Small Wars Journal

Ten Points for the FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency Manual Conference

Mon, 05/07/2012 - 6:12pm


#1:  Context and nuance: Focus changes on updating and improving the understanding of insurgency itself.  This will put current content into a more appropriate context and nuance in general, and address the primary shortfall of the current manual.  All lessons learned on COIN are corrupted by the policies and purposes of the times they occur in, but provide insights into strategic understanding.

#2:  Define for success:  Defining key terms with an eye toward criteria that lend themselves to similar approaches for solving the problem.  Purpose for action and relationships between parties are key. Move away from definitions based on degree of violence, type of ideology, or status of parties.

#3: COIN is a domestic operation:  Limit COIN to domestic operations (unless dealing with resistance following the military defeat of some state with the intent to bring it under US governance). Casting support of someone else’s COIN as FID promotes proper roles and the enhancement of legitimacy.

#4:  Types of Insurgency matter:  It is critical to clarify the unique aspects of the three broad categories of insurgency (Revolution, Separatism, and Resistance).  Insurgencies range from war to civil emergency and often occur in a blend of types, or morph over time.  No single COIN approach works for all, but blended, evolving approaches tailored for each can be very effective (and in many ways occurred during “the surge” in Iraq, but not during “the surge” in Afghanistan, with predictable results).   The blend of perceptions of US physical and policy “presence” driving resistance against the US among populaces also feeling internal revolutionary motivations toward their own governments is central to the past 20 years of turmoil.  Al-Qaeda conducts UW to leverage this energy and cannot exist without it.

#5:  Conditions of Insurgency:  Recognize the underlying conditions of insurgency that exist in every society, how to relieve such pressure through good governance, and the critical distinction between natural stability and the artificial stability achieved through state security forces. This facilitate better prevention, greater civil responsibility, more appropriate military roles,  and less operational surprise.

#6:  Human Nature:  Appreciate how universal and timeless human nature is, and those aspects most important for understanding the strategic context of any insurgency.  These are constants in the human domain that provide keys for solving complex, adaptive problems between people and governance.

#7:  Ideology & Narrative: Clarifying the role of ideology; the role of social media (and info tech in general); and narratives. These are essential tools to initiate and facilitate action, but are not causal.

#8:  Sanctuary:  Shifting the focus on “Sanctuary” from terrain to being more about legal status and popular support.  Deny enabling status and popular support, particularly for regional groups like AQ.

#9: Causation:  Recognize that causation primarily radiates out from government, and that it is the perspective of the recipient individuals and populace groups that matter, not governmental intent.

#10:  “Winning”: Not preserving some regime or defeating some threat, but expanding the percentage of the total populace that perceives governance works to support their reasonable ambitions.

Categories: FM 3-24 - insurgency - COIN


Re: the idea of a more-"generic" study of insurgency, rather than a more-specific study of our current paradigm, I vote for the latter. In this regard, consider the following:

For the United States today, the idea of insurgency -- and especially the idea of global insurgency -- these must be understood in terms of:

a. OUR enduring determination (and great post-Cold War push) to transform other states and societies more along our very different political, economic and social lines. And

b. THEIR enduring determination (and great post-Cold War push back) to deny/prevent these such radical and rapid transformations.

Thus today, in our New Cold War, we essentially have:

a. The exact same problems (re: insurgencies, etc.) with

b. The exact same people (for example, with the conservative elements of various populations, and with great nation rivals) that

c. Our Soviet/communists counterparts did in the Old Cold War; this,

d. For the exact same reason that they did back then, to wit: due to their (then) and our (now) attempt to:

1. Gain greater power, influence and control throughout the world; this,

2. Via the radical and rapid transformation of other states and societies along one's own (alien and profane in the eyes of many natives) political, economic and social lines.

Thus, to suggest that the difficulties that we are now experiencing -- re: insurgencies and many other issues -- these can be traced directly to our discomfort and unfamiliarity with our current role. One which finds:

a. The U.S./the West now doing "expansion" (much as the Soviets/the communists did during the Old Cold War),

b. Many native populations resisting our such efforts (much as they did the Soviets/the communists such efforts in days past),

c. Our great nation rivals taking advantage of this situation and doing "containment" (much as we did back in the day). This, so as to

d. Effectively deny the U.S./the West the ability to (1) gain greater power, influence and control throughout the world via (2) favorable outlying state and societal transformations.

So: Is it possible that such things as insurgencies, political warfare, etc., etc., etc., today might best be understood -- not via a study of insurgencies generally -- but, rather, via a consideration of the specific and governing "New Cold War" paradigm outlined above?

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 7:19am

In reply to by G Martin

Grant, If US approaches to COIN have proven anything, it is to validate the truism that "tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat." So your approach is well covered by our existing doctrine and historic practice.

As to your questions:

Russia and Iran are wise enough to not attempt to support a movement that does not believe in the legitimacy of what they ask or expect that force to advance. We ignore this basic pre-requisite and rely on American Exceptionalism to carry the day.

We are blinded by our unwaiverable belief that Clausewitz applies to all forms of political conflict and also in our American Exceptionalism as making us exempt from the laws of human nature that shape the human endeavors of all other mortals.

Not sure what you mean by your third question. We do not fail because we are not smart or do not work hard, or because of our system. We fail because we refuse to appreciate the problem for what it actually is, as that leads to perspectives that are very inconvenient to the solutions we wish to impose.



G Martin

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 8:07pm

I still think we should leave doctrine to the tactical level and get out of the business of defining abstractions. Our theories of how the world works aren't referenced- in doctrine or otherwise- and therefore are just assertions. We have conventional wisdom, the people who have influence, and the people who shout the loudest. FM 3-24, like most of the doctrine I've worked on, was heavily, if not wholly, influenced from the top and what little the bottom got in was accepted more through surrender than any compelling reasoning.

Instead of coming up with our own suppositions backed up with assertions, we should look at three things:

1- how has Russia and Iran been so successful at operating through proxies and we haven't??
2- what are our own institutional obstacles to learning?
3- what is the realistic situation with respect to our own political environment and decision-making situation?

I submit many of our problems are systemic-- and internal- yet we continue to focus on "the other." And our solutions - at least doctrinally- are simply recommendations to re-name things or come up with new lists of stuff we have to think about/do.

Geoffrey Demarest

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 11:14am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Ah, I see you’re not getting behind my call for a moratorium against using the word legitimacy. Anyhow, I guess I’m with as to your second paragraph, assuming we can agree that our doctrine should not give the word ‘insurgency’ too much definition outside of a context, which would include a particular government. It is just that to me, breathing Leavenworth air, we are wed to a habit of defining abstract terms too soon before they have a place and time. I think maybe that’s what concerns G Martin -- that we are stuck to a process that flows from ‘strategic-level’ semantic decisions (defining types of irregular wars) that can wrong-foot us if we end up asserting, for instance, that, ‘They have an insurgency, insurgency is X, therefore they and we need to do Y’. Do we agree that it would generally be better to study a specific situation well, and, irrespective of abstract categories, decide what steps to take toward achieving our goals? Our act of selecting and defining terms is itself an act of strategy-making equal in influence to our consideration of ends, ways, and means. If we become too rigid with our start-words, our strategy options are canalized and our tactical competence can, if our strategic lexicography were wrong, be forfeited. Your third paragraph is harder for me. ‘Revolution is illegal democracy’ threw me off. How is that? The ball game on Tuesday was a dog of a game; Wednesday’s a little better, thanks partly to the rhubarb. Go Royals.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 8:20pm

In reply to by Geoffrey Demarest

It is impossible to logically discuss countering insurgency, until one first understands insurgency for what it actually is, rather than what the challenged government wants it to be.

Sadly, our official definitions of insurgency and COIN are based far more on the latter than the former. Insurgency is rooted in human nature, and cares little what American generals, doctrine writers, or think tank pundits want it to be.

Revolution is illegal democracy; and resistance a continuation of warfare. When one invades, deposes, creates new illegitimate government and stays to defend it, one ends up dealing with a devil's brew of both in equal measure.

More later, pizza on the bar and the game is on!

Geoffrey Demarest

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 9:34am

Yes, thanks Bob. This is worth revisiting. Heart of the blog stuff. As most of you are aware, I’m generally anti-FM 3-24, anti-COIN. I think we should leave the definition of counterinsurgency at countering insurgency, and leave the definition of insurgency to civilian lexicographers as they see it evolve in common usage. Although I will agree with all of you that ‘irregular war’ also has its problems as an umbrella term for our doctrine, I think it gives us the scope and flexibility to consider what to do without falling into too many other semantic traps. Few wars are completely internal, and, from what I can tell, as soon as any foreign intervention happens, a contest immediately becomes some sort of mixture. I’ve got to go with Dave M. here that we should not separate doctrine and manuals for COIN, FID, SFA and Stability Operations. I think we should take each conflict as its own category of conflict, and consider early and recurrently what it is that we wish to prevent, stop or punish, and who the perpetrators are. One more snipe: I think even looking at its appearances in this very thread, the word legitimacy is exposed as a weak vessel. I think it is used more than a 170 times in the last insurgency-counterinsurgency manual -- inconsistently at that. Let's have a moratorium on the use of that word; it has become an excuse and an argument more than a guide and a goal.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 10/04/2015 - 8:10pm

Saw this in the "most popular" section and took a view minutes to see if my positions of three years ago were standing up to the test of current challenges. a great deal of powerful discussion, well worth the review.

One point I would add today is that if an intervening power hopes to help cure insurgency, and not simply suppress the current insurgents, they must ensure that the population behind the insurgency perceives it has a viable political alternative, and that intervening party must also be fairly agnostic ast what type of government emerges, or who remains or rises to power. This is not yet within our risk paradigm, and we continue to fail in support of answers we think best for us.

Mark O'Neill

Sun, 05/13/2012 - 8:27pm


Thanks for the clarification. I am in broad agreement. The point you make about 'containment' COIN is a very good one. I think that we (the west ) need to recognise that the strategic ends of what I term 'second-party counterinsurgency' (ie, 'interventionist' COIN) are far closer (but not 100% aligned) with the tenets of the 'imperial policing' era (need to get over our hang ups with the term) than the 'counterinsurgency era'. In many cases ( dare I say most) our stargeic interest has nothing to do with nation building and everything to do with the maintenance of some form of status quo that we believe to be in our interests. Defeating insurgency , rather than decades long dubious efforts at nation building will normally suffice for our strategic purposes.

I also think that the sentiment that the doctrine needs to maintain and focus on being an 'FM' is about right. I also agree with the point that Dave M made about the utility of the previous FM's dogma being incorporated into a JP (or something similar).



Dave Maxwell

Sat, 05/12/2012 - 10:27am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Thanks, Bob. Roger on a lot of work to be done. Reference a JP for COIN. There is a JP 3-24 from 2009 that is supposed to provide the below listed points and interestingly the executive summary alone is 15 or so pages of the 240 page document and has such interesting little points such as this on page xvii:

"When a HN is dealing with an insurgency and the US
supports the HN, COIN is one aspect of a larger FID
mission. Internal defense and development (IDAD) is the
HN’s plan that US FID supports; the HN does not
support the US FID plan. The purpose of the IDAD
strategy is to promote HN growth and its ability to protect
itself from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency."

Was there any discussion of the Joint Pub and the relationship between the FM and the JP as you indicate the potential need for? Interestingly FM3-24 is only specifically referenced twice in the text of the pub and once in the list of service publications.
• Provides the foundation for defining insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN)
• Describes the relationships between COIN, irregular warfare, counterterrorism,
and foreign internal defense
• Gives a doctrinal baseline to understanding insurgencies
• Describes strategic and operational approaches to COIN
• Introduces the principles of COIN
• Emphasizes the need for “unity of effort” in COIN operations and how to achieve it through “unified action”
• Explains the dynamic relationship between intelligence and COIN operations
• Provides principles of intelligence operations in COIN
• Describes supporting operations for COIN
• Addresses component contributions to COIN
• Describes the COIN operation environment and use of the joint intelligence preparation of the operational environment process in analyzing it
• Discusses COIN planning, execution, and assessment

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 05/12/2012 - 10:00am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


While there is much work to be done, and much input that is still being taken in, at the end of the day, 3-24 is a "Field Manual." Arguably, the original should not have been categorized as a Field Manual, as that is a level of document intended to be more of a practical, tactical guide that a soldier could take with him into the field, right?

So a major focus of this re-write is to make this much more a practical guide, primarily aimed at the Brigade/Regimental level. Now, I personally cannot imagine a type of insurgency where one would send Brigade as the core unit to design a response around. In many ways though, this seemed to be the framing parameter for discussion. I believe the Army is correct that Brigade and Battalion Commanders need an effective, practical guide that they can pull off the shelf 10-20 years from now when little expereince is resident in their unit, and have a start point for developing and guiding a COIN campaign.

My prinmary concern is that the current FM 3-24 be compressed into such a guide. I think the current FM serves a much larger, broader role, and that it has problems that should be addressed and that it should be republished to continue to serve that larger role. Perhaps that requires the manual be renamed as the Joint Pub? Or as some other category of document, maybe? If asked, I would say produce the new overarching COIN document first, then once that is done, nest under it a practical guide such as the Army is planning that can then focus on that narrow aspect of insurgency that Brigades engage without risking that we somehow imply that that is all that insurgency is, or the only way to deal with one.

This will continue to evolve, and I am confident that ultimately a great deal of good will come from this process, but that it will not be a simple re-write of the current document.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 05/12/2012 - 9:12am


Given your comment at 0738 this morning excerpted below, can you give us some additional insights into how the conference turned out? Thanks

QUOTE: The old FM 3-24 does not address this and it is a MAJOR shortfall. From the discussions of the past week the next version will be even more limited in that regard, as it seeks to only focus on that aspect of insurgency that is likely to be encoutered by a Brigade Combat Team, and those things a BCT would do to Clear-Hold-Build to stability as part of the interagency/coalition/host nation team.END QUOTE


Thu, 05/10/2012 - 6:11pm

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


I had to watch a few videos around at AaZ's Peshawar pad about the West Bank and my Palestinian brothers getting shafted by the Zionists, smoke some serious shit and go to bazzaar. The ISI are getting touchy about too much Dupont fertilizer (never noticed it before but it on the bag it got USAID in big letters) around Miram Shah so we stop at Truk and get ten bags. We mix it at Bannu and finally after a long day, crash out in Miram Shah at Mullah Haaqqani's. We smoke too much and it's daylight before we cross and we get stopped by the the police and we have to give them some of our US dollars we need to pay for some stuff on the way back.

We bury the first gas bottle that night and at first light BOOM! The Jordanian checks it out on the bike and comes back on a downer as it was a tractor trailer and we feel a bit like terrorists. But someone once said 'one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter'.Cool bananas we'll roll with that.

That night we chill with some black resin and me and a few of my Pak bros plant the second. BOOM! we see this one and it's a police pickup so a quick check of the FM and we decide that this is Revolution. We checked the dead cops were Pathans coz if they were Tajiks we would be Revolutionary Separatists. The Algerian said we were Marquis or something but they were ALP so only Revolutionaries today.

The next two days were a bit of a blur as we were smoking the dragon's ass big-time but felt it was all pretty illegitimate with the dead women and kids. We almost decided to go home when we lit up some of our Taliban bothers but we all agreed to say it was a suicide job that went off a bit early. WTF were they doing driving around anyway! Don't they know there's a war on.

Our last day and BOOM BOOM BOOM we command-wired a dasiy chain and we got some infidels escorting some puppet troops. Wow you should have seen it. We argued all the way back to AaZ's about who we were.

We asked AaZ and he called the mission Separatist (3 tajiks slain) Resistance-Resistance (Northern Alliance & American so that's a double) Revolutionary Anti-Zionist (he pays the bills) Drug Smuggling (we picked up 500 kgs of powder in Kohat on the way back.)

You could write a whole book getting this right.


Mark O'Neill

Thu, 05/10/2012 - 10:31am

In reply to by Bill M.

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your reply . You in fact have nailed in it exactly what the role of the Military should be in COIN - the defeat of insurgency. Isn't that the point of COIN after all? And , funnily enough, 'defeating '
Things is something that half decent military forces are trained , equipped and organised to do.

Here is the thing. The point of COIN is not nation building, political beauty competitions or adventures in the development of governance . It is about defeating insurgency . And what is the difference between an insurgent and a 'legitimate ' ( that word again) political actor ? The answer is the use of violence and subversion ( politicians are normally at least as organised as insurgents..) 'Defeat'' or deny the ability to use violence and subversion
(something that military force, augmented by intelligence agencies and policing can reasonably aspire to...) and you are left with political actors that should be accommodated within normative political discourse.

Of course, there is an assumption here - one must be willing to
engage in political negotiation or compromise . If you are not willing, fine, but then
you are embarked upon a path other than COIN - maybe imperialism or colonialism
( in the case of interventionist states conducting COIN) , or totalitarianism if you are the state 'owning' the problem .

The bottom line is that literally millennia of COIN practice shows that the role of the armed forces in successful
COIN is not nation building but defeating insurgents use of violence .

Bill C.

Fri, 05/11/2012 - 5:24pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Duplicate entry. Apologies.

Dennis M.

Fri, 05/11/2012 - 4:09pm

In reply to by ADTS

ADTS, I think you are misreading the logic of COL Jones's position on legitimacy. You seem to argue that because there have been examples of stable governments that have retained power without the consent of the populace, that stability can be achieved through domination and coercion in the face of an insurgency. It is undoubtedly true that governments can maintain control through domination and coercion, but that is not what FM 3-24 deals with.

Counterinsurgency operations can only begin after an insurgency has already developed and become active. Therefore, the existence of an insurgency would strongly suggest that the political order in the subject nation has already become unstable. So what is the reason for that instability?

COL Jones seems to suggest that an unstable political order is the result of a government that is not considered to be legitimate by some segment of the population. Insurgencies, he seems to argue, are politically driven, and without dealing with the cause of the insurgency, it is not going to go away.

In fact, COL Jones has stated in the past that once an aggrieved group has turned to violence, it is almost too late to preserve the status quo, and in any event, any foreign power that tries to actively put down an insurgency is virtually doomed to failure. The time to address the causes of an insurgency are before the shooting starts, and after that, the best a n interested foreign power can do is to perhaps provide training and support, but by no means should it take a lead role, as that would further undermine the perceived legitimacy of the government the foreign power is trying to uphold.


Fri, 05/11/2012 - 1:54am

In reply to by Bill M.

Robert C. Jones

I recognize your views are extensive and well-developed and that what is offered here is merely a summary statement. Still, what strikes me is, first, how much FM 3-24 states grievance is the cause of insurgency (as opposed to, say, greed as well). Second and perhaps relatedly, I think you claim any legitimacy not derived from the consent of the governed is unstable and offers potential fodder for insurgency.* Yet many circumstances have existed in which said legitimacy has been absent, but repressive regimes have nevertheless been stable for remarkably long periods of time (e.g., the USSR) or collapsed due to external rather than internal rot (e.g., Nazi Germany). Absent some historical circumstances - e.g., the inability of aging dictators to continue to govern (well, at least) or a "chain reaction" within a given region (i.e., "the Arab Spring," of course), how long would the masses of Libya, Egypt and Syria (and elsewhere, too) have suffered life in regimes that offered them little-if-any inclusion and opportunity to express concerns and demands, as well as (perhaps) a living standard less than it should be? If you care to, how do you respond to the critique that FM 3-24, as well as your notion of legitimacy, ignores the possibility that political order rests on domination and coercion rather than participation and legitimacy?

*I may be wrong - I read your comments often but perhaps not closely enough, and may simply have understood them wrong. If I am wrong, please feel free to let me know.

Bill C.

This reminds me of Mike Few's question regarding host nation security forces suspected of committing war crimes. To paraphrase so as to indulge my inner geek (at least one of them, at any rate), what if the droids one gets are not the droids one in looking for? To answer your question directly, I simply don't know, but suspect the answer is something along the lines of, "Something has got to give," or "Be flexible," or both. Maybe US support for Israel will, by necessity, attenuate; maybe there is some wiggle room to be found, and some common ground to be had, even with an "ally" which still happens to be anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israeli, anti-globalization and anti-modernization agenda. (Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and what do Stalin, Mao, Saddam, Noriega and others have in common other than having been US allies?)

Bill M.

First, the Iran 1979 question is an interesting counterfactual and it would probably be interesting, and feasible, to get a view of how policymakers perceived events and options (e.g., memoirs of principals, as well as working papers and other documents). It is perhaps noting that in many ways the worst case happened - despite intelligence estimates to the contrary and the political instability equivalent of a surprise attack, the authoritarian leader of a regional power was ejected and a regime utterly hostile to the US rapidly emerged. Yet still the sun continued to rise in the east and other fundamental facts remained constant. I suspect the best course of action would have been to do nothing, other than to try to mitigate the most damages in the most minimal fashion possible - e.g., shut down the embassy, withdraw US government personnel, facilitate the repatriation of capital, etc., and then hope for the best while engaging potential countervailing forces (e.g., Iraq and Saudi Arabia); to some extent I think this may be a reasonably accurate depiction of what did indeed occur.

Second, "the continued pursuit of an elusive victory at great cost for little return may in fact make us a loser in the long run" sounds very reminiscent of Kennedy, "Rise and Fall." I suspect the basic idea is that strategy and choice are required, as resources are constrained and not everything is possible. I think the key is making some sort of bottom line or net assessment of precisely what is required and whether that is feasible or not; it is unclear to me whether the US political system as a whole, and/orthe US national security apparatus, can produce those assessments and link them (i.e., match an assessment of what a situation requires to what can be provided in that situation). Finally, I do not wish to address too much whether the Vietnam War should have been fought, but it did not take long for the regime which emerged to engage in conflicts with recent former allies (which happened to be communist, as it so happens), yes?


Bill M.

Thu, 05/10/2012 - 11:23pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.

This is a question you have frequently asked, and no one has provided a serious answer (that I can recall). A couple of thoughts related to your question.

1. We had several cases throughout history where governments fell to those we rather not have seen in power. In some cases the consequences have been serious (PRC, Iran, Cuba), but in most the subsequent impact on our national interests has been relatively minor (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, nations in Latin America and Africa, etc.). My point is we may not have to win everytime, and the continued pursuit of an elusive victory at great cost for little return may in fact make us a loser in the long run. Don't enter one of these conflicts without a viable exit plan. Don't tie our national pride to another country's win or loss, we'll help, but in the end thier fight to win our lose.

2. I think Bob and Mark are both right, and to some extent are talking past one another and will eventually merge their ideas. If the government we're supporting is rejected by the people, and that government fails to address their concerns in a meaningful way (assuming there is a way), then the only way we're going to suppress the insurgency to a level where our government of choice can retain power is to support aggressive military operations to defeat the insurgents armed elements. While every case is different, I believe that most cases our policies and laws would prevent us from conducting these operations, and would also force us to withdraw support from those that do operate that aggressively (human rights violations). Our moral views that often are captured in policy often conflict with our geopolitical interests. We put ourselves between a rock and hard place, because the rules we follow are self prescribed.

3. We obviously need to weigh the potential of achieving our objective to defeat an insurgency with the use of our military or by providing military assistance, and if that potential is low, then why would we commit the military in the first place? Still begs the question, what options do we have. Revisit Iran in 79, we couldn't stop the revolution, the Shah was blind to what was happening, what other options did we have other than manage to the extent possible a new state hostile to the U.S.? Perhaps it is easier to manage to a new hostile state than getting tied down in a counterinsurgency effort that will achieve little?


Bill C.

Thu, 05/10/2012 - 10:36pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

And if the aggrieved segment of the population lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that the only leaders -- and the only government -- that they will consider to be legitimate will be those leaders and government that will aggressively pursue an anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israeli, anti-globalization and anti-modernization agenda?

How then do we proceed?

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 05/12/2012 - 7:38am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


A couple of points worth discussing:

1. There are two broad types of Legitimacy, the first is essentially "legality" or legal legitimacy. We put a lot of stock in that in the West, but while important does not appear to have much bearing on internal, populace-based political challenges. The second type is generally called "political legitimacy" that I boil down to simply "recognition in the minds of the governed the right of some government to govern them." This second is very important, and cannot be created or bestowed, but must be earned.

2. Sometimes suppression is good enough. Certainly this was the case in colonial policing. Why would a colonial power risk losing control of a country by allowing a government with political legitimacy to emerge? Equally, why would a colonial government spend all of the "extra" money to get to true resolution of conditions of insurgency, when for a fraction they could simply suppress the insurgent fighters??? This was a business model. In fact, most countries got out of the colony business when the cost of such empire came to exceed the benefit. One of our big blind spots is that so much of the large body of really great (and average and bad) writing on insurency and COIN is written from the perspective of some agent of such a colonial power and his experience in suppressing some insurgent movement or another. Our history books are full of accounts of COIN campaigns "won" when the measure of success was the end of violence alone, only to rekindle over and over and over again. Certainly Algeria and the Philippines are poster countries for this effect over the past 100 years.

Containment COIN is (not was, as we essentially work to "contain" islamist ideology today much as we worked to contain communist ideology then) essentially a variation on colonial COIN. The difference is that we add a line of operation to attempt to bribe the populace in general, as well as defeat the insurgent fighter elements of those same populaces. Not many indicators that this is any more effective, but it is certainly more expensive. It also helps us to ease our conscience of our "white man's burden" in these adventures.

But as I say, sometimes suppression is good enough, and we need to be up front and honest with ourselves and others when that is the mission we select. More often, however, it is not enough, as such suppressed populaces are the rich recruiting grounds for those who seek to exploit such grievance for larger ends, and to find willing agents for acts of transnational terrorism.

The old FM 3-24 does not address this and it is a MAJOR shortfall. From the discussions of the past week the next version will be even more limited in that regard, as it seeks to only focus on that aspect of insurgency that is likely to be encoutered by a Brigade Combat Team, and those things a BCT would do to Clear-Hold-Build to stability as part of the interagency/coalition/host nation team.

Mark O'Neill

Thu, 05/10/2012 - 10:09am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Bob- golden key?

Strong claim. What is the evidence that you
cite which validates your assertion?

I know what the hearts and minds paradigm
Claims, but it is a theory in search of a case study .

The literature and empirical studies of the ' Imperial policing' era do not cite legitimacy.

The theory of the 'counterinsurgency ' era postulates it, but it is never evidenced by the COIN activity of the era.

The post Vietnam era 'theory' rejects legitimacy and adopts a 'whatever it takes ' FID model.

The post 9-11 era 'rediscovers ' the myth of the counterinsurgency era and puts it out as doctrine , but then
does something quite different on the ground.

The whole legitimacy thing is a liberal internationalist wet dream
that has no proven empirical correlation with COIN success.

On the other hand, there is hard empirical evidence that the control of violence and the use of what Jill
Hazelton in her PhD termed 'compellence' has a strong correlation with COIN success.

I would love to see someone try and objectively and empirically account for how legitimacy ' can be seen as the 'golden
Key' for successes in places and situations as diverse as Sri
Lanka , Dhofar, Kenya , Mozambique , Chechnya , the Ukraine , Turkey (Armenia ) etc . In fact, I would be fascinated .

BTW, I cannot use Doctrine , opinion or recanting paradigmatic 'truths' as 'evidence ' in my PhD, so I don't accept that
we should use them as such here. It is shoddy assertions and dodgy scholarship that has led us into COIN purgatory, and it is time we stopped accepting it.


Robert C. Jones

Thu, 05/10/2012 - 6:22am

In reply to by Bill M.

We focus too much on legal legitimacy. The honorary degrees, or fiats that Western nations love to grant to the governments they create, deny to the governments they disaprove of, and bless our own overseas adventures with.

This is a moot form of legitimacy for these types of conflicts.

The kind that matters is the simple recognition within the aggrieved segment of the populace the right of some government or system of governance to govern them. It comes from the people. It can not be granted or created, it must be earned.

This is not the red herring of effective COIN, it is the golden key.

Bill M.

Thu, 05/10/2012 - 3:07am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


Insightful points, but don't we in fact assign legitimacy tasks when we attempt to foster good governance with civil military affairs missions, or training efforts to professionalize their security forces, etc.? I can't recall any location where this has worked, but it does appear to be an accepted goal and objective the military contributes to.

I agree that the legitimacy card may be over played, but then again if policy wonks understood it, we may be able to side step some ill conceived policies based on ideas that never stood chance in the real world. As Dave wrote, if we get the policy and strategy wrong, then the doctrine doesn't really matter.

While I agree with many of your points, what do you propose the military's role be? For example, if our leaders realize that the government we install post invasion, or the government we decide to help in a FID scenario, is not accepted by some identity groups within their populace, it is unlikely that our military operations or assistance will change that perception, then what should the military's role and objectives be? Simply defeat the insurgents? Can the forces we support achieve this without violating our restrictive behavior rules that future aid is tied to?

Mark O'Neill

Thu, 05/10/2012 - 2:11am

I have serious reservations about making too much out of 'legitimacy' in any military COIN doctrine. It is a lacuna that will spur countless motherhood statements but ultimately shed little light in what a military force engaged in counterinsurgency should or could do.


1. The 'concept' of legitimacy bears lightly on many insurgent actions. It has serious explanatory difficulties once you step away from the sort of maoist revolutionary threat that people like Rostow, Hilsman and Thompson theorised about in the 60s. There are not many of these insurgencies today. Shafer's critique of US systemic views on this issue are as valid today as when he wrote it.
2. Legitimacy concepts do not deal with well with issues of criminality, warlordism, ethnic conflict, religious conflict , resource wars and globalisation - all of which are features (often simeltaneously) of contemporary insurgencies. Or multiple insurgencies. Or multiple causality.
3. Legitimacy is not a military goal or task. Consider the mission statement '1/1 BCT is to foster / achive legitimacy in TAOR JIHAD in order to consolidate the Government of Coinistam'. Farcical right? So why are we debating it in an FM?

Legitimacy is COIN red herring that empirical review of COIN campaigns suggests has no direct correlation with COIN success. It is a Hearts and Minds paradigm hangover that made little sense during the Kennedy years of COIN enthusiasm and even less now.

The only context where we can draw positive correlation between legitimacy and COIN success is in the realm of the reinforcing the state in the Westphalian tradition as the only legitimate user of violence within society.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 05/12/2012 - 7:42am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


Spoke briefly with an action officer for this effort. There is little connection between the two projects from what I saw. My sense right now is that what the Army wants to write is a guide book for Brigade and Battalion Commanders for the types of things they do and the types of insurgency they face. Might be best to pass the current FM 3-24 to the Joint force and let it be the foundation for the Joint Pub they are working to write for a much broader audiance.


Dave Maxwell

Wed, 05/09/2012 - 9:36pm

I am also curious as to the plan for Joint Pub 3-24. What is the plan for the revision of that document and what will its focus be?

I have to compliment COL Jones for a valiant effort on this one. Some of his suggestions, #4 in particular, remind me very much of the ambiguity I faced with the COIN challenge, during my most recent deployment in Afghanistan (summer 2008 to summer 2009).

On point #4 for example, our lack of precision in the military and civilian spheres with terms such as insurgent, terrorist, guerilla, etc., indicates more than semantic laziness. Our organizational failure to name the threat clearly and accurately undermines our very planning efforts in the COIN fight. For example, when we fail to carefully determine whether we are combating revolutionaries, criminals or insurrectionists, we breed confusion as how best to employ our own Information Operations and Public Affairs/Media Engagement capabilities to influence the population and the threat. Another concern is how do we utilize money as a weapons system when we're unclear on what type of disaffected individuals we are contending with? This lack of semantic precision also limits our non-kinetic options as well. If we understand those we fight to be mainly criminal in nature, without additional ideological motivation, that affects the types of options we have at our disposal. Admittedly certain groups will always display overlapping tendencies, which makes the naming process harder. This challenge, however, should not deter leaders and policy makers from pursuing precision when defining the threat. As my Brigade Chief of Operations in Afghanistan used to say, "Words have meaning." The duration, lethality and success of our COIN involvement could correlate very closely with how accurately we conceptualize and name the threat.

CPT Robert Schmor
Student, US Army Command and General Staff College

"The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government."

Dennis M.

Wed, 05/09/2012 - 4:52pm

In reply to by Red Rat

Overall, I agree Red Rat, but would take exception to your comment about #9. Having had some online conversations with COL Jones about this issue before, when he talks about problems with government being one cause for insurgencies, he is not talking about the quality of governance, rather he is usually referring to the perceived legitimacy of the government among the insurgents. Government may be doing everything right, making the trains run on time, but if that government is perceived as illegitimate by some segment of the population, insurgencies can arise. So when you say, "Poor governance is often a symptom of an extant conflict between differing power systems," I suspect (without speaking for him) COL Jones would agree and say that this is exactly the issue that #9 is intended to address.

#3 COIN is a domestic operation. Definitely. this is not to say that COIN cannot be done by a foreign force - they can, but only when in position as an occupying power. Foreign forces can assist and advise local forces on COIN. COIN as a domestic operation leads to #5

#5 " to relieve such pressure through good governance". When you are not conducting COIN but assisting an indigenous government in COIN operations there is often conflict between enabling good governance and supporting the extant power structures. These are most marked at the operational and strategic levels. Most poor campaigns have their genesis in poor strategic planning and I think this is one of the areas at the strategic level where more thought needs given.

#9 Unconvinced by this. I think we often conflate causation with governance issues; the root causes are often deeper. Poor governance is often a symptom of an extant conflict between differing power systems. We attribute to governance because one element happens to control the mechanisms of governance - sometimes we have to look at the reasons why the governance is poor.

Some other miscellaneous points.

Understanding and context are key, and we need to be better at understanding ourselves. I am often struck by how much we assume about the validity of our perspective even to the extent that we assume all cultures regard time in the same way as we do (I speak as an Anglo-Saxon). It would be useful for COIN doctrine to have a primer on our own culture, including organisational culture.

Aim for the target audience. One size does not necessarily fit all in terms of language and construct for any publication and this includes doctrine. With the current level of experience in the US armed forces this doctrine should come across as intuitively right and understandable at every level.


Tue, 05/08/2012 - 5:30pm

Kings of War blog has an item that refers to the revision:

It opens with:'Metrics, metrics, metrics. Three out of the six pointers in this rather good Foreign Policy article concern the ability of military organisations to figure out their impact on the world around them. Surprisingly, the concept doesn’t appear (by name) in Robert C. Jones’ advice on the revision of the FM 3-24 manual'.

The FP article is:

Vitesse et Puissance

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 2:01pm

I think this exemplifies the dilemma. Personally, I cannot imagine a worse way to write doctrine that to call together a mob of SMEs and have them introduce change proposals by BOGSAT. Although TRADOC talks the talk of modeling and simulation, one would never dream of actually holding a battle lab experiment with all these SMEs as players to probe the problem space and work out solutions.

But that isn't my main gripe. In the end, there will be a lieutenant colonel stationed at Leavenworth who has to put all these disparate inputs into a coherent book. There is a 100% probability that less than 100% of the stakeholders will be pleased with the results. Also - given the lack of a central authority to issue interagency doctrine - COL Gentile's remark that the military has to take on the COIN burden alone is only pragmatically accurate. One would be much better off defining clear definitions and terms of reference in doctrine, and if one did just that, it would be quite a lot. Given that there is a very deep tradition in the social science academic community - going back to Popper's "The Open Society and Its Enemies" - that negates the development of definitional standards, the lead author will be very much on his or her own. My advice on definitions - Make 'em up. That's right, make 'em up, if you can't find an acceptable definition in JP1-02 or even the CCO Lexicon. At the worst, you won't be doing any more damage than ambitious US Army combat developers have done for generations with a seemingly endless rain of neologisms.

One does get the sense that we are at a juncture where doctrinal concensus - specifically on COIN - may simply be unachievable. It is difficult for the Army to live with that reality. Formal doctrinal publications do give the community a venue for honest and thorough argument. Don't try to fudge the issues. Use the language so as to clarify choices, not cover them over. Very often there will be a range of actions which fall outside doctrine, indeed, which doctrine cannot easily capture, even if it is theoretically well-grounded. When it comes to the "how to" (do this, do that, do yet another thing), don't imagine that it is possible to cover every possible scenario - write at a level that gives doctrine some breathing room and gives commanders some freedom. They'll need it.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 05/09/2012 - 7:07am

In reply to by Mike Few

This is very much on the table (not in Kansas), SOF being employed in CONUS to prepare conventional forces to go out into the world and do SOF missions.

The quesions become, when do we "care enough to send the very best," and truly, how much SFA, etc is actually required to better secure our national interests? Are we not better served by a conventional force right-sized and right-trained to conduct conventional warfighting missions; coupled with a SOF force refocused away from the sucking sound of Afghanistan and distributed globally to places, populaces and missions where we can best monitor/nurture situations uniquely suited to what SOF does best?

Meanwhile, day 2 in Kansas. Non-disclosure /non-attribution in effect, so I offer no details. For the next two days we roll up our sleeves and dig into specific aspects of the problem. Not to get to final answer, but to at least shape the way toward a final answer that will continue to form over the coming weeks.


Tue, 05/08/2012 - 3:39pm

In reply to by Mike Few

Glad to see you back offering up your insights, well done, enough said.

Mike Few

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 11:10am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


For the doctrine, there should probably be an excerpt on ethics and not just lip service to Army Values (and I agree with you that many of the previous SF manuals on special warfare are sufficient).

For the execution, prior to attaching GPF to SF for the mission, there needs to be a "Robin Sage like" training event. Perhaps, SF conducts FID with the GPF.

Ironically, if we can step back and laugh a bit, over the past several decades, SF has conducted UW against GPF. I would prefer them to conduct FID.


Dave Maxwell

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 10:52am

In reply to by Mike Few

This is a similar dilemma faced during Robin Sage of the SF qualification course.

Of course this is also one of the situations (outside of an Iraq or Afghanistan) that the Leahy Amendment and human rights vetting by the embassy is supposed to prevent. But that does not prevent the dilemma with which you were faced in Iraq.

Mike Few

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 10:37am

Something for consideration- this is a mission that I had to detach a platoon to execute unilaterally many years ago, and I still don't have a good answer for.

What do you do when you are tasked to advise or overwatch a host nation security force suspected of war crimes during the government's pacification campaign?

Bill C.

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 3:27pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

(Edited to [hopefully] make my concern a little more clear):

Much as in the United States and the rest of the modern world, likewise in many less-modern states and societies also, the threat or actual implementation of governmental "reforms" -- rather than any desire for such reforms -- can and often does scare a population to death and drive it toward revolt.

Significant way-of-life changes (for example: "austerity" in the modern world and "westernization" in less-modern environs) -- implemented by a government in the spirit of "good governance" -- often cannot be brought to fruition without a fight.

Is there any way that we can work this important reality into the understanding/learning/doctrine equation?

It would seem odd to try to address the concept of insurgency without discussing it within this very common, very compelling and very contemporary context.

Herein, and in consideration of the above, I would suggest that the/a most critical and fatal mistake made re: the Iraq and Afghan conflicts was to go in believing that the reforms we and the local governments would offer would receive a positive -- rather than a negative -- response.

We cannot make this same mistake again.

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 8:49am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


It is amazing the more things change the more things stay the same. The 1990 version of FM 31-20 had these definitions and I include Larry Cable's works as well (though I know Cable has been professionally discredited for his stolen valor acts and falsifying his academic credentials but his work is still a contribution to the body of knowledge). The below is an excerpt from an early 1990's summary of insurgency thought. The JCS definition is the 1990's JCS version.

SUBJECT: Notes on Insurgency

1. Insurgency: An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. (JCS Definition)

a. It is an armed expression of internal and organic (regardless of external support) political disaffiliation. May be offensive (revolutionary war) or defensive (separatist or autonomous movements). (Dr. Larry Cable)

b. A protracted political-military struggle designed to weaken government control and legitimacy while increasing insurgent control and legitimacy (FM 31-20 Special Forces Operations)

c. Each insurgency has its own unique characteristics based on strategic objectives, its operational environment, and available resources (FM 31-20)

(1) Revolutionary insurgencies seek to overthrow existing social order and reallocate power within the country.

(2) Other insurgencies seek to:

• Overthrow an established government without a follow-on social revolution.
• Establish autonomous national territory within the borders of a state
• Cause a withdrawal of an occupying power
• Extract political concessions that are unobtainable through less violent means

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 8:11am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

My latest cut at a more workable definition. Definitions are necessary evils, and insurgency is something that simply "is" and we must strive to understand it to the best of our abilities, both in general terms to provide a workable framework, and as it actually manifests uniquely in each particular instance. This is a look at capturing an understanding of that framework:

Political in primary purpose, insurgency is an illegal challenge to government rising from a base of support within some significant and distinct segment, or segments, of the populace. Insurgency can employ any mix of violent and non-violent tactics over time and occurs in three broad types:
Revolution – (rarely war) to change some part or whole of the existing government.
Separatist - (varies in nature) to break some distinct region from the whole to form a new state.
Resistance – (continuation of war) to challenge some foreign occupation.


Tue, 05/08/2012 - 7:18am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

btw- I was not saying I thought it was "darn good"- but that that is what many (most?) in our organization think- therefore I'm afraid not too much beyond "seek to layer on tactical lessons". I'm with you- there needs to be some more clarity to something that was written by committee with lots of compromise- instead of simply updating it to reflect the last two engagements.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 6:59am


Great comments all. Getting ready for day one. Today we listen and gain a sense for the goals and atmosphere of what direction this intends to go. Will we simply seek to layer on another few years of tactical lessons learned from a couple of discrete operations? Will we seek to incorporate force structure demand signals to help carry ground services through the pending budget crisis? To be determined.

There is indeed much that is very good about the current manual, but we need very much to upgrade our understanding of these types of conflicts, and to rethink how effective it really is to manipulate the governance of others by helping hold their revolutionary populaces in check to preserve some regime that believe is the best hope for securing our interets (or at least better than what we fear might emerge).

Maybe we will learn that the leaders of these countries often play on this fear of ours, making us see mere windmills as great giants, and sending us out to tilt with their political challengers in a manner that allows them to extend their reign, or delay making needed reforms.

Should be a good day.


Tue, 05/08/2012 - 3:55am

Special Forces was created to do all of this...maybe we should let them get back to their original mission..."To raise and train indigenous forces and/or carry out missions beyond the scope of regular troops". To include the original organization of psy-ops,a-teams,civil affairs. Some organization concepts from the "Cold War Era" were very well thought out and still have merit today.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 2:32am

RCJ---as always great comments and well worth the read.

For those that doubt the military has not learned its lessons on nation building---believe the recently published Demsey Doctrine on that specific issue puts that it to bed for once and for always.

It is urgent that this military refocus and rebuild and Demsey fully understands that if his Doctrinal statement is placed against his 3 April White Paper.


Tue, 05/08/2012 - 2:02am

The problem, IMO, is that the original manual is seen as pretty darn good- so there will probably only be tweaking around the edges to incorporate lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Further- the audience will most likely be brigade staff all the way down to the squad sergeant- although the original manual, as one smart person has said, was written more as a PR piece- so only tweaking may not help the intended audience- I'm not sure.

The one tweak that hopefully will be apparent will be some mention of the importance of American political objectives. At the heart of every U.S. sponsored effort to assist a HN in their COIN <em>should</em> be, IMO, a list (preferably short) that ties our efforts to a US interest. Because of that- I don't think we can automatically and uniformly categorize COIN as always being a subset of FID- since FID is a very big picture (more than just military) and since FID is tied to a HN's IDAD strategy- which talks of development and governance, etc.- things that lend themselves arguably to nation-building, human rights, and pop-centric COIN (or, as some have dubbed it, "industrial COIN"). If the US is engaged in something else entirely- more limited regional objectives perhaps- that have nothing to do with a HN's IDAD strategy or anything having to do with the populace- or the insurgency <em>is</em> the populace, and therefore the US has chosen to undercut the insurgency by supporting traditional power brokers, then what are we doing? Surely we can help someone counter an insurgency (or even do it unilaterally) for reasons other than a HN's IDAD strategy or because we just hate human suffering, can't we?

I, for one, think this manual should address the military only and shouldn't wish away the problems we will run into in the real world. What do we do, for instance, when our nation does not issue clear objectives, and yet we find ourselves in a country assisting with a COIN effort? What do we do when the people are only vulnerable in our mind and don't particularly care about governance, but just want to bash in the head of the guy in the village down the road? What do we do when the insurgents are mostly externally-supported and part of a greater regional power struggle that is much more important to our nation's interests than winning of any hearts and minds are? We seem to wish away these nuances by saying they don't describe COIN or they've never existed, or- worse- that we can't admit that we'll do that in public.

And sticking to "military only" will get us out of templating a nation-building solution only to look around and find we're the only ones around who can do this nation-building. Nation-building is, for the most part, a theory of how we'd like COIN to work. It is built upon our understanding of what people want in life- which is the ubiquitous Hollywood catchphrase of "freedom!". The reality is that people act irrationally, war and insurgency is about passions, and templating a solution to COIN is about as crazy as templating a solution to conventional war. How in the world we in the military ever tied economic development to our efforts in a COIN environment is beyond me- what American military officer understands how economies work? What economist, for that matter, does???

A few $.02 points on the Colonel's points:

#3: COIN is a domestic operation: Limit COIN to domestic operations (unless dealing with resistance following the military defeat of some state with the intent to bring it under US governance). Casting support of someone else’s COIN as FID promotes proper roles and the enhancement of legitimacy.
<em> 100% agree. Lots of confusion as to which parts apply to the U.S. and which to the HN. Although- can we do COIN under other umbrellas other than FID? Since FID is attached to the IDAD strategy- I sure hope we can- otherwise we don't give our leaders too many options.</em>

#4: Types of Insurgency matter
<em>We describe an approach to all insurgencies (clear, hold, build) as "operational art". Is one framework really art? Sounds more "scientificiness" ("truthiness") to me. The answer from some is that the art is in how you apply the framework. So, you can color by the numbers, but how you apply the colors is art??? I think we're very weak in operational art when it comes to COIN. And unfortunately COIN doesn't lend itself to our preferred "scientificiness" methods.</em>

#5: Conditions of Insurgency: Recognize the underlying conditions of insurgency that exist in every society, how to relieve such pressure through good governance, and the critical distinction between natural stability and the artificial stability achieved through state security forces.
<em>This is the "prerequisites, no? I still think this lends itself to advocating a nation-building approach every time we step in to an insurgent environment. "Good governance"- may be something needed, but something arguably we cannot give nor even most times support. If they lack that- then we either need a clear connection between our national objectives and attempting to nation-build (something we're likely never to get), or we shouldn't make it a prerequisite for conducting COIN IMO. So- in short, either we admit we'll very rarely recommend to do it, or we divorce governance from our required support activities. I favor the latter.</em>

#6: Human Nature: Appreciate how universal and timeless human nature is, and those aspects most important for understanding the strategic context of any insurgency. These are constants in the human domain that provide keys for solving complex, adaptive problems between people and governance.
<em> I think this is part of our problem- we think we can understand other population groups because we're all the same. I would rather we spend more time trying to tie our efforts to our national interests than trying to understand others- except in as much as it takes to get to our national interests...</em>

#8: Sanctuary: Shifting the focus on “Sanctuary” from terrain to being more about legal status and popular support. Deny enabling status and popular support, particularly for regional groups like AQ.
<em> What if building popular support means you get AQ?</em>

#10: “Winning”: Not preserving some regime or defeating some threat, but expanding the percentage of the total populace that perceives governance works to support their reasonable ambitions.
<em> What do you do when the populace's reasonable ambitions are a type of governance that will work against our country's interests? We can't be Pollyanish about the world- populist entities rarely turn out to be U.S.-friendly from what I can tell. We need a more realistic and even Machiavellian option/context in our doctrine IMO</em>

Mark O'Neill

Mon, 05/07/2012 - 10:49pm

While I have no broad disagreement in general with any of the comments raised thus far by Bob, Gian et al, as generalities about counterinsurgency, I think that there is a broader point that has been missed. I believe that Gian is correct about the poor theoretical basis underpinnings of the last version of FM3-24, however this too misses what the big issue is. The key problem I see is conextual - the document is military doctrine - a 'Field Manual' , yet it is written like an addendum to either a party political defence strategy or a QDR.

I recall Alex Alderson telling me in a conversation back in Iraq in early '08 words to the effect that 'doctrine is important because it is what is taught.' He subsequently explored this theme to great effect in his PhD dissertation. Of course, implicit in this idea is that good doctrine is not only 'what is taught', but also 'what is done' - that is, it reflects best 'current practice' that is actually 'practiceable' (sorry - made up word..) by the target audience (that is, soldiers and marines - it is military doctrine after all..). And here is where we get to the core problem. While FM 3-24 is , occasionally, 'what is taught', its relationship to 'what is done' is tenuous at best.

I think that my experience in Taji at the CFE in '07 and '08 is illustrative. What we 'taught' as core during the RIP/TOA process to incoming BCT / RCT or MiTT was necessarily based on the FM - it was mandated. But what we saw 'working' when we went out and around the regions - lets use the term 'best practice'- bore little or no resemblance to the FM. Of course, one could adopt a 'Yoda' posture and spin that the 'Zen' proverbs actually did explain 'stuff'. But not if you valued your credibility. So we had this tragi -comedy where the spin doctors and windscreen tourists were telling the world how great FM 3-24 was, and the guys on the ground were probably doing exactly what they have always done -adapting in the face of need, developing their own SOP / TTP. In the end we had a 'work around' where we would race through the formal 'FM' lecture, then engage in the 'real' learning in seminar style disucssions about what we were told by 'landowners' what was actually working on the ground, and what we saw when we went out and stayed with them for a while.

But the issues with FM 3-24 are wider than just relying on poor history / theory and failure to reflect practice. Another key point about military doctrine is that is must be 'acceptable' (H/T to Alex Aldersen again). By this we mean more than it must not be illegal or immoral - it must be in a form that the target audience accepts and will willing absorb. In this regard I also believe that FM3-24 failed. Notwithstanding the bestseller status of the Chicago edition (perhaps saying more about non-target audience appetite...), the guys and girls who should have been reading it in '07 and '08 were not. I would conduct a poll of every BCT that we mentored on their first day at Taji, asking who had read the FM. The average response was in the order of 5% of all present - and you have to remember that these people were the 'decision makers and influencers' - Comds, key staff and senior enlisted of those units. Think about it. On average, 1 in 20 had read their doctrine - after a months of 'road to war' prep. My recollection is that one Marine unit stunned me because they had something like 25% - but they were an exception.

So where I am going with all this? Respectfully, I think a lot of the commentary about what should be in the 'new' FM misses the vital contextual point. Whilst is must be about 'a war' rather than 'the war', the next FM should remain focused on its purpose. And this is neither commentary or debate about US strategy, policy or government level issues that are beyond the remit of soldiers. The FM must avoid mumbo-jumbo about 'types' of insurgency or any other taxonomical, ethereal social science or ahistorical hearts and minds paradigmatic nonsense and focus on practicalities for the target audience .

Indicative examples of what works ? I would offer up (for lower level / theatre specific stuff) the ATOM pamphlet (3rd edition). Another (notwithstandng it being a little captured by the Maoist focus of the counterinsurgency era) would be the Australian Army Doctrine 1962, 'The Division in Battle, Pamphlet No. 11, Counter-revolutionary war'. Dated now, but a great example of practical doctrine, written by experienced soldiers for their mates to use and apply.

Final observation - I am not 'against' the engagment of academics , think tankers and polemicists as we research and develop doctrine. But where the rubber hits the road we must maintain the focus on the purpose and use of military doctrine and ensure that the product is truly 'fit for purpose'. Let SSI and others publish the thematic and esteroric debates and ideas and lets see doctrine reclaimed for the soldier in the field.



Bill M.

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 2:42am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Agree that the U.S. conducting COIN is generally not desirable and we should stay out of the occupying business when possible, but when our national leaders direct us to occupy, then we need the right doctrine for it, and COIN probably isn't it. We were directed to occupy in both Iraq and Afghanistan(though we used different terms, and hastily stood up illegimate governments to largely convince ourselves we weren't an occupying power, these governments caused more problems than they solved). It is past time to dismiss our politically correct fables and develop doctrine for the real world.

I can see why people confuse SFA with FID, or confuse FID with COIN and stability operations. While many aspects of each may over lap, that doesn't make them the same. SFA is a set of skills and processes for develop security force capacity that can apply to a wide range of missions well beyond FID. Frankly, outside of SF, we don't do it well, so if doctrine improves the Service's SFA efficacy then I'm all for it. It is little different from the need to have doctrine for logistics, C2, intelligence and other skills sets that are cross cutting. Stability Operations can consist of Peace Enforcement, Disaster Relief, and a number of other activities that have little to do with FID or COIN. The COIN manual can stream lined, but I think we risk mischaracterization of the mission if we over blend the various manuals. Each manual may need to be no more than 50 pages, but in my opinion we need the different doctrines.

We sent the Army to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we proved repeated throughout our history we know how to win wars, but are challenged when it comes to winning the peace. In both Iraq and Afghanistan after that conflict was largely won (then it transformed into another conflict) we were faced with a political vaccuum on the ground, and no real plan for addressing it. That plan would have meant accepting we had responsibilities as an occupying power, rather than denying it and getting on with the business at hand. We pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory in both cases when we failed to act decisively after taking the key terrain. Instead we gradually starting figuring things out on the fly, and by failing to act we gave the initiative to the resistance. In Iraq we eventually took it back, but at great cost to us and the Iraqis. This is why I'm advocate for developing occupation doctrine. Hopefully we'll never have to use it, but if there is next time, then we have a plan for it, and we implement it to maintain our momentum. I don't claim this will result in a peaceful transition, but it could keep us from losing control in the future and lower the casuality rate and the amount of money spent. I am not sure what occupation doctrine should be in this day and age, but I learned we can't ignore it just because it isn't comfortable. Occupation shouldn't have a negative connotation if the cause for the conflict was just.

Instead we called our post conventional conflict CT, COIN, and FID (and probably other things). We had the mindless debates on whether we should employ a CT or COIN strategy, or an enemy centric or population centric strategy, as though we could only address only one aspect of the problem and achieve our objectives. All the while the real underlying driver of the growing conflict was the illegimate governments we installed with the foreign process of democracy.

We know how to do FID, COIN and Stability Ops. What we can't do well and probably shouldn't do is try to reform foreign nations to fit our image. It all goes back to your comment about getting the policy and strategy right, if you don't, then all the doctrine in the world won't help you. Does anyone really think a doctrine change will turn things around in Afghanistan for example?

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 05/07/2012 - 9:26pm

Another way to look at it and I think reinforce some of Bob's comments is that we need to know and understand all the insurgency, counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare theory - past, present, and what is evolving - but when it comes to counterinsurgency we should not be conducting it ourselves but instead know how to advise friends, partners, or allies appropriately (as Bob correctly recognizes this is FID). (With the exception being we conduct COIN ourselves only when the US is directly threatened with an insurgency; otherwise we need to stay out of the occupying power business).

However, all the theory and doctrine is of no value if we cannot first achieve balance and coherency among the ends, ways, and means of strategy. Unless we get the policy and supporting strategy right (or recognize when we have it wrong and make the appropriate adjustments) then all the theory and doctrine will not dig us from the hole in which we bury ourselves.

To add a number 12 after Dave D's 11 I would add, let's consider streamlining and synchronizing the doctrine - do we really need separate doctrine and manuals for COIN, FID, SFA and Stability Operations?

Lastly when we do conduct a military operation and defeat a foreign nation - we should learn that we have to conduct effective stability operations as part of responsibility we have for post-conflict operations in a way that prevents insurgency by allowing the host nation to reconstitute its government without the US trying to build a nation or create a nation (and a military) in the image of the US.

If we want to win a war we send the Army. If we want to help a friend, partner, or ally win a war, then we need to send the right force with the right capability.

And I would add my past thoughts on SWJ to Bob's…………


Mon, 05/07/2012 - 11:30pm

In reply to by gian gentile

First, thank you to Col. Jones for posting this.

Secondly, to pile on after Gian, I sincerely hope that the classic Galula-ian "Maoist model" of insurgency is dropped except for those insurgencies that are actually like classic Cold War insurgencies in structure and strategic purpose. Some are, most these days are not. The Lord's Resistance Army, al Qaida, Mexican drug cartels and the Taliban do not resemble the Viet Cong or the FLN. Sorry, they don't.

Let empiricism rule before we decide on how to design a counterinsurgency campaign (or get involved at all in the first place - note to policy makers, look at the nature of what you want the American military to wrestle with).

gian gentile

Mon, 05/07/2012 - 7:55pm

In reply to by SWJED

Excellent point Dave and agree. If policy directs to do nation building coin again it will be only us, the American military.

I would also add that if the revised manual contains the paradoxes from the previous manual, and if it maintains the so called classic principles of coin by a foreign counterinsurgent force like protection of the population, government legitimacy, seperating the insurgents from the people, clear-hold-build then it is simply a rehash of the origninal version with only polishing around the fringes.

The first manual was broken from the start, it was based on a broken theory of coin that has never worked in practice by a foreign occupying power, hence it was a-historical. The best thing to do is to start from scratch rather than building on the current one.

I'd add # 11 - Expect to go it alone in larger and non- to semi-permissive COIN environments: While the "whole of government" approach is correct and pushes all the right buttons it has not worked in spite of all the good intentions. No other government departments possess the manpower, the available funding, the communications and logistic capabilities and the wherewithal (amongst other tangible and intangible assets) that DoD does. - Dave D.