Small Wars Journal

Small Wars Journal Counterinsurgency Inquiry

Tue, 05/10/2011 - 7:04pm
Small Wars Journal Counterinsurgency Inquiry:

Dr. John Nagl, COL Douglas Macgregor, Dr. Nadia Schadlow, COL Gian Gentile, COL Robert Cassidy, and Celeste Ward Gventer

by Octavian Manea

Download the Full Article: Small Wars Journal Counterinsurgency Inquiry

1. Why should the local providing of governance be a concern for the U.S. military? Why should the U.S. military be in the business of providing local governance? An iconic image of the latest book by Bing West (The Wrong War, Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan) is that of Lt Colonel McCollough who had to assume and perform the role of the governor, police chief, school principal, and banker, in Nawa.

2. Beginning in 2007, "You can't kill your way out to victory" became the hallmark of a military organization that until then was perceived as being too conventionally minded, too kinetic and enemy-centric focused. Has the U.S. Military succeeded in overcoming its Jominian culture of being too enemy-centric and becoming more comfortable with the drinking-tea and doing windows side of the spectrum? Able to successfully manage both the governance building and war-fighting skills? Or is it in the danger of going too much to the other side of the spectrum, of becoming too focused on drinking-tea and doing windows (projects, shuras, economic development), and so neglecting its war fighting core duties? Is this after all an impossible balancing act? And too confusing for a soldier trained as warrior?

Download the Full Article: Small Wars Journal Counterinsurgency Inquiry

Octavian Manea is Editor of FP Romania, the Romanian edition of Foreign Policy.

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


Selected ASCOPE chart areas related to <b>support</b> of governance, restore essential services, and support of host nation security forces which all relate to <b>support</b> of "governance."

* Area: Road system, water sources, power grids
* Structure: Police stations, jails, oil/gas pipelines, power lines, bridges, dams
* Capabilities: SWEAT-MSO, Crime and justice, basic needs, public health, displaced persons
* Organization: Govt. agencies, Police, Political parties, contractors
* People: Phones, Media/TV/Radio, Rallies and demonstrations
* Events: Elections, town or council meetings

Looking at recent and 2008 jail breaks in Kandahar, the non-security of infrastructure in early Iraq, the essential nature of bridges, the problems at Kajaki dam recently rectified by U.S. Marines and before that the Brits, shadow governments, public health, displaced persons, police, contractors, rallies and demonstration, elections, town or council meetings....while I was never there, sure seem to recall allied militaries being capable of handling many such problems.

After all, don't we have the National Guard to support governance, restore basic services, and support host security forces for state emergencies. None of that is brain surgery performed by lawyers. Also recall that state/city/federal civil experts in New Orleans really needed the military help.

Are we forgetting the horror stories about mercenaries protecting civilians attempting to perform similar governance functions in Iraq and Afghanistan. What about the Afghan security contractors who funnel money to the Taliban?

As for unforeseen threats and a rusty military (comprising the most combat-experienced servicemembers in decades), I'm sure even a rusty armor officer is not shaking in his boots at the prospect of fighting T-62s with starving crewmen. I'm equally confident the USAF and South Korean tankers are up to task. Our bigger concern should be how to get tanks and mechanized forces TO Korea and some of these other notional conflicts.

It used to be easy with forward deployed forces. Now just getting there and sustaining it is half the battle. After all, given the success of 17 tanks used by the Marines, just think what an economy-of-force capability we could have in Afghanistan if we could get sufficient fuel there and did not suck down 500 gals every 12 hours.

Mark O'Neill (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 11:01pm


There is another aspect to the point you make about whether failed or failings States represent a threat to U.S. (or more broadly, Western, National Security).

As Shafer pointed out in "Deadly Paradigm" there is a element in the U.S. polity that has maintained quote pervasive, compelling, but distorted vision of the Third World state as a beleaguered modernizer and the United States as a manager of modernization unquote.

When this view intersects with an insurgency 'issue', and selective misrepresention or misinterpretation of history (as is happening on both sides of this argument)..... well, we know what happens.

Blaufarb covered off on what happened in the 1960s , wonder who will write the tale of this era?

A.E. (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 2:34pm

The failed/fragile state hypothesis pre-dates 9/11. It was never prominent enough to motivate the kind of resources that have been lavished on state-building today but it can be seen in policy and academic analysis during the 1990s. Not sure how it exactly came about--collateral damage of an otherwise laudable attempt to show influence of non-state actors on security? Part of the general interest in ethnic conflict and destabilization after the Cold War?

Either way, regardless of its empirical veracity, it doesn't necessarily imply US involvement. Steven Metz's monograph on the subject recommends something important: not automatically reacting with full engagement to every non-state, "ungoverned" threat:

Celeste Ward Gventer (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 11:49am


The paragraph you cite was my effort to highlight the fact that at least part of the justification for maintaining U.S. nation-building capabilities in the military is the notion that "failed or failing states" will present a direct threat to the United States by exporting mayhem and harboring terrorists. Having spent a good deal of time in such discussions in government, I can confirm that this idea preoccupied U.S. policymakers for several years and, I suspect, continues to.

However, as Stewart Patrick points out in his recent book, "Weak Links
Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security," for all the hand-wringing and assertion about this problem, there is in fact very little empirical analysis to back it up. As Patrick notes:

"the relationship between state fragility and transnational threats is more complicated and contingent than the conventional wisdom would suggest. It depends on the threat in question, the specific sources of state weakness, and the will of a regime--not simply its inherent capacity--to assume sovereign functions. Globally, most fragile states do not present significant security risks, except to their own people, and the most important spillovers that pre occupy U.S. national security officials are at least as likely to emanate from stronger developing countries, rather than the worlds weakest countries."

If failed or failing states truly represent a strategic threat to the United States, we have our hands full, since there is no shortage of mismanagement, corruption, ineffectiveness, and human misery in the world. Given the potential scale of the task (and our rapidly dwindling ability to finance such ventures), we should treat this idea with at least a passing degree of skepticism. Unfortunately, as with too many subjects of late, there has proverbially been far more heat than light.

Bob's World

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 9:52am


I rarely talk tactics of anything these days, and certainly not of insurgency. Mao had his approach, I find it to be a good one that is still applied in many regions today. That is tactics. Ho modeled heavily on Mao. Again tactics. Che had his own twist on that. Tactics. Mullah Omar and the taliban tactis.

Or one could talk tactics of UW, and compare the US in France 1944 vs AQ 1992 to present.

Nor am I talking about the "operation" of insurgency. What I am talking about is the condition that comes to exist within a populace in regards to their relationship with their government. It is only when this builds to a certain degree that the operation of insurgency can be implemented, or that tactics of how that operation will be executed can be formed and executed, or that tactics of UW as to how to promote and support those insurgent operations can be formed and implemented.

COIN theory, regardless of tactics favored by the theorist, tends to focus on how some intervening party can best establish or adopt some foreign government in some foreign land; and then defend that government agaisnt their own people. Generally such governments are selected for the degree of confidence that intervening power has in their commitment and ability to promote the interests of the intervening power. That really is not COIN in the sense of resolving insurgency, that is a Colonial/Containment bastardization of COIN that is about pointedly IGNORING the conditions of insurgency, but seeking some means to suppress those who dare to act out upon those conditions.

This is what Kitson wrote of. This is what Galula wrote of. This is what Tranqueir wrote of. All favoring diffent tactics, but all writing of this same bastardized Colonial/containment operation from the intervening party's perspective.

This is also what Nagl, Kilcullen, Mackinlay, etc, etc, etc write about with a new spin regarding the effects of globalization on this time honored intervention mission.

But all, yourself included, brother Gian; ignore true strategic level, and argue tactics as strategy of a defense to a problem that we for the most part refuse to pull out into the light of day an honestly assess.

The fact is, that we will be much more effective in our interventions when we relinguish the overwhelming compulsion to control the outcome; and instead dedicate that same energy to empowering people to form their own outcomes and adopt a willingness to work with what they come up with.

This old model of building an answer we are willing to work with first and then dedicating ourselves to the task of forcing the populace to accept it is, IMO, as obsolete as the smoothbore musket (and has been so obsolete for about as long).

A.E. (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 9:36am


I think Western development theory is a good analog--as a lot of COIN strategy is rooted in old development and urban/policy planning paradigms that are long since discredited.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 9:36am

Aargh - even my correction didn't go well.

Even if there is a strategic rationale - do we really know how to do it well in situations when we are dealing with a sovereign, or partially sovereign, government that can thwart some of our efforts?

Putting large amounts of money into corrupt systems may only make situations worse over the long haul although our intention is to ultimately reform the corruption, help allies provide better governance to their people by training, say, police forces or judges or whatever. In theory, this is supposed to stop the growth and export of terrorism from the fragile state.

We've had decades of doing this sort of thing here and there - on and off - and it has been hit or miss overall, hasn't it?

Hmmm, was that any better?

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 9:22am

Okay, I didn't put my last comment very well.

What I mean is that planning and training for 9-11 took place in a variety of places: Western countries, fragile states with a history of state sponsorship of terror, and ungoverned spaces. Each place has a unique situation to potentially exploit. Each has advantages. Each has disadvantages.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 9:16am

<em>The intellectual foundations of modern American nation building are wearing thin. The notion that ―ungoverned areasâ€â€" present a significant threat to the country is asserted by the use of one example (and even that example has problems): Afghanistan before 2001. There is simply no compelling strategic rationale for the U.S. to be governing and building other states.</em> - Celeste Ward Gventer

I was intrigued by this contribution. It reminded me of the discussions at SWJ that deal with Western development theory in general and its applications to stability operations.

It also put me in mind of the following article (which I've only skimmed):

SA is my pet intellectual hobby horse so the only examples I can bring are from that area. I don't know any others or I would use those.

Hasn't the last decade of American warmaking - or whatever we are supposed to call it - been about state sponsors of mayhem as much as fragile states and ungoverned areas? I mean, in terms of Iraq and "Afpak" no matter what one may think about each intervention?

gian p gentile (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 8:06am


You continue to talk about the tactics of insurgencies and the countering and understanding of them. My piece was essentially about strategy. We are talking about two different things.

Maybe we should all simply defer to Bob's world since by your latest post you seem to have cornered the market on positive knowledge of insurgencies.


Bob's World

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 7:51am

Wow. That was a depressing read.

All of these SMEs need to step away from their pet issues and spend a little time with mine. That would be insurgency. Until a person can have a rhetoric-free, unbiased conversation about insurgency, and the relationship between a populace and their government in good times and bad, and how that relationship tends to ebb and flow, one really cannot talk with any degree of credibility about counterinsurgency.

We have built a set of narrow, high-walled virtual/intelectual boxes based upon combinations of organizational perspectives and recent operations and dropped them down on small corners of this dynamic of insurgency, and then studied and labored as how best "counter" what part has been captured in that little box.

Yes one can kill what is in the box, but that does not affect what is outside the box or prevent the return to the box.

Yes one can build a little disneyland of local governance within the box, but that does not address the factors outside the box that rendered local governance bad or moot to begin with.

Yes one can develop tremendous infrastructure within the box, but that too is disconnected and unsustainable until one understands and addresses the factors outside the box.

Insurgency is simple. Truly. It is also inconvenient to one who's mission is not really to address the conditions of insurgency, but rather to prop up and secure some allied government or defeat some segment of their populace that has dared to stand up to their poor governance. We need to get over being "inconvenienced" by insurgency and focus on that, rather than the latest fad on "COIN".

A.E. (not verified)

Wed, 05/11/2011 - 5:53am

Perhaps the repetition of the "you can't kill your way to victory" quote illustrates the problem with one-sided thinking on the strategic level. This might be true in some cases but certainly not all--the political and policy elements would determine the truth of the quote. Of course, the converse is true as well.

"Jominian" culture extends far beyond a supposed kinetic addiction. Rather, it's more of a conceptual one-sidedness to viewing strategy in purely operational terms. COIN discourse sometimes is Jominian.

Time for Dr Nagl to update his terms as logical lines of operations has been replaced by lines of effort.

It's interesting how quickly some discount support to governance when it is associated with COIN...yet it also is associated with Stability operations. Wasn't that one of those pesky problems following OIF 1? Are some rejecting full spectrum operations as they reject aspects of COIN?

In fact, the lines of effort for stability operations in Chapter 7 of FM 3.24.2, <i>Tactics in Counterinsurgency,</i> are virtually identical to those of COIN in Chapter 3. In addition, every ASCOPE category has at least one area pertaining to governance. Are some also rejecting the value of the C in METT-TC?

As for killing our way out of Afghanistan, please let me know how we kill more than a dozen or so extremists at a time who reside in Pakistan.

Islamic extremists need no excuse to try to kill us. They tried to kill the WTC in 93 after we rescued Kuwait. They did kill us in the WTC on 9/11 after we saved Muslims from Genocide in the Balkans.

While extremists will never stop trying to kill Westerners (primarily becase we support Israel) guess we can try to mitigate rather than exacerbate their desire to kill us. Using care in preventing collateral damaage reduces that desire while an enemy-centric approach that unavoidably results in dead women and children (or claims thereof) certainly increases their desire to kill us, as does Pashtunwali.

The advantage of being in AfPak is it facilitates the logistics of extremists going there to try to kill us. Wouldn't we rather make it easy for them to try from a transportation standpoint and hard to achieve against our well armed and protected forces?

The alternative is premature withdrawal to our homeland which forces extremists to follow us to the U.S./Europe where targets are softer/vulnerable and the traveling well-financed extremists are more likely to use WMD and other means of achieving major headlines.