Reversing the Oil-spot

Possibly winding off the Thursday/Friday War for 2012, a short item from Josh Wineera wondering what the reverse side of the popular COIN theory of the inkspot might look like in 2014…

Reversing the Oil-spot:How does the concept apply when leaving Afghanistan?

Josh Wineera

November 2012


For professional military planners, and even armchair strategist, the oil-spot concept for responding to an insurgency appears to be well understood. The counter insurgent objective of extending the security environment to establish and entrench a sustainable economic and political situation has been a particular feature of the latter stages of the War in Afghanistan. Conceived some 100 years ago by French Army Generals, Gallieni and Lyautey, the modern oil-spot concept is expressed in the form of a ‘Clear, Hold and Build’ strategy. Clear, Hold and Build has been the mainstay of ISAF coalition operations since the release of the 2006 US Army field manual, FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency Operations.

Afghanistan experts have fiercely debated the merits of fighting the enemy, aka the Taliban, verses focusing on protecting the population. Recent ISAF commanders, such as Generals McChrystal, Petraeus and Allen, all recognised the necessity to engage in both. Kill-capture missions sit aside missions such as training and mentoring Afghan security forces – such is the nature of contemporary counterinsurgency operations.

As the exit date rapidly approaches for coalition governments to withdraw their forces, plaudits for the successful application of the oil-spot approach still proliferate. Manifestly the surge of an additional 30,000 troops in early 2010 provided better force ratios and counterinsurgent density to implement the expansion in to previously held Taliban-strongholds. At this time however, with transition and withdrawal leading every major conversation about Afghanistan, a natural question arises.

Having applied the concept, moving forward has any thought been given to what happens when the oil-spot concept ceases, or rather the ISAF forces contract and concentrate to leave? Granted, a critical precondition to leaving has to be the successful training of the Afghan Army and Police forces to take full responsibility for their own community’s internal security. They after all, are the most important counter insurgent force in Afghanistan – a point often missed. Regardless, the degree of their success is still open for debate. One measure has been the quantity of Afghan security forces being trained. As to the quality, plainly numbers do not convey the whole story. Recent insider attacks, known colloquially as a ‘green on blue’ incident, have placed immense pressure on the trust and confidence within those partnered ISAF and Afghan units. It would be unfair to generalise these extreme tensions across the whole country. In many places, such as the Arghandab River Valley in the Kandahar Province, conditions are in place to enable the Afghans to take the lead. Certainly in his address to the US Army Irregular Warfare Centre last month, former ISAF battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Michael Simmering explained the rational for his unit’s achievements.

Having expanded the security environment, in many cases literally being the outlier force, ISAF strategists and even regionally based planners must surely be conceiving a plan to reverse the oil-spot concept? Ideally, the full extent of ISAF control of the environment is manageable for the Afghan forces but common sense would suggest they are in for a very tough time. The absence of ISAF will almost certainly be a cue for prospective power brokers to demonstrate their credentials for control. In some provinces this demonstration has already begun.

Drawing back to a concentration area, or a central hub, for departure might seem like a logical method to reduce the ISAF footprint in the provinces. For this to be achieved an assumption would need to be made in terms of the previously held (by ISAF) security zone remaining intact. That is an assumption that will hold up in some provinces, for others it will remain questionable – certainly a major risk consideration. Possibly some ISAF contingents might contemplate holding the outer security areas in place and hollowing out the main force from the rear first. The last element to withdraw would be the outer security forces having provided a ‘shield’. Military proponents would recognise these two options as merely tactical methods of withdrawing from a main defensive position, and so they are. Could they however, become the basis to start conceptualising and visualising what ISAFs oil spots could look like in reverse?

For those ISAF soldiers still patrolling their area of operations, the time for theoretical conceptions matters little. Familiar tactical tasks, such as the options to withdraw or allowing the Afghan security forces to relive them in place, may not be considered particularly elegant or intellectually innovative. But they, in some way, will feature in every planning consideration. So might a new metaphor be coined to explain reversing the oil-spot? In an age where anything can be rebranded and often is, where the old can be made new age again, the likelihood is high.


Major Josh Wineera is a serving military officer on secondment to the Centre for Defence and Security Studies,Massey University. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies or the New Zealand Defence Force.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Near and Far

WordPress’ take on ‘near and far’ is meant to be about mechanical perspective but perspective is relative…

In 1985, I was also a (very) junior member of the local Territorial Force (TF) company, Alpha Company of the 4th (Otago Southland) Battalion. The larger proportion of our soldiers were all freezing workers from one of the major freezing working around Invercargill and they all had difficulty getting to the TF annual training Camp in January (to align with scarfie school holidays) as that was the peak of the works season. On one of his vists to the deepest South, it was put to Chief of General Staff MAJGEN John Mace that shifting the annual camp to the works offpeak season would be a great enabler for local recruiting. He took up the challenge and stated that if A Coy could put a full company on the ground In October, he’d be good for a company deployment to Singapore…

So A Coy put a company ++ on the ground in Tekapo, meeting its side of the deal….lots and lots of adventures that fortnight, I can tell you…

I was also in the last year of my lineman apprenticeship with Telecom and in this phase of my training, I was spending some time with the rigging section that maintain the radio towers scattered around the Southland Plains. Fifty feet is quite near, until you are fifty feet up a tower on a breezy day…then it snowed which was the end of tower-climbing for the day…

This was the day before we staged through Dunedin and flew out to Singapore – 4000 hours (or so it seemed) on a Herc across the red dust of Australia for a one night stopover in Darwin to the sweltering humidity of South East Asia to our home for the next six weeks…Dieppe Barracks, Singapore…

Not that we spent much time there…shake out on the ground and almost immediately off across the Causeway to hit the jungle for Ex PEMBURA RUSA…helicopters…rain…snakes…rain…hornets…rain…more rain…and almost as much fun as there was rain…

It’s dorky, it’s ugly and…

…and it serves no useful purpose…

A solution in search of a problem

OK, so, yeah whatever, it’s technically very cool and it’s not REALLY an aircraft so you can let a couple of NCOs operate it – and of course save a bundle on what you would actually have to pay a proper crew…

I’m clearly a big fan of unmanned systems – in entirely the wrong job if I wasn’t – but it’s like they used to teach in the good old days at the Tactics School ‘..task with a purpose…’ that is, you don’t just do stuff simply because you can…

So what are my issues with the unmanned cargo aerial vehicle:

Even the acronym is dodgy as UCAV also represents unmanned combat aerial vehicle and I’m not sure we want to be getting to two confused. Maybe a good rule of thumb could be that if you have two acronyms that can be applied interchangeably but mean totally different things, then one of them has to change. Litmus test: would anyone be upset if the US announced it was deploying ‘UCAVs’ to Libya? (Let’s not go near the whole Syrian debacle…

It’s optionally manned i.e. the cockpit is still there and functional so that if required a pilot (one only as it is a single seater) can operate it. Sounds like someone is hedging their bets but who’d want to be flying a single seat unarmoured helicopter at low level in the badlands…possibly keeping it sellable so keep an eye out for some slightly used optionally manned K-Maxs on eBay.

It’s meant to save lives. How is not exactly clear. The greater numbers of casualties in a helicopter crash come from the passengers – this thing isn’t carrying passengers and it’s only doing ash and trash tasks which are not noted as being amongst the more dangerous helicopter missions unless all of a sudden boredom is actually a hazard.

Oh, I see, it’s meant to save lives by reducing the amount of ground traffic that needs to be exposed to the IED threat. But haven’t we been doing the airborne resupply thing for years now? What has K/Max really brought to the party except another aircraft type to maintain and operate?

This whole thing of we’ll only travel by air because of the IEDs gives the lie to ‘war amongst the people’: having come in and screwed up your country, we happy for us to have the luxury of free air travel…whoa, you locals step away from the aircraft – you still get to travel by land and risk the threat aimed at us. Yeah right, much as we don’t want our people to go in harm’s way, this is simply ceding the ground to the bad guys which bad. What’s worse is that validates IEDs as valid and effective tools to employ against ground forces. Expect to see (LOTS) more of them until they go the way of the Zeppelin and and made untenable as weapon systems. That means putting more resource into countering IEDs to the left, well to the left of the BANG. the K-Max UCAV isn’t going to help you there.

The K-Max might actually add to the problems created by ceding the land environment (great for air forces though!!) because every boring mundane MANNED ash and trash mission puts eyes on the ground, and the more that they cover the same area on a routine basis, the greater the familiarity they build up and the more likely they are to be able to detect and identify some form of anomaly or indicator that might need to be followed up.

Every manned helicopter currently doing the ash and trash mission can be reroled on the fly for emergency dust-off of casualties or to provide airborne ISR for troops in contact…can’t really do that with the K-Max UCAV. You also can’t use it to provide quick fires with its door guns because it doesn’t have doors let alone guns…can’t toss an airborne sniper up in it either…

There are hidden costs. This thing is not fitted with any form of self-protection system so its only really any good where there no air threat to helicopters. One also wonders how good the flight control system is once the aircraft has been damaged in flight – will it be able to autonomously divert to an alternate LZ or even opt to make an emergency landing in the field?

So sorry, close but no cigar…UAVs are useful but they are not a universal panacea for all ills and they certainly do make the IED issue ‘go away’…but everything has to actually contribute meaningfully to the war effort and, as writ to date, the K-Max UCAV simply doesn’t…

COIN Questionnaire Part 6

Randomly-selected COIN-themed pic

The last part of the FM 3-24 questionnaire…what a week…

20. JP 3-08, Interorganizational Coordination During Joint Operations, emphasizes coordination, cooperation, and unity of effort. Should the revised FM tackle the issue of unity of command?

Yes, it is important that a common approach is applied across the campaign. From a military perspective this may mean the establishment of Theatre Entry Levels that each contributing nation must meet in order to join the coalition. In addition to more obvious issues of equipment compatibility and interoperability, this may include mandating some standardisation or interoperability of process as well  e.g. regardless of its national approach, signing up to the doctrine guiding the campaign plan.

There must also be clear control over and alignment between the OGA (regardless of nation) that are supporting the campaigning – or perhaps even leading it under some circumstances. It may be that the primary tool for high-level command and control in a comprehensively-approached COIN/IW campaign is liaison and not the direction that might be more expected in a purely military organisation.

21.a. Does the FM address adequately the interaction of the military with government and non-government agencies and propose a structure similar to CORDS in Vietnam? 

A CORDS-type structure may be one option depending on the existence and capability of the HN government and its state and local government structures.

21.b. Or is operating under the concept of “Unified Action” sufficient?   

No. Unified Action aka the comprehensive approach can be many thing to many people and it is important that the issues surrounding UA and JIM approaches be defined in doctrine, both as considerations for campaign planning and also so that any need for training in this area can be identified and implemented well before being required.

22. Are the six lines of operation described in the current FM applicable globally, or are there others that would be more relevant?

The term ‘logical lines of operation (LLO)’ implies that there are such things as ‘illogical lines of operation’. The terminology could be simplified to simply ‘lines of operation’.

So somewhere there is a chain of Illegal Sea Foods restaurants??

The extant lines of operation in FM 3-24 are valid and most of the content of chapter 5 is sound. It would be clearer if information operations was depicted as a separate line of operation as the current construct could be taken as meaning that information operations are more an all arms role than the specialist role that they are.

The stages of a campaign, lines of operation, and approaches to counterinsurgency are delinked from the host nation government. As already discussed, the legitimacy or not of the host nation may be a contextual factor than an enduring feature or requirement of this type of campaign.

23. How, or should, the FM account for enablers, such as Female Engagement Teams and Agriculture Teams, in the AO?

These are both manifestations of the application of theatre-specific lessons in the last decade. However they are not universally-applicable and their employment in other campaigns could fail where a cookie-cutter approach to counterinsurgency fails to take this into account

24. Should the FM address how to conduct counterinsurgency operations when the national government is itself considered a threat by parts of the population?

See Q15 and Q16. It may be that the central/national government has to accept that, to return to stability and normalcy, it has to make some sacrifices in terms of control, perhaps even in allowing a ‘rebel’ region to break away e.g. Singapore, the former Yugoslavia, Timor Leste, to name a few.

25.a. How, or should, the FM address transition and reintegration? 

One might reasonably expect both of these to be higher level endstates/objectives of the campaign so they should be included in the content of the FM.

A point that must be driven home is that this cannot run to a predetermined timeline. Stating a timeline, as has been done with the 2014 timeline in Afghanistan, does little to bolster the COIN campaign and offers the insurgent the opportunity to ‘sit out’ the COIN forces.

There is some thinking that states that while that the recovery period from an insurgency is at least as long as and probably twice as long as the period of the insurgency itself; a similar school of thought offers that the ‘take’ of a COIN campaign cannot really be measured until one full generation, possibly two, has passed.

Where other factors may drive a premature or early departure from the campaign environment, they should be acknowledgement and acceptance of the potential consequences with the host nation.

25.b. Should there be a section on sanctions and incentives to address former insurgents?

This probably falls under the reintegration phase under Q25.a. At a certain point in the transition process, responsibility for ongoing conduct of the campaign will transfer to the host nation and any such sanction and incentive programme would be its auspices, even though coalition security forces that remain for a longer period. One, successful, example of this being applied is in Malaysia, where the Emergency per se was declared over in 1960 but national sanctions and incentive programmes continued for another 28 years under the Malaysian government until the final CT surrendered in 1988.

The value of sanctions against the new rulers of a nation where a counterinsurgency campaign has failed e.g. post-1975 Vietnam, or where the campaign is globally unpopular e.g. South Africa and Rhodesia, should be discussed from the perspective of effects upon longer term regional stability.

26. Are there any other issues that we have not addressed related to conducting counterinsurgency operations?  

Not really, the original publication was fairly sound and the thrust of the rewrite is really broadening its scope for broader utility beyond the Iraqi context against which it was originally drafted. FM 3-24 remains the seminal text on this form of warfare – its primary competitor is probably the 2007 version of the British Army Field Manual Part 1 Volume 10 Counterinsurgency – the earlier version is overly Euro-centric (probably based on lessons and experiences from Northern Ireland) and the more recent issue, titled Countering Insurgency (is this just semantic hair-splitting with Counterinsurgency?) is clearly based upon the UK’s Afghan experience and thus is only of limited applicability outside that environment. The 2007 publication is nicely generic…

So that’s it…another odyssey into COINville…hopefully some of this may have been of value to scholars and operators in this environment – certainly, as per the quote I used at the beginning of The Myth Of Force Ratios As Core To COIN writing on a subject does help clarify one’s own perspectives and thoughts…

COIN Questionnaire Part 5

Randomly-selected COIN-themed pic

Above: the French Resistance in action – good guys or bad guys may be a matter of perspective…zip forward 60 or 70 years and a Predator’s-eye view of this scene might say bad guys…

16. If “legitimacy” is to be deemed a key component of a successful counterinsurgency, how should that term be defined, what are its components, and how should it be measured?

The focus on legitimacy is nice in theory but like the moral approach to COIN is fraught with risk and has massive potential for the creation of more accidental guerrillas. In general conceptual terms, stability and normalcy would be better objectives in any generic COIN/IW campaign. When examining the C3I of a COIN/IW environment, it may be found that one of the causes was a government’s perhaps ill-advised attempt to inflict its legitimacy upon parts of its country.

There must also be distinction between types of government e.g. central/federal, state, provincial, regional, local/municipal: legitimacy does not automatically lead to the legitimacy of the central government. In a nation like Afghanistan, it may be that local tribal-based government is where the focus must be applied while the central government is trained to sit on its hands. Like Mahan’s sea power, government legitimacy is only valid as an objective if the government (at whatever level) actually has the capability to apply and enforce it.

Normalcy is not what is normal for the COIN force – it is what is considered normal in the campaign environment. The practical normalcy that Afghanistan might seek now is that of 2003-04, which differs from the normalcy that might have been sought during the Russian occupation i.e. back to pre-1979 Afghanistan. Similarly the normalcy that Iraq now seeks may be similar to that of pre-2003 Iraq where the lights still worked and the water and sewage still flowed, albeit with a strongman in charge. Normalcy and stability for most societies means being able to go to work and sustain one’s family with minimal risk of attack, bombing or intimidation

Depending on the culture, legitimacy can be a many-splendoured thing and certainly not a ‘one size fits all’. Even in the US, there have been and continue to be ongoing dialogues on the varying legitimacies of various levels of government, from municipal through state to federal, in various situations. It’s a big call to include in one’s doctrine concepts that are topics for discussion in one’s own country.

PART III: Conducting Counterinsurgency Operations

17. Much debate over the focus of FM 3-24 and its application has centered around the terms “population-centric” (focused on securing and controlling a given population or populations), “enemy-centric” (focused on defeating a particular enemy group), and “leader-centric” (the side with certain superior leadership attributes wins).  Given that debate, how should (or even should) these “centric” concepts be addressed in the FM? (Population-centric and enemy-centric are defined by the USG COIN Guide (2009), p. 12, and leader-centric is defined by Mark Moyar, A Question of Command, Chapter 1) 

I don’t believe that the debate adds any value. The ultimate aim of any such campaign is stability and a return to (local) normalcy. A robust planning process will identify the key issues and possible centres of gravity in a given environment and develop lines of operations to address and target these. The role of the population may have needed to be promoted in the transitional phases from MCO to IW in Iraq and hence the focus in the current FM 3-24 but in the five years since, awareness of this should be close to universal.

18.a.  Should the FM address any term or conditions analogous to “winning” or “victory?”

No, this leads directly to an inappropriate MCO mindset of ‘defeating the enemy’. This is not to say that there will not be cause to engage and defeat (all going well) an adversary in battle but this should only be a means to a clearly defined end and not an end in its own right.

The term used should be ‘success’.

18.b. If so, how? What metrics can be used to judge success?  

This will be situational based upon detailed study of specific C3I and balanced against national objectives; in fact that there will be two streams of success measurement: one against campaign objectives and another against national objectives – as above they often may not be one and the same.

Development of campaign metrics for both streams should initially be a product of campaign planning and design, specifically the development of milestones and endstates. Once the campaign begins both the objectives and the supporting metrics must be continuously reviewed.

Metric development (maybe this should be a heading in the -5 series of publications?) should consider both sides of the campaign equation i.e. in addition to measuring progress, or possibly lack thereof, of the campaign, there should also be a set of metrics monitored to determine whether, regardless of the progress or not of the campaign, a force or national exit point is being approached.

19. Historically, successful counterinsurgencies have required more than just military force. Does Chapter 2 of the current FM address adequately the “whole of government” approach from Phase 0 (Shape) through Phase V (Enable Civil Authority)?

Generally, yes, however it leans towards military leadership of a given campaign. Unpalatable as it may be, the optimum lead for long term results may not be a military one, more so if the military do not wish to become entwined as the central element of a campaign and have the freedom to withdraw when its tasks are complete. It may be that, in terms of both political acceptance and overall effectiveness, a campaign may be civil-led. In fact, as contractor/private engagement (the dropped ‘P’ from JIMP) increases, it is not outside the bounds of possibility that a campaign may be privately-led.

National issues aside, the accepted term for the approach broader than all/whole-of-government that encompasses all elements of the JIM(P) model is the comprehensive approach which is accepted in NATO and also independently by the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand i.e. four of the ‘Five Eyes’.

A key point that could be laboured in this chapter would be of the absolute need to avoid the situation in Iraq where there were separate military and civil hierarchies and commands…what the dead Germans called ‘unity of command‘….

COIN Questionnaire Part 4

Randomly-selected COIN-themed pic

I like this image because it starts to draw away from the purely physical operating environment in that where generally operate at a far lower level of operational competence i.e. the information domain…

Anyways, the next set of questions int he FM 3-24 revision project…

11. Does the current FM address adequately how to fight an insurgency based upon an ideological or religious foundation?

In general terms, yes, with the qualification that it was clearly written against the backdrop of Iraq in 2005/06; as a result the detail does not translate well into other theatres like Afghanistan, even less so when it is employed as a pre-templated solution which it is not. Just as much as MCO and even more so at all levels below battalion, COIN/IW requires personnel to think and keep thinking as the environment around them evolves: the ‘hit ‘em hard with HE’ template solution is no more applicable across the board than the ‘build more schools and wells’ school of thought.

12.a.  FM 3-24 and FM 3-24.2 discuss causes of insurgencies. How representative and accurate are the lists in the two manuals? 

I didn’t review FM 3-24-2 (actually I took one look when it first came out and hated it – how can a doctrinal publication include discussion papers? It read like ‘just go and figure it out for yourselves’.) however the section in FM 3-24 on Mobilisation Means and Causes, paragraphs 1-40 to 1-54 is sound, suitably generic for broader application beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, and does not require revision.

12.b. Should there be more analysis of possible causes and how to mitigate those causes?

This may become an exercise in tail-chasing due to the sheer range of possible causes and how they might be mitigated. It would probably be more useful to discuss methods and means by which causes, catalysts and contributing issues (C3I??) might be identified in a real or potential operational environment, and to also include the types of agencies and other sources which might be tapped or drawn upon to contribute to this analysis process. As these C3I will extend well beyond purely military issues (i.e. a total change from IPB for MCO), so these supporting agencies and sources will extend beyond the military into other areas of government and beyond – to define ‘beyond’ see ‘JIM’ and ‘the comprehensive approach’.

The strategy to mitigate those causes and achieve national objectives in a COIN/IW campaign should be derived in accordance with accepted campaign planning/operational design processes, guided to a certain extent by principles and truisms of COIN/IW (see Q5).

12.c. How should the manual address complex causes?

This question implies the existence of a ‘simple’ cause which is unlikely; even in the South West Pacific which is hardly a hotbed of terrorist, insurgents and international criminals, it is unlikely that there are any significant simple causes to any of the issues bubbling away under the surface of sand, sea and sunsets.

Refer back to Q12.b. – provide the tools for identifying C3I to combine with national objectives (strategic, operational, tactical) in extant planning and mission analysis processes.

13. Are there any other issues that we have not addressed related to understanding the operational environment/threat?  

Other than perhaps accepting that counterinsurgency, stability operations and irregular warfare all form parts of the same whole and exist on a common doctrinal foundation, no.

I would, however consider, shifting Appendix B from paragraph B-29 onwards to either FM 3-24-2 when it is revised, or to a relevant 2-series publication. It is very procedural and detailed coverage of what is quite a niche specialised topic to implement and probably does not belong in a publication at this level.

14. How/Should the revised FM to address armed groups such as criminal gangs, militias, and warlords that may “hitch their wagon” to an insurgency based on grievances against the host nation government?

The revised FM should not give special attention to such groups or any others that fall outside purist/theoretical definitions of  ‘insurgent’ although it may list them to illustrate the broader spectrum of actors in a COIN/IW environment.

This question illustrates the risk in an overly narrow definition of insurgent. If the ‘wagon-hitching’ grievances seek political change then these groups would probably fall into the narrow definition of insurgent anyway, regardless of whether that change may be sought only for criminal advantage or gain – not all insurgents are high-minded idealists thinking only of the people or ‘righting wrongs’.

It may be, however, that other elements, not just criminals may exploit the insurgency for their own ends and gains. If such affects the stability and security of the operating environment, then mitigating this threat should be a task/role that falls from campaign planning and design against the aforementioned clearly-articulated national objectives.

15. How or should the manual address what the United States government considers to be criminal activity that is ignored, sanctioned, or unable to be countered by the host nation government (e.g. growing poppies, pirating CDs)?

If stability is a key campaign objective, then the focus of the campaign should be on those factors that promote instability.

There should not be a kneejerk train of thought that ‘criminal’ automatically equals adversary or threat (we need to get our heads around the concept of ‘competitors‘.). It may be that temporary or permanent alliance/partnership with criminal elements is actually a practical pragmatic means of addressing core issues and achieving national objectives. It may be that a well-established criminal organisation already has structures for intelligence, operations and sustainment against the actual adversaries that enhance those of COIN forces.

It is dangerous to encourage moral standards over issues that do not directly support the campaign plan (both addressing C3I and national objectives): we cannot right every wrong and save every princess. The effects of targeting illegal operations like growing poppies and pirating CDs (which might not be all that illegal in the HN! It’s values and laws may NOT be the same as our own) as these may be key sources of individual and regional income, thus targeting them may actually increase support for the insurgents and undermine the COIN campaign and the HN government. Any alternative sources of income have to offer equivalent reward and not involve additional labour e.g. as that involved in switching from CD piracy to more manually-oriented agricultural pursuits.

COIN Questionnaire Part 3

Randomly-selected COIN-themed pic

6.a.  How relevant is the Maoist model of protracted war to the insurgencies of the past thirty years and to possible insurgencies of the future?

It is one of a number of possible approaches to insurgency and as such should be included. For this version of FM 3-24 to be more enduring than the original which was written against a specific contingency, it should not discount any approaches merely because they may be perceived as less relevant in the current contemporary environment. The text on this in the current December 2006 iteration of FM 3-24 i.e. paragraphs 1-25 to 1-39 covers this well. The introductory paragraph 1-25 could discuss that most insurgent campaigns include a blend of the methods discussed as opposed to being one or the other as the text may imply.

6.b. Is there a model more representative of recent and current insurgencies? 

The protracted ‘war of the flea’ approach to insurgency is more enduring and proven with greater opportunity for success than the current preference in some quarters for the ‘spring’ approach which may topple the existing government in short order but which does little to promote host nation or regional stability in the longer term. If anything, removal of an unpopular but consistent strong man (a la Saddam, Mubarak and Gadhafi) is, if anything, a blow against regional stability. The revised 3-24 should take care not to further the myth of massive grass roots popular uprisings as means of either insurgency or counterinsurgency.

7.a.  The ratio of counterinsurgents to the population is one of the more oft-cited portions of the current FM. A study by the Institute for Defense Analysis concludes that twenty counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents in the area of operations leads to a 54% probability of success. If, however, the density increases to 40 for every 1000, the probability increases to 83%. Another study by the Harvard Kennedy School,  however, concluded that increases from 5 to 80 troops per 1,000 inhabitants caused the probability of success to increase by less that fifteen percentage points. Most studies caveat 2 results by stating that no level of force density will guarantee success. Based upon these studies and any others of which you might be aware, how should force ratios in the FM be adjusted?

See separate comment on IP2 –Force Ratios.

7.b. Should force ratios even be addressed in the FM? 

See separate comment paper on IP2 –Force Ratios.

8.a.  The current FM quotes Galula who posited “that revolutionary war was 80 per cent political action and only 20 per cent military.” The sentence that follows caveats that remark. Does the 80/20 ratio have any historical validity, other than being cited as noted?

See separate comment paper on IP2 –Force Ratios.

8.b.  If not, should there be any reference to a political/military percentage in counterinsurgency warfare?

See separate comment paper on IP2 –Force Ratios.

9.  Are there any other issues that we have not addressed related to the history, theory, principles, and fundamentals of insurgency/counterinsurgency?  

The core FM 3-24 as released in December 2006 is sound and thus my comments offer more tuning than any change in approach. Many critics of the publication overlook its heritage as a doctrinal solution for Iraq and it is this focus, necessary at the time, that most comments here address.

PART II: Understanding the Operational Environment/Threat

10.a. What are your thoughts on the concept of “center of gravity” when countering an insurgency? 

The concept must be fully understood (i.e. thrashed out as a principle in training and education) before any individual crosses the start line. Much effort and resource is wasted searching for the mythical CoG that will topple and adversary over night because the concept, like directive control and the manoeuvrist approach, is not well understood, taught or applied. Often there seems to be a perception that identifying and engaging the CoG is a means of avoiding combat (seen in some schools as only attritive).

In a COIN/IW environment, it may be that the largest proportions of the adversary and the population may be engaged if the CoG(s) (possibly aka the underlying issues or root causes behind the conflict) are engaged. Of the remainder, it may be that the ‘irreconcilables’ have no engageable CoG and must be engaged directly, or in some cases, especially once order is restored, ignored or dealt with under civil law.

10.b. What framework do you find most applicable when determining the insurgency’s center of gravity?

The key to COIN/IW is understanding the environment and the underlying issues or root causes behind the conflict – this is a key distinguishing difference between COIN/IW and conventional operations where the object is largely (and simply) to defeat the adversary militarily and park a tank outside the presidential palace, capitol, seat of government, etc. The two key questions that have to be asked to determine a CoG in COIN/IW are:

What is the insurgent’s/adversary’s problem? There is rarely one single adversary that can be easily and simply defined and even within organisations they will probably be factions and differing schools of thought and philosophies (possibly exploitable/engageable opportunities in their own right).  Identifying the catalysts driving an adversary does not necessary lead directly to having to address those issues as the COINdinista promote but it is impossible to create enduring change without understanding all aspects of the environment.

What is our mission here? This also may be somewhat more complex with potential for ‘tension’ between national objectives, objectives of other coalition partners,  and the stated coalition objectives which may be somewhat broader and also more aspirational. After a decade in Afghanistan, it is clear that some nations have yet to mature from the ‘(as many) flags around the table’ approach for PSO to the pragmatic and somewhat brutal realities of a war-fighting coalition that does apply force and that does go in harm’s way. NB: if your nation’s objective is to be seen to contribute for a minimum period before withdrawing with the ‘contribute to global/regional security’ box ticked, don’t bother with the first question.

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.

COIN Questionnaire Part 1

Randomly-selected COIN-themed pic

This image was drawn from a plug for Japanese Counterinsurgency, WW2 – from the text, the author has some issues with the contemporary approach to COIN and I’m not altogether convinced that he is 100% in the wrong:

Few students of history realize that the brutally effective Japanese Army of World War 2, also fought many campaigns that may be described as Japanese Counterinsurgency, WW2. The methods of Japanese Counterinsurgency in WW2 were unhindered by any of the guilt, lack of confidence, and/or confused thinking so apparent in the American-Marxist approach to counterinsurgency. In its own way, the Japanese Army was pure, and its distilled ferocity was unburdened by the treasonous misgivings of melting pot citizens harboring heterogeneous values and treasonous notions. Japanese Counterinsurgency, WW2 was carried out to obtain victory. The clear-minded Japanese Army did not bother to invent false rules of war or self-defeating rules of engagement crafted by non-warriors trying to work off their own poisoned karmic debt. Neither did they subscribe to such insanely defeatist rules as those of the Geneva Conference. The Japanese Army knew that if they were defeated, Japanese survivors would be murdered by the same fair-play hypocrites who advocated “rules of war”. The Japanese Army was not hypocritical and the methods described in the e-book, Japanese Counterinsurgency, WW2, provide important lessons for those uncorrupted by treasonous war rules, which favor enemy victory. Expose yourself to a different type of anti-partisan warfare, one which was always victorious and was feared as Japanese Counterinsurgency, WW2.

 Excerpt from Japanese Counterinsurgency, WW2
“The Japanese commander in the Philippines called for a minimum of 24 infantry battalions to secure his rear areas against guerrilla action and seven divisions to break up the regular invasion effort.”‘ This would mean a ratio of approximately three front-line troops for every one soldier tied down in rear-area security. In China, where guerrilla action was more fully developed, the requirements for rear-area security were greater and the number of troops so engaged at times actually exceeded those forces engaged in front-line action.
Strong Points
The Japanese made extensive use of strong points to ensure greater security in the occupied areas. Most of these were located in commanding positions, along railroad lines, near bridges, and adjacent to key industrial installations.In China alone an estimated 30,000 strong points were constructed. Of this number approximately 10,000, or one-third, were destroyed in the course of the struggle against the guerrillas.”
  Anyway, moving right along…the FM 3-24 Revision project started with public release of a questionnaire seeking information on specific aspects of the publication’s content…I converted it to a Word document and broke some of the larger questions into smaller sub-questions – it’s quite long so I’ll work through my thoughts on the questions in a series of posts…the few couple of questions are administrative and so I’ve left left them out…

3.  Are the current definitions of insurgency and counterinsurgency in FM 3-24, and updated by JP 3-24 (2009) adequate? If not, how would you change them and why?

See comment on IP1 – Definitions.

PART 1:  History, Theory, Principles, and Fundamentals

4.  Current US policy and attitudes, along with the contemporary media environment, make difficult the adoption of techniques such as massive resettlement of the population and the application of overwhelming firepower. Considering those limitations, what historical counterinsurgency case studies do you believe have the greatest benefit to determining the most successful counterinsurgent principles? 

These limitations are false in terms of the study of counterinsurgency and the determination of enduring principles; while they may affect specific campaign planning, they should not be allowed to affect determination of the principles of counterinsurgency/irregular warfare. It would be assumed that any competent commander and staff would be able to determine during planning what courses of action may be untenable due to cultural issues nationally, globally and/or within the host nation.

The following case studies are recommended for study:

The American War of Independence from the perspectives of the American insurgents, British counterinsurgents, Hessian ‘contractors’ and French intervention forces.

The New Zealand Wars 1840-85 and the campaigns against the Native Americans in the US. It could be argued that both these insurgencies actually sought to maintain as opposed to overthrow the status quo which while possibly placing them outside the recommended definition of insurgency, does not detract from the fact that the principles of counterinsurgency still applied – possibly another indicator that Irregular Warfare might be a more suitable title for this publication. If one opts for the legitimacy path to COIN, it should be noted that the underlying causes of both these series of campaigns can be found in a series of legitimate treaties that were breached by those who became the counterinsurgents.

The French and Yugoslav resistance movements during WW2, both of which are also examples of majority insurgent movements.

The Malayan Emergency must be included if for no other reason than to ‘myth-bust’ the counterinsurgency truisms that have arisen from this campaign.

Both the French and US experiences in Vietnam must be included. The French campaign is an example of a militarily-focussed approach coupled with a failure to realise that the ways and means of the 19th Century no longer applied in the mid-20th Century. The US campaign in Vietnam illustrates the true nature of counterinsurgency without the artificial constraints of the Malayan scenario and the potential ‘three block war’ nature of irregular warfare/counterinsurgency. The Vietnam study can include the diplomatic and domestic fronts as part of the ‘comprehensive’ approach to the conflict by both sides, the high-end air war fought over North Vietnam, the high intensity infantry conflict fought within South Vietnam, the special operations campaigns fought not in South Vietnam but Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam as well, and finally the OGA/NGO aspects of the conflict. Vietnam is one of the few conflicts that draws all these threads into a single narrative.

Mention must be made of Soviet approaches (see note 1) to counterinsurgency in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and Chechnya; and Chinese approaches in places like Tibet, with mention of what worked for them and what did not.

A modern study of counterinsurgency must include Iraq post-2003 as this would ‘prove’ or validate the principles derived from the previous case studies in a contemporary context. Until the Afghan campaign is actually concluded, it will remain unclear whether it will stand as an example of how-to or how not to conduct a campaign.

Some thought may also be given to the 2011 campaign in Libya as means of countering an insurgency, in this case the one that was developing against the Gadhafi regime with scope to further destabilise the region if not addressed one way or another. The point derived from this, possibly as an adjunct to discussion on ‘colonial counterinsurgency’, is that the effects of an insurgency may be mitigated by actually supporting it. In terms of counterinsurgency/irregular warfare principles, this would support the principle of each and every potential campaign being examined against its own merits i.e. to avoid the cookie-cutter approach.

I considered the 2010 Rand study, Victory Has a Thousand Fathers, for  this list but I have concerns about its veracity noting the limited period selected to review and the limited campaigns examined. It’s really a shame because the idea was sound – just let done by a flawed execution, ironically, just like many COIN campaigns…

 A key takeaway from this is to decide what you really want out of your COIN, or more accurately, your Countering Irregular Activity campaign – ultimately stability will be of greater importance than niceties like legitimacy and governance…realpolitik is such a bitch…
Note 1. This approach I started to refer to as the coercive approach when Josh and I were developing the Irregular Warfare paper for Massey in 2013. (added August 2017)

Securing, controlling, and supporting

Randonly-selected COIN-themed pic

The article from which this image is drawn is an interesting take on COIN without a firm organisation foundation…

The third issue paper developed under the FM 3-24 Revision project discusses the clear-hold-build concept from a doctrinal perspective and finds it somewhat wanting – if nothing else this reinforces the absolute need for a precise tactical lexicon that defines the language of the contemporary operating environment…my comments are quite brief as this paper heads the nail fair on the head and there is little to really do other than support its findings…

Clear-hold-build’ is one approach of a number that might be employed to counter an insurgency; the brute force-based simply ‘clear’ represents another equally, if not more, successful approach. Operational art is one of the factors that affects how well military aspects of the broader campaign are conducted

Other than that, all the other points made in the discussion are supported, especially the need for a clear operational lexicon that can be employed across the spectrum of operations.

Recommendation 1. Less the operational art content, this recommendation is supported.

Recommendation 2. The need for a more comprehensive operational lexicon is supported.

Recommendation 3. The shift from clear-hold-build to secure-control-support is supported. This model better aligns with the stages of a counterinsurgency campaign discussed in paragraphs 5-4 to 5-6 of the current FM 3-24.