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COIN – Now we see that it failed. But that was obvious before we started (when will we learn?)

6 December 2011

Summary:  Now that the enthusiasm has passed for COIN as the tool by which foreign armies can defeat local insurgencies, we can look back for lessons.  They key insight is not that COIN failed to live up to the claims of its advocates.  It’s that the claims were obviously false when made, disproved by both history and logic.

Updates:

Contents

  1. Introduction:  the rise of COIN
  2. The Fall of COIN
  3. Reason #1:  COIN seldom works when used by foreign armies against local insurgents
  4. Reason #2:  the intellectual foundation of COIN is largely bogus
  5. Other posts about COIN

(1)  Introduction:  the rise of COIN

As the US military retreats from COIN, returning to its traditional (since WWI) reliance on massive firepower, we can look back and learn from its second rise and fall (Vietnam was their first love affair with COIN).  Original thinkers like Thomas Barnett laid the foundation, brilliant theorists like David Kilcullen developed it, and the US military used the concept to build support for a new wave of foreign wars.  Now we look back and see how little we’ve gained.

Many experts (eg, Gian Gentile, Andrew Bacevich) gave rebuttals to the COIN-istas’ claims.  They were ignored – not refuted. Even so late as June 2010 this was considered shocking:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.” (from the infamous Rolling Stone article about General McChrystal)

The rise and fall of COIN is another example of modern America’s inability to clearly see, understand, and think.  It’s our broken Observation – Orientation – Decision – Action loop (OODA loop; click here for more information).

Readers of the FM website knew these things long ago, as the first and most devastating criticism of COIN appeared in January 2007 (link here), with another two dozen  in the years that followed.   This post consists of excerpts from those, and is an addition to the FM Reference Page listing past predictions (corrections and admissions appear on the Smackdowns page).

What I have been saying in all of this is that when we are thinking about small wars in the present and the future we need to do it with the understanding that the way the US has fought these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, operationally, has failed. If we treat them as successes then we are learning the wrong things from them. It would be like the British after the disastorous and failed Galipoli campaign in 1915 afterward claiming that they were succussful and that there was a trove a strategic lessons to be gotten from it.
— Gian P. Gentile (Colonel, US Army) at the Small Wars Journal, 6 December 2011  (update)

(2)  The fall of COIN

This is a diverse assortment of the many articles by people realizing that COIN has not delivered as its advocates promised.  Many advocates say that, like communism, it just has not been adequately tried.

  1. End of the COIN Era?“, Robert Haddick (Managing Editor of the Small Wars Journal), Foreign Policy, 23 June 2011 — “Obama’s Afghan withdrawal speech may mark the end of the U.S. counterinsurgency experiment.”
  2. COIN Fatigue Disease“, Jed Babbin, American Spectator, 14 November 2011 — “The firing of Major General Peter Fuller underscores growing U.S. military disillusion with its counterinsurgency — nation-building — efforts in Afghanistan.”
  3. U.S. Military To Scrap COIN; Focus on Pacific, Says Vice Chairman Admiral James Winnefeld“, Colin Clark, AOL Defense, 17 November 2011
  4. COIN is Dead: U.S. Army Must Put Strategy Over Tactics“, Gian P. Gentile (Colonel, US Army), World Politics Review, 22 November 2011

There are still those who claim America gained something from our wars in Iraq and Af-Pak, although at this late date that requires quite an imagination.  China and Iran as beneficiaries, yes — that’s easy to show.

(3)  Reason #1:  COIN seldom works when used by foreign armies against local insurgents

(a)  How often do insurgents win? How much time does successful COIN require?, 28 May 2008 — About “Lies, damned lies and counterinsurgency“, Robert W. Chamberlain (Captain, US Army), Armed Forces Journal, May 2008 — Excerpt from that article:

“In general, a government so weak that it relies on foreign military forces is likely to lose … Not only does this bring some order to debate about the odds, but it is a more operationally useful formula for us — often the foreign military forces.”

(b)  Ignoring the blindingly obvious is essential to continue our foreign wars, 18 September 2009 — Excerpt:

If we look closely at the debate about the Af-Pak War, we see some reasons why America has fought so many wars since Korea – and why these wars so closely resemble each other.  Our military journals record 50 years of constant innovation, yet some things are too awful to be seen.

(c)  Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story., 21 June 2010 — This discusses 7 alleged victories by foreign armies fighting insurgencies (Columbia, Iraq, the Malaysian Emergency, the Philippines-American War, Northern Ireland, the Dhofar Rebellion in Oman, and the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya).

(d)  A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it, 28 June 2010 — This reviews the present and past analysis of  counter-insurgency.  This could change the course of American foreign policy, if we pay attention.

(e)  A look at the history of victories over insurgents.  How often do foreign armies win?, 30 June 2010 — A RAND study examines the victories of foreign armies over insurgents.  It holds powerful lessons for us, and deserves more attention. “War by Other Means – Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency“, David Gompert and John Gordon et al (2008).

(4)  Reason #2:  the intellectual foundation of COIN is largely bogus

“Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) did not go to the Pentagon to con them.  The Pentagon went to him like a sinner to Elmer Gantry.” — Paul Avallone (Special Forces, retired; in Nangarhar, Afghanistan 2002-2003, as a photo-journalist in 2006 and 2008), email to Diana West posted here.  Also see his essay “Flirting with Afghanistan – Dispatches from the frontline“, August 2008

(a)  The 2 most devastating 4GW attacks on America, and the roots of FM 3-24, 19 March 2008 — Excerpt:

If basic social engineering is often beyond our capabilities at home — where our knowledge and tools are considerable — what about our ability to do this in foreign lands, the keystone to modern COIN theory?

… FM 3-24 effectively uses social science terminology and analytical frameworks to describe COIN dynamics.  But it advocates using social science theories to manipulate foreign societies.  This will likely fail on several levels.

  1. It will not work, as the social sciences are as yet immature.  Its practitioners cannot wield their theories as can chemists and physicists.  Twentieth century history is largely a series of failed attempts at social engineering.
  2. If US social scientists were able to do so at home, that does not mean that they can do so in foreign lands.
  3. If this was possible to do in foreign lands, the US military might not have the necessary organization or talent to do so.  This probably requires Thomas Barnett’s “System Administrators“, a 21st century organization of colonial civil servants.

This does not mean that all or even most of the advice in FM 3-24 is bad.  Just that FM 3-24′s analytical foundation is probably inadequate for its purpose, which should make us suspicious of its efficacy.  Rather than a work of science, it might be more like a cookbook — or like a 19th century apothecary’s handbook.  Events in Iraq will tell us much about these things, if carefully and coldly considered.

… FM 3-24 is a theoretical solution to 4GW of the second kind (hardware, ideas, people).   Like most such, its content is exciting but our ability to implement it seems questionable.  COIN might be like a star drive or quantum-point energy source – something valuable but beyond our current knowledge.

(b)  A key to the power of FM 3-24, the new COIN manual, 20 March 2008 — Excerpt:

These concepts are intended to provide a simple framework for officers operating in strange lands. Instead they are sharp, complex instruments which might prove useless (too simplistic), too complex (ignored, as another layer on top of already too-complex operations), or so sharp that they bite us.

This is something which military leaders need to consider as they increasingly adopt social science theories, as in the 20th century they uncritically adopted “modern management” theories (e.g., Taylorism) — which, while useful in many ways, led to “innovations” such as the individual replacement system that substantially reduced the combat effectiveness of US forces and were reversed only after several generations of effort.

(c)  We can learn an important lesson about ourselves from the “Three Cups of Tea” affair (part one), 26 April 2011 — Excerpt:

Like all cons, the “Three Cups of Tea” affair reveals more about us than its author. Like all marks, we seek simple sure-fire solutions, no matter how implausible. And we prefer the fables of con men than the complex and often discouraging advice from experts. As any cop on the bunko squad knows, no matter if or how we punish the author, we’ll be just as eager for the next fraud. Unless we learn from our mistakes.

Here are the three levels of the problem posed by 3 Cups Affair, from minor to serious.  ”Three Cups of BS – Greg Mortenson’s school-building plan was never a good idea“, Alanna Shaikh, Foreign Policy, 19 April 2011:

“… This book was published in 2006, and has been widely cited as authoritative by government and non-government experts in the war.  Why did nobody mention that much of it was bogus?”

(d)  The lessons about ourselves we can learn from the “Three Cups of Tea” affair (part 2), 27 April 2011 — Excerpt:

The Three Cups of Tea fable is symptomatic of a deeper flaw in the way we conduct foreign policy.  To believe in fairies makes for a fun children’s story, but wars require tight grip on an often harsh reality.

… Gian Gentile (Colonel, US Army, Wikipedia), excerpt from comment at the Small Wars Journal:

The irony of this story is that Mortenson’s book contains lies about what he actually did — yet his book has come to be embraced by the coin community — and American counterinsurgency itself is one big myth. The myth is that it works, it does not. … And in the end Coin campaigns are very much like Mortenson’s book since they have been described as wars of perceptions. And really all that Mortenson did was write a little white lie that created the perception of things that he supposedly did in Afghanistan.

(5)  For more information — other posts about COIN

Start here:

About the origins of FM 3-24 in the social sciences:

  1. The 2 most devastating 4GW attacks on America, and the roots of FM 3-24, 19 March 2008
  2. A key to the power of FM 3-24, the new COIN manual, 20 March 2008
  3. Dark origins of the new COIN manual, FM 3-24, 23 March 2008

Other posts about coin:

  1. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I, 7 June 2008 — Thoughts about eating soup with a knife.
  2. COIN – a perspective from 23rd century textbooks, 10 June 2008
  3. Nagl gives a profoundly wrong vision for the US military, 22 June 2008
  4. Is COIN the graduate level of military hubris?, 30 July 2008
  5. Does America have clear vision?  Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009 — Did COIN have a large impact on the Iraq War?
  6. The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
  7. Comments about those plans to clear-hold-build in Afghanistan, by James Morton, 31 July 2009
  8. COIN as future generations will see it (and as we should see it today), 1 July 2010 — COIN will be seen by future generations as a manifestation of early 21st century American hubris.
  9. We can learn an important lesson about ourselves from the “Three Cups of Tea” affair (part one), 26 April 2011
  10. The lessons about ourselves we can learn from the “Three Cups of Tea” affair (part 2), 27 April 2011 — “The Three Cups of Tea fable is symptomatic of a deeper flaw in the way we conduct foreign policy. To believe in fairies makes for a fun children’s story, but wars require tight grip on an often harsh reality.”
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30 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 December 2011 2:21 am

    “COIN is Dead: U.S. Army Must Put Strategy Over Tactics“????

    This is 1/2 false. COIN is not dead…the Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, Haiti, Somalia, Colombia are examples. But yes, I do agree the US government must put strategy over tactics, but this seldom happens. In fact, it is even more rare for a senior level military headquarters to even come up with the concept of operations or clear objectives…most of this is done from the bottom up…meaning the captain to lieutenant colonel level, while the senior colonels and generals take the credit…this happened all the time from 1989 to at least 2000.

    The U.S. has mostly been involved in insurgencies, small wars and various forms of stability operations from the late 80s to 2003 in Haiti, Africa, the Balkans and other little holes all over earth. Most of these operations were engaged by Marines. The essence of COIN is focused on stability efforts…on subversion and countersubversion amongst people, criminal groups, local powers, gangs, etc. Stability operations/COIN is about empowering locals, assisting in infrastructure deveopment and/or maintanence in the form of Foreign Internal Defense and advisory roles, medical/dental programs, educations, etc. Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia all lacked strategies…Liberia was subject to a number of Foreign Internal Defense projects, but went sour first in 1990 and then peridiocally afterwards. Colombia continues as a perpetual fight.

    Afghanistan and Iraq were never insurgencies to begin with; they were nation building operations initiated by an occupation force, whether we want to accept that or not. The strategy was screwed up to begin with.

    The Intelligence Reform And Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004 under Title VII – Implementation of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations implies that Afghanistan and Iraq were nation building efforts.

    COIN is not about nation building…its about trying to stablize a situation long enough so the people can run their own government. Anything more than that is not COIN.

    I agree that COIN is not, and should not be used in place of strategy. But it appears whoever wrote this piece is mixing apples with oranges and likely never took part in operations outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to realize this.

    COIN, the art of subversion and countersubversion is NOT GOING AWAY. I laugh at the thought while the Mexican drug cartels overthrow the Mexican government and infiltrate the US borders with little resistance while we sit here and watch. Might want to also look at the criminal drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro where the government is using COIN tactics (police-type/community operations) to miligate activity there.

    Semper fidelis, SWOT Hunter

    • 6 December 2011 3:00 am

      (1) “This is 1/2 false. COIN is not dead … the Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, Haiti, Somalia, Colombia are examples.”

      In common use, both in the general media and military journals, the doctrine of “COIN” refers to that described in FM 3-24. None of the small wars you describe applied those methods.

      (2) “The U.S. has mostly been involved in insurgencies, small wars and various forms of stability operations from the late 80s to 2003 in Haiti, Africa, the Balkans and other little holes all over earth.”

      Correct, but our history of this goes back far longer than that (depending what you meant by “late 80s”).

      * The US has been involved in small wars since the First Barbary War (1801–1805, on “the shores of Tripoli”), plus expeditions in the early 19th century in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Key West, West Africa, the Falkland Islands, and Sumatra. And the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899–1901).

      * Between 1899 and WWI the US conducted conducted several small wars (often with and element of counter-insurgency) in the Phillipines, Panama, Cuba, Morocco (the Perdicaris Incident), Veracruz, Santo Domingo, and the Banana Wars (in Haiti and Nicaragua).

      (3) “Afghanistan and Iraq were never insurgencies to begin with; they were nation building operations initiated by an occupation force, whether we want to accept that or not. The strategy was screwed up to begin with. … COIN is not about nation building…its about trying to stablize a situation long enough so the people can run their own government. Anything more than that is not COIN.”

      I predicted use of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy (see Wikipedia, saying “Many advocates say that, like communism, it {COIN} just has not been adequately tried.” It’s gratifying to be proven correct so quickly.

      (4) “Might want to also look at the criminal drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro where the government is using COIN tactics (police-type/community operations) to miligate activity there.”

      The post specifically says in the opening “COIN seldom works when used by foreign armies against local insurgents.” This was repeated eight times afterwards, hopefully sufficient to make it clear.

      (5) As for the rest of this, it reads like an attempt to re-write history. The advocates of COIN have left a substantial paper trail, documented in the posts cited at the end — plus the 92 posts about the Iraq War and the 96 about the Af War (listed here). It’s too late for such games to revise the record.

  2. 6 December 2011 2:34 am

    P.S. excuse the spelling errors.

    Cheers/Semper fidelis, SWOT Hunter

    • 6 December 2011 3:02 am

      WordPress does not provide spell checks in comments. So anything goes. I cannot spell well, and so don’t care.

  3. 6 December 2011 2:49 am

    P.S.S. Incidentally, this piece just came out and is relevant to the topic on this page regarding, COIN, stability operations, subversion, countersubversion, etc…

    Hotspots: You might deploy here next“, James K. Sanborn, Marine Corps Times, 5 December 2011.

    “Commandant Gen. Jim Amos recently referred to the most troubled areas of the globe as falling into the “arc of instability,” a band that stretches horizontally across the globe from Central and South America, across Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Inside that band are countries plagued by internal violence, extremism, organized crime, poverty, water and food shortages and booming youth populations.”

    • 6 December 2011 3:04 am

      It costs nothing for the Commandant to hope. As the budget cuts loom, hoping that the American people support free global policing might be the only hope for our insanely and unaffordably large Defense apparatus.

      Update: see No coins, no COIN, 6 October 2008.

    • 7 December 2011 2:06 am

      Correction to my previous comment, now that I’ve read the article. This article does not say that Commandant Amos spoke about future deployments in the world’s many hotspots (his remarks are not on the USMC website). That’s the writer’s story, perhaps holding out hope to his Marine audience.

      It’s still probably wrong, however.

  4. 6 December 2011 12:38 pm

    The post specifically says in the opening “COIN seldom works when used by foreign armies against local insurgents.”

    I agree with this part…Okay, it got confusing because the concept was not contained in that it appears to be a broad sweep at COIN writ-large vs US COIN. Portugal was successful…yes…hardly heard about…see “Counterinsurgency in Africa”…excellent read.

    COIN as a strategy does not even necessarily work for an indigenous force. Colombia is an example. Some say Colombia as a success, I don’t see it that way … it’s a perpetual fight. COIN should never be a strategy, it should be effective governance- Kilcullen’s reiterated argument that keeps getting missed.

    There are facets of the piece I agree with, but COIN has been around before the FM and the US…just under various names whether one reads Kitson or even older folks. COIN is a concept, and US doctrine does not own it….it’s been documented around since the days of the Romans trying to maintain control over their territories. The Romans lost parts of their empire due to excessive force, limited logistics and internal competing interests w/in its own leadership. Again, now that we realize you are targeting US COIN, this issue may be dead.

    The COIN manual concept is a paradox in itself. The authors did a great job of attempting to capture a moment in time in an effort to realize a very conceptual and nebulous concept. However, Kilcullen et al also astutely note…this is elaborated in Kilcullen’s last book “Counterinsurgency”…that insurgencies continuously evolve. What applies one day will not apply the next. This implies the doctrine is already outdated…yet some principles do remain valid (too long to elaborate here).

    “In common use, both in the general media and military journals, the doctrine of “COIN” refers to that described in FM 3-24. None of the small wars you describe applied those methods”.

    This is false; see page 5 of the glossary “insurgency (joint) An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. (JP 1-02)” The first step in COIN is attempting to frame the fight before ones begins throwing approaches at it.

    Zetas just sent out a warning to the US and Mexico on 2Dec11 that the government will not control take away, or succeed, in disrupting their control over their territory….the cartels just challenged a constituted government. That’s an insurgency to me.

    Liberia 1990, former US Army NCO, Charles Taylor led the NPFL against the Armed Forces of Liberia to overthrow Samuel K. Doe. That is also an insurgency…albeit Doe took over via a coup himself.

    “It costs nothing for the Commandant to hope. As the budget cuts loom, hoping that the American people support free global policing might be the only hope for our insanely and unaffordably large Defense apparatus.”

    The above quote is partially true. Amos is not hoping, he’s inline with assessments decades old. Whoever is President makes this decision, not the Commandant. We ended up in Kosovo, Somalia and Haiti (numerous times) because politicians, particularly Madam Albright and various media/movie star campaigns which thought we should be involved in police-type operations. —This is likely going to continue happening based on the past trends between 1990-2002…

    You may want to look in the Marine Corps “Project Metropolis” this concept is all about small wars and urban fighting, along with the drivers that are going to take us there: Project Metropolis Brings Urban Wars to U.S. Cities, by Elizabeth Book, National Defense, April 2002

    I do agree the DOD is excessively large and unsustainable.

    Your post is thought provoking, but I did not want to let it go without adding some nuances and other forms of context. We will be involved in small wars, insurgencies, COINs, etc, we must not forget what we’ve learned….that is my concern for some of the simplistic attacks I see on COIN. COIN, like asymmetric warfare, are simply concepts to frame a particular tactic, approach or subcomponent under the umbrella of warfare…no tools should be thrown away…they are not strategy in themselves.

    Cheers/Semper fidelis, SWOT Hunter

    • 6 December 2011 3:41 pm

      FM note: I have slightly revised this comment to improve its clarity and provide more detail.

      This is a survey post referencing a large and complex literature. Your replies suggest that you only skimmed the post (see examples below).

      (1) “Okay, it got confusing because the concept was not contained in that it appears to be a broad sweep at COIN writ-large vs US COIN”

      The language in the post was specific on this point. In the summary, in the text, and in the references cited. This post discusses the doctrine known as COIN, as used by foreign armies to fight local insurgencies.

      (2) “COIN as a strategy does not even necessarily work for an indigenous force”
      See Section three: Reason #1: COIN seldom works when used by foreign armies against local insurgents. This links to four posts which review major studies showing the historical success rates of counter-insurgency warfare as used by locals and foreigners. They show that local governments can usually defeat insurgencies. Not always, though.

      (3) “There are facets of the piece I agree with, but COIN has been around before the FM and the US”
      I love the “but”. This is a strawman attack against something never said in this post. This post starts with references to the history of CI. As did my reply to your first comment, listing US counter-insurgency warfare in the early 20th century.

      (4) “This implies the doctrine is already outdated…yet some principles do remain valid (too long to elaborate here).”

      You missed the point of the post. The modern history of foreign armies fighting local insurgencies is one of almost total failure (especially since Mao brought 4GW to maturity). As shown in the major studies listed in secton 2. Many methods of counter-insurgency have been tried since WWII. But foreign armies usually (not always) fail to defeat local insurgencies (local governments usually defeat insurgents, unless so weak that they must rely on foreign combat troops). From Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s Changing Face of War (2006):

      What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

      Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

      (4) “This is false; see page 5 of the glossary “insurgency (joint) An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. (JP 1-02)”
      I specifically said “In common use”. That means how people use the term, rather the dictionary definition.

      (5) “Zetas just sent out a warning to the US and Mexico … That’s an insurgency to me.”
      How is that relevant to this post? You state these things as if they are rebuttals. To learn about the growing insurgency in Mexico, see the 21 posts on the FM website going back to April 2008.

      (6) “Liberia 1990 … That is also an insurgency”
      Again, what’s your point? How is this relevant to the post?

      (7) “This {US foreign counter-insurgency ops} is likely going to continue happening based on the past trends between 1990-2002″
      I doubt it, both for the reasons stated in this post and US fiscal problems. See No coins, no COIN, 6 October 2008.

      (8) “We will be involved in small wars, insurgencies, COINs, etc, we must not forget what we’ve learned”
      We have constistently forgotten what we have learned, which is the limited utility of foreign armies fighting local insurgencies. These posts discuss the speficis, but that’s the big lesson.

      (9) “COIN, like asymmetric warfare, are simply concepts to frame a particular tactic, approach or subcomponent under the umbrella of warfare”
      Does anyone disagree? What’s the point of this statement?

      (10) “no tools should be thrown away”
      True. But more relevantly here: no tool should be excessively used on the basis of exaggerated views of its effectiveness.

      (11) “they are not strategy in themselves.”
      This would have been nicer if expressed as “As explained by the article of Col Gentile cited in this post, COIN is not a strategy …”. As it is, these statements suggest that you just skimmed the post.

    • 6 December 2011 4:23 pm

      Re: Kilcullen

      He is one of the great theorists of COIN. For a long but partial list of his works see <a href="The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen.

  5. 6 December 2011 12:41 pm

    Here’s the link to the Mexican vs Government challenge Z-40′s challenge to Mexico, Blogdrugtrafficker, 2 December 2011 – note this appears single source at the moment.

  6. 6 December 2011 2:09 pm

    Can anyone give me a quote or some analysis, opinion?

    I have written a bunch on the US Amy’s Human Terrain System version 1.0 which at one point appeared to be a key outcome from the Petraeus group of COIN thinkers cited above (plus Dr. McFate). Now with COIN taking a dive, what does that say about the basis on which HTS was created–Petraeus’ FM COIN manual? The kicker is that HTS 2.0 is now a program of record with $227 M in funding from CENTCOM. The new contractor based in Canada–CGI out of Quebec. The subsidiary of CGI running the show is Oberon Associates…Oberon was the Fairy King in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

    Anyway, I’ve heard from former HTS people recently who still claim fraud, waste and abuse. I am thinking about writing another piece with a slant that the Petraeus’ group FM-COIN was a form of FWA…In fact, there is documentation to show that portions of the manual were lifted wholesale from other publications….Anyway, thanks to FM for the COIN stuff….I will cite it if there are no objections…

  7. John Hansen permalink
    6 December 2011 3:03 pm

    In the year after Gen Stan McChrystal was fired (June 2010-July 2011), when Gen David Petraeus (the author of the new COIN manual) took command, COIN took a back seat. Gen Petraeus and Obama decided to ‘kick butt’ in Afghanistan with an aggressive military policy. More bombings, more Predator Drone strikes, more night raids took place than any year since 9/11.

    The result was more U.S. troop deaths than any year since 9/11, more Afghan civilian deaths than any time in a decade, and a loss of Nuristan, parts of Kunar to the Taliban. Areas that took years to gain were lost in months under ‘kick butt’ policy, and the U.S. will soon eat humble pie as they exit from Afghanistan, just as dozens of invaders have done over the last two millenium.

    The U.S. is retreating from COIN (agreed), but more so retreating from Afghanistan as the U.S. was unable to defeat a bunch of illiterate hillbillies with all its might.

    • 6 December 2011 4:13 pm

      We were unable to defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan, but then since WWII (when Mao brought 4GW to maturity) most foreign armies have been unable to defeat local insurgencies. See the Martin van Creveld quote in the above comment.

  8. 6 December 2011 5:45 pm

    “…its no secret that I wanted Barack Obama to win the presidency in 2008. Among my reasons was his outspoken opposition to Bush’s disastrous, unnecessary and probably illegal war in Iraq. … So what does Obama do? He sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Having interviewed Pat Tillman, Sr. (father of Pat Jr.) I called him for a quote. “My condolences to the families in advance,” he said.”

    — Jack Neworth, “Careful What You Wish For” (1-29-11, Santa Monica Daily Press”)
    . . .

    Andrew Exam, a fellow at the Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS), posted his “mea culpa” (to some degree) yesterday at his Abu Mugawama blog at cnas.org Back in 2009, he was picked by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to be on his 2009 Afghan assessment team. He and CNAS spearheaded the push for the COIN Afghan “surge” (they met with Gen. Petreaus and McChrystal by VTC every week). Now guess what? He just published a paper with LTG Barno, “The Next Fight,” advocating that the new mission of withdrawal is now the way to go.

    And I remember reading an Andrew Bachevich column in 2009 that foresaw the waste of this Afghan COIN “surge” that President Obama didn’t really even believe in. All those lives wasted for political BS.

    P.S.

    Pat Tillman, Sr.’s “FU & Yours” letter to the powers-that-be is well worth a read (just search his name). And it’s one of the funniest scenes from the documentary “The Tillman Story.” And, unfortunately, Kevin Tillman’s (Pat’s brother who served in the same Ranger platoon with his brother) 2006 letter “After Pat’s Birthday” is still all too timely five years later (I’ve discussed both Exum’s and McChrystal’s role in the whitewash of the Pat Tillman affair at my feral firefighter blog).

  9. 6 December 2011 5:52 pm

    As an aside, there’s a bit of a backstory to the Greg Mortenson controversy: the following is an excerpt from the chapter “With Three Cups of Luck” in the post “Jon Krakauer’s Credibility Problem” at Feral Firefighter, 25 April 2011 — the original has hyperlinks, more detailed quotes, and complete references.

    “It’s [“Into Thin Air”] there in print forever. It’s part of history. People should be above taking someone else down. And for what? For money and egos people are willing to destroy other people to further their careers.”
    – David Breashears, “Improper Bostonian”, 24 Sept 1997

    On April 17, 2011 CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired their expose of Greg Mortenson (best-selling author of “Three Cups of Tea”). Jon Krakauer (best-selling author of “Into Thin Air”) said that Mortenson tells a “beautiful story, and it’s a lie” and “uses Central Asia Institute (CAI) as his private ATM machine.”

    This expose resulted in a dramatic drop in Mortenson’s book sales and donations to CAI. So, it’s rather ironic that after his break with Mortenson in 2004, Krakauer had written: “I still believe in CAI’s mission … I don’t want to make any public statements that would have a negative impact on Greg’s work….”

    So then, seven years later, what prompted Jon Krakauer to speak out on “60 Minutes” and write his e-book “Three Cups of Deceit”? Well, Krakauer was not just a “jilted crank” or “crusading do-gooder” outraged by literary deceit and lax accounting practices. It appears that Krakauer’s e-book was largely a publicity stunt whose publication was timed with the “60 Minutes” broadcast (much based on research spoon-fed to them by Krakauer) to create the “buzz” to raise the investment capital needed to launch his old friend Mark Bryant’s start-up of Byliner.com.

    Once Mortenson comes out of seclusion, he certainly needs to answer questions about his literary and financial practices. However, I believe Krakauer also needs to answer questions about how he “got onto the Mortenson story” (but, like Mortenson, Krakauer isn’t talking to the press).

    And, while it certainly appears that Greg Mortenson confabulated parts of his ”inspirational story,” Jon Krakauer has also had “credibility problems” with his own books. Krakauer displayed hypocrisy by “throwing stones” when his own hands are not clean of deceit.

    Overall, I believe Daniel Glick (at danielglick.net) has offered the most balanced commentary on this affair: “[‘60 Minutes’ and Jon Krakauer’s assault was overkill] lacking in basic elements of fairness, balance, perspective, insight and context. … Mortenson is neither a saint nor a charlatan; Krakauer is not either a jilted crank or a crusading do-gooder. There are nuances, debatable “facts” and conflicting motivations in almost every situation, messy and at times seemingly irreconcilable. This is no exception.”

  10. MAJ Havoc permalink
    6 December 2011 7:34 pm

    I read THE PRINCE by Machiavelli while in High School. Machiavelli lays out what an invading army (whose language, customs, laws and appearance=foreign army) must do to completely conquer another people…subdue them then breed them out or wipe them out. If you are not willing to do this then do not attempt this campaign. We do not need another FM just read your classics. There is nothing new under the sun…

    • 6 December 2011 9:04 pm

      That’s a powerful point! The classics should live with us, and each generation can learn from them.

      Unfortunately, in fact each generation must among themselves fight to re-claim past knowledge. Much of this is re-stating insights from the past in terms of current events and in our time’s voice.

      You might find these posts of interest: Notes from the Past.

    • Sparapet permalink
      7 December 2011 6:21 pm

      “We are one generation away from the Stone Age.” I don’t remember exactly who said it, but it stuck with me as a warning to value history. The classics and history in general are our best references for theories and ‘good ideas’, especially when it comes to social sciences. Machiavelli is probaly our best classical model for the ‘wicked problem.’ Although one can argue the merit of any specific point he makes in the Prince, he nevertheless offers the paradigm that the COINdinistas et al should be using. That paradigm is the theme of the book, how to gain and maintain power.

      My experience with COIN is specific and particular (armored cav/iraq). And in that experience, on the tail end of the surge, I walked away with a simple question “where’s the COIN I read about?” What I saw was power dynamics played out with money, coercion, saturation, and luck. Through and through I failed to see anything new or interesting. The value of new schools was not in making the population happy, but in making the local leader who could claim credit happy, which in turn made him more compliant. Expensive rural water treatment facilities (cerp gifts) were in disrepair more often than not, while local water management infrastructure was dysfunctional at best. Meanwhile, our would be insurgents were armed militias paid by US Citizen-Joe.

      Not to go on ad nauseum, my point is simple. COIN is myopia par excellence, especially in the context of occupation. Occupation makes a single demand on the occupier, control the population. If you need COIN (or anything similar) it means you have lost control of the population. And even then, a construct such as COIN seems pointless. A rebellion can be on any physical (local to regional to national) or demographic scale (X tribe or Y political party or Z social stratum). A rebellion can have many causes also, from the mere presence of the occupier, to some social wrong, to some fanatical ideology.

      Outside of occupation, COIN is still subject to the same forces. Except instead of occupier one is perhaps an ally of a government that has lost control.

      All this dynamism informs how one might need to go about controlling a particular population, not a theoretical construct imagined as a doctrine. And the place to find clues about how to manage this dynamism is in history and culture. There may well be some unviersal principles in the endeavour (I think there are a couple). And while “establish sustainable governance” sounds nice and all, if the extent of our intellectual effort in this is simply a matter of imposing institutions that are “fair, transparent, and enduring”, we will always fail.

    • 7 December 2011 7:53 pm

      Thank you for posting this comment, esp valuable from someone having first-hand experience with COIN.

  11. 6 December 2011 7:44 pm

    Typically a US Army approach to a problem which they have never grasped. Thus we have academics inventing new terms for the same thing, – 4GW, Asymmetric Warfare and so on.

    I retired as a Col in the SA Army having been been involved in COIN warfare since 1974 ending in 1994, having starting out as a private in the Black Watch and subsequently Lt in the Gordon Highlanders and did 4 tours of NI, Belfast- A’town Turflodge, Ardoyne, my last tour was as resident Bn which was for 18 months. There after, I returned to South Africa, where I was sent to the SA Army COIN School where I taught COIN warfare for 7 years to all levels, from officer cadets to Battallion Commanders. We taught both Rural and Urban COIN. This was in between ops deployments both inside and external to South Africa, (Please note that 1 weak RSA mech Bde, 1 sqdn of old Centurion tanks and +40,00 UNITA insurgents, took on 50,000+ Cubans and all their hangers on Russian and East German pals, plus 80,000 FAPLA and one of the most advanced missile systems which we took on with Mirages and Buccaneers. They were dug in and we took less than 20 killed.over a 5 month camapign.)

    What Gen Petraeus has included in his COIN manual as discussed in the book The Gamble, we were teaching in 1972! This discussion, from a SA Army point of view, simply illustrates our opinion of the US Army approach to COIN, as classically summed up by that famous saying ‘Firstis with the mostest’ or spelling to that effect!

    We recognised that each war is different – remember we fought one in SWA, another in Angola, plus border ops along our 4,471km as well as ops in Rhodesia and finally urban ops in many of the urban centres. I hear you say but you lost didn’t you/ well the answer to that will not fit in here but go and read up the matter and decide then. Connect City Bank and Congress with SVN and understand our position.

    Regards
    David Peddle

    • 6 December 2011 9:10 pm

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

      The quote about the South African experience as a foreign army fighting insurgents was by Martin van Creveld (not me) in The Changing Face of War — a book I strongly recommend. Can you suggest any articles or books for those who would like to know more about this?

  12. Murphasaur permalink
    7 December 2011 7:32 pm

    What the hell is coin?
    Why don’t you define terms for newbies?

    • 7 December 2011 7:52 pm

      Thank you for mentioning this. I should have explained the meanings, for which I apologize.

      COIN means COunter-INsurgency warfare. Military definitions and acronyms on the FM website are those of JP 1-02 — the DoD Dictionary.

      As jargon, when refering to military strategy or tactics, COIN refers to the US doctrine set forth in FM 3-24 — the Counterinsugency Field Manual.

  13. 8 December 2011 4:42 am

    I read The Bear Went Over The Mountain (Grau, 2010) and From The Other Side Of The Mountain (Jalil & Grau, 2010) and couldn’t help but notice that the Soviet’s tactics and strategy in Afghanistan would look immediately familiar to Hubert Lyautey and David Petraeus. The difference, mostly, would be that we wouldn’t expect the same kind of results that the Soviets had, because, I guess, we’ve got lots better stuff.

    It seems that our strategic vision often resolves to the assumption that what was impossible for another highly trained, well-equipped, superior (if you fought its kind of war) military force wouldn’t be impossible for the US, because our stuff is just way better and our troops, though far less numerous, are really well-trained, gung-ho, and – did I mention – they have great stuff?

    The part that really made my eyes bug out, though, was the comment about “social science” being used as frameworks for COIN doctrines. The “social sciences” are conspicuous among the sciences for, well, not being one of them. Anything we can honestly call “science” overcomes skeptical challenge by demonstrating cause/effect and theories with predictive power. In fact, that’s the only way a science can be said to establish any truth-claim for a theory. The social sciences utterly lack any of this; in fact when I was an undergrad working on my BA in psychology (1985) they still taught Freud’s discredited ravings as if they were somehow relevant, and trotted out Jung’s wild-ass generalizations as a way of reasoning about archetypes (really: just a way of labelling people’s behaviors) If COIN is based on “social science” frameworks it may as well be based on the i-ching or the zodiac.

  14. Andy permalink
    10 December 2011 2:55 am

    This is not new. During the War of Rebellion, the Federal government deployed 100,000 troops in Missouri to counter the actions of less than 5,000 “insurgents” i.e. Quantrill and others. Apparently the Army hasn’t really learned anything yet about the inefficacy of such actions.

    • 10 December 2011 6:35 am

      It’s not a matter of learning, but inherent dynamics of insurgency. Area defense against even a small group of insurgents requires large numbers of troops (it doesn’t matter what you call the troops: militia, special police, etc).

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