Friday, July 22, 2011

The Prine-Burke-Few Doctrine and the COINdinistra Manual

Ink Spots' friends-of-the-blog Carl Prine, Crispin Burke, and Mike Few (SWJ Editor) made the case this morning at the Small Wars Journal for a serious rethink and rewrite of FM 3-24 (Counterinsurgency). This is has been suggested from time to time, often by Carl as well others of the more COINtra bent, and I wholeheartedly agree. And I think these three thinkers and experienced counterinsurgents took the right approach: concise points on why the current doctrine is insufficient that should be readily apparent to anyone who has participated in COIN operations. I'm guessing they had some difficulty in word-smithing this piece as it's very hard for any group of people to agree on the prescriptions for a new manual, but the problems they identify are spot on. I would suggest adding a few more to the list, though.

  1. The new manual should spend some time and space discussing counterinsurgency as it fits within and relates to the total spectrum of warfare. This gets to the authors' 5th point, but I don't think they went far enough. The problem with a manual that focuses on a subset of warfare is that it can often treat that subset as a one-off that has limited applicability to our understanding of warfare qua warfare. 3-24 does not state that this is the case for COIN, but its writing allows for that interpretation. From my perspective, this discussion goes beyond CT vs. COIN. If smart people sat down and wrote this well, it would be more about how to apply power to achieve foreign policy goals and how COIN tactics play in to this. A more general discussion, in my opinion, would also help address their #12: the use of violence.
  2. Speaking of #12, the new manual should go beyond the fact that legitimate violence is an element of COIN and expand on how to use it: primarily the use of indirect and air fires. I've cited some stats previously on how much my brigade blew up during the Surge in Iraq. We dropped over a hundred thousand pounds of bombs and fired thousands of artillery and mortar rounds (I have no idea how many rotary wing engagements we had in the year) and yet we were hugely successful by most metrics - mainly an amazing decrease in violence in both our AO and in Baghdad (AQI was using our AO to funnel car bomb parts into the capital). We need a frank discussion on using this power to achieve our goals so the guy on the ground can use this information.
  3. We need a better discussion of ends. I don't know that the new manual wants to wade into the minefield that is COIN metrics, but FM users need a better guide on how to set end goals for their COIN operations and how to understand if they're moving in the right direction, if they're not moving in the right direction, and when they've met those goals. The end states I wrote as a planner were simply terrible because we didn't know how to write them, resulting in platitudinous drivel such as "set the conditions so that the Iraqi people can self govern and protect their people in an environment were services are provided and a healthy economy exists" or some such crap. We just had no idea what we were working towards other than "better than things are now" - talk about mission creep potential.
  4. Interagency, interagency, interagency. Division of labor at the USG level needs to get sorted out. As the U.S. Army and USMC move into a period of relative reset as Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, they're going to have to take a hard look at what they can afford (in time and money) to do in the future. Maybe building schools or hospitals or local governance councils in a war zone shouldn't be on the METL. Maybe it should, I don't know. But that analysis needs to be done so the next time we get into the nation building business everyone knows what is expected of them. I could write a book on this topic, because it's still so screwed up (you don't want to get me started on police reform, for instance). This would be some heavy lifting and depends on non-DoD participation, so I'm not going to hold my breath for it, but I think it needs to be addressed and eventually figured out.
Great job, gents - I hope your paper informs Leavenworth and that they make some serious changes to the doctrine. This is a great start and I hope it gets the ball moving.


  1. Jason:

    We didn't want to go into too much detail on the bullet points, but a few thoughts on air power. Though the manual is vague, it's not necessarily bad. Air tactics changed over the course of the Iraq War, generally based on who had the technological edge: MANPADs or helicopters (currently, helicopters have the technological edge). Funny thing is that the roles of airpower in COIN are little changed from the old Small Wars Manual of 1940!

  2. I'm with you, brother. I think you took the correct approach. I found the current manual quite lacking on the general discussion and the merits of blowing the piss out of some things in COIN - I don't look to FMs for TTPs of that sort.

    Looking back, I see my comment is asking for something prescriptive when I was trying to get at: 1. violence is important and needed, 2. sometimes that takes the form of more "conventional" engagement types so don't get too boxed in your thinking, and 3. maybe a few vignettes on how violence was applied - especially from air/artillery/rotary wing.

    Air power was so key to whatever success were seen in the Surge that I think it deserves being highlighted, more so because of the advantage we enjoy with it. And I'm not surprised its use hasn't changed much in 70 years.

  3. Good points Jason. Here’s one that we left out b/c it hasn’t been explored enough yet.
    The entire enemy-centric, population-centric, leader-centric, add your fourth adjective-centric counterinsurgency debate is limited, limiting, and extremely tiresome.
    See “Stabilizing The Debate Between Population-Centric And Enemy-Centric Counterinsurgency: Success Demands A Balanced Approach” by Nathan Springer


    This thesis contends the debate on whether to embrace a population-centric or enemy-centric counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan detracts focus from building a balanced approach, customized for the human and political landscape in each area of operation (AO). The debate should be finally resolved since each strategic axis represents a crucial portion of the ideal hybrid approach, which necessarily looks different from one AO to the next. Each extreme, whether focusing all effort on killing and capturing the enemy (enemy-centric) or partnering with and protecting the population from the enemy (population-centric) is unique to local conditions on the ground. ―Centric‖ means to focus efforts only in one direction or the other. The ―centric‖ banners must be dropped and the U.S. should maintain a balanced approach, integrating both strategies and freeing commanders to use every available resource across the lines of effort in the concentrations he deems appropriate and conducive to his specific AO. The U.S. is fighting a counterinsurgency that necessitates both the destruction of the enemy and the nurturing of the population. Counterinsurgency, as another form of warfare, must utilize all elements of national power to achieve the desired outcome. The consensus from a comprehensive study of multiple counterinsurgency models indicates that utilizing all available resources to achieve a balanced approach and providing the autonomy our commanders require to achieve success in their AOs is the most effective way to deal with counterinsurgencies now and in the future.

  4. Jason (and Gulliver), you know my beef about metrics, which is how we measure the effectiveness of COIN operations. Partly, we need to come to some agreement about what "success" is before we can measure if we're properly using ways and means to get to those assumed ends, and this likely varies greatly from campaign to campaign.

    This was, in my opinion, the weakest section of FM 3-24.

    I agree completely with your points. Although I am a bit concerned about the interagency IF that reemphasized assumptions about the efficacy of some economic development projects run by USAID, which I think actually have increased rebellion and retarded pacification.


  5. @ Mike - Thanks and agreed! I'm going to give that a read.

    @ Carl - I couldn't agree more on metrics. As a planner, reading that section was a waste of time and provided me nothing. So I had to make up my own.

    I think the interagency discussion should be relatively high-level for the time being: acknowledge that uniformed forces aren't good at some things and shouldn't do others. But also address the fact that other agencies can't (at the present) deploy what is really needed for a number of reasons. It's just not adequately discussed now which lead to erroneous assumptions.

  6. Jason -- I stepped all over your post with my own, but they actually strike me as sort of complementary.

  7. I agree with Gulliver's boil down.


  8. One final point that has been covered across the board- the need to flatten stovepipes across intelligence collection, targeting processes, and air to ground integration.

  9. Any new manual on Coin must be decoupled from theories of state building based on the centrality of the population to be won over to the counterinsurgent side. If not then nothing will change of substance.


  10. I just like that we now have our own doctrine. Will that get us discounts at Shoney's?


  11. Any new manual on Coin must be decoupled from theories of state building based on the centrality of the population to be won over to the counterinsurgent side. If not then nothing will change of substance.

    Right, because repression has brought such stability to...oh, right.

    The transaction costs of ruling threw pure repression are prohibitive, and can only be temporarily sustained in cases where the 'resource curse' disconnects the political economy of the state (and the capacity to monopolize the conduct of violence) from the consent of the population. That is a rare case when considering states on their own terms, and even rarer in the contemporary strategic context. Burma and Equitorial Guinea are extreme outliers.

    Perhaps if you were more familiar with the literature on state-building and case studies beyond U.S. counterinsurgencies, your arguments would better account for the empirical evidence.

  12. I'm an old guy with 4 trips South, found you on the net, was driven to read the COIN manual, and like the direction you are going.

    Let me reinforce your discussion area of "how to apply power". As an infantryman my "SAVIOR" was the field artillery. It was most reliable. We did not out run it. Its influence was noticeably absent in the COIN manual.

    COIN is graduate-level complex. Complex was the most over used word and drove me to distraction.

    This is my cherry-picking distraction. I need to bring everything back down to earth.

    1. In COIN we work from an accepted story line with a primary objective to FOSTER effective government.

    2. The CORNERSTONE of COIN efforts is security of the populace. The more force applied the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes..Soldiers and Marines must accept more risk...Some personnel will require discipline. Commanders may be deemed responsible for crimes committed by subordinates. Leaders exercise responsibility on behalf of the American people and indirectly inflict suffering on their Soldiers and Marines.

    3. Education should prepare Soldiers and Marines for the unknown and unexpected. Senior commanders should ensure that small unit leaders are inculcated with tactical cunning, shrewd and crafty ways to OUT-THINK and OUT-ADAPT the enemy.

    4. The first RULE in COIN is to establish a presence (20 CI types : 1000 residents). Do not raid from remote secure bases. That doesn't work. (Wonder if Ben Laden can confirm this for us) Movement on foot, sleeping in villages, and night patrolling all seem more dangerous than they are... Don't try to crack the hardest nut first or go for the main insurgent stronghold... Instead, start from secure bases and work gradually outward..Use deterrent patrolling. Attack the enemy only if he gets in the way.

    5. Remember, small is BEAUTIFUL, nurture the population, and the "American Way" may be unhelpful.

    I have the paragraph numbers for these statements but that would have ruined my narrative. It is hard for me to believe that any infantryman would have let all this wonderful encouragement for Soldiers and Marines go to print. Col. Gentile, war-fighting removed, straight jacket. You bet. To read this makes my Vietnam unit seem like a real learning organization, full of systems thinkers, and life long learners.