Small Wars are Still Wars

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

In the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile published an article entitled Eating Soup with a Spoon.  The entire article is highly recommended reading, but the quotes below fairly well capture the mood as Gentile responds to current counterinsurgency doctrine published in FM 3-24.  He argues that the revised doctrine:

… removed a fundamental aspect of counterinsurgency warfare that I had experienced throughout my year as a tactical battalion commander in Iraq: fighting. And by removing the fundamental reality of fighting from counterinsurgency warfare, the manual removes the problem of maintaining initiative, morale and offensive spirit among combat soldiers who will operate in a place such as Iraq … maybe we should stop, in a metaphorical sense, trying to eat soup with a knife in Iraq and instead go back to the basics and try eating it with a spoon. War is not clean and precise; it is blunt and violent and dirty because, at its essence, it is fighting, and fighting causes misery and death. The authors of the Army’s 1986 AirLand Battle doctrine premised their manual on fighting as the essence of war. Fighting gave the 1986 manual a coherence that reflected the true nature of war. The Army’s new COIN manual’s tragic flaw is that the essence of war fighting is missing from its pages.

I cannot possibly hope to recapitulate the breadth or depth of discussion in the thread at the Small Wars Council, but would hasten to point out several things concerning the discussion now that the subject has become a little more ripe and the argument is slowing.  First, I agree wholeheartedly with Gentile’s rebuke of the notion that counterinsurgency is “armed social science.”  Second, concerning Dr. Metz’s statement that “we treat counterinsurgency as a variant of war not because that is the most strategically effective approach, but because we have been unable to transcend Cold War thinking,” I respond that counterinsurgency has been a variant of war since at least the Roman empire (which faced a Jewish insurgency in Jerusalem), or even before.  In recent history, all one needs for proof of principle is the Small Wars Manual, published in 1940, well before the cold war.

Every successful counterinsurgency operation in the Anbar Province has at least begun with heavy kinetic operations.  Examples of kinetic and security operations preceeding reconstruction and rebuilding could be cataloged for weeks, but in the interest of brevity, only three will be given.

  1. When asked by Michael Totten what the battles in Ramadi were like near the first of the year, Lt. Col. Mike Silverman stated that “It would only be a mild exaggeration if I compared it to the battle of Stalingrad. We engaged in kinetic firefights that lasted for hours. Every single day they attacked us with AK-47s, sniper rifles, RPGs, IEDs, and car bombs … I expected a huge kinetic fight, and that’s what we got.”
  2. Before Operation Alljah could fully engage Fallujah, approximately two months of kinetic operations producing many dead and detained insurgents was necessary in the outlying areas.  Only after robust kinetic operations were completed could gated communities and biometrics be implemented.
  3. RCT-6 is still actively attempting to rid Karmah of insurgents with kinetic operations, tie communications and relations back to Fallujah, and from Fallujah to Ramadi.  “Capt. Quintin D. Jones, the commanding officer of Company L, said ‘We are transitioning away from the kinetic fight and trying to help the local governance.  On one end I’m fighting, and on the other end I’m disputing between tribal leaders. The other part (is) trying to stimulate the economy. So, it’s a three-block war here and it’s very, very dynamic’.”  The tribal leaders in Karmah say that the Marines are the “glue holding things together,” and they are hoping that the “Marines will stick around until all the bad guys are captured.”

The Small Wars Manual has no such weakness (i.e., failing to consider warfare as part of war).  There are so many references to infantry patrols, cash disbursements for intelligence gathering, distributed operations (independent patrols operating without communication with command), census information and knowledge of prominent citizens that they are too numerous to list.  To have discussed distributed operations (although not called that by name) so early in doctrinal development of small wars is remarkable indeed!

While dated (discussing the use of mules for transporting materiel), the Small Wars Manual proves itself to be perhaps more contemporary than the currently in vogue counterinsurgency doctrine, because after all, conducting war still means invoking warfare.  Lt. Col. Gentile knows this; is he trying to bring the professional counterinsurgency community back from the brink of complete irrelevance with Marines and Soldiers who are fighting in their own battle space by moderating the influence of the “armed social scientists?”


You are currently reading "Small Wars are Still Wars", entry #630 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Small Wars and was published September 29th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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