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FM 3-24, Relevant Case Studies or Seductive Analogies?
by Andrew Salamone, Small Wars Journal
Military professionals value history as a tool for accomplishing objectives ranging from predicting future events and outcomes to developing new strategy and doctrine. Examining individual case studies helps reveal patterns and trends useful in forecasting, while drawing historical analogies between current and prior situations with similar characteristics can reveal "lessons learned," which are often applied to future contingencies. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual (FM 3-24) published in December 2006 is an example of the degree to which history can influence the making of present-day military doctrine. The manual is based on the lessons learned from counterinsurgency experiences as far removed as the 1950's. While the consideration of history is undeniably important, so is the need for in depth analysis of the selected case studies and historical analogies from which lessons are drawn. Such analysis ensures similarities are more than superficial and that the lessons we are learning are the correct ones. This paper calls into question the validity of the historical analogies used in FM 3-24 and cautions against the continued reliance on historical case studies that are diminishing in relevance.
As pointed out by Frank Hoffman in his summer 2007 article in Parameters, a careful read of FM 3-24 reveals that the manual is firmly grounded in the classical theories of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Key concepts, historical case studies, and even the list of suggested readings emphasize the experiences and lessons learned during the 1950's and 60's when politically organized Maoist inspired wars of national liberation dominated the security landscape. Sir Robert Thompson's defeat of the insurgent movement in Malaya and David Galula's efforts against insurgency in Algeria are touted as textbook examples for conducting a successful counterinsurgency. Even facets of our own experience in Vietnam are reintroduced and reexamined, in most cases to emphasize what not to do when combating an insurgency.
From a historical perspective, the new manual's focus is understandable. Relatively recent examples of politically organized Maoist-inspired insurgencies achieving victory, most notably in Vietnam, leads us to believe our current enemies could and will adopt a similar approach in order to defeat us today. The existence of a "template" for a counterinsurgent victory, that being the writings of Thompson and Galula, further reinforces the perceived utility in emphasizing identical concepts in current doctrine. Finally, Mao's strategy and tactics for conducting an insurgency with centralized and top down leadership structure, emphasis on maintaining the support of the rural population, and three-phased strategy for achieving victory are familiar and well understood concepts deeply engrained in the U.S. Military's collective experience. Also understood are the tools and methods for combating such strategies and tactics, such as strengthening host nation capabilities through Foreign Internal Defense and winning the "hearts and minds" of the affected population through civic actions and economic development.