Counterinsurgency: Moving the Discussion Forward

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 10 months ago

This is cross-posted as a comment at the Small Wars Journal Blog, since some of my readers don’t frequent that site.

Thanks to Mark, Gian, Ken, Rob and the SWJ Editors for learned and interesting responses.  I have taken the time to study fully the comments at AM by “Looking Glass” and Gian.  I would like some feedback concerning this exchange.  With respect but frankly, it doesn’t impress me as particularly useful.  To keep reiterating the belief that such-and-such an organization “just doesn’t get it” is no replacement for specifics.

It appears to me that Gian’s points at AM are more to the point.  His gripes, whether from perceived or real inadequacies, seem like they should be more directed at a particular chain of command rather than the entire organization.  Some in the Army surely must “get it.”

I cannot speak with knowledge on these issues, as readers know.  But I am aware of many things that occurred in support of operations in Fallujah in 2007.  I am amazed at the extent of latitude and the degree of empowerment that obtained in order to be successful with operations from April to October, and this, all the way down to the infantry boots on the ground, from Lance Corporal to Gunny.

More helpful that constantly repeating the mantra that some people “just don’t get it,” the better and more effective option would seem to be to propose concrete remedies and means of institutionalizing the lessons learned – and hence, my original article which Dave kindly linked (leading to very much undeserved attention on me, but not so for the issue).

I am not so sanguine as Mark that we are achieving a balance in our perspective.  I wish it was so, but very much doubt it.  I agree with Gian that balance can mean just about anything depending on the wishes and biases of the hearer.  I agree with balance too, and the link that Ken gave us concerning the reasons for wanting more F-22s makes me sick to my stomach.  But the fact remains that it outperforms the F-35 at every point.  Secretary Gates had that right balance, sticking to his guns that production is to be halted after 183.  The Air Force can get my with less than they want.  Gates also has the right balance concerning the need to plan and train for a full range of exigencies.  We were all happy with the renewal of his charge under the new administration.

But where is all of this going?  We want to avoid the notion of Gnostic secrecy an reading tea leaves, but some things have been made clear.  Admiral Mullen has fairly directly said that more money should go to State (diverted from the military, of course) for the conduct of the softer side of COIN and nation building in lieu of the military pulling this duty.  The new administration has also made no secret of its support of the notion of the civilian national security force, and State Department employees deployed abroad in support of our international efforts.  How this might come to pass is an enigma at this point, since the recent threat by Condi Rice to do the same thing lead just about to riots in the streets.

Now for the really important question.  When is the last time you heard any branch of the U.S. military say that they could do with less money?  My initial post was more a call to jettison the theory and pick up the red pen.  Prepare to find the programs that you wish to cut – military programs, that is.  Money simply doesn’t exist to fund a civilian national security force, send State employees abroad, pump more money into our reconstruction efforts, and yet fund the Army future combat system (which is in danger), the Marine Corps expeditionary fighting vehicle, the Navy littoral combat program, and so on the list goes.

Organization, titles, promotion boards and such, are all interesting topics for professional military to engage.  But I feel that soon, very soon, the discussions will become much more pragmatic.  The conversations must get very particular, focused on the nuts and bolts of things rather than the theory.

Dr. Nagl’s (who sent links to some of his work on the subject) discussions about attendance at town council meetings and other approaches to community involvement are interesting and insightful, but the evolution and adaptation has occurred, at least in the Marines.  By 2007 the tactics had evolved to direct involvement by officers (rather than mere attendance) at council meetings, gated communities, biometrics, payment to the SOI, combined COP/IP precincts, and so the list goes.  The evolution was rapid, and COPs was used in Ramadi and throughout Anbar prior to implementation in the balance of Iraq anyway.

In a time of scarcity of funding and even Admiral Mullen saying that he supports the redirection of funds to State, the question of how to institutionalize lessons and yet prepare for future exigencies is a “getting your hands dirty” question.  What programs do we wish to cut?  What programs do we promulgate?  What courses should be offered, which ones cut?  What focus does the war college pursue in the next few years?  What weapons systems are cut?  Which ones promulgated?  Does the Navy pursue the big ship focus, or do we allow them to go off on their own mission of littoral combat (perhaps in support of failed states as the COIN proponents would like)?  And if we allow the Navy to go off and do their own thing, what happens when China crosses the Taiwan strait?

If we kill the F-22 program, are we prepared to invest half of what we would have in the refurbishment of the existing fighters to repair the stress corrosion cracking and fatigue wearing?  Down in the trenches, it’s fairly easy to say that we should be good at raids and room clearing, but further, do we focus on squad rushes or language training?  I might say some of both, but the difficulty is that the existing language training is awful.  It’s a compilation of simplistic phonetics with grunts, sounds and noises (focused on sentences such as “where is the man of the house?”).  It would be better if we did nothing if we cannot do it right.

I will not go on, but hopefully you get the picture.  I am not advocating that the military set policy.  But if internecine warfare continues between the branches, and even within the branches, and the new administration cannot be presented with a coherent, practical and affordable vision for the future, you’d better believe that it will be done by someone else.

Ken White has said that “Either the Armed Forces present a viable proposition to the new administration or the politicians will provide their own proposition.”  Just so.  You should listen to him, and the need to get pragmatic very soon is upon the professional military community.  Even beginning to build a consensus means turning aside from the theory and embracing the fact that time has run out, and that the details of the vision are needed tomorrow.

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You are currently reading "Counterinsurgency: Moving the Discussion Forward", entry #1931 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency,Department of Defense,Obama Administration and was published January 20th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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