Small Wars Journal

SWJ Book of Mozzilla Hidden Messages in the Operations Process

Fri, 01/06/2012 - 2:22pm

It is “historically” common to compare “now” with “then” in the operations process and many of the analogies we use have an irresistible allure. Immediate ones that come to mind are the oft quoted comparisons of Vietnam with Iraq and Afghanistan.  Sometimes the use of these “lessons”, histories, or analogies enable us to make decisions with a minimum of fresh analysis. Sometimes the most appropriate lesson or analogy to use is the one that is ignored. 

The next few paragraphs begin with what we know in an effort to look at conditions or analogies that might be neglected.

Language and culture are not mission enablers to Full Spectrum Operations (FSO); rather they are in direct support thereof. In January, 2010, Major General Flynn addressed this serious deficiency in our understanding of the operating environment. “Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about whom the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency[1].The most salient problems are attitudinal, cultural, and human.”[2]

In the journal, PRISM, A Journal of The Center For Complex Operations (CCO), LTG Robert Caslen said: “The most pressing obstacle hindering our cultural understanding is an arrogant and haughty attitude. It is critically important to understand the fabric of the society that we are working in...”.[3]

(A presumption of the operations process?)

Counterinsurgency theory and subsequent debate describes two approaches: a “population-centric” approach, referred to as “hearts and minds,” and an “enemy-centric approach” that focuses primarily on engaging insurgents and insurgent leadership.  

At its heart, a “hearts and minds” approach is the struggle for the support of the population. It is a proactive approach involving all the elements of national power; even down to the tactical level. It is a competition with the insurgent for the right to win the acquiescence of the people. It is those military, paramilitary, economic, psychological and civil actions employed to defeat armed resistance, reduce passive opposition and reestablish legitimacy.  General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency guidance lists twenty-four rules that capture the spirit and intent of this approach.[4]

A review of the convergence and divergence of contemporary and historical trends, reveals that, these elements are interdependent ,evolve operationally, and require familiarity with a number of disciplines – a thorough understanding of the “role of resident networks in society,” [5] and one might add, within the operating environment. The common element in Hybrid, FSO, and Counterinsurgency Operations (COIN), is that they are difficult to understand, and are inherently messy in devising plans and methods.

The use of history is a critical element in the operations process in devising plans and methods. We use campaign analysis, battle reports, after action reports and our own experience to assess and judge plans and operations. History and analogies used in the process are used to generally advocate for or against a problem we are challenged with.

Many charge that they are already too busy and respond to the argument on making better use of history in the Operations Process by stating; “They’re too busy; can’t read what they get now. They will glance at it on the way to the meeting. If you do get their attention, you can’t keep it, they have to run off to another meeting or important engagement.”   Judgements and feasibility come down to the “doability” of improvising and inventing a requisite response. As Americans we are rooted in “Can-Do” and the ability to improvise solutions that no one has done before. 

An allegedly new condition in this process is the globalization of the international system with its own unique “prose”  of culture, rules and logic (of counterinsurgency?).

For further clarity, please refer to Major Michael Few’s This isn’t the COIN your looking for.

For the soldier, history is usually read and studied for generally two reasons; esthetics, and that history may help us understand operations. Thucydides and Tacitus focused on the political-military aspects of history. Herodotus writes history with a bent toward socio-cultural aspects to help us understand the social dynamic. Current processes that use DIME, ASCOPE and PMESII are tools that assist us in devising operational plans and methods with an eye on culture and civil considerations. When coupled with Intelligence preparation and the Tactical Conflict Planning and Assessment Framework, a dose of history, analogy and lessons learned.  By now I think everyone in the world has seen the short video lost in translation, and  like a good Sufi parable, this video has multiple meanings.

In the planning process we generally use great blunders or great successes for our analogies to argue for or against a particular event.  History is filled with great blunders and great success. We are mostly attracted to the great blunders and catastrophes in an attempt to find a lesson that best serves our immediate need. In most cases we know or feel that something is wrong and an outsider looking in will ask, ‘How did they come to that decision?’ ‘What were they thinking?’ How do we apply the lessons learned? Is it a matter of just applying rigour? Would due diligence in the staffing, information gathering, and decision making process have prevented that kind of decision?

When we ask such questions in the use of history, we usually ask if we could have done better, and if so, how?  This then leads to a ‘gaming’ or visualization of the entire process and imagining how the outcome would have played differently.   Current doctrine encourages this by “Red Teaming.”  

When we use history (lessons learned?),  the questions asked above might  be rephrased to: what caused us to believe the information we had at the time we made the decision?  What were assumptions about the use of (history/lessons learned) that made us believe certain things would happen?    In essence we are drilling through to the process of ‘Why would they do that?’ Applying this in cultural context for unique operating environments poses even greater challenges.

In general, the use of history or lessons learned is about improvement, even marginal improvement of some kind.

The infamous Bay of Pigs offers an illustration. Kennedy and his Administration spent six days assessing and analyzing options. Airstrikes were an option, so was an island invasion. Ultimately it was a Naval Blockade and Robert Kennedy negotiating the withdrawal of missiles from Turkey that would end the crisis. Similarly, the Strategic Studies Institute, Wanat, Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008 is an example of contemporary history that is meant to provide historical context for future leaders and decision making in chaotic and complex environments.  

The Operations process is ultimately about the employment of power – soft power and or hard power – and in this light, specifics and particulars matter greatly. In many cases our first impulse is to do something. Our second thought is what or whether we should, and then in what sequence.

Decision making involves drawing on history (lessons learned) in an effort to advocate for or against a situation. It also helps us frame sharper questions in a more systematic method because nothing threatens analytic questions more than beliefs that fuel convincing advocacy; few things threaten advocacy more than obvious flaws in analysis.

Our usual practice is to plunge into action, place an overreliance on fuzzy analogies, neglect the past history of that issue, fail to think about presumptions (not assumptions but presumptions), with little to no effort spent at seeing current choices as part of the historical sequence. 

Harry Truman’s response to Dean Acheson’s news that North Korea had just invaded South Korea is illustrative; “By God, I am going to hit them hard”.  What makes this all so interesting is that these same men in 1948, and again in 1950, stated that Korea was of little strategic value and the use of military force would be ill advised.  Why then, in June 1951, did they decide to fight? 

That question is outside the scope of this paper, however for our illustration of the use of history, Truman would invoke the analogies of the 1930’s. He  would make reference to Manchuria, Austria, Ethiopia and how the League of Nations had failed. The lessons of the thirties would provide the underlying theme for supporting a stern response. History and lessons learned  that resonate with  association, cultural association. Yet they never asked why those specific analogies were so critical to deciding to fight.

Separating the known, the unknown, the unclear, and presumed allows one to truly analyze the situation by,  disassembling the parts, especially in the use of historical analogy. (Analyze from: anas, meaning things; and lysein, to dissolve; in an effort to disassemble a situation now).

If our first caveat is that the known, unknown, unclear, and presumed are directly related to the decision; the second is that they must be identified from the standpoint of person or persons who have to act. These things must be written down. “In conversation you can get away with all kind of vagueness, often without realizing it. But there is something about putting your thoughts on paper that forces you to get to specifics. That way it’s harder to deceive yourself or anybody else.”

Using the Truman illustration, the Presidents’ chief concern, based on the analogies he used, was not Korea.

It is “historically” common to compare “now” with “then”, and many of the analogies we use have an irresistible allure. Immediate ones that come to mind are the oft quoted comparisons of Vietnam with Iraq and Afghanistan.

Science, art, and history all have one thing in common with decision making. It is the use of analogy to find pattern and similarity; a frame of reference. Thucydides argued that his history of the Peloponnesian Wars would arm future decision makers to do better when faced with comparable choices.

Decision making is the propensity to think forward in “time streams”. History (lessons learned),  is sometimes  that reference point. But, In the decision making process, what time frame is used? Is amount of time needed to achieve the objective a matter of weeks or months?  How does this compare with the history of the socio-political environment?

Did the process of  applying lessons learned  to the operations process include a time streaming of what the outcome would look like after you rotated out of mission? What does the transition to locals, coalition partners, or NGO’s look like in this visualization, time stream, or red teaming event? What fresh facts, If at hand, or by when, would cause you to change your presumptions?

What historical placement are you using?  An event, an organization, a region, a special event, your own experience? How does this help you articulate the stereotypes and bias in your presumptions? 

All else aside, the blinders self imposed by fickle public support, frailties of intelligence, honor, revenge, interest, and the uncertainty of luck  don’t allow for the probing of presumptions or finding history that fits – in  insuring that there are no more Dien Bien Phu’s. 

The history and the uses of history in a cultural context in the operations process does matter.

In conclusion, a look at stated success in current operations reflects that successful operations were multidisciplinary, multi-approach, and followed multiple simultaneous Lines of Operation.  An analysis of British operations, 2006-2009, in Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, reflects an either- or-approach, and a failure to understand the “role of resident networks” of its Operating Environment. The Combat Studies Institute, Wanat, Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008, shows how operations quickly devolved to “enemy-centric”.

The Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) runs a training program that promotes enhancing the adaptability at the individual and team level. This program is known as the Asymmetric Warfare Adaptive Leader Program (AWALP). Though this was not the purpose of the AWALP, AWG mentors have observed the participants’ performance and formed some conclusions about the levels of skill demonstrated. Some of the skill deficits observed in leaders attending the AWALP, are skills that most Army leaders consider to be fundamental. These skills are often trained in both the institutional and operational domains. Several skill deficits were listed. most notable is: Leaders are not well attuned to seeking opportunities when conducting operations in and amongst civilian populations. Awareness of cultural issues is only one aspect. Leaders lack the deeper understanding of discerning what is important, significant or relevant when interacting with civilian populations. Many of these skills would also benefit when partnering with host nation forces or conducting advisor and training missions[6].

How much of this might be attributed to the operations process when devising plans and methods?

The current doctrine, approaches and strategy have been highly criticized. However, a “good strategy presumes good anthropology and good sociology.” (The presumption of cultural context in the operations process?) [1]

While learning must also encompass strategic and political lessons, history and past experience do not teach, they enlighten.  The art of learning comes from understanding linkages and conditions under which the events took place.

The trends of counterinsurgency, compared with the observations on language and culture training, appear to reflect that breadth, depth, and multidisciplinary approaches better serve operational need. Evidentiary support for this comes from RAND, in which they indicated that successful COIN practices tend to run in packs.[7] Additionally, Much of what entails success in these “packs”, is contingent on integration of many elements with language and culture at multiple levels simultaneously.

  • Navigate the internecine Politics
  • Identify potential supporters
  • Identify spoilers and detractors
  • Maintain neutrality from power brokers
  • Fight the enemy
  • Protect the population
  • Make friends
  • Keep the friends you have
  • Integrate your actions with others outside your chain of command and span of control

These same elements  will most likely be subsets of future Direct Action, Stability Operations and Humanitarian Missions. 

In a recent SOCOM ARR, an example of the cognitive elements that give depth and breadth to the operations process (in cultural context), described the perfect Female Engagement Team (FET) as a medic and an analyst that could ask the locals open-ended questions. 

Engineer, Medical, and Civil Affairs Units will be the “force of first choice”,  and will require warfighter support.  This is emphasized in TRADOC PAM, 525-3-0, The Army’s Future Force Capstone Concept, dated 7 December 2009. This force of first choice will require language skills, cultural capability, and regional expertise within that warfighter support. The ability to use history and lessons learned in cultural context when devising operations, plans and methods is the keystone to success.

In conclusion the most significant lessons learned in this might be as follows:

We place great emphasis on repetition in training of combat skills in order to gain automaticity. Correctly achieving this automaticity is critical to prevent reverting back to incorrect responses' and incorrect behavior. We see this when incorrectly trained in a crew drill or when an interpreter, translator, or language enabled soldier instinctively reacts in a counterproductive way during a KLE.   It is only extremely recently that this was all finally linked to "Design."

The central theme in our perceived lack of success in contemporary lessons learned over the last ten years of conflict appears to follow at least four explanations as follows:

            1. The arrogance of power - imperialism/ideology. This explanation essentially indicates that the United States as a nation abused its power and like other great powers in history used this power at every conceivable opportunity.

            2. Economic imperialism. That intervention was a predictable outcome in order to secure control over economic resources.

            3. Politics- bureaucratic and domestic. That "toughness is the most prized virtue" and that conflict was bound to cave to a military solution.

            4. The Slippery Slope. That "error creates its own reality' and that an unbroken series of seemingly unavoidable decisions, all made with the best of intentions and for noble purpose had all gone awry because of factors outside ones control.  This might also include perceived mortal flaws in doctrine and policy.   "Something is wrong somewhere. Something is always wrong somewhere" 

So now we have an excuse to ditch what we don’t know how to do. Once again see the artcle by Maj Michael Few I mentioned above.

These arguments TOGETHER AND in themselves are insufficient and this history will always be controversial, and answers to some questions may remain elusive for years. Policy analysts question conceptual failure (ends), intellectuals want to know why, and the analysis of organizational and operational lessons learned (ways and means), will shape outcomes for years.

[1] Bernard Brodie, War and Politics, New York: MacMillan, 1973, p. 332.  Brodie goes on to add, “Some of the greatest military blunders of all time have resulted from juvenile evaluations in this department.”

[1] Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan, MG Michael Flynn, CPT Matt Pottinger, USMC, Paul D. Batchelor, DIA p4

[2] Ibid, p9

[3] PRISM 2, no 3, p7

[4] COMISAF Counterinsurgency Guidance, 1 August 2010

[5] PRISM 2, no 3, p7

[6] Asymmetrical Warfare Group, Leaders as Trainers, A description of currently observed training challenges as seen by AWG AWALP cadre, 4/14/2011, version 2B, Final.

[7] Christopher Paul, Colin P. Clarke, and Beth Grill, Victory Has a Thousand Fathers:

Detailed Counterinsurgency Case Studies, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation,

MG-964/1-OSD, 2010. See also, Evidentiary validation of FM 3-24, Published in: Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ), Issue 60, 1st Qtr 2011, Jan. 2011, p. 126-128; Discusses the demonstrated efficacy of the COIN principles embodied in FM 3-24, historical evidence and data collected from 30 case studies for recent resolved insurgencies. The vast majority of governments and COIN forces that adhered to multiple tenets of the field manual prevailed over the insurgencies they opposed.


About the Author(s)

Terry Tucker is Principle and military analyst for Terra Contra LLC. He is a former embedded trainer and advisor to the Afghan National Security Forces and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Terry also wrote lessons learned for the US Army Center for Army Lessons Learned.  Terry has authored two and books: The Operational Art of Counterinsurgency;  and US Counterinsurgency Methods and the Global War on Terror; numerous articles on defense and security and is an history instructor for Brandman University. Terry currently resides in Los Angeles California.


Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 4:43pm

In reply to by Terry.Tucker

Terry---goes deeper than that. Currently most BCT and that includes Divisional as well as Corp staffs simply do not know what "right is".

Meaning we as a military felt that we had to have "adaptive" staffs as the enemy is an ever evolving and adaptive force---that led to a utter lack of even referring to doctrine via FMs in the last six years.

Watch the CTC scenarios---yes there will be a contractor replicating say a DST or a WTI or a PRT and you are right the first time the BCT gets a chance to work with them is in the middle of a 14 day dress rehearsal where they are trying to put together two named operations and the battle staffs usually feel the contractor is in the way most of the time--- there is no time to sit down and learn from each other-but hey the block is checked.

TRADOC has not helped as well in the FM department---example take the FIRES FM 3-60 I could hand it to an untrained individual or an intel officer who knows nothing about the target planning cycle and the individual/intel officer could in fact ascertain from the FM the critical elements that had to be completed via MDMP/B2C2WG.

On the other hand take the recent intel TC released by intel concerning ISR and there is only one mention of the term "targeting" with absolutely no mention of how ISR supports the target planning cycle and the intel soldier/officer would not even know what he or she has to do in the target planning cycle.

We have ISR field trainers hand holding battle staffs that yet do not believe that targeting should even be in classes where ISR is taught to the CM or that somehow targeting is not supported by ISR. Their hands are being held in HST, MCTP, and the CTC especially in the area of ISR and still the units are having extreme difficulties in theater with ISR.

No one has shouted stop the merrygoround and let's figure out what is really wrong---for all these MTTs on any subject that gets thrown at a BCT has anyone asked ok they have had the classes let's see how it is going in theater and then feedback into the classroom just exactly what was seen in theater----no. Many call it lessons learned, or feedback-- I call it part of the MOE/MOP process in the assessment cycle---not happening anywhere. We teach battle staffs that they must constantly do staff assessments as part of the staff processes and yet on the training side nothing makes it back into the classroom via field assessments.

The problems that are being discussed here go far deeper than many really want to hear--take the simple terms strategic, operational and tactical and ask a junior level officer (Lts/CPTs) what the JP 1-02 defintions are and you will draw a blank and yet the terms get thrown around all day long.

It all goes back to what Mike mentioned--reform is needed and quickly in the areas of operations, organization, and planning if the current Army is to adapt to the reality of the coming slim down without losing the dearly paid for experience of the last ten years.


Sat, 01/07/2012 - 2:00pm

Outlaw and Mike,
excellent points, i have written about this in research reports to CALL; to paraphrase, the entire process is essentially a BCT Self-Help Project. DoD have done an excellent job at mandating the requirements and then abdicated responsibilty by not providing time or resources, or in worse case drastically reducing ARFORGEN and reassigning AOR 6 monts from deployment, and units have to wing the entire process. commanders, as usual, are forced to make critical decisions about what gets left behind in terms of training. The natural emphasis is on force protection and combat skills, rightly so to a dregree, soft skills, language and culture and design process/gaming are given short shrift, especially in terms of JIIM, The process is "closed loop", as you said, relyimg mostly, even exclusively, on BCT experience and resouces. No one meets USAID,Coalition or any of the alphabet agencies untill in theater; no one does this in training yet is required to plan, coordinate and implement JIIM; Go Figure that after 10 years we still struggle with anything that resembles a JIIM or a Joint training facility that couples the theoretical/conceptual to the operations EARLY in ARFORGEN or even at RESET.
NO ONE anywhere, with intent, takes the theoretical aspects of any of this and says, this is the doctrinal, principal, tenet connection. at least not until past CGSC? certainly they dont do much of that at west point becasue, wtf, conventional ops at gettysburg on day 1 are a clear historical example of how messy and complex operations are in a JIIM environment. Wrong use of histrorical analogy? I charge that the Army has failed to link correctly the right history to the training.
No one is looking at the training vignettes or scenarios and says this is how it links to doctrine and how it should be nuanced to the situation.

We have pretty much neglected the BCT and the resources it needs.

This is why we dont do messy or complex and just because the SecDef said that we wont be doing large scale ops like this in the future, it still does not go away for a while. BCT's will be required to do SOME of these same things on a smaller scale/footprint.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 12:47pm

In reply to by Terry.Tucker

Terry---you bring in another issue that is not spoken about much especially not from the TRADOC side. With the attitude of been there done it and have the T-shirts comes an interesting development.

It is almost as if the various battle staff functions ie S1s thru S9s simply rely on their previous experiences, and due to the unending rebuilds under ARFORGEN simply are not getting the opportunities to both refresh their skill sets ie new courses or training topics---but COUPLE that with new level 10s coming into the units from the schools with little to no knowledge of the operational environments and with them being now shortened in their actual training times by 2-4 weeks depending on MOS they are merged into a kind of "doomed" environment.

Meaning the units have very little time to train the new level 10s to standard prior to deployment so in fact they are learning on the job--again it impacts on the products they can or do produce and it takes a large amont of supervision time away from those with the experience who should be focusing on other things.

Example---in 2010 and 2011 the rates of injured from IEDs is not decreasing in fact it is actually increasing and that in the face of hugh amonts of ISR toys going into theater, tons of money thrown at it by JIEDDO, hugh amonts of intel support and at least another 13 enabling organizations working at the BCT levels and not to mention the new theory of Attack the Network (AtN) which after the amont of effort in teaching it should have had some impact on the battlefiled--it has not.

Are we seeing an over all improvement in the statistics--no. This in turns leads senior leaders to ask why not thus in turn the defense contracting world steps up and offers "solutions" ie even more defense contractor MTTs and defense contractor hand holding in theater all with the same results- nothing is improving. No one ever asks just what is the problem and just how do we fix it based on MOE/MOPs.

Instead of asking why are not we getting it right at home station and fixing the problems during the home station phase we keep pushing the problems to the right. It is amazing just how many units that go to a CTC rotation have never completed a single homestation field deployed FTX---the CTC is their first try at it as a battle staff.

MikeF is right it does go back to the maybe having to reform and rethink the organizational and planning side.

Example--once observed a young BN Cmdr during a CTC rotation who had just come from doing a tour with JSOC. Every monrning he sat the core battle staff (S2, S3, AS3, CM, FIREs, IO) down and actually walked them through various aspects of MDMP. Then he did something that I had not seen in a long while he had them sitting in a square formation of desks and computers together. The energy/trust created by being face to face and co-equals was evident in that battle staff-JSOC calls it fusion. Other BNs were in the standard U or Square formations. His Bn performed exceptionally well and his battle staff was contstantly voicing their respect for the Cmdr and were following his every lead.

He mentioned once to me that 1) I can train battle captains in 30 minutes 2) I cannot train a battle staff---it has to jell and they have to trust each other.

When I mentioned that we should be documenting that development---was told it is not in our lane --so no.

MikeF is right it is all about organizational, operational, and planning reform.


Sat, 01/07/2012 - 11:23am

outlaw 09, your posts, all of them nail it!!
UNITS STILL are not training for interagency or conducting realistic messy and complex KLE's and scenarios until they get to a CTC and by then its way too late. this reactive approach, can-do, i can wing it in theater approach is the reaction to messy, complex, not trained issues of these operations. its not going to get better just because we are not in Iraq or Afghanistan. it will be the same with a much smaller footprint.

gian gentile

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 1:17pm

In reply to by Terry.Tucker


I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on this one. History does not support the a priori statement that coin and other small wars are more messy and complex than conventional operations. For example, anyone familiar with the planning for the Normandy invasion knows that they were all about being "messy" and "complex."

I do appreciate though your article and the thought provoking parts to it



Sat, 01/07/2012 - 11:16am

gian and outlaw,
thank you for your observations,
these operations are a tad more messy and complex than so called conventional operations because of the messy and elaborate planning required. Operations conducted in kandahar and helmand Province failed to account for insurgent migrations northeast, or that some operating areas just might have a "chechnyan" problem, despite all the outward/intelligence indicators. They are messy and complex becasue its easy to ignore other considerations when you own the operating area; case in point, coordinating cerp and reconstruction with host nation agencies and ngo's. They are sometimes more deliberate in the process, we dont wait and and have no tactical patience, becasue its messy, complex, requires extra time, and will not fit a pre fabricated command/staff time schedule. the operations are complex and messy from the social-political and economic aspects that impact, and staffs are not equipped or trained to deal with that. By default, units assumed duties and responsibilites that DoS/USAID should have done but could not because they could not meet the surge demand ( so DoD steps up to the plate by default to meet the demand; then we train units at the CTC in kabul to do TCAPF. and USAID hires a contract group called DAI to implement quick hit projects in a district in less than 90 days, never mind that this was not planned and coordinated with the PRT or operating environment owner bcasue the USAID/DAI team is on one campaign plan and the BCT on another and the PRT and its own.
Sadly we have applied Clausewitz in the wrong way or ignored him completely in others. I prefer sun tzu anyway. we did not know ourself and we did not know our enemy and the acme of skill is not combat; another reason why this is all soo messy and complex.

lastly, outlaw 09, great point, i recall when i was on active duty i made professional reading and reflection papers part of the evaluation system. a couple of books a year or journal articles is not much to ask to prepare them for a professional career.
thank you both for the opportunity to exchange idea's

Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 11:05am

In reply to by gian gentile

Gain---actually fully agree with you---history is a great teacher if we the military are willing to discuss the pros and cons of specific historical events.

Problem I see and I keep going back too it-- is that our current junior and mid level officer Corp (Lts thru CPTs and to a degree even MAJs) simply do not have a depth of knowledge inherently necessary to "conduct" and this will be a harsh comment to "conduct COIN/FID or just about anything else". Do not get me wrong there has been some extremely innovative activities conducted by battle staffs in both Iraq and Afghanistan but it is via a reactive process not a well thought out approach process based on hisotrical knowledge.

Way to often one now hears the refrain--"been there, done it and have the T-shirt" as a standard statement if you are trying to focus them in their battle staff processes. I personally do blame the ops tempo as well as the process of stripping out the institutional knowledge bases of battle staffs as the Army reforms a BCT in the ARFORGEN cycle.

There is really no time for the battle staffs to learn on their own through reading and studying as the ARFORGEN drives everything.

That was all I was trying to get too---yes history is a teacher if one is willing to be a student and right now in this time of the Army we have very few "willing students".

gian gentile

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 10:31am


You said this in your above post:

"While I believe that history can in fact teach us---meaning we can look back and and 'see' what specific events occurred that are similar to the ones we are currently encountering past events should not tell us how we are though to 'understand' what we are currently encountering and how we should act to what we are 'understanding'".

Agree completely and i did not intend to argue that history provides "lessons learned" in the form of templates for contemporary action. I still like the quote from St Carl about history when he said that "history should inform the commander's judgment but it should never accompany him to the battlefield."

Unfortunately over the last couple of years with the cannonization of texts like Galula that is exactly the trap we have fallen into.


Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 9:48am

In reply to by gian gentile

This comment I agree is an interesting one to pick out of the article and in some ways goes to the heart of current issues that are being repeatedly seen in battle staffs.

"The common element in Hybrid, FSO, and Counterinsurgency Operations (COIN), is that they are difficult to understand, and are inherently messy in devising plans and methods."

While I believe that history can in fact teach us---meaning we can look back and and "see" what specific events occurred that are similar to the ones we are currently encountering past events should not tell us how we are though to "understand" what we are currently encountering and how we should act to what we are "understanding".

Example---at the NTC in the timeframe 2006/2007 there was a Ops Group Cmdr that pushed his OCs to reading something monthly off of a combined reading list---this was the same technique he used with his former BCT prior to going to Iraq and in Iraq. Many of the officers would resist but he would often ask them what they were reading and then ask questions around the matertials being read as he felt that officers should continue a certain level of professional self development especially around COIN. Needless to say even in 2006/2007 many officers did not like be forced to maintain a certain level of OPD.

Just how many of the younger battle staffs still even read?

Gian when using the Civil War as an example uses what I use in training ISR with battle staffs----walk into any BCT or for that matter Divisional battle staff and ask them cold can you give an example from US military history where ISR was conducted in a sucessful fashion and one where it was a total failure---you get absolutely blank stares. It seems things like Yorktown and Cold Habor are no longer part of the military knowledge base by many battle staffs. Do not even get into Korea or VN examples or even current examples from theater.

The core reason why FID, hybrid, and COIN are so messy is that not many and I mean not many current officers on BCT/Div battles staffs have a sound knowledge foundation on the topics-meaning having read and fully understanding different points of views by different authors on those subjects.

Some could argue that the Ops tempo for all staffs has been to high and it has been but ask any SME if he can remain still in his profession by not staying current or must he continiously learn to move forward.

Gian is right both conventional and unconventional warfare are equally challenging---but right now it is challenging simply due to the lack of a solid knowledge base in the battle staffs.


gian gentile

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 9:05am

Well if we are talking about history and learning this statement by Dr Tucker seems a bit confined in its implication:

"The common element in Hybrid, FSO, and Counterinsurgency Operations (COIN), is that they are difficult to understand, and are inherently messy in devising plans and methods."

And not conventional warfare? Let's see, Lee at day 1 at Gettysburg; wtf are my people not following my plans and intent? then, Ewell, hmm, I wonder what Lee wants me to do?, then and earlier in the morning, Archer and Davis saying wtf too, since they were only supposed to hit militia cavalry and not hardened Union cavalry on Herr's ridge.

I know i keep beating this drum but gosh, when can we stop at least implying that conventional or higher end warfare is less "messy" and complicated than small wars. The two might be different in form, but one is not a priori more complicated and difficult than the other. Colonel Bob Cassidy had it wrong when he said in a Military Review article a number of years ago that counterinsurgency "is more difficult" than conventional warfare. To be sure it might be in certain cases, but we should not think automatically that it always is.

Anyway I do appreciate the emphasis Dr Tucker places on the importance of history when trying to understand and analyze contemporary problems. His piece does read in certain ways like John Sumida's excellent and recently published book on Clausewitz where he argues that St Carl used history as a form of historical "reenactment" for the commander to study past events.