Small Wars Journal

FM 3-24

Counterinsurgency: A New Doctrine's Fading Allure

Bing West argues that COIN as nation-building should not be a military mission at World Politics Review.

The manual’s Rousseauian outlook had its roots more in political theory than actual experience. Because 40 years had passed since the American infantry had last engaged in serious firefights in Vietnam, the generals who commanded in Iraq and Afghanistan had no combat experience at the grunt level. By Sept. 11, 2001, they had already risen to the rank of colonel or above.

So when faced with guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they hastily read a few history books and searched their memories for scraps of knowledge faintly recalled from long-ago lectures. They distilled these lessons learned into operational orders and field manuals to be implemented on the platoon level.

The new counterinsurgency theory was based on the mission of winning hearts and minds, so that the local population would reject the insurgents and support the government. Since the people were the center of gravity, to use an overworked military expression, our tactics were conceived so as to cause them no harm.

The emphasis reflects the vast changes in contemporary U.S. culture and ideology, compared to 1941 or even 1961.