the general population . It can be real or imagined. It can contradict what we believe to be true and honorable as equally as it might contravene the ambition of of our enemy.

At the end of the day it will be the will of the general population that carries the day. If they believe (rightly or wrongly) that we are cowardly then that perception will remain long after we have gone.

I am always skeptical when folks cite the toll of casualties as a determining factor when arguing acquisition of yet more expensive hardware as a solution to the KIA/WIA of Small Wars. Certainly it is an important consideration but I personally have difficulty in believing this to be a genuine concern for those advocating the Westmoreland ‘firepower’ as a approach to reducing casualties.

The average monthly KIA over the past 13 years is around 40. The worst months, for a handful of really tough months, saw just under 140 US military personnel KIA.

To keep this from happening we have (or will have in the near future) numerous 13 billion dollar aircraft carriers, protected by 3.5 billion dollar destroyers, launching 120 million dollar aircraft dropping one million dollar bombs (and that’s just the Navy) attempting to protect grunts riding in 70 million dollar rotary-wing aircraft, one million dollar MRAPs and $150K pickups and firing among many other exotic and bewildering devices $100K-a-shot anti-tank missiles against mud hovels manned by assholes firing clapped out Chicom/POF small arms with goat shit between their toes.

Impressive expenditure of the tax-payers money to keep our boys safe. No arguing that.

Meanwhile back home every month we have more than 400 Vets dying of wounds inflicted on the field of battle. More than a few spend their final days living under freeways in billets made of cardboard. Unlike their comrades who die on some lonely mountain trail or beside some dirty road far from home - these ‘ghost’ battalions of forgotten soldiers die each and every month within a short bus ride from the best medical facilities the world has ever known.

Go ask a Vet how easy it is to get anything from these gleaming cities of billion dollar medical excellence. What at least 400 would have told you last month, what 400 will say this month and what 400 will tell you next month is it is easier to blow your brains out.

I wouldn't object to bringing up the dead to justify more hardware if we were losing 40 a month back home and 400 a month on the battlefield. But nothing could be further from the truth.

And we haven’t mentioned the many more Vets who soldier on living a train wreck.



Move Forward

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 1:21am

In reply to by RantCorp

<blockquote> Have you ever been bombed? Have you ever been strafed by an aircraft? Have you ever been hunted by helicopter gunship? Have you ever been bracketed air-to-ground HE/CANISTER rockets? Have you ever been napalmed? Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sustained MLRS 122mm bombardment? Have you ever faced armored assault? Have you ever been hunted by SF wearing NV? Have you ever been on been on patrol wherein Medevac was a merciful bullet to the head from your best friend? Have you ever been in contact wherein your wounded are abandoned to the enemy? Have you ever humped a 107mm rocket for 2 months, launched it, missed by 500 meters, turned around and spent 4 months repeating the same action?

I didn’t think so.

What you fail to understand is that folks who have witnessed their friends, family and comrades killed by the the above consider soldiers who fight with jets, helicopters, armor, artillery, medevac, NV, radios, SatNav, body armor etc. as cowards.</blockquote>

Why would you care what an enemy believes who would rape or degrade women and children, turn others into suicide bombers because they are too cowardly to fight us like men, blow up innocent civilians with IEDs, preclude kids from going to school, impose sharia law cutting off thieves hands while they steal “taxes” from locals, kill relatives and neighbors over minor slights or land/water ownership…I’m sure you can add many more.

Have shuras and talking nice to the Pashtun majority helped while Taliban night letters and assassinations resulted against those who cooperated? More critically, has wasted aid helped convert the masses or just lined a few’s pockets while projects were immediately blown up or abandoned upon completion? It's well and good to say the State Department and USAID should do more to rebuild. Where were they this time around? Can they be forced to go into dangerous areas without security? Would we prefer whole armies of mercenaries to protect them? How has that often worked out? Does the whole "build" part of COIN even need to exist?

<blockquote> Happy to oblige you might say ! If your winning strategy is simply to put folks “six feet under” - Westmoreland style - then good luck next time. But here’s the rub. If a Vietnamese, Somali , Iraq, Afghan, Iranian, Greek, Turk, Israeli, American or anyone else believes his or her mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, aunt, uncle has been slain by a coward; more often than not they become enraged with a burning desire for vengeance that drives perfectly normal folks insane.

As the last 13 years suggests many of these folks are so consumed by a desire for vengeance that they are more than happy to walk, ride, drive or fly straight up to you and blow up in your face.

They will sacrifice themselves and their entire family to have their due. Furthermore they are sustained by the belief that if they fail in their effort there will be ten others who will follow behind them to ensure they are avenged.</blockquote>

Should we create doctrine and TTP particular to Islamic extremism and Pashtunwali? Is the noble Taliban beyond using RPGs and IDF and fertilizer as mines employed from far off or nowhere around? So much for looking you in the eye like a warrior—that a dumb and soon dead warrior would insist upon.

Somehow the immediacy of deterring and if necessary destroying multiple other bad guys in the most efficient manner possible appears more important in <strong>most</strong> conflicts than concerns that their relatives will seek revenge. The Japanese did not seek revenge nor did the Germans. Perhaps a couple of nukes and firebombing is an explanation which bears no relationship to looking the enemy in the eye. I seem to recall long occupations in both conflicts as well. Could it be we were occupying nations with singular cultures and religions who were not fighting each other and us for power?

<blockquote>It is not so much the fact that people are killed in war – like Plato said ‘ only the dead have seen the end of war ’ – it is the disgust at the cowardly manner they were taken. Tens of thousands of years or war have hard-wired people to appreciate that the warrior looks you in the eye before the kill. Sure it has always sucked for the victim but it is an honorable death – whatever that means. Our problem is the remoteness of our RMA mickey-mouse bullshit condemns us to dishonor – and IMHO inevitable defeat.</blockquote>

What about the not-so-RMA B-52s dumb-bombing that initially ran al Qaeda and the Taliban out of power? Should we have launched the first OIF assault on Baghdad or Desert Storm without an initial air war and precision air-to-ground weapons? Do civilians benefit from the latter’s guidance? Would you rather have gotten up close and personal losing some of your men and killing non-combatants with haphazard fire and dumb IDF in cities? Is death by bayonet the only acceptable means of combat? How about a chokehold?

Somewhere a while back in those thousands of years men invented shields and long spears for the early concept of armor and stand-off, which precipitated the archer, and later the rifle for additional stand-off and armor penetration. Who invented that crazy idea of long rifles in-line shooting at each other at near point blank without protection? Were the colonists wusses for hiding behind trees in ambush instead of facing their enemies bullets in the open? What pussy invented repeating rifles that did not require loading in the open after each shot? Where would you draw the line on technology and remote or stand-off warfare? Are stealth aircraft any more cowardly than the air defender launching missiles from a hundred kilometers distance at non-stealthy aircraft? Are tankers wimps because they use armor and can take up to 4 km shots while their opponents technology is good for more like 1500m and may not penetrate our tanks?

After that line is drawn, how are you going to deter the big bad Russians and Chinese and fight them should deterrence fail? If history against lesser foes in Vietnam, Korea, and Iran’s 80s war with Iraq is any indication, human wave attacks could result if we fought the latter two even today. Would you like to have a machine gun and artillery for defense against such attacks? How about CAS, Apaches, and that MLRS you earlier mentioned? Are mortars and 155mm chickensheet? Would al Qaeda and Hezbollah employ lethal or suicide UAS if they had them? Isn’t that just a flying IED and isn’t Israel and South Korea already experiencing attempts? Can you put that genie back in the bottle?

<blockquote>It is the appreciation of our past defeats that led to the purpose of COIN and the FMs.

The ‘hell-yeah’ approach doesn't impress anyone – for every one we put “six feet under “ there are 10 more who take our cowardly violent acts personally and will take up the cause of the slain and seek retribution.</blockquote>

The counterargument is that most adversary survivors start calling Apaches “monster” and hide from our rifles from outside effective range of their own weapons to avoid the monster and our more accurate fire. They plant IEDs where ever we venture which calls into question the usefulness of presence patrols and shuras whose participants are ambushed returning afterwards. Enemies learn to fear the sound of drones and learn that aerostat sensors can see their dirty-work. They don’t use their cell phones. Their leaders who are hard to replace and cautious follow-ons seek sanctuary across international borders, yet still are pursued from above. Pashtunwali and jihad are not universally practiced by all cultures but even surviving jihadists and guerillas are not stupid, nor can they be as effective with the constant prospect of sudden death if they move, shoot, or communicate.

Avoiding CIVCAS is the western way of war and that is good. On the other hand, killing enemies and command and control nodes is not cowardly and is unavoidable if you want to clear and hold. Both are facilitated by precision weapons and technology. In contrast, convincing madrassas students, mentally-challenged, uneducated, or brainwashed youth to conduct suicide bombing <strong>is</strong> cowardly as are IEDs planted that take out civilian buses.

In any case, as 9/11 illustrated, no matter how much restraint we show, Islamic extremists will find a reason to attack the West and kill innocent civilians in terrorist attacks. We will never behave like them in their wholesale disregard for innocent human life. We won't mimic the Russians in Chechnya or potentially Ukraine, or the Syrians in leveling neighborhoods with barrel bombs and artillery. Our drone-fired and Apache Hellfire missiles are simply an asymmetric advantage that avoids CIVCAS. If the enemy to include jihadists had that capability, they would use it too.

<blockquote> You say COIN has extracted a terrible toll in dead and wounded over the last 13 years but compared to America’s previous wars that is not so. Ten percent of the dead in Vietnam and one percent of the dead from WW2. Certainly for many folks that is painful but 22 Vets commit suicide every day and with exception of their families, it appears to me nobody gives a damn.</blockquote>

We come full circle to the reason for stand-off, armor, precision weapons, airpower, and sensors. <strong>It saves lives.</strong> I find it hard to admire the achievements and tactics of many ancient wars, the Civil War, and even World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam due to the wholesale carnage involved on all sides. Technology and a changing character of war to exploit our capabilities saves U.S. and civilian lives and prevents collateral damage.

As for COIN, how do you build new armies overnight without lots of boots on the ground from the get go to establish stability while training new host nation forces? How is SF training of villagers and valley militias a strategic answer vs. creating a national force that can hold off massed enemy forces and firepower originating from sanctuary? Could it be that those servicemember suicides you speak of are the result of 4 separate year-long tours in combat? What are the percentage of airmen and sailors in that mix vs. Soldiers and Marines who had to endure longer tours because of insufficient force structure? Did the slow drip treatment of trying to limit boots on the ground result in those multiple tours and current multiple suicides to include among SF/SOF?

If we had gone in with far more forces upfront, could we have had a trained ANSF in 7 years instead of 13 with just two long tours instead of four? More importantly, if a Sunni, Shiite and Kurd security force had existed in separately governed areas of Iraq with oil-sharing, and separate Pashtun and Northern Alliance security forces had existed in Afghanistan with a separate Pashtunistan inside the Afghan borders, could we have trained those separate security forces in 4 years?


Wed, 05/14/2014 - 8:35pm

Mr West,

Have you ever been bombed? Have you ever been strafed by an aircraft? Have you ever been hunted by helicopter gunship? Have you ever been bracketed air-to-ground HE/CANISTER rockets? Have you ever been napalmed? Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sustained MLRS 122mm bombardment? Have you ever faced armored assault? Have you ever been hunted by SF wearing NV? Have you ever been on been on patrol wherein Medevac was a merciful bullet to the head from your best friend? Have you ever been in contact wherein your wounded are abandoned to the enemy? Have you ever humped a 107mm rocket for 2 months, launched it, missed by 500 meters, turned around and spent 4 months repeating the same action?

I didn’t think so.

What you fail to understand is that folks who have witnessed their friends, family and comrades killed by the the above consider soldiers who fight with jets, helicopters, armor, artillery, medevac, NV, radios, SatNav, body armor etc. as cowards.

Happy to oblige you might say ! If your winning strategy is simply to put folks “six feet under” - Westmoreland style - then good luck next time. But here’s the rub. If a Vietnamese, Somali , Iraq, Afghan, Iranian, Greek, Turk, Israeli, American or anyone else believes his or her mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, aunt, uncle has been slain by a coward; more often than not they become enraged with a burning desire for vengeance that drives perfectly normal folks insane.

As the last 13 years suggests many of these folks are so consumed by a desire for vengeance that they are more than happy to walk, ride, drive or fly straight up to you and blow up in your face.

They will sacrifice themselves and their entire family to have their due. Furthermore they are sustained by the belief that if they fail in their effort there will be ten others who will follow behind them to ensure they are avenged.

It is not so much the fact that people are killed in war – like Plato said ‘ only the dead have seen the end of war ’ – it is the disgust at the cowardly manner they were taken. Tens of thousands of years or war have hard-wired people to appreciate that the warrior looks you in the eye before the kill. Sure it has always sucked for the victim but it is an honorable death – whatever that means. Our problem is the remoteness of our RMA mickey-mouse bullshit condemns us to dishonor – and IMHO inevitable defeat.

It is the appreciation of our past defeats that led to the purpose of COIN and the FMs.

The ‘hell-yeah’ approach doesn't impress anyone – for every one we put “six feet under “ there are 10 more who take our cowardly violent acts personally and will take up the cause of the slain and seek retribution.

You say COIN has extracted a terrible toll in dead and wounded over the last 13 years but compared to America’s previous wars that is not so. Ten percent of the dead in Vietnam and one percent of the dead from WW2. Certainly for many folks that is painful but 22 Vets commit suicide every day and with exception of their families, it appears to me nobody gives a damn.



Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 10:37am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

A very sobering article, to say the least. There are many reasons why the outcomes of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to meet expectations. When I read General McChrystal's plan for a surge prior to going to Afghanistan in 2009, I found myself impressed with the clarity of analysis but wondered why the civilians were not surging even more.

When I was in Baghdad with MNSTC-I earlier that year, I saw the officers making assumptions about the numbers of troops to be remain in Iraq (up to 50,000) and the disposition of the Iraqis to accommodate such a presence after 2011. Well, we all know how well those assumptions held up. For me, the moral of the story is this: any manual will help in framing an overwhelming mission and situation, if by simply disagreeing with it thoughtfully.

At the time I read that surge plan of General McChrystal, I felt there should be a substantial Peace Corps presence in Afghanistan for the following reasons. First, if not enough civilians are willing to sign up and take the risk of being in a hot zone (without musclebound security protection) AND IF the quality of such civilians is low (i.e., a lack of quantity and quality), then we ought to ask ourselves whether or not we should be putting soldiers in harm's way.

Second, there needs to be far fewer chiefs (career staff officers) weighing down on already over-taxed Indians (i.e., field soldiers). Third, nation-building will succeed, if ever, after many years by planting seeds through setting an example. Those seeds, if they are to flourish, will need to be planted and that requires require toil, not treasure. Otherwise, America will send soldiers off to war with little gratitude from the larger population, viewing the hazards facing deployed troops face as what 'they signed up for'.


Wed, 05/14/2014 - 4:10pm

Wow … it is not often I read something that I both violently agree with and vehemently deride. It is sometimes unclear if he is talking about the old doctrine or the new, but here are a couple of thoughts.

I agree that if the new doctrine has “nation-building” as one of its lines of effort, then it has failed. It has once again confused counterinsurgency with stability and probably democratization. It will be a self defeating doctrine. I also believe that Soldiers should do what they are good at, using coercive force to gain compliance and eliminate threats. If you need the Peace Corps, then bring in the Peace Corps. If you need something in between, then created it.

I disagree with Mr. West’s concentration on Iraq and Afghanistan. If this doctrine is to serve us in future conflicts then it should not use those conflicts as its exclusive guide. For example, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is part of the final stages of any successful Counterinsurgency campaign. Just because we never reached that point in Afghanistan is no reason to claim it serves no purpose. The military’s participation in such operations will probably be limited to security assistance, but it is still an important step in ensuring a lasting,stable peace.