« Charlie Dunlap's War | Main | Entenmann's Can Make Fun Of Whatever Murder Cases It Wants »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Jason Fritz

COIN, like any type of war, involves violence. COIN, like any type of war, requires some form of political solution. TTPs, balancing violence and politics, vary by conflict and situation, but these two aspects of war are invariably present. Any writing that does not acknowledge this is un-serious.

Dan Kemp

Spencer, the point of killing your way out of a counterinsurgency is you kill everyone capable of resisting until the few survivors have no means or will to resist. And I mean everyone. The US Army hasn't fought a campaign like that since the Indian Wars, and I doubt anyone save a few slightly warped people would go there today.

Admittedly in 2003 I was one of them. When then-MG Petraeus told us "We can't kill our way out of this", I piped up from the back "That's because we're not thinking big enough, sir!"


It's simply a case of asking the wrong question. We're not going to find ourselves in an old fashion conventional war anytime soon. So we're going to continue to find ourselves in highly asymmetric conflicts where we have all the technological and economic advantages. These are the conflicts we have to treat as 'insurgencies', and it certainly seems to be true that under the currently acceptable rules of warfare the 'best' solution in these cases is some form of COIN.

But that's not actually true. To do COIN right requires a MASSIVE investment in resources. The BEST solution is to NOT put our troops in places where they will be in long-term low level violent conflict with the population unless there is a HUGE, overwhelming (and therefore obvious) reason for doing so. If the Zetas were coordinating an insurgency in Mexico with Columbian funding, then it would probably make sense for the US to invest some significant resources. But what is the cost-benefit calculation with Afghanistan?


Owens is a classic Clausewitzean, so you can't blame him for relying on the dead Prussian's concepts. Instead, you should blame the US Army that couldn't implement COIN appropriately in Afghanistan because the host nation's government is too corrupt and its security forces are entirely inadequate.

Oh, and we had zero political strategy to guide the military operations. Failing all of that, Wilfred is exactly correct, only if you wanted to actually WIN in Afghanistan. Too bad our leadership didn't.

William F. Owen

" -It's because the guy who gives his old cellphone to his cousin so his old neighborhood friend can use it to construct IEDs for the guy paying a good going rate -- quick, is he an insurgent or not? If you can't immediately answer, Owen's argument falls apart. -"

How does that in anyway undermine my argument? How do tell the same of drug dealers? Rules of engagement and rule of law supply the answer. You detain and investigate.


@William F. Owen, because it breaks down your reductive and rigid distinction between the population and the insurgency. Once you concede that boundary is a porous one, then you have to move away from a kill-and-capture paradigm, because it will inflame an insurgency more than it will dampen it. And further, it begs the question of why an insurgency is able to feed on popular grievances. Start to address that demand for an insurgency, and we're quickly out of the realm of what the force of arms can accomplish.

What's more, saying we'll investigate the cellphone owner punts on the decision. And what if his neighbors see you as unjust for detaining him in the first place? What if they start to use old refrigerators, broken air conditioners and garbage as roadblocks in the way of your next patrol? Are they insurgents now, ripe to be detained? These are real-life cases from Baghdad that company commanders had to confront.

FM 3-24 is anything but a perfect document. But it did have the virtue of recognizing the limits of military power in a counterinsurgency, as frustrating a lesson as that is. Many, many failures of implementation followed, like not having an overarching political strategy to guide counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and not delegating to other (admittedly less capable) agencies the development and diplomatic work that both you and the field manual accurately recognize is not for soldiers to accomplish.

And thanks very much for commenting on my overly obnoxious post. If you would like a whole post of your own to rebut me, I would be happy to turn the blog over to you. I'd be very interested to get your take on Petraeus' Afghanistan war, which would seem to incorporate your advice.

@Mikey, your overall point is the right one. When a template document says you're not actually able to pull off your goals, the right course is to ask yourself really really hard if you shouldn't just actually stop the entire enterprise. You would never dig for oil with a trowel, right?

@Dan Kemp, I'd love to hear more. I take it you went to Mosul with Petraeus?


In case you're interested in scholarship, try this recent dissertation: Patrick Johnston, "The Treatment of Civilians in Effective Counterinsurgency Operations." After looking at a range of empirical cases, he comes to the unpleasant conclusion that targeting civilians generally helps end insurgencies. His intro is pretty funny because he's openly upset with his conclusion.

The comments to this entry are closed.