Small Wars Journal

On Winning Hearts and Minds: Key Conditions for Population-Centric COIN

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 11:39am

On Winning Hearts and Minds: Key Conditions for Population-Centric COIN

Gregory D. Miller

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There are two broad approaches to dealing with an insurgency.  One is the conventional military approach, or what Dave Kilcullen refers to as the enemy-centric approach, which tends to focus efforts on the insurgents themselves.[i]  There is, of course, wide variation within this approach, including whether efforts should focus on the leadership (decapitation measures) or group members (attrition), and which tools and methods a state will use to target the insurgents (covert action, law enforcement, military raids).  The other is a population-centric approach, in which efforts focus on cutting off the insurgents’ lifeblood and supply lines by either providing rewards to the population for supporting the COIN, or by imposing costs on the population for supporting the insurgents.  A population-centric approach may also focus on disengagement, attempting to convince current members to give up violence and to lure them away from the group.

US efforts in Iraq, especially after the 2006 publication of the US Army Field Manual 3-24, emphasized a shift from an enemy-centric to a population-centric approach.[ii]  Yet despite the amount of work on the benefits of this approach, because all insurgencies are different it is critical to ask whether such an approach is always more effective.  Gian Gentile and Douglas Porch are both critical of any type of COIN, regardless of the approach.[iii]  But those who advocate for COIN generally favor a population-centric.[iv]

We often hear reference to winning “hearts and minds” as the critical step for a successful COIN strategy.[v]  It is logical to believe that if we can just convince the population to support COIN efforts and oppose the activities of the insurgents, then we can defeat those insurgents.  If we have the support of the people: the insurgents lose a pool of potential recruits; lose sources of funding, arms, and safe havens; and will have less operational security as the people provide valuable information to the government about the insurgents.

The problem with this conventional wisdom is that it overlooks important variations within insurgent movements that can make the winning of hearts and minds difficult, if possible at all.  We become so preoccupied with how to win over the population that we fail to ask when attempting to do so is even appropriate.  This article discusses some of the variation that exists among insurgents to identify when the hearts and minds approach is more likely to be effective and when such an approach may backfire.  Although several factors influence the outcome of any COIN approach, this article focuses on some key traits of the insurgents themselves, because as the Sun Tzu quote at the beginning of this article suggests, victor requires that you know your enemy.  At least as a starting point, three factors influence the likelihood of success when using COIN: the phase of the insurgency; the goal of the insurgents; and the demographics of the insurgents (especially relative to the rest of the state’s population and the COIN forces).

Winning Hearts and Minds

According to Douglas Porch, one of the first uses of the term “hearts and minds” was by a French general in Indochina countering rebellion along the Chinese border,[vi] but more significantly used by the British in Malaya.[vii]  The United States engaged in similar efforts to sway the population, first in Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The term often takes on a somewhat cynical connotation, to refer to any attempt to sway public opinion, or in strategic military terms viewing the population as the center of gravity.[viii]  It is sometimes used synonymously with COIN where winning hearts and minds simply amount to defeating an insurgency.[ix]  And Porch essentially equates hearts and minds to the acquisition of tactical Intel.[x]  He also highlights the often-overlooked danger of a population-centric approach, in that it causes the soft target population to suffer attacks and retribution when insurgents begin to view the people to be conspiring with the government or COIN forces.

While there was a great deal written in the last two decades about population-centric strategies, and COIN more generally, most of these works focus on the ways and means that states use to implement a strategy of winning hearts and minds – in other words, conditions that are largely under the control of the state.[xi]  Herman Kahn argued in 1968 that “the two most important political factors in ‘winning hearts and minds’ are looking like a winner and providing security.”[xii]  The British hearts and minds strategy in Malaya primarily involved the discriminate use of force, political reforms, and improved governance.[xiii]

The very detailed RAND study by Paul et al highlights the lessons we should learn by studying the successes and failures of numerous modern insurgencies.  Of the 59 cases they examine, most involve what they term “iron fist” strategies, in which the counterinsurgents focused primarily on defeating the enemy by force.  Fifteen of the cases involved mixed strategies, which experienced a much higher percentage of success.  Mixed strategy cases had a 73% success rate.  Compared to those coded as “iron fist”, which saw success in just 17 of the 44, or 32%, of the cases.  Despite this work recognizing that a mixed strategy was generally more successful than a purely military strategy, under what conditions are those mixed strategies most likely to succeed?  The RAND team correctly identifies a critical factor for success – the use of a mixed strategy.  Yet, there are cases where a mixed strategy was unsuccessful (Laos, 1959-1975; Kampuchea, 1978-1992; Papua New Guinea, 1988-1998; and Tajikistan, 1992-1997), and 17 where a mixed strategy was unnecessary.

Winning hearts and minds essentially means convincing the populace that the benefits of supporting the government against the insurgents outweighs the benefits of supporting the insurgents.  Handing out candy and gifts to the population may be one element of a hearts and minds approach, but an effective strategy also involves anything that alters the population’s calculations.  It may provide security or protect the population so that it does not have to fear the insurgents (or fear the government for that matter).  It may also include punishment and retribution against the population for supporting the insurgents, at the expense of government forces.  In general, the biggest distinction is that a hearts and minds approach focuses on the population while a conventional military strategy tends to focus on the insurgents.  The challenge is that under some circumstances, such a focus on the population may be less effective than a strategy that emphasizes those who are engaged in the fighting.  Part of the purpose of this article is to identify some of those circumstances, so that in the future we do not emphasize the wrong type of fight.

There is an assumption that winning hearts and minds is a necessary condition for success in an insurgency.  If true, then that means that insurgencies are fundamentally different from conventional wars, in which hearts and minds are rarely the focus.  That argument, taken to the next level, suggests that there are different types of insurgencies, and that a strategy of winning hearts and minds may be more effective in those insurgencies that are more about political victory, and less effective in those insurgencies that are more about winning the military contest.

This article focuses on those factors that are largely beyond the control of the government involved in the conflict, it better frames the strategic environment under which the insurgents and counterinsurgents both operate.  Because these are largely uncontrollable conditions for the state, it is necessary to identify when these conditions exists, altering the likelihood of success for a COIN approach of winning hearts and minds.  When my findings suggest hearts and minds will be less successful, that does not mean COIN will be ineffective, just that it will be more successful if it focuses on the insurgents rather than the people.  When hearts and minds is likely to be more successful, the specific tactics required to achieve the greatest success still must be identified as we continue to ask these questions and seek greater insight into the phenomenon of insurgency.

What Is An Insurgency?

The U.S. Government defines insurgency as “the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region.”[xiv]  The problem with this definition is it ignores the possibility that an insurgency can also be used to protect the status quo against those advocating for change.[xv]  It does allow for different categories of insurgencies, such as guerrilla warfare and terrorism, but fails to define either of those terms or explain their relationship.  Previous government definitions, such as that used by the Central Intelligence Agency and RAND, see insurgency as a “protracted political-military activity directed toward completely or partially controlling the resources of a country through the use of irregular military forces and illegal political organizations.”[xvi]  Again, the assertion that political organizations must be illegal for it to be an insurgency is too narrow of a perspective.  The more important point is that the political organizations – whether legal or illegal – engage in illegal, violent activities.

Bard O’Neill defines it as “a struggle between a nonruling group and the ruling authorities in which the nonruling group consciously uses political resources…and violence to destroy, reformulate, or sustain the basis of one or more aspects of politics.”[xvii]  Like the US government definition, this tends to assume the insurgency is always against the existing government.  It also tends to ignore the possible role of third party intervention, on behalf of either side.

This article defines an insurgency as a sustained campaign of extralegal violence, intended to cause or prevent government change.  Within insurgencies, groups can fall along either side of a spectrum, depending on the nature of their attacks.  Guerrilla groups are those that focus their attacks on combatants – usually the armed forces of the state or of a third party involved in the country (such as an occupying power).  In contrast, terrorist groups are those that focus their attacks on non-combatants.  This should be a fairly clear distinction, but is really a continuum because groups that primarily targets combatants – and thus, by my definition, would be a guerrilla group – may also occasionally attack civilians.  Likewise, a terrorist group that emphasizes attacks on civilians may occasionally attack combatants.[xviii]  This article focuses on the more broadly defined insurgents, but one of the first determinants of whether a population-centric approach will be effective or not, is whether the insurgents focus their attacks on combatants or non-combatants.

Key Factors

Although there are many factors not addressed here that contribute to the usefulness of a hearts and minds strategy, those identified below emphasize conditions largely beyond the control of the government and its forces.  These include the phases of the insurgency,  the insurgents’ goals, and demographics.  I discuss each of these in some detail, providing examples of both successful and failed attempts at population-centric approaches given the different conditions.

The Phases of Insurgency

Mao Tse-Tung, leader of the Chinese Communist movement, wrote about the stages of protracted war.  During Phase One, when the movement is relatively weak, the group primarily organizes itself in isolated terrain and uses terrorism, both to educate the public and to further mobilize the population.  Phase Two involves fewer attacks on the population and more direct attacks against the government and its armed forces, in what appears to be more guerrilla warfare.[xix]  This occurs partly because the movement has more popular support, and partly because it gained the capabilities to target military forces rather than civilians.  The final phase involves direct combat between the insurgents and the government’s forces.  This is not a purely linear progression as a movement can move backwards or forwards.  The point is that there is a difference between those movements that have the support of the civilians and those that do not.

A hearts and minds strategy is most effective when an insurgency is still in its earliest phase.  Phase One activities, like terrorism, involve attacks against civilians, which new groups often use to frighten, mobilize, and “educate” the population.  Support for the movement is low during this phase, not only because it is new, but because the group is attacking the very support base from which it is trying to recruit.

Once a movement progresses to the phase where it uses less terrorism, and focuses more of its attacks on the military forces, the population-centric approach will be much less effective.  By this point, not only have the insurgents already gained some attention and support, but because they no longer attack civilians they will have more support from the population than during the previous phase.  Thus, the opportunity to win hearts and minds from potential sympathizers will have already passed.

Audrey Cronin discusses the differences between the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and al-Qa’ida to highlight why ISIS is not merely a terrorist group.[xx]  The desire to take and hold territory suggests the group has moved beyond Phase One.  Yet it still clearly engages in attacks against civilians with the intent of causing fear.  Because the group is no longer in Phase One, opportunities for success using population-centric approaches are shrinking.  This is also true because of the nature of ISIS’ control over territory.  We can focus on Iraqi and foreign populations in an attempt to limit future support and recruits, but unless we can also protect the population under ISIS control, an approach that focuses on winning hearts and minds is unlikely to achieve long-term success.

The Insurgents’ Goal

Insurgencies form for a variety of reasons, with some more common than others during various historical eras.  Three of the most prominent causes are independence/autonomy, revolution, and counter-revolution.  In the case of an independence movement, the group seeks to split from the existing polity and establish a separate state.  Examples include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party in Iraq and Turkey, and ISIS in Iraq and Syria today.  Revolutionary insurgents seek to bring about change to an existing state, often through some form of political, economic, and/or societal shift.  Examples include the Chinese Communists under Mao and the FARC in Colombia.  Finally, counter-revolutionary groups seek a return to some status quo ante.  Ba’athists in Iraq provide one such example, many of whom joined al-Qa’ida in Iraq and later ISIS.  Another is the Afrikaner Resistance Movement in South Africa, after the end of the apartheid government.

Independence movements can be unique because they often involves groups of different ethnic or religious identities, rather than the political differences that so often exist in revolutionary movements.  So if one were to seek to win hearts and minds, who is the target population – those who already feel oppressed and better-off on their own, or those who do not want to lose a piece of their national territory?  For this reason, it is important to identify the purpose of the insurgencts before adopting any type of population-centric approach.  Then, if it is about independence, the demographics of the movement (as discussed in more detail below) become even more important.

Revolution and counter-revolution both depend on timing and phase (as discussed above) to determine the degree of popular support for the insurgents.  Ba’athists were already the minority population before losing power, so their struggle was a combination of wanting to retain power and fear of what will happen to them once the majority gains power.  In such situations, who is the target of the hearts and minds campaign?  If the differences are ethnic, as opposed to political, then a hearts and minds strategy can work, but only if both sides are willing to compromise (less likely if the difference is a religious one).  Even if the difference is political as discussed above, hearts and minds will only work in the early stages, when popular support for the movement is at its lowest level.

ISIS combines an independence movement with a counter-revolution.  As stated already, many of the ISIS members are former Ba’athists hoping to restore the power they had prior to the US invasion and fall of Saddam Hussein.  This is the counter-revolution component of ISIS.  Yet ISIS also seeks to hold territory that is took from Iraq and Syria, and declared the Caliphate, suggesting a goal of independence.  Because of this combination of goals, a purely population-centric approach will be difficult, and requires us to take a look at demographics.


Having established that it is critical to focus on hearts and minds campaigns when the population is under attack, it is also critical to understand which portion of the population fears the insurgents.  The most complex scenario is one where the insurgents are part of a separate ethnic or religious group that targets only those of the majority.  This is complicated because of the multiple audiences involved.  A simpler scenario, though still difficult, is when an ethnic group attacks both those of the opposing identity as well as those of their own group – commonly those working with the authorities or who are perceived to be disloyal to the cause.  A still simpler scenario involves revolutionary or counter-revolutionary movements, in which there are no ethnic or religious differences among the population.  In such scenarios, a hearts and minds strategies are the most likely to be effective.

Demographics matter not just for the at-risk population, but also for the insurgents and the COIN forces.  The scenario most likely to lead to a successful population-centric strategy is when the insurgents are made up of foreign fighters and the COIN forces are entirely domestic.  In such situations, the population is more likely to support the government forces against those viewed as outsiders.  We saw the evolution of this in Iraq as local tribes became wary of the foreign fighters and began to provide more support to US and coalition forces, sometimes referred to as the Sunni Awakening.[xxi]

The most difficult scenario for population-centric approach is when the insurgents are made up of the local population while COIN forces are members of a foreign government.  In such cases, the COIN forces will be viewed as occupiers and will rarely be able to gain the trust of the civilian population, no matter how much effort is put into winning hearts and minds.  The various stages of the Iraq conflict illustrate these differences and how shifts to one variable will make hearts and minds more effective.  In other words, it was not the adoption of hearts and minds that improved the situation in Iraq, but rather the increased use of Iraqi forces over US forces, and the increased recognition, by the Iraqi people, that many of the insurgents were foreign fighters.  These shifting perceptions happened to coincide with the shift to a more population-centric approach.

The demographics of an insurgency can also change.  Eric Jardine argues that populations tend to move away from violence,[xxii] which would make population-centric approaches less effective and also less necessary.  But a key missing ingredient from his study draws on my previous discussion of whether the insurgents are guerrillas who rely on the people, or terrorist who target the people.  If the people support the insurgents, they are less likely to leave the area.  Or, in the case of ISIS, where the insurgents hold territory, people are being prevented from leaving.

Despite the high prevalence of foreign fighters in ISIS,[xxiii] most of the group’s leaders are Iraqi.  The group’s Sunni beliefs create complications for a population-centric approach because it creates multiple audiences – Sunnis under ISIS control, Sunnis in the rest of Iraq and elsewhere, and other Iraqis (both Shia and Kurd).  Which is the appropriate target of a population-centric approach, since the types of policies that will reassure one population may simultaneously weaken the support received from another?  This does not suggest that a population-centric approach cannot work, just that it will be more difficult and less likely to succeed than if the demographics were different and the insurgents were more similar to the COIN forces, ethnically and/or religiously.

Conclusions and Recommendations

While we tend to view a population-centric approach to COIN as preferable and more humane to an enemy-centric one, it is important to identify those conditions under which each type of approach is more effective than the other.  No two insurgencies are the same, and so no COIN approach should be uniform.  This article examines certain conditions that affect the likelihood of success for a population-centric approach.

If one accepts the above points, then there are some logical conclusions regarding when a state should follow a hearts and minds approach during an insurgency.  Population-centric approaches are most likely to be successful when an insurgency is still in its infancy, as civilians are targeted and looking for protection from the insurgents as well as reasons to oppose the insurgency.  As an insurgency becomes more established, and attacks the population less frequently, an enemy-centric approach (or a mixed approach) will become more useful.  ISIS, for example, is arguably already in Phase Two.  While it still engages in terroristic behavior, especially towards those living under its control, it has the capability and will to engage in direct combat with Iraqi forces.  This means it is no longer simply a terrorist organizations, and requires an approach closer to the enemy-centric side of the spectrum.  This does not mean Iraqi and coalition forces should not still attempt to protect the population as well as win over the people, simply that the emphasis of the COIN should be on the enemy forces.

Government approaches must also depend on the goals of the insurgents.  A population-centric approach is more suitable against revolutionary or counter-revolutionary movements, where a group attempts to alter the system or government from within, and thus would have a dramatic effect on the entire population.  Groups fighting for independence have a more limited effect on the society, and thus necessitate a more enemy-centric or mixed approach.  ISIS, despite its rhetoric about religion and the caliphate, is essentially an independence movement, wanting to take and hold territory from Iraq and Syria.  This suggests a more enemy-centric approach is in order, which is consistent with the assessment above based on the phase of the ISIS insurgency.

But the existence of multiple ethnic or religious audiences will always complicate a population-centric approach.  If the insurgents are of a different ethnicity from the population, especially if the insurgents are foreigners, then a population-centric approach can work.  If the insurgents are the same ethnicity as the population, then such an approach will be more difficult, and may require a more enemy-centric approach.  We not only see this with ISIS, but we saw the opposite of this in Iraq during the Anbar Awakening.  Iraqis turned against groups like al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI, the forerunner to ISIS), because of its heavy contingent of foreign fighters.  Much of that persists, but ISIS also includes a growing number of Iraqis, meaning that a population-centric approach will be less effective.

If the US decides to engage in the fight against ISIS, a population-centric approach may make us feel better and help reduce civilian casualties – though it is still unclear the extent to which that assumption holds true – but the evidence presented here suggests that it will not help put an end to the insurgency.  Instead, a focus on the enemy itself, or at least a mixed approach, will be necessary to achieve the goal of defeating ISIS.  The broader lesson is that COIN is like conventional war in at least one way; states need to have a better understanding of their enemy before trying to develop a strategy for defeating that enemy.  Unlike conventional war, there may be insurgencies where winning over the population avoids the need to defeat the enemy on the battlefield.  Yet we need more research to better understand when population-centric approaches are most likely to be effective.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not reflect the position or policy of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

End Notes

[i] Dave Kilcullen, “Two Schools of Classical Counterinsurgency,” Small Wars Journal Blog 27 January 2007, (accessed 25 January 2016).

[ii] Headquarters Department of the Army.  FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency (Washington, D.C.: United States Government, 2006).

[iii] Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency (New Press, 2013).  Douglas Porch, Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[iv] Brian Burton and John Nagl, “Learning as we Go: The US Army Adapts to Counterinsurgency in Iraq, July 2004-December 2006,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 19:3 (2008), 303-327; Eric Jardine and Simon Palamar, “From Medua Past Kantolo: Testing the Effectiveness of Canada’s Enemy-Centric and Population-Centric Counterinsurgency Operational Strategies,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36:7 (2013), 588-608.

[v] Several scholars contend that COIN is not a strategy, but rather a doctrine, operational method, or simply a collection of tactics.  Gian Gentile, “A Strategy of Tactics: Population-Centric COIN and the Army,” Parameters (Autumn 2009), 5-17; M.L.R. Smith and David Martin Jones, The Political Impossibility of Modern Counterinsurgency: Strategic Problems, Puzzles and Paradoxes (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). I agree, to the extent that the US has generally failed to connect ends, ways, and means, and has used its COIN doctrine primarily as an operational method to dealing with an enemy it generally fails to understand.  I disagree that COIN can never be a strategy.  If a state has specific ends, and ties its ways and means to achieve those ends, then one could have a COIN strategy, but it must also be flexible enough to deal with different types of insurgencies.

[vi] Douglas Porch, “Bugeaud, Gallieni, Lyautey: The Development of French Colonial Warfare,” p.394 in Peter Paret, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986).

[vii] Paul Dixon, “’Hearts and Minds’? British Counter-Insurgency from Malaya to Iraq,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32:3 (2009), 353-381 and The British Approach to Counterinsurgency: From Malaya and Northern Ireland to Iraq and Afghanistan (Palgrave, 2012); Riley Sunderland, Winning the Hearts and Minds of the People: Malaya, 1948-1960 (Rand, Memo RM-4174-ISA), September 1964; Richard Stubbs, “From Search and Destroy to Hearts and Minds: The Evolution of British Strategy in Malaya 1948-60,” in Daniel Marston, Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare (Osprey, 2012).

[viii] Gentile, “A Strategy of Tactics,” 5-17.

[ix] Lawrence Cline makes this point in Lawrence Cline and Paul Shemella, eds., The Future of Counterinsurgency: Contemporary Debates in Internal Security Strategy (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2015), p.20.  This is also largely Ivan Eland’s argument, claiming that counterinsurgency is generally ineffective without really making the clear distinction between winning hearts and minds and other forms of COIN.  Ivan Eland, The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds are Seldom Won (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013).

[x] Porch, Counterinsurgency, 327.

[xi] Christopher Paul, Colin Clarke, Beth Grill, and Molly Dunigan, Paths to Victory: Lessons from Modern Insurgencies (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2013); Ben Connable and Martin Libicki, How Insurgencies End (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2010).

[xii] Herman Kahn et al., Can We Win in Vietnam? The American Dilemma (London, England: Pall Mall, 1968), cited in Dennis Duncanson, “Review: Vietnam-Inscrutable East?” International Affairs 44:4 (October 1968), 735-741.

[xiii] Eland, The Failure of Counterinsurgency, 93.  Though Eland attributes these policies to failure in Malaya because the British ultimately granted the country independence, other scholars points to Malaya as an example of successful COIN, while still others highlight the fact that the British did not rely exclusively on a strategy of winning hearts and minds.  John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Karl Hack, “Everyone Lived in Fear: Malaya and the British Way of Counter-Insurgency,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 23:4-5 (2012), 671-699; Dixon, “Hearts and Minds?”.

[xiv] US Government Counterinsurgency Guide (January 2009), 6; FM 3-24.

[xv] Although this is not how insurgency is generally used, there are cases where governments employed insurgent tactics – extralegal violence – to target enemies of the state.  I discuss this in more detail in the section on insurgent goals, as counter-revolution, but some examples of insurgency carried out by the state are the death squads in Argentina (like the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance), which was active during the 1970s, and Spain’s Antiterrorist Liberation Groups (GAL) during the 1980s.  In other words, when a state employs secret and illegal means to protect itself, it is engaged in a type of insurgency.  Some scholars refer to this as state terror, which is just another way of saying the state is involved in extralegal violence against its people, over the control of political territory. My preference is to define insurgency by the activities and goals of the group engaged in violence, rather than the actors engaged in the violence.  The implication of this argument is that populations may occasionally need to engage in counterinsurgency efforts against their own state, which also could be either enemy- or population-centric.

[xvi] Central Intelligence Agency, Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, n.d.), 2; Daniel Byman, Peter Chalk, Bruce Hoffman, William Rosenau, and David Brannan, Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001), 4; William Rosenau, Subversion and Insurgency (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2007), 2fn4.

[xvii] Bard O’Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s Inc, 1990), 13.

[xviii] Although I contend that the government can engage in insurgency, the ones that do are more likely to be on the terrorism end of this spectrum.  Unless there is a full-blown army rising up against the state, it will be difficult for the state to engage in discriminate attacks against combatants.  Instead, most examples of state violence tend to be against the population, and thus qualify as terrorism.

[xix] Mao Tse-Tung, On Protracted War (University Press of the Pacific, 2001).  Mao’s other work, On Guerrilla Warfare, focuses on what he calls revolutionary war, which includes phases of both terrorism (attacks against non-combatants) and guerrilla warfare (attacks against combatants).  Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare (University of Illinois Press, 2000).  Therefore, his use of revolutionary war and protracted war are both synonymous with my use of insurgency.

[xx] Audrey Cronin, “ISIS is Not a Terrorist Group: Why Counterterrorism Won’t Stop the Latest Jihadist Threat,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2015).

[xxi] Joe Klein, “Is al-Qaeda on the Run in Iraq?” Time (23 May 2007), available at,9171,1625200,00.html (accessed 30 January 2016).

[xxii] Eric Jardine, “Population-Centric Counterinsurgency and the Movement of Peoples,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 23:2 (2012), 264-294.

[xxiii] In testimony before the US Congress, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, suggested that out of 31,000 members of ISIS, about 20,000 were estimated to be foreign fighters.  Robert Windrem, “ISIS By the Numbers: Foreign Fighter Total Keeps Growing,” (28 February 2015), available at (accessed 1 February 2016).


About the Author(s)

Gregory D. Miller is an Associate Professor at the Joint Advanced Warfighting School (JAWS), in Norfolk, VA, part of the National Defense University (NDU).  He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the Ohio State University in 2004, and taught courses in international relations and terrorism at several colleges and universities before joining JAWS.  He teaches in the Strategy Department and leads an elective on Political Violence and the State Response.


Edited and added to a bit since my morning offering:

So let me use Kilcullen (he, indeed, was my inspiration) to follow-up on my two --- different and distinctive -- counter-insurgency conflict models; those outlined in my comment immediately below:

Kilcullen, in his "Counterinsurgency Redux," noted two different types of counterinsurgencies (and two different types of insurgencies). The first corresponds significantly, I believe, to my "expansionist foreign power in DEFENSIVE mode" (the "Hold What You Got" model):


The term “classical counterinsurgency” describes the theory of counter-revolutionary warfare developed in response to the so-called wars of national liberation from 1944 to about 1982. ...

Key theorists included David Galula, Robert Thompson, Frank Kitson, Bernard Fall, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara and Vo Nguyen Giap. These classics have colored the modern view of earlier theorists like T.E. Lawrence, Louis Lyautey and C.E. Callwell (whose works are often seen through the lens of 1960s counterinsurgency). ...

The insurgent (in this instance) challenges the status quo; the counter-insurgent seeks to reinforce the state and so defeat the internal challenge. ... Classical theorists emphasize the problem of recognizing (this type of) insurgency early.

(Items in parenthesis are mine.)


In this "classical" counter-insurgency conflict model ("Hold What You Got"), Kilcullen emphasizes that:

a. The insurgent represents "revolutionary change" and, thus,

b. " ... the insurgent initiates."

Kilcullen, however, appears to view today's insurgencies and counterinsurgencies more via the lens of my "expansionist foreign power in OFFENSIVE mode" (the "Get Some More" model). Note that in this model, it is the counter-insurgent (the foreign expansionist power) who (a) represents "revolutionary change" and who, thus, (b) "initiatives:"


But, in several modern campaigns — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya, for example — the government or invading coalition forces initiated the campaign, whereas insurgents are strategically reactive (as in “resistance warfare”). Such patterns are readily recognizable in historical examples of resistance warfare, but less so in classical counterinsurgency theory. Politically, in many cases today, the counterinsurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier — a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counterinsurgency. Pakistan’s campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qa’ida (AQ) linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against 21st century encroachment. The problem of weaning these fighters away from extremist sponsors, while simultaneously supporting modernization, does somewhat resemble pacification in traditional counterinsurgency. But it also echoes colonial campaigns ...


For the most part, however, and in his explanations here, Kilcullen appears to leave out the "heart" of the "hearts and minds" matters -- to wit: the more-specific issue around which these conflicts appear to revolve.

These being, I suggest, that the foreign expansionist power -- in his DEFENSIVE "Hold What You Got" counterinsurgency initiative -- seeks only to RETAIN the political, economic and social (i.e., way of life, way of governance, etc.) changes that he installed long ago; changes that served his interests well.

(These such "classic" counter-insurgencies occurring, as Kilcullen notes, only from 1944 to about 1982? This, accordingly, being the era where pop-centric COIN theories both [a] originated and [b] found their relevance?)

Whereas, in the non-similar OFFENSIVE "Get Some More" counterinsurgency model (if we can, indeed, call it that), the foreign expansionist power seeks to (a) ELIMINATE the long-ago established way of life, way of governance, etc., more familiar to the natives and to (b) INSTALL new political, economic and social models, institutions and norms; those which foreign expansionist power believes will better service -- and serve -- his and his civilizations' current wants, needs and desires.

(These such old/new counter-insurgencies occurring in [a] colonial times and, indeed, occurring again [b] post-the Cold War. In this latter period, as per our continuing "Engagement and Enlargement" initiatives:

Via this specific view (which we might call "Kilcullen Counterinsurgency-Redux-enhanced?"), might we not question, much as Kilcullen seems to do, (a) the relevance of a DEFENSIVE "Hold What You Got" "hearts and minds"/"pop-centric COIN" approach; this, as relates to (b) the totally different OFFENSIVE "GET SOME MORE" counter-insurgencies within which we find ourselves involved in today?

Thus, to sum up:

Q: What are the "key conditions for Pop-centric COIN?"

A. Those of its origin, to wit: A DEFENSIVE "Hold What You Got" conflict environment -- reminiscent of the period 1944 to 1982 -- and re: countering the "wars of national liberation." (And, thus, NOT the OFFENSIVE "Get Some More" conflict environment -- within which we [the West] found ourselves involved in colonial times -- and the conflict environment within which we find ourselves involved in again today?)

In an effort to better understand the "hearts and minds" question, might we first attempt to recognize, and distinguish between, two different kinds of counterinsurgencies:

In the first of these types, which we'll call for lack of a better term the "Hold What You Got" model, the goal of the counter-insurgents (the foreign expansionist powers and their supporters) is to RETAIN, DEFEND AND PROTECT its (the foreign expansionist powers') long-ago established, favorable (i.e, more-"western" in our case) status quo environment.

In the second of these types, which we'll call, again for lack of a better term, the "Get Some More" model, the goal of the counter-insurgents (again the foreign expansionist powers and their supporters) is to OVERTHROW AND REPLACE a long-ago established -- but non-favorable (i.e., indigenous or otherwise non-western in our case) -- status quo environment.

In the first instance above (the "Hold What You Got" model) the insurgents (the local yokels and their supporters) want to get rid of the established foreign expansionist powers, and their influence, and to, thereby, become able to order, organize and orient their lives more as -- they themselves -- choose. (This, of course, the established foreign expansionist powers seek to prevent.)

In the second instance above (the "Get Some More" model) the insurgents (again, the indigenous folks and their supporters) want to prevent the foreign expansionist powers from (a) gaining new footholds in their area and (b) using these new footholds to alter the indigenous folks way of life, way of governance, etc.; and these, more along the alien and profane lines of the foreign expansionist powers. (This, of course, is exactly what the foreign expansionist powers, and specifically via their interventions, seek to accomplish.)

Given the two different types of insurgencies and counterinsurgencies outlined above -- and if these are indeed accurate -- then how might this information inform/alter (if at all) our "hearts and minds" thinking?


Wed, 02/17/2016 - 9:32am

Although this article is not about Syria, people who have been in and out the battleground know that the problem of «hearts and minds» there is too complex and complicated.

Groups that look «terrorist» on paper are seen by certain villages, local communities and even national or regional ethnic groups as «protectors» or even «liberators» (see the common use of the word «fatah»), there are «jihadists» who threaten the whole world and «jihadists» that see their «just war» ending when Assad goes, there are multiple divisions and sub-divisions in all «armies» present, thousands of militias of different kinds, SF/SOF from several countries, «international combatants», etc.

It is very hard to work through all this fog of war and define who are the West's allies, friends, or simply less evil partners, but it is essential to do so. A common basic set of rules should be established, and that is the hard - desperating hard - work of several commissions and committees that in Turkey, Jordan, Switzerland and Germany have been trying to gather actors to solve the underlying political problem.

But which «set of rules»?

We obviously cannot accept on our side groups that promote global jihad, that attack civilians, that threaten the whole international system of nations states.

We also cannot take on board «local» jihadists (as opposed to «global» ones) that promise to repeat the crimes of the Assad regime, and announce they will rule without pluralism, elections, a constitution, civil rights, social justice, etc.

Thirdly, we have to make «our» allies glue to precise ROE of not attacking civilians and non combatants,treat prisoners humanely, not exercising «symbolical» and unnecessary destruction, and not indulge in the use of forbidden weapons or unprovoked shelling or invasion of other countries.

In fourth place, we have to see if our «allies», selected through this Occam's Razor reasoning (that has much more items, of course), can be better helped by armed means or others.
And if by armed means, which?
Small arms, artillery systems, battlefield radars, ATGW (the TOW discussion), MANPADS, longer range SAM systems, EW equipment, training, help from our SF or air forces, etc.
So called «moderate» forces (FSA and allies, IF and allies, non-AQ Nusra factions and allies, e.a.) are being crushed by air bombardment (by planes and helicopters), against which TOW will not suffice. There is also not a big engagement of massive armored forces. Thirdly, TOW and Milan systems already present (some hundreds in all Syria) have been captured in large numbers by the AQ Nusra factions and, more sinister even, by Daesh.
So I guess that a combination of help has to be devised, but if we don't define first who to help nothing will come from our support, and this one will be totally counterproductive.

There were of course, since 2011, several previous essays to sketch a definition. But the routing of the FSA and IF groups around Aleppo, the restructuring of opposition forces and the emergence of new problems (Will the PYD cease to confront Turkey, and vice-versa, will the Russian AF concentrate only on destroying Daesh and the AQ allied Nusra factions, will the Iranian Guard Corps and Hezbollah change its ROE,etc) make the «political» redefinition a major priority.
This and the realization that no single state can get 100% of what it wants in Syria. So no «solution» without a compromise by US, Russia, KSA, Iran and Turkey.


Nuno Rogeiro


Sat, 02/13/2016 - 7:14am

Armed insurgencies are in general forms of extreme political conflict. So in any of the sides of the barricade you are (IN or COIN) you need to understand the fundamental political issue at stake.
You finish learning that each national/regional/local insurgency is diverse and unique, even if it shares external and technical features with others. There are also stages in fighting, where opponents may focus more on each other, or on the civilian landscape, on an holistic view of stakeholders, on the economy, on morals, on «ideology», media, etc.
Portugal fought insurrectional wars in Africa from 1961 to 1974, in three theaters (Guinea-Bissau, the toughest nut to crack, Mozambique and Angola), and discovered at its own cost that even when things seem solved militarily, they are not, if you don't deal with the key underlying political problem.

Nuno Rogeiro
Lisbon, Portugal


Fri, 02/12/2016 - 8:59am

IMO when we attempt to shape a strategic approach that offers a positive political outcome our military is unable to interlock with the intrigues of Byzantine governments and this failure means everything goes to shit. Our parliamentary system, wherein the Executive Office dominates all elements of governance, produces Federal institutions manned by individuals who struggle to engage with Byzantine regimes such as Pakistan,Iran and the KSA.

When we attempt to hammer out an acceptable approach we have an unrealistic expectation that those with who we are negotiating are in a position to do what will benefit their position. This is often not the case. Needless to say our own concerns barely warrant an afterthought. In Pakistan, Iran and the KSA you have a shadow political entity that must be respected by the native and the outsider, if the hope is to shape binding decisions.

Unfortunately this wide-spread dilemma get’s more complex as you go higher up the greasy-pole of political/military leadership. In the upper echelons individuals need to have split personalities so as to survive/prosper in the Machiavellian realities of Byzantine governance. This duplicity is something many of us find extremely difficult to come to terms with.

Certainly we have similar powerful nefarious entities impacting our own governance – my pet hate the MIC for example - but they as a general rule are forced to operate within the written laws of the land. In a Byzantine Court this restriction is not only absent but is considered extremely dangerous to the well-being of your courtly Prince - and by default the nation.

In countries such as Greece, Turkey, China and (until recently) Russia the Byzantines just wanted money. Wide-spread corruption ensured they got what they wanted and as such they allowed 99% of the populace to go about their lives in peace. However in Pakistan, Iran and the KSA this political entity is dominated by a hard-right fascist element that enjoy money as much as they enjoy the power of armed mass violence.

We for some stupid reason believe they are inspired by our own bizarre misunderstanding of Islam. Needless to say they couldn’t be more pleased to allow us to embrace this illusion.

IMO what we should be doing when we attempt to shape an effective strategy is reflect upon the political forces that gripped Germany and Japan in the 1920s, prior to the emergence of the openly fascist regimes that plunged the globe into world war.

For a more contemporary/familiar lens, imagine the Pentagon to be run by the Mafia and the WH had to accommodate all that a Mafioso mindset demanded in order to stop them ripping the country - if not the world - apart. In KSA,Iran and Pakistan this ‘sword of Damocles’ hangs by the proverbial horse-hair very closely to the neck of every individual who enjoys a position of influence within their various federal institutions.

Within the military of both Pakistan,Iran and the KSA the Byzantine approach is deeply entrenched and gives a cognitive cohesion that some might recognize as Mission Command. IMO when we are engage their military we nearly always fail to recognize the Byzantine realities shaping the native decision-making and as such come across as naive and/or dangerously stupid.

This failure to actively recognize/engage their Mission Command determines that all things tactical, operational and strategic will blow up in all our faces.

We get really bent out of shape, throw up and hands and go home.

So what?

If this Byzantine ‘Dark Side’ was content to remain within its national boundaries we wouldn’t/shouldn’t give a damn. Unfortunately like their predecessors in 1920’s Germany and Japan, they are not content to merely inflict misery upon their fellow countrymen, and they are on the march. Unfortunately, when we engage with the political/military leadership that are cursed with these swine, we appear determined to grant them an anonymity that ensures they ghost straight thru our defenses and thereby aid and abide the spread of their deadly poison.

It doesn’t take a genius to appreciate that a ghost armed with heroin, oil and nuclear bombs is a threat to all of us.

Like I’ve said many times before we don’t have a God problem, we have a Fascist problem. All of us are bleeding out badly and we need to OODA it sooner rather than later.


Bill M.

Sun, 02/14/2016 - 6:38pm

In reply to by RantCorp

I admit that I love the vision of a TOW swarm. Two questions for those in the know. Aren't we still providing TOWs to the resistance? Why haven't we seen attacks on airfields and aircraft previously? I suspect it may be a harder target than some may be thinking.

As for strategic ends, good strategy is holistic and identifying the ends of your enemies, friends, and frienemies is critical for determining when you cooperate and when you compete. In addition to head hunting we confused the mantra of through, by, and with as strategy. We're America, so of course everyone shares our interests, or so is the perception. The reality is closer to your comments on the mafia earlier. I think we have to know what interests we want to protect and advance before we start proposing a strategy so we can assess risk and probability of success. The strategic assessment requires understanding the interests of others and how strong those interests are, so we can gauge the estimated level of support and resistance. Of course, these will change over time, so it must be a rolling assessment.


Tue, 02/16/2016 - 5:28am

In reply to by Dayuhan


There is no risk to US military personnel and the Gulfies are funding it - you do know they have the money right? I mean to ask what more do you want? You have repeated often enough you believe the US has nothing to gain or lose by getting involved. So what is your problem? I appreciate any resentment at Raytheon making more money out of human misery - but that's another argument completely. Besides the units I have seen are marked with a Hughes ID plate which marks them as a 1990's purchase.

Your speculation as to the outcome is a matter of opinion - and with respect, we all have one of those.

Where you and I differ is you consider what is currently happening to the civilian population in Syria as not worth doing anything about. Whilst it remained a purely Arab expression of revolutionary and resistance energy I tended to reluctantly agree with that position. However my position changed when the Persians and the Russians stuck their oar in.

The inevitable result (the fall of Assad) of all that pent-up Arab political energy has now been thwarted. IMHO as a consequence of this out-lander intervention we are facing a regional ground war between opponents armed with nuclear weapons and lunatic leadership (on all sides).

A TOW swarm offers a chance for the native populations to be pulled back from the abyss and that is why I believe it is worth a go.



Mon, 02/15/2016 - 4:49pm

In reply to by RantCorp

Ok, so we flood Syria with TOWs and say the Saudis did it. maybe somebody even believes us. What's this move intended to accomplish?

There is little or no likelihood that it's going to force Assad to step down, or force the Russians to leave. It might make the fight more costly, for a while. Assad digs in deeper, the Russians drop more bombs and occupy everything within TOW range of their bases. Then what? What has the US gained? What's the next move?

I say we" because the discussion is over what we are trying to accomplish and how we propose to accomplish it. hat specific goal would expanded weapons shipments to Syrian rebels be intended to accomplish? How likely is it that they would accomplish that goal?


Mon, 02/15/2016 - 7:55am

In reply to by Dayuhan

You keep writing 'we'? There's irrefutable evidence that the rebels are more than capable of operating the TOW. So I'm wondering what you mean by "we"? We can reasonably claim the KSA gave them all their arms so I don't see a "we' implying any guilt by association.

On the subject of 'we" I doubt the average Russian believes there is much "we" going on between themselves and your average Syrian or Iranian and as such any effort to reduce their skin in the violence would get a sympathetic ear.



Mon, 02/15/2016 - 6:57am

In reply to by RantCorp

Are you sure that the removal of Assad would stop "stop an escalation in widespread death and misery"? I see no basis for that conclusion. The departure of Assad would leave a power vacuum, and various parties would contend to fill it. The Iranians and Russians would continue to pursue their own interests. So would the Saudis, the Turks, the Kurds, ISIS, the various AQ-connected groups, and everybody else. Hard to see how that mix generates anything but more death and misery.

Of course Assad staying also generates more mess, but it doesn't have to be our mess. A mass of US-supplied TOWs entering the battlefield would not prevent the Saudis and Turks from intervening. It might even encourage them to intervene... and it would be hard to control where the missiles end up being used. It's hard to see how an escalation that would probably be met by another escalation is going to alleviate misery.

The lunatics have already taken over; they were in charge from the start. Joining them in the asylum without a clear purpose and a viable plan for achieving that purpose is neither viable nor a strategy.

What happens if we don't intervene? A huge mess. What happens if we do intervene? Also a huge mess, but a hug mess with us in the center of it. Which do we prefer?


Mon, 02/15/2016 - 6:24am

In reply to by Dayuhan

First of all nobody wins. Games are where there are winners and losers. In massed political violence everyone loses. Syrians have already lost almost all there is to lose.

What all our intentions should be is to limit the damage elsewhere. The Wahhabi are perfectly willing to burn the whole world down – they believe it makes them appear impressive.

TOW swarm offers a controllable/limited escalation. A KSA/Turk/PAK escalation will be an uncontrollable escalation. A KSA/Turk/PAK armed invasion will be a reality if circumstances remain as they are. A removal of Assad won't solve all of Syria's problems nor that of the region but it will stop an escalation in widespread death and misery.

As you suggested ‘Bare-chested Idiot on a White Horse ' will probably attempt to impress and mount up or go scuba diving or wrestle a bear and demand the Russian people follow him off the cliff. The Big Hats will then step in and put an end to this lunacy.

As always only Russians can fix Russia's problems. In fact I would venture that applies to the problems/solutions for Europe as a whole. The trick is to facilitate the circumstance that makes that more politically possible.

The political ramifications of hundreds of Russian casualties and long lines of Russian POWs being handed over to the Red Cross makes the task faced by the Big Hats difficult enough. Waves of 4th and 5th generation Western designed attack aircraft blowing Russian men and machines to smithereens followed up by a hundred thousand Muslim regulars dancing on the carcasses would make the Big Hats task exponentially more difficult.

Like I ‘ve said before, you’re correct in what you say about the importance of a viable strategy but burying your head in the sand when the lunatics are taking over is neither viable nor a strategy.



Sun, 02/14/2016 - 6:30pm

In reply to by RantCorp

A much simpler and safer alternative... to what? To achieve what? If Assad was going to leave "for the good of the country" he'd have done it a long time ago, and you say yourself that Putin's self-image would require him to escalate. So we escalate, they escalate, the ball is back in our court... and what have we accomplished? What's the next step?

Clarity of purpose is an essential precondition to engagement. "Winning" is achieving your purpose, and you can't achieve your purpose if you don't know what it is. In the absence of a clear and practical strategic goal there is little visible reason to engage.


Sun, 02/14/2016 - 3:49pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M wrote,

"I agree with Dayuhan that we will continue to flounder until we clearly determine what our desired ends are."

IMO I don’t believe our own strategic Ends is of much relevance. Certainly it might have helped during the last 15 years but it is the strategic Ends that the KSA, Turkey and Pakistan desire that is important. None of these counties give a damn what we say or do. They never have and they probably never will. As Bill M points our ‘decapitation-centric’ mindset has made us a laughing – stock.

A TOW swarm surge might cause Assad to leave (for the good of the country whatever) and force Putin to seek some sort of face-saving deal. We can emphasize/underline he and his buddy are drinking in the last chance saloon.

A few thousand TOW whizzing around is something he could keep off Russian TV but hundreds of thousands of Arab, Turk and Pak regulars converging on embattled Russian troops from three different directions would be politically difficult to accommodate back in Russia.

The airfields would be knocked out within hours and pictures of burning Russian aircraft and dead Russian troops lying on the apron conjures up nightmare possibilities. His ‘Bare-chested Idiot on a White Horse’ image suggests to me he would have to escalate or lose his job.

Either way I would contend a TOW swarm is a much simpler and safer alternative and thus well worth the risk.


Bill M.

Sun, 02/14/2016 - 2:29pm

In reply to by RantCorp

I think Outlaw's claim that Russia's non linear doctrine will lead to strategic success for Russia remains questionable. Russia's ability to create and weaponize the refugee crisis is impressive. Russia is waging a conventional fight in Syria that supports their efforts to conduct subversion or political warfare in Europe to weaken both external (EU) and internal political unity. In turn, this reduces Europe's ability to deter Russian ambitions. Their actions in the Ukraine largely backfired, while their operations in Syria are having desired effects in Europe. Whether by design or not.

I'm not yet convinced saturating the resistance with TOWs will change anything. Seems that our policy only recognizes ISIL as the strategic threat, while we're willing to tolerate Russia. It is short sighted, but do you expect from a nation that has confused man hunting for strategy since 9/11? I agree with Dayuhan that we will continue to flounder until we clearly determine what our desired ends are.


Sun, 02/14/2016 - 12:27pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

It’s interesting to hear Russian officials reverting to the old Soviet practice of blatant lying in an attempt to shape a deception. Obviously a Russian audience has long been deaf to this form of persuasion but Putin et al are perhaps hoping all the post-Soviet developments in 24 hour media offers a possibility to somehow persuade a Western audience. I seriously doubt the Arab/Persian audience is the target as the well from which they draw their cynicism is even darker and more bottomless than the one frequented by the Slavs.

The fact that elements within Western MSM are seizing this development to make money suggests the Kremlin believe they are having some success or a potential exists at the very least. In the West there still exists a large audience who actually believe the MSM can be relied upon for a balanced view of events on the other side of the world and I imagine the Kremlin believes this fallacy is an opportunity too good to be ignored.

I personally do not share the view that a ground war involving an alliance of KSA, Turkey and Pakistan against the Persians, the Alawites and Russia is something that should not concern us. I mean the presence of Turkey alone triggers a legal obligation for 500 million Europeans to become involved.

Leaving the drumbeat of war to one side the very real possibility that an impoverished Turkey will release 6 million more traumatized semitic refugees into Europe should be ringing alarm bells in every European Capital. Already some very ugly skeletons are beginning to reemerge from a great number of cupboard across the whole of Europe.

Putin is attempting to depopulate the region surrounding his Alawites ally in the same manner they depopulated the region west of the Durrand Line. The logic being to drain the swamp that enables the ‘terrorists’ to ‘swim’ amongst the population. As this tsunami of human misery spreads across Europe he will be desperate to paint himself as a savior (rather than the instigator) against the great unwashed and there are plenty of European fruitcake who stand ready to embrace this absurd obscenity with considerable zeal.

I'm with Outlaw in that the best chance to avoid a wider war is to flood the battle ecosystem with TOW - a TOW surge if you will. Sure it’s a blunt instrument but the way things have drifted it is now no exaggeration to suggest things could get ten times worst very quickly. I mean to ask who predicted Russia and the KSA would be involved in a shooting war?! A TOW swarm would mean the Arabs still do all the dying which no-doubt appeals to the political chattering class on both sides of the Atlantic.

The pressure on Assad and Putin would force the ball back in their court and they'd have to think very seriously if all their deluded bullshit was worth the political pain.

The powers to be have already accepted the risk of the fallout if terrorists get their hands on them outside of Syria. I imagine the Kremlin is putting considerable effort into making certain this actually happens. IMHO MANPADS aren’t much good against aircraft bombing indiscriminately as the aircraft (unburdened by precision ROE parameters) is either too high or too fast.

The potential for a terrorist strike by MANPAD in the West is much greater as they are a fraction of the bulk that the TOW system entails and moving them across international borders is much more fraught. Furthermore I imagine a GPS locator could be retro-fitted/ concealed with very little difficulty inside the FCS of a TOW whereas in a MANPAD that would be impossible.

One reality many people fail to understand is a MANPAD is a one-trick pony. TOW poses a threat against just about everything if you can swarm the battle eco-system. If you are attacking an airfield you can defend your launch site against counter-attacking ground forces with a deadly over-watch they can lay down an arc of fire 3-4 kms deep. Whereas a MANPAD becomes an unusable burden when the crap hits the fan.

Many moons ago I watch stunned as Colin Powell lied to the whole world when he sold the WMD bullshit at the UN. I remember good men, who had been fighting the Fruitcake for decades, being physically sick watching the WMD crap spew out of his mouth. You imagine how sick they feel today. Our leadership’s deceit has come full circle and we are on the cusp of ensuring the Fruitcake do in fact obtain WMDs in a major ground war.

God help us,


Outlaw 09

Fri, 02/12/2016 - 4:02am

Now here is a "winning" "hearts and minds" strategy.....US owned...Russian driven....targeting exactly who....the US.....…

Putin propaganda picks up ex-Pentagon contractors

Feb. 11, 2016, 10:18am by J. Michael Waller

As Washington cuts back efforts to counter Russian propaganda, the Kremlin is hiring American communications talent straight from the Pentagon.

A year ago, multilingual editors and writers ran online news websites worldwide for the Trans Regional Web Initiative - a Pentagon effort to support U.S. military efforts against Islamic extremism, Iranian subversion, Russian and Chinese aggression and other threats.

Now, with their jobs eliminated in Congress's budget wars, some of them are working for President Vladimir Putin’s publicity machine as it ramps up its operations in the United States.

Zlatko Kovach is one of them. Just blocks from the White House, the 48-year-old editor runs the Washington office of Sputnik, which styles itself as a straight news service that aspires to compete with the Associated Press and Reuters. Three of Kovach’s fellow ex-Pentagon contract workers joined him. Two have moved on, but Sputnik is actively recruiting others.

Kovach, a naturalized American citizen, doesn't see his move as unpatriotic but rather as economically justified. “Despite the big superpower relations, the media has developed in such a way as that’s the nature of the market," he said. "It isn’t harming the U.S.”

Sputnik is part of a news and information outlet known in the United States as RT, the initials of its parent entity, Russia Today, which operates under the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media in Moscow. With State Department approval, RT opened the Washington office of Sputnik last year just as civilian contractors who shaped U.S. military messaging overseas were put out of work when Congress shut down most of a $22 million program.

They practiced what used to be called psychological operations, or PSYOP, a name that was changed to something more benign-sounding in the Pentagon's alphabet soup of acronyms: MISO, for "military information support operations."

Under either name, the purpose has been, as the Pentagon puts it, to influence foreign audiences' “emotions, motives, objectives reasoning and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to the originator’s objectives.”

The Web Initiative program, begun under the George W. Bush administration in 2008, drew criticism both from opponents of such information operations as a matter of policy and supporters who wanted them to work better. A classified Government Accountability Office report in 2013, leaked to USA Today, faulted the program for a lack of co-ordination with other U.S. efforts.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), then the powerful Armed Services Committee chairman, led a bipartisan group of lawmakers to eliminate funding after reform efforts failed. Some elements of the Initiative remain in operation at the Pentagon's Special Operations Command.

The move by Pentagon contractors such as Kovach to the employ of the Russians is a symptom of a larger problem with national defense strategy, some observers say.

"What seems to be clear is that the anti-status quo powers in the world today - Russia, China, Iran, and the Islamic State - know the value of information warfare and invest heavily in it,” said Robert W. Reilly, a former director of the Voice of America, the federal government’s civilian international broadcasting arm.

“This is illustrated by the fact that these people" - former Pentagon contractors - "have nowhere else to go and are being picked up by Putin,” said Reilly, who served as a senior adviser for information strategy at the Defense Department following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “I'm not trying to rationalize what they're doing, but it's a powerful illustration of who takes information warfare strategy seriously and who doesn't."

The Pentagon may have to restart some of its efforts from scratch. Citing U.S. ineffectiveness at stopping ISIS recruitment propaganda, and finding NATO allies clamoring to counter Moscow after its 2014 intervention in Ukraine, Congress authorized new Defense Department information efforts in the 2016 defense authorization bill. Leaders from Vice President Joseph Biden to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) have called for improved information campaigns to help keep Moscow in check
That was too late for Kovach and others like him. A graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, he speaks six languages. He worked for General Dynamics on the Pentagon contract to run the Southeast European Times, a multilingual website (, aimed at the volatile Balkans region.

He arrived in the United States a refugee from Communist Yugoslavia and now lives in the Washington area, proud to be an American. Hawkish on defense issues, he notes that he was born on the Fourth of July.
Kovach is the only one of his colleagues who would speak on the record about why he went to work for RT/Sputnik. He said he views Sputnik as just another job in a new world of journalism. As editor for the Washington office, he said he receives no instructions about how to edit the roughly 40 articles a day his team produces.

“The nature of the game has changed,” he said. “You have media that’s shrinking. U.S. government communication efforts were being canceled. The media is evolving. There is a media space, and the question is, who’s going to fill that space? Then I had to ask, who’s offering jobs?”

QUESTION is ..did he hold a US security clearance for his days at GD???..


Core cornerstone to non linear warfare is who controls the info war narrative wins and we are doing a lousy job of it right now so how are we to do it in an "insurgency"...?

What I find fascinating here is the assumption that insurgency is an enemy that must be reflexively countered, and the corollary assumption that existing government is by definition legitimate and preferable. I don't think either assumption is necessarily valid.


Fri, 02/12/2016 - 10:22pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Yes, the sectarian war has been fuelled by the collapse of long-running dictatorships in Iraq and Syria, the natural ground for Sunni-Shi'a confrontation. To some extent that was fired off by the US decision to remove Saddam without having a viable or realistic plan for a post-Saddam Iraq, though the dictatorships would have eventually fallen in any event. Dictators don't last forever, anhwhere. When they fall there is often chaos, and the longer the dictator has been in place, the greater the chaos is likely to be. Anyone who expected a peaceful transition to democracy in Iraq, Syria, or Libya was barking at the moon from the start.

I agree that the Russian "info war" is basically an ineffective farce that requires no response in kind from the US. We are seeing a resurgence of a bit of the Cold War mentality in the assumption that every Russian action requires an equal and opposite reaction from the US. That assumption is to my mind dangerous and needs to be challenged. Certainly the US should not hesitate to challenge Russia, if there is a clear and compelling US interest at stake and if the US has realistic, achievable goals. Battles are expensive these days, have to choose them wisely. Russia is not the Soviet Union and this is not a new Cold War, no reason to act as if it is.

Effective action in the gray zone, or for that matter out of the gray zone, requires clarity of purpose: you cannot act effectively if you don't know what you are trying to achieve or if what you are trying to achieve is not realistic. It's not enough to know what you're against (Russia, ISIS, whatever), you have to know what you're for... and if you don't, I'd say better to keep your zipper up and resist the temptation to wallow in other people's wars.

Bill M.

Fri, 02/12/2016 - 10:31am

In reply to by Dayuhan

Mostly agree, U.S. leadership wouldn't have prevented sectarian war. Sadly, what kept the sectarian war in an extended state of pause was a strong dictatorship who kept the population's passions suppressed. U.S. leadership opened Pandora's box in Iraq that created conditions that spilled across borders. However, a coalition does need to significantly degrade ISIL. We should be the point of pretending ISIL isn't a threat to our interests.

The constant rant that we don't have a strategy, or that we're not leading is tiresome. We in fact have a strategy and are leading a coalition to defeat ISIL, and we're leading a global campaign against terrorism. Most of these efforts are not military and receive little media coverage because they don't have the media sex appeal of watching a smart bomb make a few terrorists disappear.

As for Russia's non-linear strategy, I agree it is sophisticated at the operational level, but strategically they're failing. What a sad case for a country like Russia to only have Belarus, Iran, and Syria as partners. That is an indicator that their so called weaponization of information has largely failed, which is why we are seeing Russia return to more conventional geopolitical competition tools.

The U.S. is also a gray zone actor, and we're good at it when we choose to act. Mature leaders will recognize when we should act, and when we should let an event play out. There are many times we should act in the gray zone to prevent a problem from growing into a crisis too large to effectively address without great effort and expense. We have to get better at identifying opportunities left of crisis.

People can disagree with our strategy, I certainly do. However, if someone is going to repeatedly argue we don't have one, or we're not leading, then they should offer alternative approaches instead of making the same argument ad nauseum. Furthermore, UW is a subset of strategy, it is a means to achieve a policy objective that requires many other efforts for strategy to be successful. First and foremost it requires an alignment of interests, not an assumption that locals will support us fight ISIL if we don't recognize their larger interests of getting rid of Assad.


Thu, 02/11/2016 - 6:28pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The idea that sectarian war could have been avoided with US leadership is just one more entry in a long lineage of delusional hubris. That fight was going to happen no matter what we did. Fortunately, it's not our fight and we have no special reason to be involved in it. It's going to suck for what used to be Syria and Iraq (no longer "States" in any meaningful sense), the chosen proxy battleground, but that doesn't mean the US needs to be there.

If we don't have a clear, realistic, and achievable goal, there is no reason to commit force to any conflict... and we sure as hell don't have one here.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 10:22am

The Saudi's and the Turks definitely know their "near enemies"...we are not far from a coming sectarian war that could have been avoided with US leadership...BUT WAIT there was none....

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Michael Weiss ✔ @michaeldweiss

Saudi’s decision to send troops in Syria ‘final’ via @AlArabiya_Eng


Sat, 02/13/2016 - 6:45pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The Saudis are absolutely correct that they should not take US support for granted. Nobody should take US support for granted. The US is not and should not be an attack dog or bodyguard for the Saudi monarchy, and it is long past time for the Saudis to carry the burden of advancing their own interests, and managing the consequences.

Yes, the Sunni/Shi'a conflict is heating up. That is no reason for the US to take sides. Neither party in that conflict shares US policy goals and priorities and neither is a reliable ally. The last thing the US needs is to tie itself into reflexive, automatic support for autocratic, theocratic regimes.

The Middle East is long overdue for a major shakeup, and it's well in progress. Given the global hydrocarbon glut, this may not be the worst time for it, and it is not in any way clear that the old US policy of maintaining order at the expense of stability remains desirable.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 6:21am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

What is embarrassing as an American is that it takes a "foreigner" to call out the utter failure of this Obama WH in the ME....

This is a blunt assessment of the "transnational Shia jihadi moves" by Iran in full support by Russia.....AND IMHO it is extremely accurate and goes a lot to what I have been commenting on the Syrian thread side.

There is a book that must be read by anyone wanting to understand what is driving Iran and Khamenei who is just following the lead from Khomeini..

"A Shia Revival"...well worth having in a library and it thoroughly although a tad off dated completely explains this coming Sunni Shia war.....

Shame Obama and Kerry did not read it before their "Iran Deal"....

Obama and company are about to find out that yes force can be used in diplomacy when necessary and when one's own national security is threatened.

The Saudi's are pulling their kind of article 5 and trying to get the US to understand why...and that alone depicts just how bad this WH is right now as the WH NSC should have been ringing the alarm bells days ago....

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 6:12am

I have been warning of this development on the Syrian thread and we are about there now......we have left the realm of "winning hearts and minds" and we are going into a full scale sectarian Sunni Shia war......AND Obama and Kerry is leading this charge to war BECAUSE they have done effectively absolutely nothing for four long years....

Better duck...the Sunni Shia sectarian war is about to begin and the Saudi's have been attempting to warn the US as has Turkey BUT the Obama WH has not wanted to listen as it does not match their "legacy dreams".....

This Saudi journalist should be intently listened to as he is speaking for the Saudi Royal Family...

Was released on 6 Feb but not picked up by MSM until today.......

World peace versus Saudi national security

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


In the event of victory for Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen, Yemeni politicians - including the Houthis, should they wish - would return to dialogue to build a country that is not governed by a dictator or a single political or sectarian faction. However, a Russian-Iranian victory in Syria will maintain an oppressive sectarian regime that caused the ongoing revolution, and will threaten global security.

The situation is as dangerous as the Cuban missile crisis or the 1958 Middle East crisis, imperiling a region that is important for the global economy. So why can Washington not see that Russia’s thwarting of negotiations in Geneva, and the continuation of its fierce war in Syria, constitute a threat to world peace?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cannot be that naïve to believe he can convince the Syrian opposition to partner with President Bashar al-Assad to fight terrorism. What is wrong with the Americans? Why do they not listen to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir when he says his country will militarily support the opposition if negotiations fail?

“Saudi Arabia’s responsibility is to protect its national security, given that a Russian-Iranian victory in Syria will have negative repercussions on Saudi internal affairs.”

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has made similar statements about his country’s support for the Syrian opposition, raising speculation in Turkish media about whether Ankara will be part of the Islamic military alliance announced by Riyadh last month. It is widely known that both countries reject a Russian-Iranian victory in Syria. The time has come for Washington to understand that the Saudis and Turks are not bluffing.

U.S. inaction

Americans would consider Turkish intervention in northern Syria, or Saudi shipment of surface-to-air missiles to the rebels, as a threat to world peace. This is how they should have viewed Russian and Iranian interference in Syria. Washington must take an immediate firm stance against this.

Saudi Arabia’s responsibility is to protect its national security, given that a Russian-Iranian victory in Syria will have negative repercussions on Saudi internal affairs. Luckily, Turkey - another major regional power - shares the same concern because a Russian-Iranian victory would lead to their permanent presence south of its borders, allowing for the expansion of a Kurdish state or zone of influence.

Why is this so unclear to Washington? Is it because of its withdrawal policy that President Barack Obama will be proud of when he writes his memoirs and describes how he protected his country from the sectarian wars of the Middle East? Riyadh must not take U.S. cooperation for granted. There are opponents waiting for any loophole to allow them to turn the table on us. Yemen and Syria represent the same battle, for us and them.

What is happening in Syria threatens world peace. It is leading to the rise of far-right parties in Europe. In Jordan, the refugee issue is no longer just humanitarian but also political, a source of concern to King Abdullah and his government. He used the term “boiling” to refer to the state of his country when dealing with the flood of refugees.

His government said the longer the conflict rages, the less likely it is that Syrian refugees will return home. It expects some of them to settle in Jordan, which suffers from a weak economy, while the rest will not leave for many years. Regardless of who wins the war, and even if it ends tomorrow, they have no place to go back to.

These painful details should be told to Washington, which must take part in and keep pace with Saudi political and military activity in the region. The United States is an important player because it can face Russia. We should remind the Americans that the Syrian crisis has crossed regional, European and Asian borders.

This article first appeared in Al Hayat on Feb 6, 2016.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 5:46am

"Transnational Shia jihadists" on the move into Syria will certainly not be "winning the hearts and minds" of the Sunni's in what is more and more a true sectarian Sunni Shia War..........

Remember Khameinei stated at a recent funeral for IRGC personnel....they died defending the "Islamic Revolution"....BUT Syria is Arab and 70% Sunni..

Those that have fought in Iraq will "recognize" some old "friends"....

Syria Exclusive pic of an #IRIAF C-130 in Damascus IA transporting IRGC & Badr fighters to Aleppo front. Nov 2015

IRIAF C-130s in Syria had their Iranian flag on the tail removed but still have a full serials.

@SMantoux & i covered recent Badr deployment in Syria in this piece (French).

Recent Badr deployment in Syria is the most important ever. Currently, Badr has 3 main brigades in Aleppo, the 10th, 4th & 3th brig.

Badr 10th Brig. has 2 Reg., the 4th Brig. has 3 Reg/specialized unit . Weren't able to ID the specific Reg. of the 3th Brig.

Not easy to give an estimation on # of Badr fighters recently deployed but 1000-1500 (foot soldiers& specialized) is a safe bet (for me)

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 5:27am

UW is always about winning the hearts and minds...but when this WH basically abandons the "hearts and minds" because they failed to either formulate a clear, concise and coherent CUW strategy or they simply passed US FP to the Russians and Iranians...this below does not lend itself to actively influencing the "hearts and minds" towards the US in the coming years....this dismal failure by Obama will impact the US in the ME for the next 20 or so years.....

Report on #Syria finds 11.5% of population killed or injured, 470,000 deaths, 45% of population is displaced

We are actually seeing a similar dismal failure of the US in eastern Ukraine.

Not only are the Kurds "ethnically cleansing Syrian of Arab Sunni's" so is Hezbollah....and not a single word from the US on just about anything these days..

Hezbollah expels most residents of Qara, located btw Damascus & Homs, looted homes, & burns thousands of trees.…

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 3:27pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Perfect example of our "hearts and minds win" in Iraq...

Iran's proxy Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada,fighting in #Iraq&#Syria,fully US-equipped(in Iraq)

Due to the utter failure of any UW strategy by this WH we are heading very fast into WW3.....and "winning the hearts and minds" will not matter....

Russian FM and PM utter the same WW3 threat in a single day...."and that is not playing the "hearts and minds game"....

Handelsblatt Global @HandelsblattGE
Exclusive: Russia’s Medvedev Warns of New World War -…

There is right now an ongoing social media debate over the translation of threat the Russian word has a double meaning.

May be worth noting that Handelsblatt and Reuters didn't use the exact same wording ("start" vs. "unleashing"). Maybe different translators?

Mounting Evidence Putin Will Ignite WWIII

By letting Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation

‘It’s clear that there has to be some actual ‘redline’ for Mr. Obama, something that the United States cannot tolerate Russia doing – but where is it? If I don’t know, I’m sure the Kremlin doesn’t either.’

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 12:37pm

In reply to by Bill M.

All UW campaigns and I would challenge anyone to go back and research every UW campaign since say the Romans and they had their "insurgents as well"..."hearts and minds are always" in play.

If you really do research right now the Russian actions either in eastern Ukraine and now Syrian are a far more dangerous existential threat to the US than a bunch of radical jihadi's largely focused in the ME...and secondly we seem to have forgotten that Shai jihadi's are just as dangerous..ask the Marines and French in the 1980s and the US military in Iraq who were killed/wounded with Iranian supplied EFPs.

While SWJ debated what is, was and or can be non linear warfare and what can be done to counter it...Putin fully implemented it and where are we currently in that famously thought through Obama CUW strategy. And if we are honest with ourselves "the winning of the hearts and minds" is at the core of the Russian info war one of their cornerstones to UW.

Remember that great term informational warfare debate that broke out in DC...where is the famous Obama Counter InfoWar efforts.....while we are talking IS has been winning that front since 2004.
Can we stem the stream of recruits to IS ..we certainly can but are we willing to get into the trench's of social media and drive a specific we are not... the Russians on the other hand are doing it literally 24 x 7 X 365.

So again the core question.....did not the Obama speech in Cairo unleash the "hearts and minds" of the Arab Spring and what was the US response to that and are we seeing the results of that US response now in Syria?

We could naturally go back and debate the question ...does in fact COIN as practiced by the US in AFG and Iraq...did it actually address the "hearts and minds"....I would argue that it did not.

Oh we repaired a lot of sewage, water and power lines and he paid a lot of money for schools, school books, and rebuilding of a government and marketplaces but did that in the end "win the hearts and minds" or did it increase the sense of loyalty to the Iraqi national flag that a 350K man security force should be fighting for in say Mosul instead of fighting in say Syria against Sunni Syrians?

If one thinks really hard about it there were far more terrorist groupings in the 60/70s in Europe and the ME and spin offs from the "wars of liberation" in Africa and we had far more aggressiveness from them as much in fact as we now have with IS....IS cuts off heads and the mass media panics...but remember civilians being blown out of the sky, US military personnel shot and thrown out on a runway with running TV cameras, a crippled American in a wheelchair shot and thrown overboard, the Marine and French barracks in Lebanon, to the Munich Olympic attack and not to mention the massive political unrest/killings caused by IRA, Red Brigades, RAF, and on and on...

We survived them then and we will survive IS.

I am honestly surprised that we are still debating what is and or is not "an insurgency" or what works or does not work in a "win the hearts and minds" campaign.....

The Russians are showing us exactly how to do it....check their info warfare over the last two years ...mostly subtle and a lot of open aggressiveness and blatant lies but always driving a narrative they define.. targeting a specific set of civil societies and it is working...just check the massive rise in right wing populist political groups across all of Europe parroting the Moscow line.

Part of the article above spends far to much time in the past and not enough effort focused on what the Russians have successfully implemented as it is actually working.

I would have thought that after 9/11 and the death of 3K we would have by now realized that COIN was a total failure as it cost us far more than the 3K in wounded and killed US/defense contractor personnel in Iraq and AFG.

Or did I miss something in the last 13 years. do realize the Obama WH is playing their own current version of "info warfare" against the US is not just the Russians, Iranians or the IS playing the "game"....welcome to the 21st century....

Bill M.

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 10:32am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


If you read the article carefully instead of focusing on making 20 unrelated responses which are same narrative you post everywhere else you would have noted the author didn't abandon hearts and minds, but simply pointed out the fact that a HAM focused approach won't work in this situation. We tend to forget that removing the threat that oppresses the people is essential to establishing anything resembling a legitimate governance body. You also neglect how we mitigate the threat to the U.S. that ISIL presents with your sole focus on Russia.

Furthermore, not every insurgency or counterinsurgency has relied on a hearts and minds focus. That is a very selective reading of history. As for Europe pointing to U.S. leadership failures, that is the pot calling the kettle black. Offer something up as a viable recommendation beyond providing more antitank weapons to the resistance.

Bill M.

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 10:31am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


If you read the article carefully instead of focusing on making 20 unrelated responses which are same narrative you post everywhere else you would have noted the author didn't abandon hearts and minds, but simply pointed out the fact that a HAM focused approach won't work in this situation. We tend to forget that removing the threat that oppresses the people is essential to establishing anything resembling a legitimate governance body. You also neglect how we mitigate the threat to the U.S. that ISIL presents with your sole focus on Russia.

Furthermore, not every insurgency or counterinsurgency has relied on a hearts and minds focus. That is a very selective reading of history. As for Europe pointing to U.S. leadership failures, that is the pot calling the kettle black. Offer something up as a viable recommendation beyond providing more antitank weapons to the resistance.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 5:04am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The perfect example of just how screwed up the current Obama FP for Syria is.....the US is in fact supporting the Kurds in taking even more Syrian Arab territory in their drive to build a Kurdistan and that includes all Syrian territory bordering Turkey which resulted in the Turks calling out the US...choose Turkey or the YPG....also taking Aleppo the second largest city in Syria.

While the US calls YPG "SDF" and supports it, the Turks consider it to be just the Syrian version of PPK and there is some truth to that. HWR/AI have in the past months openly accused the Kurds of "ethnic cleansing" of Arab towns and villages as well as destroying a number of Arab villages.

The YPG is actively receiving both US and Russian CAS...BUT again is not attacking IS BUT largely FSA...though the mission of YPG was to attack IS...??

YPG has now opened an Moscow political field office and the Russians are also supplying weapons to them and have demanded the Kurds be included in Geneva talks.

THEN this yesterday...

One big dire cluster in #Aleppo, Syrian rebels fighting for absolute survival against YPG, Iranian militias, ISIS & Russian airstrikes

So again just The perfect example of just how screwed up the current Obama FP for Syria is.....the US is in fact supporting the Kurds in taking even more Syrian Arab territory in their drive to build a Kurdistan and that includes all Syrian territory bordering Turkey which resulted in the Turks calling out the US...choose Turkey or the YPG....also taking Aleppo the second largest city in Syria.

While the US calls YPG "SDF" and supports it, the Turks consider it to be just the Syrian version of PPK and there is some truth to that. HWR/AI have in the past months openly accused the Kurds of "ethnic cleansing" of Arab towns and villages as well as destroying a number of Arab villages.

YPG has now opened an Moscow political field office and the Russians are also supplying weapons to them and have demanded the Kurds be included in Geneva talks.

New kurdish State "#Rojava" split #Syria
(Image: New #YPG- diplomatic representation in #Russia #Moscow

THEN this yesterday...

One big dire cluster in #Aleppo, Syrian rebels fighting for absolute survival against YPG, Iranian militias, ISIS & Russian airstrikes

So again just what is the "official policy of the US"...thought we were fighting "terrorists" and PKK is on that list BUT WAIT we are supporting YPG just a political offshoot of PKK?????

So when will Obama finally and fully admit his Syrian FP is being driven and implemented by Iran and Russia?? Fully explains his utter lack of engagement.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 4:37am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

BTW...this might be provocative but right now all of the turmoil in the ME and the unilateral appeasement to Iran AND Syria was in fact signaled in the Obama 2009 speech in Cario.

It is well worth going back in and reading the 6K or so words of the speech and then understand it from the views of an "Islamist".....

Recent comment from a former UK Ambassador to Egypt....

More generally, this speech moved U.S. policy back from President Bush’s ill-fated ‘freedom agenda’ into a new version of an old bad habit. For decades too long Western capitals nodded deferentially at dreary national socialistic and other autocratic regimes across the Middle East, caught between a racist view that ‘Arabs can’t run a modern open society’ and a fear of anything which might threaten ‘stability.’

It boiled down to a well delivered speech full of clever emollient phrases that ultimately sent a message of appeasement to militant Islamist tendencies: Under my restrained leadership the United States will respect and accept conservative forms of Islam.

That in turn left ‘the West’ responding fitfully and uncertainly to the Arab Spring events.

Words matter regardless of who says is this speech the core drive in the "Iran Deal" and the abject hands off on Syria which he signaled he wanted to improve relations 2009??

This would in fact explain why Obama for four years stated "Assad must go" and then together with Putin "Assad must stay"...because Putin actually is doing what Obama spoke about in Cairo??

Outlaw 09

Thu, 02/11/2016 - 4:30am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill..."the battle for the hearts and minds" has always been part and parcel of UW or the so called Russian non linear warfare for as long as UW exits.

We the US keep saying there needs to be boots on the ground to defeat physically IS...and this is fully correct BUT when we have had for four years a large number of the FSA groups, JaI and al Sham supported by KSA and Qatar openly stating just about every us get rid of Assad and then we will turn our full attention to IS.

We have had our "defeat the IS on the ground army" and largely ignored them.....

Yet this administration cannot jump out of the shadow of 9/11 and just keeps on asking the question as does Congress and the MSM...BUT who is "moderate". Why... when asking the question it simply kills time and runs the clock out to the next election.

When we the US cannot even figure out what the terms Islamic secularist, Salafist, Whahhabist, Takfirist even mean just how are we to figure out what is a "moderate"?

When a civil society such as the Syrians stood up and basically demanded the end of a dictatorship and that dictatorship replied with genocide in ways the US MSM still has not reported on as it is to graphic.....can we the US expect that civil society to now be "moderate"??

IMO I am totally amazed that with this latest Russian massive air strikes using largely now cluster munitions to drive people out of their town...that the Syrian civil society has not run straight into the arms of IS which would make it one heck of an opponent.

Right now I anticipate the simple marking of time by the Obama WH as they have now less than 12 months in office...they are simply going through the motions nothing more nothing less.

The outgoing French FM Fabius calling out of the poor US leadership was basically behind doors cheered by most of the EU as they have seen nothing much in the way of US leadership in the last four years.

Remember retrenchment al la Wilson 1920 is not a successful FP as it led the US eventually into WW2.

I think the author's points are sound. The implication that the U.S. tends to apply a cookie cutter or doctrinal approach for COIN is a fact, and the current trend is population centric COIN. As he stated there is a time and a place for that approach, but defeating the Islamic State will require a much more enemy centric strategy. The issue isn't whether this is UW, COIN, or FID. It is in fact all three, and also in fact it doesn't really matter. What matters is our objectives and our plan for achieving them. Relying excessively on a population centric approach in this situation will get us no where. It is also doubtful if relying on locals will achieve our ends for a multiplicity of reasons. Moving at the pace of locals readiness (capability) and will first assumes that their capability will improve. Second, that their interests align with ours. Finally, that they have the will to fight to begin with. This is true for both UW and FID. It also assumes that we forever to suppress the IS. We can already see that our UW slow approach created space and opportunity for Iran and Russia to effectively intervene (at least up to this point) and secure Assad's position for now. This slow approach has also created a humanitarian disaster that resulted in a major refugee crisis that is undermining the security and perhaps the culture of Europe. This threat will play out for years. In hindsight, it seems as though a conventional and SOF intervention to deny IS a secure safe haven and boosting rights would have been more effective short term. Of course, that puts us in a situation where the next question is now what? The other option may have been not to promise or imply support from the start like we did failed to do for the Green Revolution in Iran and allow Assad to defeat IS and maintain the flimsy Westphalian State System in the Middle East. Neither option is ideal, so in fact the President's strategy may be least bad of all the bad options.

At the operational level we're fighting a war of maneuver, when we need to be fighting a war of annihilation. Pitting our strengths (SOF and air power) against IS's nodes with what can be labeled hit and run attacks will not break their will and significantly undermine their capability to wage an increasingly global conflict. In this situation a war of annihilation is appropriate where the coalition seeks to destroy their forces and hold their territory. I suspect in time we and our coalition partners will embrace this approach, but it will take time to build the political will to do so. That option is even more complicated now with Russia parked in Syria.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 9:31am

Kerry and Obama just keep on getting "strung on by Putin".....

"In a letter sent to Obama admin this week, Russia proposed to stop bombing on March 1," three weeks from now.

After the constant lies by Putin and his FM concerning their fulfilling Minsk 2 and only entering Syria to destroy IS....the WH now wants to "trust them"...

Russia basically destroyed the latest Geneva meetings by their 900 air strikes and major Shia ground offensive...NOW maybe they might if the US is nice and the HNC basically surrenders....MAYBE just MAYBE they will end their bombing which was to stop under UNSC resolution 2254.....

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 6:18am

In reply to by RantCorp

RC...Turkey and the KSA all are but smoke signaling the US they intend to cross over..that is really what is driving this last desperate attempt by Kerry and he knows they are going.

The Sunni global ulama is stating from numerous corners of the global "their humiliation" at the treatment of their fellow Syrian Sunni community at the hands of transnational shia jihadi's and after stating the KSA/Turkey red line of no Kurds and Aleppo both will face massive loss of face if they do not go and then regional hegemony shifts fully to Iran and Russia.

The sudden Russia massive use of cluster munitions is their attempt to drive a final surge and break the FSA before cutting off the KSA move by suddenly announcing they want Geneva to occur.

Think though this last Russian bombing surge is coming back to haunt them as it just adds fuel to KSA and the media coverage is now turning on them and adds to the KSA pressure on both Russia and the US......they simply are running out of time...

In the appears that the FSA, al Sham and JaI have regained their footing and are actually holding on and shifting to guerrilla tactics with a number of successful ambushes, coupled with strong TOW attacks as if the TOWs are flowing again and back to urban warfare.

This war is far from over....

Aleppo will turn out to be the Donetsk airport battle that gave the UAF time to restructure and refit and since then have held the Russians to zero ground gain.

BUT IMO MANPADs being fired close to the RuAF combat airfields will hinder air ops to a large degree as planes must land and takeoff and that is at low levels.....


Wed, 02/10/2016 - 5:52am

MANPADS won't stop indiscriminate bombing as they are too high or too fast as they don't need loiter time to ensure targeting precision.
IMHO the conventional KSA need to move in. This will trigger Pak mobilization and the bullshit currently flying around on all sides will suddenly disappear.r

With those irons in the fire the Europeans will have some serious political skin in the game, along with the Mad Mullahs.

At the moment there is a perception in the WH that everyone is willing to fight to the last drop of American blood.


Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 5:09am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Sometimes as an American residing outside the US a deliberate decision on my part BTW.... I am amazed just how well "foreigners" "understand" the US and her actions BETTER that all of DC does.............

A comment from Berlin today and from a German.........referencing the utter lack of US actions in Syria......

.@POTUS on #Srebrenica in 2010

Who will deliver the #Aleppo speech in 2031 ?! ...
#HumanitarianIntervention NOW!

BTW a commenter out of the ME stated....if MANPADs stop the Russian AF from deliberate targeting and killing of Syrians THEN a MANPAD is in fact "humanitarian aid"...end of story....what would the US do if say DC was being bombed to the extent of Aleppo and surroundings?

Sit and just talk..?

Then he linked to this video...

Another village north of #Aleppo, another massacre, caused by #Russia.

Another commenter .......
On a single day, #Russia deliberately targeted 2 hospitals in #Syria.
What else would qualify as #terrorism?

An another.......
You search for most deadly terrorists in #Syria?
Look up into the sky!

AND Kerry is trying to figure out if Putin and Assad are serious?

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 4:43am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

This is the perfect example of Sun Tzu's comment......taken from my comment over on the Syrian thread to this WaPo article from today......

Yikes......has the Obama WH and Kerry seen the white ghost of the Shia 12th imam......?

Kerry: Syria plan B is “to lead a coalition against #ISIL and to support the opposition against Assad.”

Sorry he and Obama both seemed to have had been sleeping walking and missed the imam......

“What we’re doing is testing [Russian and Iranian] seriousness,” he said. “And if they’re not serious, then there has to be consideration of a Plan B. . . . You can’t just sit there.”

BUT WAIT both he and Obama have in fact been "sitting there" for over four years....

BUT WAIT is this not the same exact comments just recycled for the US press consumption and the 24 hour news cycle that he told the anti Assad opposition and their HNC just before Geneva.....??? was.....

SO exactly what does this article tell us...Kerry "does not seem to fully understand "Russian non linear warfare" because if he truly and fully understood it then he would know exactly what Putin's response is going to be.....nothing.

This is in fact the answer Kerry already knows he will be getting from Putin...from yesterday so the Russians have heeded nothing that Kerry has said in the last week.....

Tal Rifaat, N Aleppo under sustained RuAf bombardment

Why would you destroy civilian homes in Talmenes?
One answer:To spread #terror!

S-W #Aleppo area Karam Altarab after intense Russian airstrikes & Assad arty fire.

AND this is the totally missed Obama and Kerry moment when Assad could have been pushed out with a small US investment and long before Putin sent in his AF...the US could have "assisted" but simply just sat there and "hoped" Syria would disappear....

Impressive #JaI combat vid from #Ghouta last yrs offensive
Hurry before it is deleted!

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat."

-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Outlaw 09

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 3:58am

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat."

-- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Sun Tzu had it right......we absolutely refuse to fully understand what is driving IS and the environment around that development inside Iraq/Syria just as we refuse to fully understand the current opposition in Syria which as a civil society decided they were tired of a 50 year or so dictatorship following the impulse released by a speech by our own President held in the ME of all places.

Then the West/ie the US gets involved in a "discussion" as to what is and or is not a "moderate islamist" instead of listening to that civil society that made the "decision"......and then does nothing to assist them in that transition after that said civil society has paid dearly for their own over 300K killed, over hundreds of thousands injured, tortured and or simply "disappeared forever" and over 12M refugees and IDPs.

THEN we see a US DoS Sec "preaching" to this civil society what is and or is not a "pre condition" which were actually the same as pushed by Kerry and the UNSC....and yet we wonder why the ME thinks the US train has run of the tracks.....?

How many times in the last ten years do we see the term "transnational Shia jihadists" discussed as all we know is AQ/IS, or do we even know how Shariati's Shia Marxism was used by Khomeini to anchor his thinking on "revolutionary islam" or how much to we meaning those that never served in Iraq fully understand that the Iraqi Hezbollah (KH) was fully funded and supported by IRGC which used Iranian smuggled in EFPs like rain on US forces or how many in the US fully understand the creation by and the training of the IRGC by Amal veterans from Lebanon ..or even what was behind "Black September 1970"...the list goes on...and on......

I am not so sure we "even know ourselves lately" thus if we do not know "ourselves and our enemies equally"...yet we wonder/debate why the US FP alone just in the ME is a disaster....not even thinking about eastern Ukraine...where we "know even less"....and it is a disaster....

This WH cannot even get the discussion on non linear warfare "right"......

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 02/09/2016 - 10:12pm

"Hearts and minds" - who ever decided this meant make everybody happy?

To make this term meaningful it has to be about popular legitimacy - the belief in a population that some system of governance had the right to affect their lives. This is so fundamental. This is a primary driver and cure of insurgency.

Here is the challenge for a major foreign power like the US - any time we deem that our interests demand that we intervene in some other nation's effort to throw off a colonial power, or to support some partner or allied government that some oppressed or excluded segment of their own population perceives they must resort to illegal means to coerce some reasonable concession from - we create the perceptions of illegitimacy that cause the loss of "hearts and minds."

Hearts and minds is not just about perceptions of domestic governance, but also about how they feel about the effects of foreign policies and actions upon their lives as well. In past eras this reality was of small consequence to a major power, like the Romans, Dutch, Portugese, imposing their will on some population feeling isolated and alone and with no means to act out effectively against the homeland of their oppressors.

But times have changed. Now we actually have to take serious the impacts of our actions on "hearts and minds." Sucks. Being a major power in the modern age isn't what it used be.


Wed, 02/10/2016 - 3:29pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

I think the difference is not so much a matter of goals as it is the enduring effect. (I tend to combine religious and political goals in this engages terrorism or insurgency to influence man in the name of a higher power, not to influence the higher power.) An insurgency seeks a transition or change in political control over some group or territory. Insurgency is a set of tactics, but more importantly, *an* insurgency is a series of events linked in time, space, and purpose. Terrorism, both as a tactic, or employed as part of a larger campaign, seeks to influence or coerce decisions and actions, but not necessarily to bring about a change in control. The 2004 attacks on the Madrid train system are a perfect example -- AQ didn't seek to take over Spain, just to influence the Spanish government towards certain decisions and actions. Narcoterrorists don't seek to overthrow their host governments -- they just want those governments to operate in a manner that doesn't interfere their criminal activities.


Wed, 02/10/2016 - 12:09pm

In reply to by Warlock

I guess I really need to go back and read the current JPs. I did not realize that our definition of Terrorism included non-political goals. I don't know if they mean religious goals or criminal goals. I would think that using force or the threat of force for criminal intent would be assualt, battery, or extortion. Guess I am out of my element.


Tue, 02/09/2016 - 4:34pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

<blockquote> If an insurgency is “the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region,” or even the author's definition, where is the dividing line between an insurgency and terrorism? Does every use of terrorism constitute an insurgency?</blockquote>

Terrorism -- The unlawful use of violence or threat of violence, often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs, to instill fear and coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are usually political.
Source: JP 3-07.2

So yes, insurgencies can employ terrorism, but not all terrorism is, "seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region." So no, not all terrorism constitutes an insurgency. In fact, some aspects of conventional wars have met the definition of terrorism at one time or another.

<blockquote>What are the political objective of the insurgents? We must also consider the political objective of our involvement.</blockquote>

This applies regardless...not just to insurgencies or counterinsurgencies!


Tue, 02/09/2016 - 1:23pm

A quick thought - we suffer from a stupendous lack of specificity in defining our problem. If an insurgency is “the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region,” or even the author's definition, where is the dividing line between an insurgency and terrorism? Does every use of terrorism constitute an insurgency?

I think the author's attempt to qualify the types of insurgency is a good start on defining the problem. Variations in the society you are conducting your operations, as well as the resources available, need to be factored into your solution. What are the political objective of the insurgents? Is this a religious battle for a world dominating Caliphate or is this a group seeking recognition and possibly semi-autonomy for an ethnic group with longstanding ties to a territory? We must also consider the political objective of our involvement. How we handle an insurgency will probably change depending on whether we are simply trying to provide humanitarian assistance, provide stability, or democratize the population.

The problem with hearts and minds thinking:

If one's primary objective is, for example, the transformation of other states and societies more along one's own alien and profane political, economic and social lines (think of the Soviets such objective re: communism in the Old Cold War of yesterday, and of the U.S.'s such objective re: market-democracy in the New/Reverse Cold War of today),

And if the targeted populations, for their part, want nothing to do with the "reforms" you desire, and prefer, instead, to keep/maintain their ancestral ways (the population being willing to fight and die as to THIS cause),

Then the term "hearts and hinds" becomes nothing more than "an empty propagandist's phrase."…

Population-centric counterinsurgency, in such cases as outlined above, thus being predicated on the ability of the counterinsurgent to cause foreign populations to:

a. Abandon their time-honored (often religious-based) way of life, their time-honored (often religious-based) way of governance and their time-honored (often religious-based) values, attitudes and beliefs. And, in the place of these, to

b. Adopt alien and profane "modern"/"secular" such ways (for example, those associated with communism or market-democracy).

Given the difficulty of the task thus described and understood, one might easily understand how:

a. A "population-centric" approach, in many cases, might be not undertaken at all, or might be abandoned, given early negative results, sooner rather than later. And understand how

b. An "enemy-centric" approach might, instead, be adopted. This, for example, should the safety and security of the world at-large be said to be dependent upon the immediate modernization/secularization of, shall we say, all such "primitive" peoples. (Thus, something of an R2P/sovereignty-may-need-to-be-breached argument?)


When one's "universal values," etc., concepts (the communists' and/or the western such versions) prove to be erroneous, then an "enemy-centric" approach -- to transform other states and societies more along one's own alien and profane political, economic and social lines -- this may be the only option that remains.

This, unless one wants to, and more-importantly has the time (see the "safety and security of the world at-large" caveat above -- think "primitives with WMD"/"primitives with nukes" arguments) to wait until these very "different" people come to view things more as we "modern"/"secular" folks do.

Bottom Line:

The "conditions," thus, for population-centric COIN would appear to be states and societies that are waiting in the wings, literally waiting with baited breath, to become "modern" and "secular." (Herein, there being only a very few "dead-enders" remaining in these countries to stand in the way.)

Minus these such "conditions," then (a) one's "work" is really cut out for them and, thus, (b) pop-centric COIN, accordingly, would not seem to obtain.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 1:00pm

re: the first paragraph:

Of course there is another approach to COIN and that is to figure out how to support a friend, partner, or ally by advising and assisting them in their internal defense and development programs so that they can defend themselves against lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism. The author makes the subtle but usual US assumption that we are going to be in change and we are going to be conducting COIN as the main effort.

But I sure hope we do not engage in a pop-centric COIN expedition against ISIS:

QUOTE If the US decides to engage in the fight against ISIS, a population-centric approach may make us feel better and help reduce civilian casualties – though it is still unclear the extent to which that assumption holds true – but the evidence presented here suggests that it will not help put an end to the insurgency. Instead, a focus on the enemy itself, or at least a mixed approach, will be necessary to achieve the goal of defeating ISIS. The broader lesson is that COIN is like conventional war in at least one way; states need to have a better understanding of their enemy before trying to develop a strategy for defeating that enemy. Unlike conventional war, there may be insurgencies where winning over the population avoids the need to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. Yet we need more research to better understand when population-centric approaches are most likely to be effective. END QUOTE