Why do we lose 4th generation wars?

Summary:  This post examines one of the best and most influential articles written to guide our Middle Eastern Wars, using it to illustrate serious — perhaps decisive — flaws in our thinking.  Not just our strategic thinking, but the very way we see the world.  On this site “we” usually means America, but in this case it means the West — since the article in question was written by an Australian.   This is part 4 in a series; links to the other chapters appear at the end.


This pitiful little vignette shows one reason why we lose: structural failures in the Department of Defense, from “Knowing the Enemy“, George Packer, The New Yorker, 12 December 2006:

“In 2004, when McFate had a fellowship at the Office of Naval Research, she got a call from a science adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had been contacted by battalion commanders with the 4th Infantry Division in a violent sector of the Sunni Triangle, in Iraq. “We’re having a really hard time out here-we have no idea how this society works,” the commanders said. “Could you help us?” The science adviser replied that he was a mathematical physicist, and turned for help to one of the few anthropologists he could find in the Defense Department.”

Among the thousands of support people in DoD, a battalion commander found nobody better to help understand Iraq than a mathematical physicist. A science adviser to the Joint Chiefs found no better expert on the Middle East than an anthropologist with no specific expertise in that area.

From this a logician could infer the full story of America’s inability to successfully wage 4th Generation Wars (4GW), just as from a drop of water “a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other” (Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet,” part 1, chapter 2).  However, logicians are rare. For the rest of us, here is a brief attempt to explain one of the great puzzles of our time: why the US has lost – is losing – and will continue to lose – 4th Generation Wars (4GW).


  1. Introduction
  2. The Two Forms of 4GW
  3. Article #1 – Know your turf
  4. Article #2 – Diagnose the problem
  5. Article #3 – Organize for intelligence
  6. Article #10 – Be there
  7. Kilcullen’s expectations for our company commanders
  8. Being rational about irrational things
  9. Are we liberators — or conquering a colony?
  10. Conclusion
  11. For more information

(1)  Introduction

An early symptom of impending defeat is loss of confidence in one’s tactical doctrines. In a strong military culture, though, this can spark a burst of creativity. In WWI, this resulted in the perfection by the German Army of infiltration tactics. Later, with new technology, this became blitzkrieg.

How has the prospect of defeat in Iraq affected the US military?

The first effect has been to grasp at our strengths, the attributes that have proved insufficient in Iraq.  Like a “drop of the hair of the dog that bit you” on the morning-after, it does not help.  Enthusiasm for the work of David Kilcullen clearly shows this dynamic at work. He has a strong background in modern military theory: Lt. Col in the Australian Army, Ph.D. in anthropology, Chief Strategist in the Office of the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, recently awarded the Medal for Exceptional Public Service, and subject of a glowing review in the New Yorker article quoted above.

Let us look at the most widely circulated of his major pieces on counterinsurgency: “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level CounterinsurgencyMilitary Review, May – June 2006.   Explicitly written for a Coalition company commander just warned for deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan, Kilcullen implicitly directs “28 Articles” at senior DoD leaders. It gives practical applications of innovative ideas from his other, more theoretical articles, such as “Countering Global Insurgency: A Strategy for the War on Terrorism.” In which he states:

The ‘War on Terrorism’ is actually a campaign to counter a global Islamist insurgency. So counterinsurgency, not counterterrorism, may provide the best approach to the conflict. But classical counterinsurgency is designed to defeat insurgency in one country. Hence, traditional counterinsurgency theory has limitations in this context. Therefore we need a new paradigm, capable of addressing globalised insurgency.

Although his ideas appear similar to standard western military doctrine, Kilcullen proposes how to radically alter the tactical equation in our favor. Some of the “28 articles” resemble proposals made by 4GW theorists, such as William Lind and Greg Wilcox. Perhaps his work can be seen as a bridge between the various schools withing 4GW theory..

Does this help company commanders? That is important, but this paper considers a larger and more vital question:  do Kilcullen’s recommendations help us win today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Note:  An insurgency is a rebellion; insurgents are rebels. Guerrilla warfare is a method; guerrillas are its practitioners. Kilcullen does not make these distinctions in “28 Articles”, neither, for simplicity, does this paper. So I will sometimes use “4GW,” “insurgency” and “guerrilla warfare” as if they were synonymous. For the purposes of this paper, such conglomeration will cause no great problem, although it may lead to protests by purists.

(2)  The Two Forms of 4GW

With admirable clarity, at the opening Kilcullen defines his subject.

{Counterinsurgency} is a competition with the insurgent for the right and the ability to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population.

As noted above, Kilcullen (and I) is not drawing distinctions between guerrilla warfare, to which this statement applies, and insurgency. With that in mind, we can then ask whether it is possible for us “to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population”?

The answer is “no,” and the rationale is critical to appreciating why Kilcullen’s lessons learned for tactical commanders may mislead politicians who try to generalize it to a war-winning strategy (just implement his tactics and we win) or even worse, to grand strategy. For an explanation we must look at the different types of 4GW.

As a simple dichotomy for analytical purposes, we can say that 4GW’s come in two types, reflecting the degree of involvement of outside interests (obviously there are many other ways to characterize 4GW).

  1. Violence between two or more local groups, who can form from any combination of clans, governments, ethnicities, religions, gangs, and tribes.
  2. Violence between two or more sides, where at least one is led by foreigners – both comprising, as above, any imaginable combination of factions.

4GW victories by governments are usually of the first kind, local governments fighting insurgencies. Often foreign assistance is important or even decisive, but the local government leads in such areas as political reform and tactics. Western governments have “won” a few type two insurgencies, but only by assisting the locals – with the locals carrying the primary burden. That is, the foreign interest may lead, but the local government must implement.

Examples of type one insurgencies:

  1. The WWI Arab Revolt, in which Lawrence of Arabia helped the local Arabs defeat their Turkish rulers.
  2. The Indonesian insurgencies in West Java and East Timor that Kilcullen studied.
  3. The victory of the Malaysian colonial government over a communist insurrection (1948 – 1960), during which Malaysia achieved independence from the UK. The British, controlling the information flow to western nations, take full credit for what was more of an assist on their part.
  4. The apparently successful defensive effort of western nations against al-Qaeda following their early successes in the US and Spain.

After the late 1940’s, western states fighting 4GW’s in other lands – type two wars – usually lost. This is the bright line marking a new age of military history, the ascendancy of 4GW. It began with three epochal events.

  1. The end of the WWI – WWII period, conventional wars of attrition which devastated both side, and appears to have (for now, at least) crushed the martial spirits out of Europe’s people.
  2. The use of atomic weapons, suggesting an apocalyptic end to future wars between States.
  3. The development by Mao of an effective theory of 4GW, and his successful proof-of-concept.

The era of large conventional wars and successful colonial has ended. (Note that the war in Iraq increasingly resembles a neocolonial war, as did Vietnam.)  War continues, but assumes new forms — most esp 4GW.  This schema generates four immediate insights.

  1. 4GW’s (and insurgencies in general) are easiest to defeat at home.
  2. Do not look to wars won by the locals for lessons how we can win when fighting in foreign lands.
  3. We should avoid foreign wars, except when we only assist local forces – a different approach from that attributed to Kilcullen, as we will see below. As Germany learned in WWII and we are learning in Iraq, excellence in tactics and personnel cannot overcome a fundamentally flawed strategy.
  4. Kilcullen has been misinterpreted by those who confuse the two types of 4GW’s.

Kilcullen is standing on his head. Our business is to put him on his feet.
— Karl Marx, Das Capital (1867) (Actually Marx said this about Hegel, not Kilcullen.)

Kilcullen describes how to win a 4GW when fighting on one’s home ground. Although greatly advancing 4GW theory, it does not help us win in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Perhaps in the future we will have an insurgency on American soil. Then we can use Kilcullen’s “28 Articles” to fight it.  Let us check this logic by a second look at Kilcullen’s starting point.

{Counterinsurgency} is a competition with the insurgent for the right and the ability to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population.

This nicely defines the nature of competition for a local group waging 4GW. We can catalog Kilcullen’s “28 Articles” as an insurgent’s handbook, filed on the shelf next to Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Not bad company.  Now we can read Kilcullen’s “28 Articles” and appreciate their full power.

(3)  Article #1 – Know your turf

Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.

It is easy to read this as important but banal. Centurions posted to remote Roman provinces were probably told to “know your turf.” This ignores the depth of Kilcullen’s insight.  Kilcullen here describes the “home court advantage.” It is a powerful advantage in 4GW, perhaps one reason for the consistent victory of locals over foreigners.  This is not a new aspect of war.

“As we shall show, defense is a stronger form of fighting than attack. … I am convinced that the superiority of the defensive (if rightly understood) is very great, far greater than appears at first sight.”
— Clausewitz, On War, Book 1, Chapter 1

Unfortunately, in the Middle East everyone but us has this advantage. The world expert on “your” district already lives there and probably was born there.  US company commanders on six to twelve month rotations cannot develop anything comparable to the locals’ knowledge about their home, especially in so foreign a culture. It might be difficult for some of them to do so quickly in Watts or Harlem.

However, as so often with the US military, we hope deus ex machina will save us.

“.. .a “ruggedized” laptop computer, loaded with data from social-science research conducted in Iraq-such as, McFate said, “an analysis of the eighty-eight tribes and subtribes in a particular province.” Now the project is recruiting social scientists around the country to join five-person “human terrain” teams that would go to Iraq and Afghanistan with combat brigades and serve as cultural advisers on six-to-nine-month tours.”
— “Knowing the Enemy“, George Packer, The New Yorker, 12 December 2006

Since there are so few Arabic-speaking, Iraq-expert social scientists in the US (even fewer for Afghanistan), these laptops’ data will come from the locals. That is, our maps of the social terrain will be that of various partisans in the Iraq civil war. (There are no neutrals in a civil war.)  A high-tech way of making their enemies into our enemies.

Also, this illustrates our confusion between “data” and “knowledge.” Even if the data is correct, most of our company commanders will lack the contextual understanding – the wider view of Iraq or Afghanistan society – needed to successfully apply it.

(4)  Article #2 – Diagnose the problem

Once you know your area and its people, you can begin to diagnose the problem. Who are the insurgents? What drives them? What makes local leaders tick?

Having “strategic corporals” was insufficient. Now we need “sociologist captains.” This is not a task for company commanders, already carrying a complex and heavy load of managerial and leadership duties.  Nor does Kilcullen explain how to apply this advice. Once you have understood the insurgents and diagnosed the problem, how do you construct a solution? A handbook offering these answers could solve many of America’s own domestic problems.

Worst of all, this advice crashes on our lack of the home court advantage. How can someone newly arrived in a foreign culture – Iraq and especially Afghanistan are very foreign to most Americans – do this without speaking the local languages? (Note that Afghanistan – and to a lesser extent, Iraq – is home to many languages.)  As the Iraq Study Group discovered, we have few American translators for Middle Eastern languages. (For more on this see this (update:  link broken) New Republic article from 2003, still largely true today.)  We can hire English-speaking locals, (often of uncertain loyalty), but that is a long, slow way to gain deep knowledge of a foreign culture. (For simplicity, this paper ignores any difference between linguists and translators.)

This advice highlights a difference between the UK experience in Malaysia and our current expeditions to the Middle East. The UK had over a century’s experience governing Malaysia, local knowledge that we lack and cannot quickly develop.

Note that, like #1 above, this advice works better for the insurgents. They know us better than we know them. Few Americans watch Iraq or Afghanistan movies, or speak their languages. Many people in Iraq and Afghanistan speak English, and the whole world watches and reads US media.

(5)  Article #3 – Organize for intelligence

In counterinsurgency, killing the enemy is easy. Finding him is often nearly impossible. Intelligence and operations are complementary. Your operations will be intelligence driven, but intelligence will come mostly from your own operations, not as a “product” prepared and served up by higher headquarters. So you must organize for intelligence. You will need a company S2 and intelligence section.

I’m not a tactician, but this strikes me as excellent advice for the insurgents. Their familiarity with the area and wealth of local contacts makes this easy for local units or cells to do.

Can we do this? I think it unlikely, for all the reasons stated above. In any case, I don’t understand how we can ever do it as well as the locals, unless we occupy Iraq for real and in a sense become colonial rulers.  Wishing for what we lack is not a tactical doctrine; or rather, it is a doomed one. Why not just ask for ten divisions of multi-lingual MP’s and be done with it?

Let us skip ahead to number ten, as it illustrates how our military and political leadership still have not come to terms with 4GW.

(6)  Article #10 – Be there

The first rule of deployment in counterinsurgency is to be there. So your first order of business is to establish presence. If you cannot do this throughout your sector, then do it wherever you can. This demands a residential approach – living in your sector, in close proximity to the population, rather than raiding into the area from remote, secure bases. Movement on foot, sleeping in local villages, night patrolling: all these seem more dangerous than they are.

This is good advice for insurgents, well known since Mao said that the guerrilla is like a fish that swims in the sea of the people. In chapter 37 of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence wrote words that apply equally today (although in a different context) to the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan (bold emphasis added):

“Our largest resources, the Bedouin on whom our war must be built, were unused to formal operations, but had assets of mobility, toughness, self-assurance, knowledge of the country, intelligent courage. With them dispersal was strength. Consequently we must extend our front to its maximum, to impose on the Turks the longest possible passive defence, since that was, materially, their most costly form of war.”

Will this work for us? Perhaps Kilcullen is correct that “these seem more dangerous than they are”, but in insurgent-held areas patrolling has run up casualties with no evident benefit.  Kilcullen might have in mind the Marine’s combined action platoons (CAP), Marines deployed to live in Vietnamese villages. They proved effective in Vietnam’s largely neutral (i.e., apolitical) rural areas.  Iraq is highly urbanized, with a far more politically “mobilized” people than Vietnam’s 1960’s rural peasants. Dropping a unit of Marines into an Iraq town might be …

  1. a waste of effort, if in a (relatively) peaceful Kurdish or Shiite area (i.e., already run by the locals), or
  2. suicidal, if in an area controlled by the insurgents.

I doubt there are many intermediate situations, except for what are in effect urban war zones like Baghdad, where coalition forces are bunkered in the Green Zone. Anyone suggesting the “residential approach” in Baghdad should be invited to be to test it out, personally.

(7)  Kilcullen’s expectations for our company commanders

We have fielded some of the best-educated and trained company commanders the world has ever seen. We can ask much of them, but not everything of them.  Increasing their responsibilities should not substitute for the military’s lack of effective doctrine and operational intelligence.  Simplifying their job might produce better results than making it more complex. Certainly, the insurgents’ operational doctrines do not require leaders with a college degree, let alone graduate studies. Perhaps we can learn something from them in this respect.

Furthermore, they are products of America – perhaps our finest “products.” As such, they carry with them both the strengths and weaknesses of our culture, and it is not realistic to expect them to quickly free themselves from what they are.  In general, since early childhood they have been indoctrinated to value and believe in freedom and equality, and to consider opposing beliefs are unreasonable. However fine and just, this does not help them understand and empathize a culture with different values – such as Iraq and, even more so, Afghanistan, where religion and tribal/ethnic loyalties play a much larger role.

Good commanders can do much. Great commanders can do almost anything. However, nobody can do everything. Perhaps Kilcullen asks too much.

From another perspective, these 28 articles help us even if we cannot implement them as well as can local insurgents?  That misses their significance.  These are the competitive advantages of insurgents. To borrow Michael Porter’s phrase, these are insurgents’ “core competencies.”  In conventional wars, such as WWII, armies could copy tactical innovations from their enemies. In 4GW’s what works for the insurgents often does not work well for foreigners – a basic tenet of asymmetric warfare.

We can learn from our enemies, but we will continue to lose these wars unless we find other, different, advantages vs. the insurgents. The search for these continues, but for us this is at present a “Handbook for Losers.”

(8)  Being rational about irrational things

There is a deeper flaw in Kilcullen’s view.  He is a social scientist, and that orientation is fundamental to his recommendations. Science is the most rational of human endeavors. That probably aided his rapid acceptance with our military, so many of whose officers have degrees in engineering, science, and management.  Our company commanders come from a culture that esteems rationality perhaps above all other facets of human nature. Unfortunately, war is the most unreasonable of human endeavors. To quote Clausewitz (On War, chapter one) on the nature of war:

“As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity – composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.”

Also, earlier in chapter one:

“The element in which war exists is danger. The highest of all moral qualities in time of danger is certainly courage. Now courage is perfectly compatible with prudent calculation but the two differ nonetheless, and pertain to different psychological forces. Daring, on the other hand, boldness, rashness, trusting in luck are only variants of courage, and all these traits of character seek their proper element – change. In short, absolute, so-called mathematical, factors never find a firm basis in military calculations.”

By our standards, the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan are unreasonable, spurning our efforts to re-build their society into a little America. We produce manuals and books, hundreds of pages long. Rational, logical, analytical. (Martin van Creveld suggests “smothering our enemies” by bombing them with the thousands of manuals that have been written about modern warfare. Truly horror from the sky.)  While we think and write, they send suicide bombers.

Who has tapped better into the irrational roots of war? Defensive war directly taps love of home, group, and family. Offensive wars are fueled by passion: the promise of booty, to expand the faith, etc.  We are fighting an offensive war without power of these primal drives. Perhaps that is one reason we are losing.

(9)  Are we liberators — or conquering a colony?

Perhaps because his advice is directed towards tactical commanders, Kilcullen seldom mentions the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. The locals, however, will sense this attitude, with disastrous effects. First, they will likely give “their” government even less respect. Second, our contempt for their sovereignty will brand us as imperialists.  (for more about this see Kilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War)

The past hundred years proves, to the extent that history can prove anything, that locals will reject western armies when perceived as invaders – no matter how benign our intentions. This differs from Germany and Japan, whose populations for the most part accepted our right to be there both as a result of legitimate victory in war and then to defend against a common enemy, the USSR.

The large permanent bases in the Iraq desert, which we built at a cost of many billion dollars, suggest that the insurgents’ fears are well founded – that Stratfor was correct, that the US from the beginning planned to stay in Iraq, install a puppet government, and use Iraq as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” from which to project military power across the Middle East.  For more about this see:

(10)  Conclusion

Fourth generation warfare has become the primary form of war in the 21st century. As the Iraq War has shown, we do not know how to win such conflicts. Despite our wealth and power, we are losing both wars in the Middle East theater.

Kilcullen shows how western peoples have brought to bear on this problem an even greater strength: our free, competitive intellectual climate. Formally, it is called the Delphi method. People write proposals, which circulate and receive intense review. As scientists know, even failure moves us forward by showing us what does not work.

Eventually we find a solution. I doubt al-Qa’ida has anything like this.

Analysis of Kilcullen’s work suggests that the defense has again become the strongest form of war, fought at home or abroad only when assisting strong local forces. Here is the germ of an insight that might produce a successful strategy for America in the 21st century.

(11)  For more information

Other articles in this series:

Reference pages with links to other sources


13 thoughts on “Why do we lose 4th generation wars?”

  1. That was almost painfully thorough, and comprehensive near the point of headache. And I mean that in a good way;-).

    The takeaway would seem to be that barring genocide or colonization, any successful approach to these matters would have to be very defensive militarily, experimental in a socioanthropological sense, and nimble tactically in both areas.

    I have always thought that the starting point, certainly in Afghanistan, is for an interagency group to meet with a Koran in the middle of the table, and some experts thereon. “They believe in this book. How can we work this?” should be the first question. Imagine if the Communists had done that with the Bible. Think about it…

  2. A difference between the British Empire and the would-be American Empire:

    The British Empire’s expansion was accompanied by / preceded by a host of missionaries, explorers, traders, bankers, archaeologists, biologists, geographers, Lord Byron-types, and others, who – as a result of their activities, had obtained the sort of intelligence Kilcullen says is necessary.

    In other words, our chances in places such as Afghanistan would be better if it were swarming with eccentric Americans in funny hat and khaki shorts trying to dig up ancient potsherds and if American merchants dressed in linen suits and Panama hats were based in Khandahar, trying to get a piece of the opium market.

  3. Superior post FM. Thanks. Related material that came to mind whilst reading it:

    From Sun Tsu (Denma edition):

    From 3 Strategy of Attack

    And so in the military :
    Knowing the other and knowing oneself,
    In one hundred battles, no danger.
    Not knowing the other and knowing oneself,
    One victory for one loss.
    Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself,
    In every battle certain defeat.

    From 4. Form

    Of old the skilled first made themselves invincible
    to await the enemy’s vincibility.
    Invincibility lies in oneself.
    Vincibility lies in the enemy.
    Thus the skilled can make themselves invincible.
    They cannot cause the enemy’s vincibility.
    Thus it is said: ‘Victory can be known; it cannot be made.’

    Invincibility is defense.
    Vincibility is attack.

    Defend and one has surplus.
    Attack and one is insufficient.

    From 2 Battle

    A State’s impoverishment from its soldiers:
    When they are distant there is distant transport.
    When they are distant and there is distant transport
    the hundred clans are impoverished.
    When the soldiers are near, things sell dearly.
    When things sell dearly, wealth is exhausted.
    When wealth is exhausted, people are hard-pressed by local taxes.
    Diminished strength in the heartland,
    Emptiness in the households.
    Of the hundred clans resources,
    six tenths is gone.
    Of the ruling families resources
    …. seven tenths is gone.


    Speaking of local taxes, here is a story today. Fees charged when police come to site of motor vehicle accident.

  4. Even more useful than considering how avoid losing such wars, from my own limited perspective, would be considering how to avoid entanglement in such wars. Whatever our so-called “Department of Defense” is defending, it is certainly not the long-term self-interest of the preponderance of the people in the so-called “land of the free.”

  5. Also from 3:
    In sum the method of employing the military:

    Taking a State whole is superior.
    Destroying it is inferior to this.

    Taking an Army/Battalion/Company/Squad whole is superior.
    Destroying it is inferior to this.

    Therefore one hundred victories in one hundred battles
    is not the most skillful.
    Subduing the other’s military without battle
    is the most skillful.

    And so the superior military cuts down strategy.
    Its inferior cuts down alliances.
    Its inferior cuts down the military.
    The worst attacks walled cities.

    And so the skilled at employing the military
    Subdues the other’s military but does not do battle,
    Uproots the other’s walled city but does not attack,
    Destroys the other’s State but does not prolong.
    One must take it whole when contending for all-under-Heaven.
    Thus the military is not blunted and advantage can be whole.
    This is the method of the strategy of attack.


    Given that US strategy in Iraq was clearly one of attack, seemingly they did an excellent job of violating most of the advice in that excerpt!

  6. Reading through the above post and then referencing a little of an military classic, the following thoughts to contribute:

    1. Going into another country without ‘taking it whole’, i.e. getting into a situation in which insurgency is allowed to arise at all, means one has already lost the advantage. And given that by definition the enemy is already in the ‘home field’ which one is now occupying, this is a very serious situation which should be avoided at all costs. It seems, however, that the US strategy blithely assumed there would be no resistance and they could go in and set up pliant new satrapy once the Hussein regime had been defeated in battle by conventional forces.

    2. Once one is committed to being the occupier of a resistant population, the goal of counter-insurgency is not to defeat the insurgents through open confrontation, although that will be inevitable as counterattacks are mounted etc., rather to find a way to co-opt the emergent leadership of the population. Better than assassinating them – which stiffens such locally generated type of resistance – is to bring them into full power providing they continue to pay tribute to those who have raised them. In this regard, disbanding the Iraqi military and firing most of the Baathists in civil administration during the first weeks of occupation will go down as one of the greatest strategic blunders in military history. The literally snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. It is hard to imagine how they could have done a worse job of it after they had already won.

    One great reason – amongst many no doubt – was the President’s acquiescence in allowing Cheney-Rumsfeld to manage all aspects of the campaign including ensuring that no competent State Dept. personnel or networks were involved in the occupation phase.

  7. Re Greg Panfile’s comment , I read that an Adghan lady politician recently said on the lines of ” Dont send 30,000 soldiers , all they will do is more fighting . Send us 30,000 teachers , or 30,000 scholars “.( I dont know if ” scholars ” was the word she wanted to use , or a mistranslation of ” medics ” or ” wind turbine engineers ” .)

    Incidentally also on BBC that Karzai has passed law re women ,for benefit of attracting Shia male votes ,that the Taliban would have been proud of . Also selling mineral mines to the Chinese. Unless these were April Fool stories , nice to know we’ve lost nearly 150 of our bravest & best in such a good cause.( What would happen if perchance the Taliban were to democratically win the summer election ?)

    The yearning of a civilian’s heart & mind dont seem particularly relevant in Gaza , Vanni , or Afghan villages at the moment , trapped between opposing guns .

    Why not try the scholars ..

  8. FM: Great post. Very good summation of the problems we face with “the long war”. The military is currently undergoing rapid change as far as concerns about cultural awareness.

    One of the programs we have started is called Human Terrain System. While there was some initial problems with team member selection, most of the bugs have been worked out and commanders in the field are giving very positive feedback about the program. IMO, the program helps address the rapid turnover of our troops in theater because the contractors are in place for years and develop better relations with the tribe chiefs and members. A critic of the program wrote, what I believe to be a hit piece, on the program here. It was widely disagreed with within the military community. See “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System is Undermining Sustainable Military Cultural Competence“, Ben Connable (Major, USMC), Military Review, March-April 2009.

    Also, the topic of 4GW wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of why or how 4GW became such a powerful method of war-fighting. If you do a chronological history of known insurgencies and counterinsurgencies, the trend will show you sporadic effects of insurgencies up to the 1940s. After that, the rules changed with the signing of more international human rights treaties. I’m not making the case we shouldn’t have signed but I am saying that they provide top cover for the sea that the insurgents swim in. I don’t think it was a coincidence that 4GW, after existing for so long, suddenly emerged as the preferred technique regardless of Mao’s success.

    Certainly the media plays a part but so does incompetence at the executive branch to manage information. Lincoln had no problem jailing subversive americans. If memory serves he sent about 200 people to jail for leaking classified documents or giving aid and comfort to the south. That i know of, Bush didn’t send anyone to jail for any of this but it certainly happened.

    I haven’t seen the new National Security Strategy, Military Strategy, or Afghanistan/Pakistan plan yet but I hope that President Obama takes a more realistic approach to the problems on the ground and dumps the former delusional Bush approach of “everyone wants democracy” fueled in part by his New World Order family and the Joseph Nye school of thought.
    Fabius Maximus replies: For extensive archive of articles about the Human Terrain System, see the FM refernce page Anthropologists go to war AND Revolt of the Anthropologists. Thanks for the referral to Major Connable’s article!

    “up to the 1940s. After that, the rules changed with the signing of more international human rights treaties.”

    After 1940 the success rate rose for insurgencies against foreign occupiers. Human rights treaties were a minor factor, as seen by the failure of occupiers who fought with almost unlimited ferocity. From page 225 Martin van Creveld’s “The Changing Face of War” (2006):

    “Thus, decision makers and other who blame the media for their defeats are talking nonsense. … Portugal’s explusion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Isralis in Lebanon.”

    He follows this with a brilliant explanation of an important dynamic in 4GW, one which tilts the playing field strongly against foreign occupiers.

  9. FM:
    The treaties weren’t the only reason but i think they were a tipping point. What may seem like a small thing, treaties, can turn the tide of a war (especially when one side is free to ignore it while the other is hamstrung by it). A small detail like a treaty can amplify the home field advantage.

    We, the military, have done a miserable job surveying and understanding that playing field. We are getting better by using the 12 cultural variables and the Stakeholder mapping process, a product put together by the University of Foreign Military and Culture Studies (Red Team University), that allows us to identify friend and foe and the gray areas in between. we find the gray area people that can be turned and put our efforts there. These are new tools and from my short tour so far in Iraq, not implemented widely enough.

  10. Erasmus & FM : Off-topic, but I definitely recommend this Denma translation of Sun Tsu.

    Re : “Fourth generation warfare has become the primary form of war in the 21st century. As the Iraq War has shown, we do not know how to win such conflicts. Despite our wealth and power, we are losing both wars in the Middle East theater.” I wonder if the Russians could consider themselves winners over Chechnya. Or was it all symbolism, a major factor in 21st c. conflict? I can’t recall other nation-states involved in similar conflict, what say you, FM?
    Fabius Maximus replies: “We do not know how to win” does not mean that we never win. Like everything in life, there is a probability spectrum. Governments usually win against internal insurgents. Foreign occupiers seldom win against local insurgents. Then there are a large number of “grey” cases in between.

  11. Rereading this after you linked to it in today’s post (12-6-11). It should have been enough to kill COIN when it was written nearly five years ago. Sadly, we pressed on with COIN, losing thousands more soldiers and billions more dollars. In late 2011, Washington COIN types scramble to find “lessons learned” in our COIN efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the lesson is clear to every clear thinking person: Avoid COIN unless the south secedes from the Union again.

  12. Wow. Rereading this 4 years later, it strikes me that the DC establishment has learned absolutely nothing. You explained what was going on in 2009, and the US military has learned… nothing. The US will never win if it can never learn.

  13. Pingback: Echoes From Vietnam | alazycowboy.com

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