Small Wars Journal

Evolving the COIN Field Manual: A Case for Reform

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 9:58am

Evolving the COIN Field Manual: A Case for Reform

by Carl Prine, Crispin Burke, and Michael Few

Download the Full Article: Evolving the COIN Field Manual: A Case for Reform

Nearly a decade removed from 9/11, United States military forces remain entrenched in small wars around the globe. For the foreseeable future, the United States Government (USG) will continue to intervene in varying scale and scope in order to promote democracy and capitalism abroad. While many made efforts to describe small wars and methods of coping with them, our field manuals have not kept up with the wealth of knowledge and wisdom learned on the ground.

In order to prepare for the future, we must first understand where we have been moving beyond individual articles of best practices and lessons learned. The intent of this essay is to provide the critique in order to promote an evolution in our thinking. The purpose is to better prepare those who will follow in our footsteps. Finally, we believe that this reform is a duty required from those who directly observed the costs of today's small wars.

Download the Full Article: Evolving the COIN Field Manual: A Case for Reform

Carl Prine is a former enlisted Marine and Army infantryman who served in Iraq. Currently, he serves as a reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and blogs on national security affairs for

Captain (P) Crispin Burke is an active duty aviator who commanded in Iraq. Currently, he is the unmanned aviation observer controller at the Combined Maneuver Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany, and he blogs on national security affairs at Wings over Iraq.

Major James Michael Few is an active duty armor officer who served multiple tours to Iraq in various command and staff positions. Currently, he serves as the editor for Small Wars Journal.

About the Author(s)

Michael Few is a retired military officer who served multiple combat tours to Iraq including the Thunder Runs and The Surge, and he currently serves as the editor of Small Wars Journal.  He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and studied small wars at the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA

Crispin Burke is a military officer who has written on topics ranging from counterinsurgency to cybersecurity. He can be found on Twitter at @CrispinBurke.


G Martin

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 12:55am

JMA- Agree that not everyone can operate with independence and intuition and therefore some want a guide. I would add that, as Ollivant stated on Manea's interview post, we need commanders that can spot directions the people are trending already and work within those trends- as opposed to the current fad of looking into the manual and translating Center of Gravity equals "people" to be U.S.-centric solutions in a paradigmatic three lines of effort strategy: our money, our security, and our governance solutions.

Much has been written about our cultural hubris- "AMERICA AND THE TRAGIC LIMITS OF IMPERIALISM" by Kaplan and <em>Imperial Hubris</em> by Sheuer come to mind- but for some reason many in the military either haven't read it or don't believe it.

JMA (not verified)

Sun, 07/31/2011 - 5:27pm

Wilf understands this subject best when he says:

"The US Army does not need a COIN manual. You
need good general tactics manuals and then you
need to issue theatre specific guidance based
on the policy armed force is seeking to set

I would just add to that with "you need good general tactics manual with detailed drills" to ensure the armed forces are as clinically effective as possible.

Those who command these operations should have studied insurgencies before, during and after their Command and Staff College course.

But there will always be those officers who are limited in their ability to operate with independence and intuition and will always be clamouring for a manual to guide them. All is not lost as they would be able to function in a conventional setting as a brigade or divisional commander under direct command of the higher formation.

Success in small wars, insurgencies etc requires a different skills set which not every senior officer possesses. Selection of round pegs for the round holes is the critical success factor.

Bill M.

Tue, 07/26/2011 - 11:57pm


All good points, and as we used to say you can't make chicken salad out of chicken crap. Just because a kid goes to college and joins ROTC or any other route to becomin an officer doesn't mean that he or she will be a good one. Then there are the unique contextual challenges of small wars in addition to being a combat leader, and while neither leadership nor the unique context of small wars can be learnt by everyone (and actually probably by only a small percentage) at least the book would give everyone a helpful reference. In short I agree with you, I just don't think that is a reason to ignore developing doctrine.

carl (not verified)

Tue, 07/26/2011 - 8:59pm

Bill M.:

I think we can get the right people to the right place, but first we have to recognize that the people, not the doctrine is the key. Sort of what the first few pages of The German Squad in Combat says when they say the success of what the manual outlined depended mostly on the character of the squad leader. And then the Germans really tried to pick superior people for that position.

The discussion here has been mostly about the form and content of the book, which is very American in that it reflects the belief that anybody can do it if they have the right book of instructions. I would like to see a recognition of what I believe is the fact that NOT everybody can do it. More things would flow from there, like Richard Holaday's observation of what type of behavior is needed from some of the people in leadership positions.

Picking the people adept at this sort of thing wouldn't be easy but if we at least tried we would do better. Those people could then be exposed to specific current info and what has worked in various situations in the past like Wilf and Robert C. Jones have suggested.

Then leave them in place for a long time, the other key, almost as important.

I don't hold out much hope that will happen though.

Also, again as Wilf has suggested, don't use the the word "COIN" anywhere in whatever is produced. The word is too loaded. Use Small War.

slapout9 (not verified)

Tue, 07/26/2011 - 3:34pm

maybe the manual should be written Guerrilla Style, bypass official channels and do it online.

Richard Holaday (not verified)

Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:14pm

Any doctrine written for Soldiers and Marines (that goes to the tactical level) must explain in detail who has their "back". These senior commanders, who supposedly inculcate cunning, shrewd and crafty ways in small unit leaders,(7-6, FM 3-24) fail if it is only to out-think and out-adapt an enemy. The willingness to act (improvise) will come if he knows who has his back. Also, the Soldier or Marine who can't shoot first is at a terrible disadvantage. This is not academic.

Bill M.

Tue, 07/26/2011 - 12:42am


The right person at the right time and place is much more powerful than any doctrinal manual, but it seems to happen so rarely. Some time ago someone wrote an article for the SWJ community on the importance of picking the right people and suggested changes to the personnel system, but like a lot of good ideas it apparently died in the bureaucracy swamp trying to find some dry land to get a foot hold.

Agreeing with the importance of the right person, and even assuming we were lucky enough to find him or her, I think we still need doctrine that explains the basic tentants of COIN, so the guys and gals forward that need to make decisions and don't have access to the right person for guidance, at least have a contextual understanding of COIN.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 07/25/2011 - 11:38pm

I realize that a manual must be written but it occurs to me that as much thought should be put into what kind of people you should be looking for to implement it. If you have the right people, the perfection or lack thereof of the manual won't be that important. Also, though I know this may not be possible given personnel management, the right people should be permitted to stay in the place long enough to learn it and to make a difference. The right people in place for long enough is as critical as the form of the manual.

This occurred to me because a lot of the people who have been good at small wars in the past, on either side, never had a manual to study, they were just naturally adept and had time.

Bill M.

Sun, 07/24/2011 - 10:31pm

There are several texts available already on insurgencies and insurgent warfare written by both practicioners and academics that could serve as a baseline for Bob's suggestion on developing a manual on insurgencies. I think this manual (not doctrine, but rather a context provider) is at least as important as the COIN doctrine. Why?

If we expect our soldiers and marines on the tip of the spear to understand what they're seeing and respond appropriately at their level without micromanagement from higher, then it is critical they understand how insurgents operate, what insurgents want the security forces to be provoked into, etc., so they can make mature and informed decisions at their level. It really doesn't do us much good if Majors and above are the only ones introduced to insurgent strategy, when CPTs, SFCs, SSGs, SGTs are making critical decisions (our should be) at their level.

Getting to John Fishel's point about what do we want from COIN doctrine. First, we need a strategic/operational level joint doctrine manual that not only addresses the services but the interagency (like many of our other joint doctrinal pubs). The focus is providing an overall context of what COIN is, the various roles the USG could play, options for organizing for COIN, the importance of the host nation security forces and government (start with that frame of reference from the beginning, not as an afterthought), potential strategies, planning factors, the importance of powering down to the lowest level possible, which only works when you provide clear missions and intent, and major lessons observed at the operational and strategic level.

At the tactical level we do need COIN doctrine that is not Zen like (our guys understand complexity without us added it to doctrinal manuals). In addition to small unit tactics which our forces "should" be masters at, COIN doctrine addresses the importance of understanding the political objectives, not alienating the populace, how to organize for intelligence, how to work with non-combatants such as USAID and NGOs, etc. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn't if written concisely. Every junior NCO and above is required to read it prior to deploying.

Furthermore, we need to maintain a TTP book to help those who need it with ideas on how to get from theory to the nuts and bolts of doing. The TTP book should be updated at least every 18 months, and if we're deployed to a particular conflict then a TTP book should be adapted for that particular conflict and updated every 6 months at a minimum based on lessons observed.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/24/2011 - 4:47pm

As usual, I find more with which to agree than disagree wih Gian and Bob. This paragraph Bob wrote is quite accurate:<blockquote>"The doctrinal aspect of military thinking is very much firm, fixed sheet music for the masses. Don't think, just play these notes in this order. In conventional combat or insurgency what really happens on the ground is much more a matter of improv. But the difference between horrible and wonderful is understanding the basics of what one is trying to do."</blockquote>That is entirely too accurate. It is a damning indictment of a bureaucratic approach to warfare which is about the most non-bureaucratic effort in which humans engage. That should be changed. I have watched Doctrine evolve over the last 50 years and it has gotten progressively more voluminous, turgid and removed from reality. Scarily so.

Too often doctrine writing is an employment effort for an Army that hired too many over credentialed civilians for the wrong jobs and has an inefficient personnel system that assigns persons on TDY to write doctrine. That and efforts at branch / division / department / propnent school / TRADOC existence justification are pervasive and destructive. If one hires people to write doctrine as opposed to getting practitioners to do that, then those hired will write doctrine; gobs and gobs of it, whether needed -- or even counterproductive -- or not. They will also make it unduly complex in one sense as job justification and then dumb it down and be over prescriptive to counteract that introduced complexity. That is poor, ill thought out approach to defining the materials that affect national policy and priorities, determine how when and where we operate and place people in combat.

The alternative is to assign people with some experience on the topic to write the doctrine and then allow the staffing process to winnow it down (not add to it...) and leave it alone until a change is warranted. That will not be often...

Bob is also correct on the defining insurgency before we begin and that definition should be practical, realistic and not oriented toward a parochial approach to the issue. I agree with Carl and Bob on the limited number of case studies approach and disagree with Mike on the Committee approach. The major problem with committees is that no <i>one</i> is responsible and everyone must get a piece of the action whether germane or not. Most of our current doctrine is a result of committee re-writes of material that dates in some cases back to WW II -- even WW I in rare instances -- and yet ignore much that is universal from earlier times dues to a Committee member's non-concurrence on an issue.

Bob's World

Sun, 07/24/2011 - 2:17pm

First we need an "Insurgency Manual."

Only once one has spent some serious time thinking about insurgency itself can one begin to think about the various military operations related to insurgency (FID, UW, COIN, CT, etc, etc, etc.)

No one Insurgent has a corner on understanding insurgency either.

One approach to a new manual would be to identify and lay out 2-3 competing, reasonable theories of insurgency as a base line. Then Identify 5-6 historical cases on insurgency over time (Not too many, I still have latent feeling of hostiity toward a law school education that forced me to read a hundred pages of case studies every night searching through endless fact patterns for some golden nugget of substantive material that I might be called upon to discuss one on one the following day with a professor who already knows the answer in a room full of peers all glad it wasn't them whose name had come up. Invariably most couses could be taught very well from just a few cases, allowing students to be able to focus on what is truly important at school, while still having time to attend to what is truly important outside of school...). Ok, sorry for the digression!

But by breaking down the parties, and the facts against a variety of sound theories in comparison and contrast, patterns would begin to emerge. Understanding these patterns then allows one to be able to deal with the unique variables of each situation more effectively. Like jazz. I played sax in high school. At first, a page with no set notes to memorize and exeucte in squence is terrifying. Just chord changes. Once one understands what the principles of jazz are, what the context of the particular piece is, and what works and does not work with a particular chord, it becomes incredibly liberating.

The doctrinal aspect of military thinking is very much firm, fixed sheet music for the masses. Don't think, just play these notes in this order. In conventional combat or insurgency what really happens on the ground is much more a matter of improv. But the difference between horrible and wonderful is understanding the basics of what one is trying to do.



Sun, 07/24/2011 - 12:59pm

And I would want to see the exact opposite of Kilcullen's "Counterinsurgeny" and with many more case studies.

MikeF (not verified)

Sun, 07/24/2011 - 10:56am

Hi John,

"So, before any rewrite begins, the writers and their bosses need to answer the question of what they want the FM to do. All the other suggestions and proposals will/should follow from that."

I'd like to see something similar to Dr. David Kilullen's "Counterinsurgency," except incorporating many more authors. For me, the audience of the "textbook" would be for those about to endeavor into the practice.


slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 07/24/2011 - 2:53am

"So, before any rewrite begins, the writers and their bosses need to answer the question of what they want the FM to do. All the other suggestions and proposals will/should follow from that" posted by John T.Fishel

As usual John offers very sage advice.

John T. Fishel

Sat, 07/23/2011 - 4:13pm

Mike, et. al.--

I've read through the article and the comments and I'm left with this question: What is the purpose of a field manual, any field manual? (What is the purpose of doctrine?) From my perspective, a manual is a textbook - a distilation of knowledge that is useful for someone embarking on a course of action. It needs to be general enough to cover many case variants and specific enough to be actually used. It is not a strategy nor a cookbook of TTP.

So, before any rewrite begins, the writers and their bosses need to answer the question of what they want the FM to do. All the other suggestions and proposals will/should follow from that.



Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 5:19pm


American short-term benefit-itis caused us to go wrong. The system insists one focus on and achieve results in this tour / term. That is likely not going to change, it's a psyche thing. However, rather than being downplayed or ignored as is currently the case, it can be accepted, acknowledged as a feature and not a bug and <u>strongly considered</u> in planning, strategy -- and doctrine.

Agree on both points. They are critical and the first factor is not really helpful other than to Academics and Think Tanks.

What should also be considered in line with all the above is that Army doctrine is read, absorbed and gurgitated by said Academics and Think Tanks. Rightly or wrongly, they tend to have more influence with civilian policy makers than do uniformed folks, ergo, our doctrine must be written with an eye to said people regurgitating it to the policy makers. i.e. keep it simple and avoid specificity (a frequent failing, strongly encouraging "what to think") while at the same time stating realistically capabilities and probabilities.

After reading Danger Rooms DARPA article, Carl Prine's <i>Line of Departure</i> area security article, the Chiefs targeting article, and this thread, some observations hit me. The DARPA article talks about using GMTI radar to detect and track patterns of moving targets. Its fallacy is the notion that such technology can substitute for understanding the Texas-sized largely rural and isolated OE without boots on the ground whether they be U.S. or Afghan. Plus not all targets are moving or large... witness OBL sitting in his Abbotabad compound.

Carl Prines article discusses Bing West's Area Security, and if reading it correctly, it advocates something similar to the TRADOC concept of Wide Area Security...again using boots on the ground and other tools. It is the other tools that hit me when I read your current article point about FM 3-24 paragraph B-23 and associated Population Support Overlay, Ethnicity (should add tribe) Overlay, and Imagery of an area... all that could be observed/databased/accessed by Soldiers/Marines operating/patrolling in that area.

Chiefs article and its posts discuss D3A vs. F3EAD vs. F2T2EA, yet it seems to reveal inconsistencies between the desire to look at the whole of the OE versus the desire to attack networks using all (or too many) Intel/RSTA assets for night raids and counterterror drone strikes. Anonymous (Mike) just mentioned the need to cross stovepipes between ISR/Targeting/Operations. Funny he should mention that as it was a key point of this response originally intended for Chiefs targeting article... .

As I believe Chief mentions, D3A can/should apply to more than targeting. A consolidated ISR/lethal & nonlethal Targeting/Operations approach with multi-WFF fusion cells seems a viable approach using Kill Boxes/Keypads (Joint Fires Areas [JFA]) as a common control measures for TAI, NAI, patrols, route/zone/area reconnaissance, area security, and attack EA. JFAs superimposed on the COP with blue/red/green icons would provide the S-2/FSO/S-5/S-3, supporting ISR/RSTA and joint fires for wide area security joint/coalition boots on the ground. JFAs would be a common reference for deciding, detecting (finding/fixing), delivering (tracking/targeting), and assessing (evaluate/analyze/disseminate) in both combined arms maneuver and wide area security.

In the past, the Army has rejected lat/long-based Kill boxes/Keypads (JFAs) because they are not based on MGRS and the 1 km grid squares of digital/paper maps. But in reality, 1:50k maps are little more than nine keypads each with a dimension of about 9 kms x 9 kms. Keypads are already present on maps, discernible by small, barely visible map crosses dividing them into nine equal-sized keypad areas. However the USAF would need to learn that a kill box 30nm x 30nm is far too large to restrict to solely its fires and flights.

JSTARS flying the Ring Road backed up by aerostats, sensor towers, USAF RPA EO/IR and Army UAS with SAR/GMTI and EO/IR (Reapers/Predators lack the bandwidth for SAR/GMTI due to satellite control) could provide the sort of DARPA data required to establish patterns to include venturing well off the main roads when patterns so indicated. Vehicle checkpoints with sensors could only help. All would provide cross-cueing. Routes could be flown using manned Afghan-flown aircraft after the ISAF presence draws down.

ISAF boots on the ground now, & ANSF later would benefit from Kill Box/Keypad "control measures" for assigning areas of operation, securing populations, deconflicting airspace/fires, and precluding fratricide/collateral damage while observing the entire relevant OE more systematically. SAR/GMTI information provided for night raids/counterterror also would support wide area security for patrols learning about the broader OE. Boots on the ground remain essential to add tribal & local-ASCOPE context in a country where multi-ethnic mixes & valley/village dissimilarity are the norm.

A more widely employed global area reference system would be common mapping tool for discerning patterns of life and impending death/capture of insurgents. But more importantly, it would provide boots on the ground access to specific area information in terms of population support overlay, ethnicity overlay, and recent IMAGERY AND GMTI data... all of which could be accessed via Army-issued cell phones hours prior to any patrol. Cell phone data could be input into vehicle displays for larger images with superimposed BFT icons. This would simultaneously protect the patrol and population in small sectors. It would ensure that upper and lower echelons more clearly understood the OE where particular battalions and companies operate.

Wide area security and combined arms maneuver based on commonly understood and employed Kill box/keypad control measures would help integrate the combined arms precluding the WFF stovepiping that too often is prevalent. It would simplify access of information in distant databases. It would ensure that RPA/UAS, JSTARS, HUMINT/COMINT/ELINT/MASINT and maneuver patrols and flights were feeding information about the Kill Box/Keypad for database access and network analysis. There is no reason to argue over who should get greater emphasis... counterinsurgency or counterterror. Use of Kill Boxes/Keypads would support both.

However, the assignment of such control measures would need to be removed from primarily CAOC assignment and instead would be assigned by corps, division, or even BCT commanders within their AO. Ground component AO size and shape would need to consider the locations of JFAs in determining boundaries. That is another can of worms because the Air Tasking Order/Airspace Control Order cycle is far too lengthy and much too centralized to avoid joint stovepiping of Kill Boxes used for joint air routes/attack versus ground/aviation maneuver, and lethal/nonlethal fires.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 4:16pm


Where did we go wrong? Some would say that we need to Aim High!

Here's two points that were left off the article for lack of scrutiny,

-The entire enemy-centric, population-centric, leader-centric, add your fourth adjective-centric counterinsurgency debate is limited, limiting, and extremely tiresome.

-The need to flatten stovepipes across intelligence collection, targeting processes, and air to ground integration.


Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 3:05pm

<b>500 lb guerrilla:</b>

Agree that 1-147 (and much else in the manual) is simplistic but caution, again, that the real world experience not be limited to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Having done TRADOC cut and paste rewrites myself, I'd also recommend that Section, like much of the manual, does not require a re-write.

It needs to be re-thought.


Fri, 07/22/2011 - 2:45pm

'Questions also should be asked about our continued strategic focus on an indirect approach to achieving foreign policy goals. This requires a willing host nation regime that will "out govern" guerrillas or "terrorize" terrorists who might, or might not, be seeking to rule. Sections such as 1-147 are simplistic and often contradicted by real world experiences and should be rewritten.'

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 2:43pm


Nor I w/thee - and me 2. ;)

Between me and thee, the American people don't care -- they just want effectiveness (not necessarily efficiency...). Senior Leadership has a responsibility to totally quash parochialism (and not encourage it for spaces, faces, prestige and dollars)and mid level management can and should lead rebellions -- that, too is a responsibility...

Along that thinking line, <b>Carl Prine</b> has a good point with the Case Studies, that's a good way to push methodologies. For the EAR manual a more 'traditional' format -- but the 'doer' manual should be heavily into case studies with a leavening of worked / did not work.

<b>MAJ Kotkin:</b>

Excellent post.

I'd go for a 1,000 pound Gorilla. I up the weight only due to the fact that the US Army will never really be able to do that "Wonderfully executed SFA, COIN, FID, and tactics and operations..." While tactics and operations are their forte, the methods required of the abbreviated items are not and should not be unless there is absolutely no other option.

As you mention, there are other options and we should be less quick to apply a military solution to an essentially non-military problem.

Any manual rewrite should strongly emphasize that shortfall and the resultant implications for policy.


Fri, 07/22/2011 - 2:23pm

Agree that the FM should be re-written, pared down, and be more case-study like. And definitely keep all the COIN 'experts' away from the rewrite to include all the think-tanks, contracts, and original writers who were convinced of their success in Iraq.

But does none of this address the 500 pound gorilla? We can write a manual to show us the doctrinal/tactical goodness on how to fight small wars. In fact we mostly have. But the effed up part about Afghanistan is that it is <b>all</b> political and economic - something an FM or the military itself for that matter - shouldn't be in the business of precribing. Even if we had had a golden COIN FM (if ever one could, or should, be written), we're still stuck with the inconvenient truth of a host-nation that is politically, economically, and morally corrupt. And that's something no military FM is going to be able to get us out of successfully. That's a job for the politicos in Foggy Bottom to set the right policy and the embassy on the ground to call it like it is and be the one directing the shots with concerned civilian international community players in what is primarily a local political/consitutional/development/electoral affair. Wonderfully executed SFA, COIN, FID, and tactics and operations will never suffice for policy and strategy. And honesty about what we're trying to achieve.

MikeF (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 2:10pm


"Special Forces did not get left out. Based on what I've been told by several folks, they opted out due to raw parochialism on high (not at worker level, they mostly protested the decision...)."

As an outside observer, sometimes I wonder if quiet professional was misconstrued as ignore and continue doing what you do. That's more appropriate for COL Dave Maxwell to ponder. My intent was just to encourage them to step in and say, "Dude, here's another way." We all have a lot to learn from each other.

"Cultural shifts are provided by leadership or rebellion. Which method should we use?"

My ode to Minztberg- there's another method called reform. It can be forced from outside stakeholders (Congress/American People), senior leadership, or mid-level management (this guy) who care for the overall inputs, process, and outcome.

I don't disagree with anything that you've written just trying to get the people a thinking.

Steve (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 1:58pm


The original Small Wars Manual was intended as a loose collection of chapters that were later bound together. Maybe something like that is one idea?

I agree that some history is needed, but we really need to overcome the fixation on "Vietnam on" examples and start looking back through our own history to find examples. While they may be dated in terms of technology, the cultural and social pieces may resonate strongly.

In any case, the FM needs to be rewritten and actually USED rather than shelved as soon as the current conflict is perceived to have "ended." Wilf may have a point, but like Ken I think it totally ignores the way the Army tends to do business. If we do not make a concentrated effort to document and preserve what we've learned, it WILL be lost. It's happened far too many times already.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 1:57pm


Special Forces did not get left out. Based on what I've been told by several folks, they opted out due to raw parochialism on high (not at worker level, they mostly protested the decision...). If true, that simply is wrong.

Either way, parochialism is not overcome by open tents. They literally encourage and worsen it by allowing the loudest voices (usually those with the most to gain -- or lose -- not necessarily correct) to hold sway (see FM 3-24...).

Parochialism is <u>only</u> overcome by a cultural shift.

Cultural shifts are provided by leadership or rebellion. Which method should we use?

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 1:50pm

So as not to disappoint anyone I would include the chapter on Los Pepes (pages 165-200) from Killing Pablo as "one" example of how to do Targeting from a real world example.


Fri, 07/22/2011 - 1:03pm

If it were up to me, it would be rewritten as a series of C.E. Callwell-like case studies.

But that's just me.

MikeF (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 12:52pm


Wise words as usual.

While "doctrine by committee" may be imperfect, "proponent-led staffing" brings it's own pitfalls. In this case, the risk of Special Forces being left out (again) rises. How should the military overcome this risk? In other words, how do we overcome our own inherent parochialism without an open-tent conversation?

For everyone else,

This article is meant to promote discussion. Please see the additional discussions at Ink Spots, Wings over Iraq, and Line of Departure.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 12:23pm

Good article, much to like. While I really strongly agree with William F. Owen, that's regrettably not the American way. Dave Maxwell is also on target. I'd only posit a few additional thoughts.

FM 3-24 does need to be re-written, not least because it is entirely too verbose. Compress it to less than 100 pages, pocket size.

The Authors, a Committee, seem to propose a drafting committee.<blockquote>"The drafting of a new manual should draw a wide net and include practitioners from Special Operations Command, the U.S. Department of State and the intelligence agencies."</blockquote>Having written some doctrine and participated in the writing and staffing of more, that is a terrible idea. A Committee produced the current large and unwieldy FM 3-24. Part of its less than stellar quality is due to that. It is an effort to satisfy too many people and competing demands. Open tents are for politics. The <u>Proponent</u> should write the Manual and it should be staffed -- the system works, use it...<br><br>

They propose<blockquote>"The new manual should incorporate the experiences of a generation of officers and non-commissioned officers who have spent the bulk of their careers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."</blockquote>Absolutely. At the same time the trap of getting too focused on a specific war looms and that must be avoided. All wars are different. Many have mentioned that some units which did well in Iraq had adaptation problems with the different war in Afghanistan. One person who first served in Afghanistan and later in Iraq assured me that also was a significant switch. He still later went back to Afghanistan and again had to switch gears. So, certainly, incorporate experience but insure that the new manual isn't totally focused on Afghan or Iraq experience and practices.

The Authors write <i>"COIN" cant be described or prescribed by checklists or examples from history deemed timeless."</i> I totally agree. They later state <i>"In an attempt to posit timeless truths about insurgency and counter-insurgency, FM 3-24 removed the primacy and complexity of history,"</i> Not sure I agree, a <i>bit</i> of history is probably needed but voluminous detail should be avoided, it is available elsewhere. Either way, those two bits of advice in the article seem a bit contradictory. Perhaps the result of a drafting Committee?

While WILF's argument has merit of course I really think paragraph 5 of the paper gets at the heart of the issue:

_"5. The dichotomy between "counter-terrorism" and "counter-insurgency" is a false distinction designed to force political choices. Too many scholars now have their reputations and careers staked on the efficacy and durability or failure of FM 3-24 and how it relates to the competing narratives about its use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. While we embrace these debates because they are intellectually vital for a nation at war, ultimately we must move on and find new means of analyzing irregular conflicts America is likely to face. "COIN" is not the "graduate school of war" because all forms of modern war-making are complex and are guided by intellectual responses to complicated events and ideas."_

We have to take a holistic approach to warfighting and national security and while debate and intellectual jousting is good for us and helps of develop intellectually we do have to set aside some of the petty "we-they" "my COIN v. your CT" positions and look at getting the right balance and coherency among ends, ways, and means while understanding the threat, opportunities, and risks in every that we do for our natinal security. COIN, CT, Stability Operaitons, Maneuver Wafare. Irregular Warfare, MAjor COmbat Operations, Small Wars, etc, etc, etc are all important and need to understood but we cannot make any single "way" the dominat part of strategy and strategic thinking.

William F. Owen (not verified)

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 10:07am

The US Army does not need a COIN manual. You need good general tactics manuals and then you need to issue theatre specific guidance based on the policy armed force is seeking to set forth.

Producing a COIN manual proves that those doing "COIN" do not understand the process they are engaged in. "COIN" is just a fancy name for something that is a "small war" or war against irregulars. Nothing more.