Small Wars Journal

Still Shortchanged

Sun, 05/18/2014 - 1:02pm

Still Shortchanged: Some Observations About the New Army/Marine Corps COIN Doctrine

Charles J. Dunlap, Jr.

When the then new Army/Marine Corps’ counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine was fielded in 2006, it quickly earned the label of “The Book” on Iraq and, later, Afghanistan.  At the time this writer (among others) offered critiques of it which were not just ignored, but openly ridiculed.

Given the gloomy outcomes of the wars in both places, one would have thought that a doctrinal re-assessment of that 2006 approach would have unsparingly sought to figure out what worked and what did not, and revised accordingly.  With few exceptions, however, the just released Field Manual (FM) 3-24/Marine Corp Warfighting Publication (MCWP) 3-33.5, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies (28 April 2014) does not reflect that kind of searching inquiry.  Instead, the “new” doctrine is mostly just a somewhat updated and re-organized version of the same 2006 formula. 

To be sure, there was much goodness in the 2006 manual, and a lot of that rightfully carries over into the revised FM 3-24.  Of course, there are instances where, like its predecessor, the new doctrine seems to re-state the obvious.  No doubt it is easy to become impatient with the new (actually, any) doctrine when confronted with repeated themes, but the reader should remember that it is designed for use by those who have not necessarily experienced all the events of the post-9/11 era.  Doctrine documents, especially those with ambition for longevity, should assume readers with little or no familiarity with the material it addresses.

Still, the new doctrine represents - regrettably - a missed opportunity. Recent fears about the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan being forgotten are, in a way perhaps unintended, well-founded: the right lessons are being forgotten.  Even worse, the wrong ones are being memorialized in documents like the new FM 3-24.  What was needed was a fundamental rethinking of a land force approach to COIN in light of wars whose results are not just decidedly “unsatisfying” to military professionals, but also so disappointing to the American people that they now overwhelming believe the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting, and a growing majority (52%) have concluded that the U.S. mostly failed in Iraq.

In fairness, part of the problem of incorporating the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, writ large, is beyond the purview of any doctrine manual writers: in Iraq, a counterinsurgency approach was employed to address what was, originally anyway, a counter-terrorism problem. 

How did this happen?  The thinking seems to have been that in order to prevent another attack like 9/11 (or worse, a WMD-enhanced strike), it was necessary to deprive terrorists of their bases and/or nation-state support.  The “solution” therefore was to revamp entire countries vulnerable to being “hosts” for terrorist entities into economically-stable, Western-style democracies which, presumably, would be decisively inhospitable to any terrorists who could threaten America or the rest of the world.

The execution of this herculean task fell (either deliberately or by default) principally to U.S. and allied military forces.  As absurd as it seems, decision-makers also thought, evidently, that the societal transformations they deemed so essential could be accomplished in a relatively short timeframe, and at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure.  Quite obviously, there were an abundance of mistaken assumptions in this approach, but it was enthusiastically implemented anyway. 

As a result, it was not long before senior civilian and military leaders found themselves spouting such bromides as the mission in Iraq and/or Afghanistan was to “protect the [host nation] people”.  In truth, the real mission, indeed the entire rationale for the war, was to protect the American people.  That critical truth somehow got lost in the implementation of the 2006 doctrine, if not before.

Furthermore, the 2006 doctrine claimed that David Galula (a 1950s French officer and much ballyhooed as a counterinsurgency expert), had “wisely” noted that each “soldier must then be prepared to become…a social worker, a civil engineer, a schoolteacher, a nurse, [and] a boy scout.”  Almost no one pointed out the ridiculousness of creating such expectations for the quintessential, 19 year-old American infantryman wielding a high school degree.  How – indeed, why – should anyone have thought him able to accomplish tasks so diverse and complex that they defied even highly-trained experts?

Regardless, it still should have been apparent from the beginning that even if the national makeovers the decision-makers sought actually occurred, modern terrorists do not, in fact, need Iraq or Afghanistan as bases to pursue their goals.  There were – and are - plenty of other available options.

Think about it: was it really so hard to foresee how easily terrorists could set up shop in any number of other troubled areas?  Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are just a few examples where they did just that.  In other words, the entire premise of revamping a particular country as being the (or even “an”) answer to the challenge of suppressing terrorist threats to the U.S. has proven profoundly wrongheaded.  It is just too easy for terrorist organizations to outflank it. This does not mean that COIN has no utility in countering terrorist operations; it simply means that it should be employed for that purpose only if clearly supported by a scrupulously objective cost/benefit analysis. 

Does history help?  Yes, but only to a point. The current FM 3-24 – like its predecessor – does reflect a far-reaching historical analysis of various counterinsurgencies.  The post-World War II colonial wars, as well as Cold War-influenced Vietnam War, figure prominently in both doctrines.  In a sense, this is one of their strengths as they do an excellent job at wringing doctrinal concepts from those conflicts.   Military history has virtues all its own, and some its lessons are indeed immutable.

However, the doctrine’s approach also reveals flaws – in this instance, fatal flaws – of too much reliance on historical models.  In the first place, the world has profoundly changed in the 40 to 50 years since the conflicts upon which the doctrines so heavily (albeit not exclusively) rely.  The rise of persistent, high-tech surveillance, precision weaponry and, perhaps most importantly, a globalized, 24-hour news cycle enhanced by the proliferation of social media techniques, are just a few of examples of the revolutionary changes that have occurred.  Any doctrinal document that fails to fully address these pivotal realities is, by definition, deficient – at least insofar as the U.S. military is concerned. 

Herein lies the central problem with the new FM 3-24: however doctrinally suitable it may be for a generic counterinsurgency force – and it certainly may be exactly the right methodology for low-tech, indigenous forces - it is simply not the optimal approach for the American military.  The doctrine simply does not adequately account for the technological culture of the U.S. and its armed forces.  Colin Gray insightfully observes that “High technology is the American way in warfare.  It has to be.  A high technology society cannot possibly prepare for, or attempt to fight, its wars in any other than a technology-led manner.

Yet much like its forerunner, the new FM 3-24 remains decidedly – if not proudly – low-tech.  True, there are a few desultory comments about, for example, cyber, but mainly as something insurgents might exploit as opposed to a capability in which the U.S. enjoys real advantages.  Overall, the anti-technology flavor of the current doctrine’s predecessor mostly persists.  For example, the 2006 manual was criticized for marginalizing airpower into a five page section, but the current version reduces even that meager treatment to a matter of just a few sentences, and largely dismisses it as a mere “enabler” of ground forces. 

This makes it especially unfortunate that there was not more consideration of the role that technology has played in the recent success that the Colombian military has enjoyed against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  The Washington Post reported last December that U.S.-supplied aircraft-delivered precision weapons “helped Colombian forces kill at least two dozen rebel leaders” leaving the insurgency “at its smallest and most vulnerable state in decades.” 

Likewise, another recent report concludes that drone strikes in Pakistan are, in fact, “associated with decreases in the incidence and lethality of terrorist attacks, as well as decreases in particularly intimidating and deadly terrorist tactics, including suicide and improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks.”  Given how IEDs bedeviled the Army and Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, these examples of how today’s technology presents opportunities to effectively counter insurgent capabilities without excessively risking ground troops should have been thoroughly investigated in the doctrine’s revision.

Regrettably, however, the “new” COIN doctrine seems stuck in a Cold War-era COIN model in which the solution must involve deploying massive numbers of soldiers and/or Marines to hostile foreign soil.  To be sure, I am definitely not advocating a ‘technology ‘über alles’ approach but rather I am merely suggesting that some of the fundamental premises of FM 3-24’s manpower-intensive, ground-centric approach deserve to be better informed by the technological possibilities of the 21st century.  By failing to give such possibilities the opportunity they deserve, the new doctrine simply does not adequately align itself with what is, like it or not, what Colin Gray calls the “American way in warfare.”

Philosophically, it is surprising to this writer that the Marine Corps adopts this doctrine lock, stock, and barrel. One would think that the Corps’ dedication to air-ground integration, its expertise in the mobility advantages inherent in amphibious warfare, as well as other differences based on the Corps’ experience and service culture, might produce a distinct approach in at least a concept or two, but apparently not.  Likewise, would not, for example, the Army’s airborne capabilities or armor operations’ skills, generate a couple of different ideas?   This lack of differentiation may cause some to wonder: do we really need two land forces doing COIN?  Indeed, if there is no doctrinal difference in this kind of warfighting, will people start questioning if America needs two land forces at all? 

In any event, another key deficiency is the stubborn refusal of the doctrine to fully explore how the very presence of American ground forces can be particularly problematic to a counterinsurgency effort.  True, the doctrine does mention, among a laundry list of causes of an insurgency, that the “presence of a foreign force can be the root cause of an insurgency.”  But this broad generalization grossly underplays the reality that American forces specifically very often present complications for the host government far beyond the considerable difficulties that any foreign troops can pose. 

Plainly, the physical presence of large numbers of a superpower’s military on the ground in a country creates certain issues fundamentally unlike those of the militaries of other countries, especially when there is a historical, cultural and political chasm between the nations involved.  The failure in a doctrine aimed at U.S. ground forces to fully dissect the special complications associated with American boots-on-the ground is no small defect.

The chapter entitled “Indirect Methods for Countering Insurgencies” is perhaps the most hopeful as it at least opens the door to a smaller U.S. footprint approach, mainly by emphasizing working through the host-nation and its forces.  Although there is not as much creativity as one might hope, and the truth is that the sort of “indirect” approach outlined could easily involve a lot of American troops, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction.  Big brains need to do more innovative thinking about the indirect approach to COIN as the American people are extremely unlikely to countenance much in the way of large-footprint, direct approaches in the foreseeable future.  Let’s not forget that after Vietnam it was more than thirty years – an entire generation of soldiers and Marines - before the U.S. military needed to “remember” much about large, manpower-intensive COIN operations.

Of course, there are still plenty of important and valuable nuggets found in the new doctrine; indeed, the problem is that there are so many so diffused it is difficult to find the key ones as there too often is too little prioritization or contextual differentiation.  While the doctrine does recognize different causes of insurgencies, it does too little to align counters that might be especially effective (or ineffective) against particular type.  Moreover, the new doctrine does not appear to be sure if it wants to be a glorified collection of tactics, techniques, and procedures for warfighters, or a cerebral examination of the insurgency phenomena that could appeal, as was said of its predecessor, to “northeastern graduate students,” that is, “a doctrine with particular appeal to people who would never own a gun.”

Additionally, apparently anxious to avoid being accused of leaving something out, the doctrine allows almost every COIN-related hobby horse to make an appearance, typically without much scrutiny or reflection.  Thus, the controversial human terrain team (HTT) concept appears, but without acknowledging the very serious criticism it has generated.  (Should not FM 3-24 – or somebody – explain why a well-trained intelligence officer could not perform the HTT function?)  Similarly, while the doctrine is spiked with ‘bumper sticker’ phrases like “whole of government” and “unified action partners”, a thoughtful - and brutally frank - analysis is wanting.  Example?  What is – or should be - the doctrinal approach when the rest of government fails to show up?

Additionally, so many qualifiers litter the doctrine’s landscape that the impact of significant concepts is undermined. Too many “may” this or “may” that can make any document seem too tentative and indecisive.  Furthermore, important ideas can get confused.  For example, the doctrine repeatedly calls for a “capable” host government, but then drifts into something of a chicken versus egg conundrum as to whether security permits a capable government to arise or a capable government is a prerequisite to a secure environment.  If the answer is in FM 3-24 somewhere, it needs to be clearer.

Most maddening is the reprise from the 2006 manual of the chic and popular but ultimately meaningless “paradoxes” section.  This is the rendition of a series of supposedly insightful phrases all premised with a qualifier like “some” or “sometimes” (e.g., “Sometimes, the More Force Is Used, the Less Effective It Is” and “Some of the Best Weapons for Counterinsurgents Do Not Shoot”).  Of course, it is blindingly obvious that almost anything can be said if one qualifies it with the words “some” or “sometimes.”  What then do you really have?  While perhaps pleasing to linguistic fashionistas these no-context assertions are of little practical value, and are so amorphous as to carry real potential to be counter-productive. 

Tucked into the very end of the document is a chapter on “Legal Considerations.”  It is, unfortunately, a disappointing effort.  It recites some perfunctory truisms about the law of armed conflict and related legal matters, but falls short of providing any real doctrinal analysis.  What, for example, is the doctrine when the host nation and/or coalition partners are parties to international agreements that the U.S is not?  Conform to the treaties anyway?  Moreover, what is the doctrine when the host nation and/or coalition partners consider the insurgency not as matter governed by the law of armed conflict (as the U.S. is prone to do), but rather as a law enforcement situation?  What if such a view could markedly increase risks to U.S, troops?

The most puzzling feature of this chapter is the curiously restrained discussion of force discipline.  The doctrine states simply that despite “rigorous selection and training, some personnel will commit infractions requiring discipline.”  “Infractions”?  Seriously?  Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and Mahmudiya – not to mention SSgt Bales’ murderous rampage - were hardly “infractions.”  What should have been explored is how devastating criminal activity can be to the overall COIN effort, and provide some doctrinal guidance as to how it might be robustly addressed.

Regardless, allow me to say this again definitively: there is much to commend about the new FM 3-24 (as there was about its predecessor).  It is a “must read” for anyone seriously interested in COIN. 

That said, it would be a mistake to think that FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 is anything more than a land-centric view.  In fact, it explicitly states that the “U.S. Army and Marine Corps can prevent or defeat an insurgency across the range of military operations.”  No need, it seems, for the Air Force, Navy or Coast Guard even though each has played a major role in the post-9/11 COIN efforts.  As the doctrine barely pays lip service to jointness, it is not an especially attractive basis for real-world implementation in the next COIN challenge.  One might hope that the recent Joint Publication 3-24 would fill that bill but it too suffers from a lack of sufficient imagination.

All is not, however, lost.  One of the central themes of the old FM 3-24, and repeated in the revised version, is the importance of learning to adapt.  This is the real value of John Nagl’s classic book Learning to Eat Soup with Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malay and Vietnam that proved so influential to the 2006 version of FM 3-24.  Whatever may be the deficiencies of this or that aspect of new FM 3-24, if we internalize the ability to creatively innovate, the American military will be well-served not just in COIN situations, but across the entire spectrum of conflict.

About the Author(s)

Charles J. Dunlap Jr., the former deputy judge advocate general of the United States Air Force, joined the Duke Law faculty in July 2010 where he is a professor of the practice of law and Executive Director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. His teaching and scholarly writing focus on national security, international law, civil-military relations, cyberwar, airpower, counter-insurgency, military justice, and ethical issues related to the practice of national security law.

Dunlap retired from the Air Force in June 2010, having attained the rank of major general during a 34-year career in the Judge Advocate General Corps. In his capacity as deputy judge advocate general from May 2006 to March 2010, he assisted the judge advocate general in the professional supervision of more than 2,200 judge advocates, 350 civilian lawyers, 1,400 enlisted paralegals, and 500 civilians around the world. In addition to overseeing an array of military justice, operational, international, and civil law functions, he provided legal advice to the Air Staff and commanders at all levels.


Outlaw 09

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 7:07am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill--the assumption with the COIN manual is/was ---it was suppose to fit say countries like Iraq---but in fact it did not cover what the civilian leadership started ie the literal overthrowing of a leader who was not liked by elements of the US leadership in order to set a precedence in the ME as an answer to 9/11.

Starting from that premise which is not in the FM followed the second mistake not covered in the FM-namely we walked straight into an ongoing guerrilla war between Saddam and Sunni Salafists that we knew absolutely nothing about.

Third premise not covered in the FM---what happens when senior US civilians make decisions that aggravate the issue on the ground ie firing the entire Iraqi Army and Baathist Party members---no COIN FM can recover from civilian made mistakes regardless of how good the Army is.

The FM focuses on the host nation population/host nation leadership but not on our own senior civilian leadership decsions good or bad.

Bill M.

Sat, 06/21/2014 - 10:31pm

In reply to by acraw

This is exactly the time we need to consider what is misleading or naive in the Manual since we're committing troops to achieve a relatively clear short term objective but a very murky long term one. If there are assumptions that need challenging then challenge them.

Given the current state of affairs in Iraq, and the current Administrations post election policies… now, some might argue, perhaps did argue, that the adoption of said policies was undertaken without sufficient consideration of the long term consequences. Is this really the time to worry over which elements in the COIN field manual were naive, or over reliant on good faith participation from entities which had rarely demonstrated good faith in the past?

I'm reminded of a Poem by Shelly, Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.



A. Scott Crawford

Bill C.

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 12:39pm

Regarding historical models -- in this case re: that part of the job known as nation-building -- Bremmer et al. seem to have considered these examples in an analysis provided by Rand:…

Note (Page 2, second paragraph) the role of the military in nation-building:

"In all these cases the intent was to use military force to underpin and in some cases to actually compel a process of democratization."

Move Forward

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 10:54am

In reply to by Move Forward

Then there is this interesting passage:

<blockquote>Thus for Airmen, the manual’s statement that “long term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government’s rule” is not quite right. If the government that emerges in Iraq is one that is intolerantly majoritarian, divided into sectarian fiefdoms, supportive of terrorism, or otherwise hostile to US interests, the COIN effort will have failed.</blockquote>

I reject the idea that a greater federalist Iraq or three new nations within Iraq’s boundaries would have been failed "sectarian fiefdoms." Worse is the absence of any airpower alternative presented that could have precluded any of those conditions. In his Green Zone idea, he had wanted to include both Shiite and Sunni civilians to create pluralism. How long would that have worked out in the context of Sadr city and the numerous T-Barriers separating Sunnis and Shiites with massive self-relocation in other areas and abandonment of homes to avoid death squads? How would airpower alone have prevented or at least reduced those death squad attacks and car and mosque bombings?

<blockquote>Furthermore, for Airmen strategic thinking encompasses the aim of achieving victory without first defeating the enemy’s fielded military capability. Put a different way (that may be specially apt for COIN operations conducted by American troops), it means defeating the enemy’s military capability without excessive reliance upon the close fight; especially since the close fight is so costly in human terms and can generate intractable political issues for US decision-makers.</blockquote>

This assumes insurgents will conveniently operate in the open to make air targeting simple before any close fight can ensue. He cites one example of tanks destroyed in a narrow alley. In contrast, man-sized targets blending into an urban environment and complex terrain are an altogether different challenge.

The Serbian air campaign and Libya are frequently argued to show airpower’s solo success. Yet Serbian forces were highly successful at hiding and using decoys. The presence of ground peacekeeping and combat troops well before and after 78 days of Balkan air attacks was an instrumental part of overthrowing Milosevic and limiting genocide. Libya bombings succeeded in taking out Qaddafi in open, desert terrain, but look at Libya now and during Benghazi.
Additional misplaced confidence in the ability to find targets exclusively from the air are found in these overconfident and under-proven assertions:

<blockquote>Unlike landpower, airpower does have staying power much because it has relatively low cost and does not present the enemy with many opportunities to inflict casualties. It also does not necessarily require basing in the nation confronted by the insurgency.</blockquote>

Yes, we know about Creech and other stateside RPA piloting. Yet we wonder about the prospects of cyber attacks or destruction of satellites providing the exclusive data links. What about other disruption of communications with stateside USAF Distributed Ground Stations for reachback intelligence? The Kyrgyzstan contract is expiring as an example of external basing not always working out. How much additional money would be spent on fuel due to longer flight times en route from external bases and how are TIC response times affected?

<blockquote>In COIN, destroying an enemy’s war-making capacity is a complex, multi-layered task, but the point is that an Airmen’s perspective on doing so would not necessarily require the tactical, close engagement by ground forces that FM 3-24 favors.

Not only do Airmen naturally look for opportunities to destroy the enemy from afar, they also instinctively look for ways to affirmatively frustrate the adversary’s opportunity for the close fight. In insurgencies, the close fight FM 3-24 supports usually optimizes the insurgent’s odds because the ground dimension is typically the only one in which he can fight with a rational hope for success. Airmen favor denying the enemy the chance to fight in the way he prefers.</blockquote>

Insurgents favor denying airpower any chance to find them uncued. Instead, they generally are found when attempting close combat ambushes of our ground forces. JTACs accompanying Army/Marine troops or in CPs initiate or receive calls for CAS or attack helicopter close combat attack. The cueing that may lead to other insurgent engagements requires a greater forward intelligence presence than the USAF alone could provide from stateside or out of theater locations. The controversy over the DCGS-A system exemplifies the need for theater-based intelligence capabilities fed in part from bottom up HUMINT, not just remote intelligence based primarily on technology.

I recall being extremely disappointed by a former USAF Chief of Staff implying to a reporter that $45 billion spent to save Soldier/Marine lives using MRAPs/M-ATVs should have been spent instead on F-22s. The following passage is similar in implying grave danger that airmen face in achieving air supremacy. Yet U.S. fighter pilots have not faced <strong>actual</strong> threats of extensive air-to-air engagements since Vietnam and have yet to field the F-22 in combat:

<blockquote>This is not the case with aerial combat. Even the most skilled and motivated aviator cannot overcome the physics of flight as governed by the aircraft’s design. Though technology does eventually transform land warfare, the pace of change is not nearly as rapid as it is with most aviation systems. </blockquote>

How many Chinese and Russian aircraft are based on the older Su-27 and how many of them are there relative to the planned numbers of F-22s and F-35s? Most Chinese aircraft are even more ancient and Iranian and North Korean air fleets are a joke. Very low numbers of modern threat aircraft exist in all but China and Russia in contrast to multiple nations with larger armies that can kill our Soldiers/Marines no matter how primitive and scarce is their airpower.

<blockquote>When it does consider airpower, FM 3-24 clearly favors rotary-wing options. For example, it speaks of “technological advances” that “greatly [increase] the accuracy and utility of helicopter airdrops” for sustainment.
Unfortunately, the survivability of helicopters is becoming increasingly suspect.</blockquote>

Well I would agree only insofar as the use of helicopters for airdrop is questionable, but he may have meant internal and external loads? Yet the K-MAX illustrates extraordinary potential and Sikorsky just demonstrated the ability to fly modified UH-60s unmanned. Vertical lift in both current conflicts, as in Vietnam, was a clear, survivable success that only will improve if we field future vertical lift aircraft with enhanced speed and range.

Unlike 4th generation fighters and conventional airlifters, helicopters can fly low enough to avoid many advanced air defenses. 5th generation fighters and stealth bombers in limited numbers can rapidly eliminate most radar air defenses freeing airspace for less costly rotorcraft and non-stealthy UAS. With non-stealthy Global Hawks costing $65 million, the last thing we need are numerous stealth UAS over $100 million when that much and more is already invested in manned fighters with penetration capability.

Move Forward

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 10:13am

I was sympathetic to Maj Gen (ret) Dunlap’s argument that technology and airpower are under-emphasized in the new manual. However, disappointment ensued when clicking on the link to his 67 page “critique” of the 2006 manual (first paragraph link). You hope to find realistic alternatives that airpower and technology can add to the COIN argument. Instead, you discover an absence of realistic alternatives instead of boots on the ground.

He makes a credible argument that new precision weapons like the small diameter bomb and Hellfire missile can engage insurgents with reduced collateral damage. What goes unmentioned is that JTACs must be embedded with combat troops or in their CPs be they general purpose or SF/SOF. He correctly points out that extended presence of many troops can be counterproductive by appearing to be an occupation. Why not field more forces sooner so you can leave sooner after training host nation forces and reestablishing security?

He may have been saying that a few SF/SOF with JTACs would suffice as in the first OEF. However, initial success in clearing Afghanistan offered zero prospect that the Taliban (and Baathists in Iraq) would not return after our premature withdrawal/transition or light footprint. A light initial footprint and a too little/late surge have resulted in an Afghan presence for nearly 13 years in contrast to our shorter presence in similar-sized Iraq with its larger U.S. presence.

In addition, areas as large as Iraq and Afghanistan required counterinsurgent dispersion over a broad area until the host nation forces could transition to control. SF can train village security forces but larger unified purpose national security forces require longer term embeds with allied general purpose forces. Beyond that, in his conclusion he implies that additional Army and Marines force structure to reduce ground force deployments is a threat to Air Force funding.

<blockquote>What is, however, a concern is that FM 3-24 is being used (albeit not by its drafters) as a rationale to inflate the size of the Army and Marine Corps, a development that threatens to drain resources and energy away from airpower and other high-tech defense capabilities.</blockquote>

He goes on to cite a quote from an Air Force magazine, the lobbying Air Force Association publication:

<blockquote>Yet decisions today—based on FM 3-24 or anything else—to enlarge the ranks of US ground forces will not make them available in time to make a difference in Iraq. As one editorial put it:
“The buildup will do nothing to ease the current operational stresses caused by the war in Iraq. Even the Pentagon concedes it will take five years fully to recruit, train, and equip new units, so no new forces will enter the operational flow anytime soon. To the extent the sky is going to fall, it has already fallen.”</blockquote>

In effect this strengthens the Army’s case for adequate force size <strong>before</strong> a conflict commences. After every major war for 65+ years, there have reductions in Army size. Now the intent is to reduce the Army to as little as 420,000 active troops should sequester remain in 2016, the lowest since before WWII. If per his Air Force Magazine quote it requires five years to fully recruit, train, and equip new active forces to enter the operational flow, the next conflict is likely to bring either another Task Force Smith or an abused multi-deployment ground force, or both.

Dunlap downplays the strategic effects of bombing mistakes by reminding us of Abu Ghraib and other ground troop atrocities. He presents evidence that the attitude of Soldiers and Marines has not always been respectful to the local population. He wrote this prior to events of the Marine urination case and SSG Bales murder of civilians. Of course numerous errant bombings have occurred as well since his 2006 critique.

However, the major failure in his arguments are the unrealistic alternatives offered to counterinsurgency. Instead of the typical counterterror argument, he recommends that instead of Clear-Hold-Build (and now Shape-Clear-Hold-Build-Transition), the joint force should institute Hold-Build-Populate? This apparently cedes large blocks of territory to the enemy since there is no plan expressed to clear using ground or airpower.

Beyond that, how can airpower support lines of effort? It may be able to help sustain fewer U.S. Soldiers via airlift and airdrop but at the cost of extensive use of $400 per gallon adjusted fuel prices. He appears to reject the need for small dispersed COPs and Joint Security Stations in Iraq in favor of newly created and expanded green zones to include the families and workers aligned with the government and counterinsurgent.

In other words, he advocates protecting limited numbers of host nation good guys in a few green zones (no doubt on or near major airfields) but leaving remaining large territories unsecured and in undeveloped chaos without any ability to repair EBO damage to bridges, highways and other infrastructure. His creation of such green zones in multiple areas, particularly in Afghanistan, would have required extensive ground security and new building while still leaving the occupants and construction force susceptible to IEDs, kidnappings and ambush, and indirect fire attacks.

Should we have left Iraq and Afghanistan in chaos? He brings up the relatively low cost of the no-fly zone but fails to note that it left Hussein in power following Desert Storm, both Shiites and Kurds got gassed/oppressed, and Iraqi oil was not flowing. If we had attacked, seized Baghdad, and then immediately left Iraq without stability operations, it would have descended into a massive civil war sans any security force to control it or protect reestablishment of oil exports. A Shiite security force may not be optimal, but it’s a better alternative than no security force. What happens to the rest of the population not in the few mentioned Green Zones?

He suggests the option of building a host nation military outside the host nation to avoid boots on the ground. That might work for key leaders and SF troops but is too costly for essential general purpose forces. I also recall several pilots defecting from training in Texas. In addition, external training loses the capability to simultaneously train while providing wide area security and combined arms maneuver in the troubled host country. He mentioned lower quality U.S. Army troops being less effective out of basic training and AIT as part of the ground force expansion. Does he believe it would be any different for fresh host nation troops that can’t read and write and don’t speak English being abandoned in a premature transition?

The reality that we have been confronted with is that:

a. Attempts to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western lines,

b. However and by whomever such transformations are attempted,

c. These such attempts at transformation are as likely or more likely:

1. To cause, feed, fuel and sustain conflicts,

2. To lead to even graver consequences, such as, the destruction, disintegration or division of states and societies,

3. To the breakdown of a states' basis of cohesion and/or

4. To the re-ordering of the state and society along lines that are even more detrimental to US interests. (For example: along Islamist lines.)

This reality and learning suggests that -- re: whatever venue we wish to consider for state and societal transformation -- we must understand that the process has the potential to cause more harm than good.

It is with this understanding in mind that we have been required to re-think not only counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, nation-building, etc., but also our transformative foreign policy objective generally and, as to our own profession, the intelligent role of the US military (if there is one) re: the pursuit of state and societal transformations.

J Harlan

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 11:19am

After the fall of Baghdad Iraq was a crime problem. With the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and firing of Baathists from government jobs it became a rebellion against US occupation. The insurgency eventually drew "terrorists" (including AQI) to the chance to get at US forces and their sectarian foes. The Sunni terrorists attacks on Shia brought about a civil war which saw large areas of Baghdad fall to Shia militias. Acknowledging that they couldn't take on the US and Shia and having grown fed up with AQI Sunni tribal leaders sought out a ceasefire with the US so to rearm, train and build their forces. Shortly after this the "Surge" occurred to cover US withdrawal. The civil war was put on hold while the US left and has now started up again.

The key decisions in this were made by Paul Bremner and not the US military. If FM 3-24 had existed in 2003 the outcome would probably not have been different. US policy pushed the Sunnis into a corner and they fought back. If Bremner hadn't disenfranchised the Baathists it's possible that Shias (with more support from Iran than they got) would have been the lead anti-US force. In the end the result would have been the same.


Mon, 05/19/2014 - 1:24am

That was a very interesting. Two basic thoughts. One, the document that stresses technology over human culture/context/whatever isn't going to be written by the USMC or Army any time soon. That cuts deeply against the cultural grain. Second, I think you are largely right in many circumstances. Technology is what we have to offer that sets us apart.

In many cases, we have very little to "teach" a host nation. For example look at India. They have several insurgencies (Nagaland, Kashmir, naxalite). I think it would be a horrible idea to send US forces to perform a FID mission. One, we have very little to teach India about Nagaland or Kashmir. Second, given the history of India, I can't see how US forces advising couldn't be negative, even if it was a "small" footprint. However, we do have significant intelligence and other assets that could be helpful. That type of support could be given covertly and help create a long term partnership with a future key player in the world and region.

Bill M.

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 12:31am

MajGen Dunlap,

I can't take a hard stand on your criticisms until I read the updated FM, but find your comment about our COIN doctrine being land centric worth addressing. I wonder if the Navy and Air Force participated in its development? Perhaps the joint pub on COIN is supposed to address this gap, while the FM focuses on the land and human domains? Having some experience with each of the services' irregular offices, the Air Force by far puts the least effort into exploring how it could contribute more to IW efforts despite having some passionate officers in their office (at least in the past). If the Navy and Air Force tried to participate and were refused entry into the land domain club then I agree that is foul, but I suspect that isn't the case.

I agree with your points on incorporating technology intelligently to fight insurgents, and I had no issue with the Marines taking tanks to Afghanistan. It was common sense, but as you pointed out a doctrine that appeals to Northeastern graduate students who never held a weapon nor desire to, should we be surprised? What is the difference between a tank shooting a highly accurate round from a drone or an Apache? One advantage is the tank is with you and you have immediate control over it. Not to say there aren't disadvantages, but for the COINdistas to reject it out of hand is an indicator of how much we lost touch with reality. I still don't think doctrine needs to call out that we need to seek an asymmetric advantage with our technology to prevail in tactical engagements, but maybe we do.

Is it COIN or CT or FID or does it really matter? Doctrintistas would argue drone strikes in Pakistan are CT and that the PGM strikes in Columbia are FID and our population-centric operations in Afghanistan are COIN. They would relish debating it for hours, but it is a meaningless argument.

I looked over the article by Colin Gray and found this quote relevant to your argument that our COIN doctrine is land domain centric and my argument that our doctrine creates harmful stovepipes that can prevent us from taking a more holistic view of the situation when formulating our strategy.

Quote "Is landpower the supported element or is airpower? This debate would be laughable were it not so serious in the damage it does to the national security. America needs a unified theory of war and warfare, and it has to try to cure itself of its strategic allergy. And yet, stovepipe thinking and behavior continue to thrive."

As for the requirement to maintain two land services, I think we have proven repeatedly we need the Army and Marines both, just as we need the Air Force and Navy.


Tue, 05/20/2014 - 9:04am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Does this detail matter?

In the end, that's still "internal strife".

A doctrine document (FM) should be kept general or it will never fit in the future. So "internal strife" it shall be.

The failure was the inability to not continue the suppression of (violent) internal strife immediately.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 2:09am

In reply to by Fuchs

Would argue that in fact the core problem was initially a CT one---why--there was a Sunni insurgent group called Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) Salafist in nature but not AQI which had been fighting Saddam in the underground since Desert Storm but somehow our intelligence community failed to pick it up. It is in fact that same IAI which is carrying the fight under a new name in the Sunni triangle from the side of the tribes next to ISIL.

If one was picked up by the ISI for even being a member of one of their prayer groups it was an automatic death sentence and it was carried out immediately that is how serious Saddam viewed them from 1991 to 2003.

The IAI was organized already in cells, had trained fighters, was strongly funded out of other ME countries and actually started using remote controlled IEDs against us within three weeks of our arrival in Baghdad.

Then when the most stupid mistake was made not by the military but by Dept of State civilians when they disbanded the military and security services they literally drove hundreds of fighters into the arms of the IAI.

What we had exactly three weeks after arriving in Baghdad was by a Mao definition a Phase Two guerrilla war and CT would have worked if we had fully understood what we were in 2003/2004 seeing on the ground but utterly no one had a clue about guerrilla warfare nor what it looked like nor how to fight it.

Still today no one even ventures to ask the question just how was it possible to have a Phase Two guerrilla war within three weeks---that challenges COIN to it's core.

You lost me when you claimed that the challenge in Iraq was initially a CT problem.

It was an occupation which decimated, disbanded but did not fully replace the defeated state's security forces. Previously suppressed internal strife escalated when the previous minority government was replaced by an election-based political system in which the majority demographic was bound to seize power.

Bombs exploded, but that was a mere symptom. The U.S.Army and other occupying ground forces were incapable of suppressing the internal strife and attempts to do so turned itself into a target.
Only later on did terrorists seize the opportunity to create a warring party in the civil war and terror bombings became commonplace.

The challenge is how to replace and (re-)establish security forces capable of suppressing internal strife even in a deeply divided country.

The best answer to the problem is of course to forget about this nonsense and to simply not wage such always stupid wars of choice in the first place.