So instead of repeating platitudes about how civilian casualties are the key metric for success in a counterinsurgency war, I'll just post a relevant quote that I recently came across in Kalyvas. It's from John Paul Vann, a U.S. adviser in Vietnam and prominent participant in the CORDS program (and the source of several other quotable COIN-ish witticisms):
NATO fixed-wing aircraft dropped 1,211 bombs and other munitions during the past three months — the peak of the fighting season — compared with 2,366 during the same period last year, according to military statistics. The nearly 50% decline in airstrikes comes with an influx of more than 20,000 U.S. troops this year and an increase in insurgent attacks.
The shift is the result of McChrystal's new directives, said Air Force Col. Mark Waite, an official at the air operations center in southwest Asia. Ground troops are less inclined to call for bombing or strafing runs, though they often have an aircraft conduct a "show of force," a flyby to scare off insurgents, or use planes for surveillance, Waite said.
The decrease in air attacks may also be the result of having more ground troops, Waite said. Air attacks are often used when ground forces aren't available to secure an area or seize an objective.
This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing. The best weapon for killing would be a knife, but I'm afraid we can't do it that way. The worst is an airplane. The next worst is artillery. Barring a knife, the best is a rifle -- you know who you're killing.Interestingly, during his active-duty Army time, Vann was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in coordinating the battle of Ap Bac from a spotter plane while serving as an ARVN adviser. He would later (posthumously) be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross -- the only civilian recipient in the Vietnam War.
Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't note that the hard-working USA Today reporter sought out two COINtras to challenge what COL Gentile calls "the dominant narrative":
Gentile's comment is entirely accurate. Though I disagree with him on a great many other things, it is absolutely true to say that executing counterinsurgency tactics in an effective manner will erode some long-established strictures that privilege force protection over other mission concerns. Doug MacGregor, on the other hand, is just lost in the sauce. But then, are we surprised?
By exercising so much restraint, the U.S. military may sacrifice a key firepower advantage on the battlefield and expose ground troops to more risk, some officers and analysts say.
"There is a tradeoff," said Col. Gian Gentile, a former battalion commander in Iraq who has publicly criticized counterinsurgency doctrine. "You reduce civilian casualties, but you potentially increase your own casualties."
Doug Macgregor, a retired Army colonel and military historian, says the emphasis on having conventional forces trying to win over the population is futile.
"You surrender whatever military advantage you have by compelling the U.S. conventional soldier or Marine to fight on terms that favor the enemy, not the American soldier or Marine," Macgregor said.