COIN Questionnaire Part 2


Randomly-selected COIN-themed pic

5.a.  The current FM lists eight “Historical Principles for Counterinsurgency,” five “Contemporary Imperatives of Counterinsurgency,” and nine “Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency Operations.” Table 1-1 lists successful and unsuccessful operational practices. Is this construct a useful means for categorizing the concepts?

The construct is useful but must be focussed on those items specific to counterinsurgency i.e. that are not general military principles. Table 1-1 is probably counterproductive as what may or may not be successful in one environment may create an entirely different effect in another. It may be better portrayed as simply a list of practices or considerations, and some of the practices should be redrafted to be more objective e.g. ‘overemphasize’ in the first ‘unsuccessful’ practice would be more objective replaced with ‘emphasis on’

5.b. Are the principles, etc., that are listed applicable globally?

Some are also a little too global and should apply generally to all military operations e.g.:

Manage information and expectations. In today’s information-centric society, this applies across the board.

Intelligence drives operations. Correct – why would counterinsurgency be any different?

Use the appropriate level of force. The principle of proportionality applies across all types of conflict.

Learn and adapt. This applies in all forms of conflict.

Some of the best weapons do not shoot. Even more applicable as information and cyber operations evolve.

Tactical success guarantees nothing. This is a lesson as hard-learned in conventional operations across history as it ever may be in a counterinsurgency environment.

These principles may be reinforced in the text of the publication but they cannot be accurately described as principles purely of counterinsurgency. The same desired effect might also be created by describing the principles of war against a counterinsurgency context.

If a tactic works this week, it might not work next week… . Adaptive adversaries and changing environment are features of all conflicts.

5.c. What would you add, delete, or modify?

5.c.1. Legitimacy is the main objective. Stability is the main objective. Focussing on legitimacy presupposes the solution as legitimacy and this invariably leans towards that of the existing host nation government where the final solution might actually be recognising the legitimacy of shadow or de facto government. Examples of this might be:

The creation of the state of Israel, although long term this may not have been great for regional stability.

The creation of the state of Singapore which, while not a direct result of the Malayan insurgency, did address the dissatisfaction of the large portion of the Chinese population with the Malaysian administration. In the long term, Singapore has become a powerful force for regional stability.

The creation of the state of Timor Leste is an interesting study as the Sep 99 ANZAC intervention force was actually in support of those developing an insurgency against Indonesian occupiers but became a counterinsurgency almost on lodgement to counter Indonesian-supported militias seeking to destabilise the new nation.

The establishment of the Karzai government in Afghanistan essentially recognised an insurgent element that had been violently seeking change against the Taliban regime in 2001-02.

The evolution of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe in 1979-80 where ZIPRA/ZANLA leaders essentially became the new government. A similar process also occurred in South Africa in the early 1990s.

Although yet to develop into insurgency, the series of coups in Fiji since 1987 resulted in 2006 with the Fijian dissidents becoming the government. Six years on, this government is tacitly recognised by all the other Pacific nations as the de facto government and the one most likely to foster ongoing stability within that nation – despite having evicted the majority (in terms of votes and population) Indian-led government.

The creation of independent states from the nation formerly known as Yugoslavia is another example where the legitimate government in Belgrade has lost out to its de facto competition and this solution seems more successful at fostering national and regional stability.

The misunderstanding between Great Britain and thirteen of its colonies in the late 18th Century was also resolved by recognising the insurgent government. Again this has generally been a force for stability.

The content of paragraph 1-115 applies loosely to Western styles of government but does not translate well to anywhere else including most of the locations where one might expect to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign. The text on ‘illegitimate states’ implies that not only was the Soviet Union illegitimate but so are other states that rely on coercive philosophies to retain control – that is a very subjective statement that is probably no supportable and which probably belongs more in an essay or discussion paper than doctrine at this level.

There is massive risk in perceiving Western norms as the only ‘right’ way and attempting to inflict these upon cultures to which they are alien. This is not uncommon and supports directly Kilcullen’s theory of the accidental guerrilla. A classic example of this is the question during last week’s 3-24 Revision webcast on whether any content on ‘counter-corruption‘ would be included in the updated publication – out western popular understanding of corruption as something criminal is not actually a widespread nor upheld belief in large parts of the rest of the world and, to be brutally honest, before we go on any anti-corruption crusades elsewhere we might want to get our own (western hemispheric) moral house in order.

5.c.2. Political factors are primary. This promotes the semantic hair-splitting between counterinsurgency and other forms of irregular warfare. It would be more correct to state that ‘a comprehensive or all-of-government approach is vital’ – depending upon the circumstances of a particular environment, political factors may or may not be primary. E.g. in northern Mexico today, credible law enforcement may be more important than politics because the adversary forces are not interested in politics other than as a means to the end of criminal profits.

5.c.3. Insurgents must be isolated from their cause and support. This a truism of ‘classic’ COIN but if the ultimate aim is stability, then this aim might be achieved by actually supporting the insurgent cause or, more accurately, the root/underlying cause of the insurgency which is not quite the same thing. Stating the principle as written in paragraphs 1-128 to 1-130 offers it as ‘the’ way ahead instead of ‘a’ way ahead.

5.c.4. Security under the rule of law is essential. Security for follow-on non-military operations is vital and essential however there is risk attendant is linking this directly to the host nation government which may not be that popular or recognised nor able to actually offer let along guarantee the degree of security necessary. The actual principle is probably the opening sentence in paragraph 1-131 ‘The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the population’. The same could be said for almost all or stability or irregular warfare ‘efforts’.

5.c.5. Counterinsurgents should prepare for a long-term commitment. While this is good advice, to be consistent with the broader i.e. beyond a solely military, approach to counterinsurgency, it should be reworded to ‘Counterinsurgency campaigns require a long-term commitment’ to focus upon the campaign which may not always require counterinsurgents than fixing the focus on the counterinsurgents (which are generally perceived to be military in nature). The current wording also draws attention to the counterinsurgent as an individual instead of as a force. This is part of the conventionalist v COINdinista argument whether specialised forces are necessary for counterinsurgency or whether the counterinsurgency role can be borne by any well-trained conventional force. If the latter, then the actually engagement time for ‘counterinsurgents’ may not be accumulatively that long.

5.c.6. Manage information and expectation. The last sentence of paragraph 1-138 could be removed without adversely affecting the content or tone of the imperative under discussion. It is a statement that was directly relevant in the Iraq focus of the inaugural 2006 FM 3-24 but which does not necessarily apply in a broader context. If the sentence remains in the publication, it could be preferred by deleting the term ‘U.S.’ in order to be more applicable to a broader counterinsurgency audience – specifically, the less national references in a publication like FM 3-24 that is intended in an environment that is almost by definition JIM; possibly even more so, if various findings on the need for coalition ‘theatre entry standards/levels’ as prerequisites for entering a coalition are validated.

The first two sentences of paragraph 1-139 relating to US ‘reputation for accomplishment, the ‘man on the moon syndrome ’may represent a US belief but these statements would be a tough sell in the rest of the world. Such sentiments may have held sway and been true in the immediate post-WW2 decades but are not widely held beliefs in the past two to three decades. This paragraph would start as effectively with ‘agencies trying to’ in the third sentence – see the point above with reference to minimal use of national referents in a  publication intended for broad application.

Paragraph 1-140 could be enhanced with the example in Australian MAJGEN Jim Molan’s account in Running the War in Iraq of only have one hour to verify or refute insurgent claims during the final battle for Fallujah. This is one of the keys of stability, counterinsurgency and irregular warfare campaigns and deserving for a section in its own right over the current single paragraph.

5.c.7. Empower the Lowest Levels. Everything in this section is correct however should also recognise the potential in this environment of what Josh Wineera refers to as the ‘tactical general‘. This recognises that there are more likely to be times in this environment (over a conventional MCO environment) that a more senior commander may have to reach down and issue more specific guidance or direction to mitigate ‘other’ factors that may not be apparent at lower levels. In this context, ‘other’ may include political, diplomatic cultural or informational issues or considerations. The same comment applies to paragraph 1-157.

5.c.8. Support the Host Nation. As discussed above, and still noting US ownership of this publication, this section would be enhanced with the US-specific reference removed. The distinction between the host nation government identified in first sentence of paragraph 1-147 and the ‘local forces and institutions’ mentioned in fifth sentence should be amplified: supporting the host nation is not necessarily the same as supporting the host nation government.

5.c.9. Paradoxes of counterinsurgency operations. With the exception of two of the listed ‘paradoxes’, this section could be removed as the remaining items apply across the broader spectrum of operations and are not solely applicable to counterinsurgency. Both remaining ‘paradoxes’ could actually be portrayed as ‘principles’ of counterinsurgency, stability operations and irregular warfare.

The first of these is paragraph 1-149 which emphasises that traditional military styles of operation may be counter-productive in this environment. The second is paragraph 1-154 which is a necessary reminder that the ultimate aim is to empower hoist nation agencies (without labouring the point, these may not always be representative of the host nation government) and that often a lesser performance from a host nation has a greater longer-term effect than if the task had been conducted by the (usually) more capable intervention force.

5.c.10. The enduring ‘principles’ or truisms of COIN/IW are:

Take the time to identify the core issues.

Take an equal amount of time to define your own national objectives.

Be prepared for a long haul – there are rarely quick enduring solutions.

Defeating the adversary militarily is not the strategic outcome – it is to create a security environment where other agencies can address the root/core issues.

COIN/IW is not about not using force – this was covered well in the original FM especially in comparison with contemporary doctrine which tended towards force-adversity. The military brings two things to the missionspace: the ability to apply force and the ability to go in harm’s way. Equally it is not about NOT using force: if there is no potential for the application of force, then there is probably a limited military role in the campaign.

Come prepared for Three Block War at all levels (strategic, operational, tactical) – the twist on the original Three Block War model is that it now may be the same force element operating across that spectrum instead of separate force elements in the same or adjoining geographic spaces i.e. the Three Block War might be equally fought in geographic and temporal proximity.

Intelligence in COIN/IW is less predictive than in MCO and more akin to the responsive intelligence employed in law enforcement. There is a distinction between reactive and responsive.

Junior leader need to be empowered in COIN/IW. Conversely senior leaders need to be more prepared to reach down to shape tactical actions. The Strategic Corporal (who is generally more influential making a screw-up than seizing opportunity) meets the Tactical General (who may need to apply more influence to avoid said screw-ups especially under the spotlight of modern media and forces of public opinion).

Stability and normalcy are the ultimate objectives but only in the content of the regional environment – there is no more an appetite for Mayfield in Afghanistan than there an appetite for Mogadishu (on a good day) in the US or any other first world nation. Attempts to meddle in the regional status quo generally foster than mitigate instability, not the longer term effects of food aid programmes in Africa or the emergence of consumer cultures in the South Pacific where economies can just not support them.

Command and control with other coalition partners and host nation forces may be more by liaison than direction (does a COIN campaign = ‘war’ by committee?). Having said this, there must a clear and consistent command structure across the coalition and (somehow) this must also be able to influence if not direct the activities of host nation and independent OGA and NGO in the operating environment.

The solution in COIN is NOT to just accede to insurgent demands. This is not what addressing the core issues means.

2 thoughts on “COIN Questionnaire Part 2

  1. Pingback: COIN Questionnaire Part 4 « The World According to Me…

  2. Pingback: COIN questions | Travels with Shiloh

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