I come not to praise COIN but to bury it. And to ask you why we adopted it, at such cost.
Summary: As our foreign wars slowly continue — withdrawals in the main theaters plus expansion into other even more fruitless conflicts — it’s time to look back and learn. Today we ask why COIN was considered a reasonable option, despite long history of failure when used by foreign armies. Please post your thoughts in the comments.
- Lessons learned from our WOT using COIN
- The two major posts about COIN
- Posts about the theory and practice of COIN
- Posts about the History of COIN
- For more information about COIN
In this post COIN refers to the specific nostrums sold as solutions for US to apply against the Iraq and Af-Pak insurgencies, as codified in FM 3-24. David Kilcullen and John Nagl were its two chief apostles.
(1) Lessons learned from our WOT using COIN
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is one of the finest in America’s shrinking band of journalists (as opposed to the legions of stenographers to the rich and powerful). Her coverage of the War on Terror has been incisive and deep. Her latest is a retrospective on COIN, well worth reading: “Learning to Eat Soup with a Spoon“, American Conservative, 31 August 2012 — about the rise and fall of COIN.
COIN was one of the first subjects I discussed in depth, first at Defense and the National Interest and then at the FM website. These are listed below. Looking through them — and the articles by brighter lights such as Martin van Creveld and Andrew Bacevich — reminds me how it was clear from the beginning that COIN was snake-oil. And obviously so.
We paid for our mistake with the lives of our troops spent in these wars. The years of work and suffering, the injuries and disabilities, the dead. We’ll pay the material cost for decades. Now comes the challenge: will we learn from these mistakes? The most important question concerns the process. These mistakes were similar to those we made in Vietnam. Why do we make these mistakes? Why do we fail to learn from them?
Only by finding answers to these questions will our nation gain something from our sacrifices.
(1) Two major posts about COIN
- 28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America, 7 May 2007 — Kilcullen’s article gave good advice, but it works only for our enemies. Not us.
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I, March 2007 and revised June 2008
(2) The theory and practice of COIN
The posts from 2006 – 2008 forecast that COIN would fail, and why. The posts from 2011 to now explore why we adopted COIN, despite its glaring theoretical flaws and history of failure when applied by foreign armies.
- More paths to failure in Iraq, 16 December 2006 — Myths about COIN in Iraq
- ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy, 21 February 2008
- The 2 most devastating 4GW attacks on America, and the roots of FM 3-24, 19 March 2008
- A key to the power of FM 3-24, the new COIN manual, 20 March 2008
- Dark origins of the new COIN manual, FM 3-24, 23 March 2008
- Another “must-read” presentation by Kilcullen about COIN, 27 May 2008
- Is COIN the graduate level of military hubris?, 30 July 2008
- No coins, no COIN, 6 October 2008
- COIN as future generations will see it (and as we should see it today), 1 July 2010
- COIN – Now we see that it failed. But that was obvious before we started (when will we learn?), 6 December 2011
- COIN, another example of our difficulty learning from history or experience, 7 December 2011
- WPR: “Counterinsurgency in the Post-COIN Era”, 31 January 2012
- As we start new wars, let’s see an expert at COIN review a classic textbook about COIN, 25 February 2012 — Review of Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare – Theory and Practice
- “COIN of the Realm” – reviewing one of the books driving our strategy in the Long War, 18 March 2012 — Review of Nagl’s How to Eat Soup with a Knife
- A look back at the madness that led us into our wars. How does this advice read 6 years later?, 26 June 2012
(3) The History of COIN
- How often do insurgents win? How much time does successful COIN require?, 29 May 2008
- Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story., 21 June 2010 — Boot discusses 7 alleged victories by foreign armies fighting insurgencies.
- A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it, 28 June 2010 — Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) points us to the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard. She examines the present and past analysis of counter-insurgency. This could change the course of American foreign policy, if we pay attention.
- A look at the history of victories over insurgents, 30 June 2010
- COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure., 7 August 2012
(4) For more information about COIN
- The Essential 4GW reading list: John Nagl
- The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld
- The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen
- Writings of Andrew Bacevich; they deserve your attention