Doctrinal Confusion in COIN: What do you do when your forces no longer want to fight?

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 4 months ago

FM 3-24 is a fine addition to counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, and should be studied by all aspiring military leaders and strategists.  Two problems become apparent when COIN doctrine is applied in theater.  The first problem is the belief that the doctrine outlined in any single text or system is comprehensive.  This view can be characterized as the ‘either-or’ belief.  Common to this view is the tendency to find a single “center of gravity” in COIN.  If the center of gravity is the population, it is said, kinetic operations take second place to non-kinetic operations.

The second problem is one that teachers in just about every endeavor know all too well: the student is oftentimes more extreme than the teacher.  If social concerns, job creation, national reconciliation, and infrastructure are important concerns in COIN, then waging counterinsurgency is all about “armed social science.”  Lt. Gen. David Barno’s account of COIN in Afghanistan is important, found in Fighting the Other War: Counterinsurgency Strategy in Afghanistan , 2003 – 2005.

As we switched our focus from the enemy to the people, we did not neglect the operational tenet of maintaining pressure on the enemy. Selected special operations forces (SOF) continued their full-time hunt for Al-Qaeda’s senior leaders. The blood debt of 9/11 was nowhere more keenly felt every day than in Afghanistan. No Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine serving there ever needed an explanation for his or her presence—they “got it.” Dedicated units worked the Al-Qaeda fight on a 24-hour basis and continued to do so into 2004 and 2005.  In some ways, however, attacking enemy cells became a supporting effort: our primary objective was maintaining popular support.

Note the critical error in judgment that had its seeds in the (mis)development of COIN doctrine.  Kinetic operations against the enemy took on the characterisitic of special operations by a small number of special forces operators against high profile personalities and so-called high value targets.  The fight became particular rather than comprehensive, while the nonkinetic operations took on the more comprehensive nature.  According to Lt. Gen. Barno, the campaign could be focused on either the enemy or the people (but apparently not both at the same time).  U.S. forces transitioned from one focus to the other.  How does this manifest itself in current operations in Afghanistan?  A recent report gives us a glimpse into the thinking of field grade officers in theater at the moment.

To undercut the insurgents – whose forces are an unusual mix of al-Qaeda operatives and fighters loyal to American nemesis Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – Kapisa is fast becoming a litmus test for the US military’s new and improved counter-insurgency campaign.

That means added urgency and stress on the work of a 75-man US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led Provincial Reconstruction Team – or “PRT”. But while senior US officers see these teams – 12 of them run by the US military – as the “new wave” in non-combat counter-insurgency, in practice their soldiers look a lot like old-school peacekeepers and “nation-builders”, the kind you find across the developing world under the oft-slandered banner of the United Nations.

Ten years ago, the fast-track US colonels and majors who now lead the Afghan mission would have referred to what goes on here in the name of counter-insurgency as “mission creep”; work well beyond the scope of serious American soldiering.

Now, the US soldiers who do the best peacekeeping aren’t afraid to boast about their deeds over the grumbles of colleagues who sport T-shirts that read: “The Taliban Hunt Club.”

“We have not been attacked while traveling alone, only when we are out with other teams or combat units,” says air force Captain Eric Saks, whose job description includes diplomacy, aid work and peacemaking. “Even the bad guys know we are not really looking for a fight.”

That is because Saks and his comrades are the folks to talk to for millions of US dollars in economic development funds.

Kapisa residents, leaders and youth groups approach Saks for investments in projects that address the standard list of developing world problems: women’s rights, youth employment, free speech and health care. The captain, a 30-something Long Islander, draws on a dollar budget of millions to lend support to the best and most “sustainable” project ideas.

For several years after the US invaded the country in 2001, economic development played second fiddle to the hunt for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Villagers looked on as US soldiers shot and literally “bagged” their foe, then turned a cold shoulder to the populace.

That zero-sum strategy was making more enemies than friends, US officers admit now.

“Instead of killing them and seeing the insurgency just replace its own, we need development as a means of isolating the enemy,” says Ives, an engineer from Washington State, who heads up the larger Task Force Cincinnatus under which Saks serves.

This same theme presents itself in this more recent report.  Even though only PRTs, when the bad guys know “we aren’t really looking for a fight,” the doctrine has been misconstrued to be something that it isn’t.  It is seen to work alone and disconnected from a significant reason for the presence of U.S. forces in the region: kinetic operations against the enemy.

Isolation of the enemy by the development of infrastructure is one prong of the strategy to prevent the inducement to join the insurgency.   But lack of kinetic operations against the insurgency does nothing to address the large and growing membership of the Taliban and their increasingly violent attacks inside both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  In fact, if infrastructure is a necessary element of long term counterinsurgency, then the 50% reduction in foreign investments in 2007 due to the declining security situation runs counter to the intent and proves that one prong of COIN remains kinetic operations to kill or capture the enemy and thus provide security so that reconstruction of infrastructure can be effective.

Successful COIN, as we have seen in Iraq, isn’t about a singular ‘focus’ and cannot be characterized as an ‘either-or’ choice or transition in phases.  Successful COIN is characterized by ‘both-and’ in all phases of the campaign.  The deployment of 3200 Marines to the theater will force review and reconsideration of the very nature of the campaign.  The Marines will not conduct their part of the campaign “not really looking for a fight.”  Poor leadership has wasted time in Afghanistan.  The presence of the Marines might possibly reverse this trend by taking counterinsurgency back to its roots and clarifying the doctrinal confusion that clouds the current thinking.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On February 4, 2008 at 2:21 pm, steph said:

    In French Doctrine, there is no concept like “center of gravity”. Instead, french Army developped “major effect” to counter the flawed “either-or” of COG in COIN and Complex Stabilization Ops.
    So, to stabilize the situation, one must be engaged in “controle de zone/contrôle du milieu” (controlling AO and Controlling Environnement). These procedures mix kinetic and non-kinetic actions, against the ennemy or directed to the population (and even friendly forces), to produce three effects:
    -presence and proximity
    -deter and dissuade the ennemy
    -support friendly forces, either by Info Ops or PsyOps
    In this scheme, there is no COG, but either effects to achieve in order to control the AO/Environment
    Stéphane TAILLAT, PhD candidate in Military History and Defense Studies, history teacher and Reserve Officer in French Marines
    PS: sorry for my flawed english.
    PPS: in addition, one must be convinced that deterring rebels or insurgents need kinetic actions as well as non-kinetic. Force Protection, Population Protection and Enemy Destruction are not opposite trends in military actions.

  2. On February 10, 2008 at 11:55 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Thank you for your patronage of this site. I agree, it seems intuitive that a continual mix of the two as necessary (kinetic and non-kinetic) is the key to success (i.e., security and infrastructure go hand-in-hand). As for your English, it is just fine, and certainly better than my French which is non-existent.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You are currently reading "Doctrinal Confusion in COIN: What do you do when your forces no longer want to fight?", entry #920 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Featured and was published February 3rd, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (679)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (32)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (12)
Ammunition (46)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (126)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (64)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (64)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (17)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (9)
Body Armor (18)
Books (3)
Border War (8)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (35)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (2)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (9)
CIA (26)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (216)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (138)
Department of Homeland Security (19)
Disaster Preparedness (3)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (8)
Donald Trump (2)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
El Salvador (1)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (2)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (23)
Featured (179)
Federal Firearms Laws (18)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (851)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (15)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (42)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (733)
Guns (1,349)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (8)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (12)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (15)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (64)
India (10)
Infantry (4)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (23)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (56)
Islamists (84)
Israel (18)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (80)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (9)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (3)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (3)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (50)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (252)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
Media (39)
Memorial Day (4)
Mexican Cartels (24)
Mexico (33)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (4)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (5)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (23)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (28)
NATO (15)
Navy (22)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (3)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (56)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (218)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (47)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (2)
Pizzagate (21)
Police (339)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (377)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (141)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (75)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (29)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (224)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (27)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (19)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (3)
Survival (17)
SWAT Raids (54)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (3)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (94)
Thanksgiving (7)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (15)
TSA Ineptitude (11)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (5)
U.S. Border Security (14)
U.S. Sovereignty (17)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (3)
Uncategorized (46)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (216)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (3)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (59)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (19)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2018 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.