Posts Tagged ‘COIN’

The Statistical Irrelevance of American SIGACT Data: Iraq Surge Analysis Reveals Reality

Joshua Thiel. Small Wars Journal, 12 April 2011.
http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/732-thiel1.pdf

Excerpt:

Maneuver warfare at its core is a mechanistic endeavor and fits with a corresponding necessity of top-down hierarchies. Conversely, counterinsurgency is a more ambiguous environment that varies in its complexity and context; it is the chess match of war. It is different in every locale and can cover the entire spectrum of war simultaneously. Consequently, counterinsurgency is difficult to put on a bumper sticker, to trademark as a catch phrase, or sell to a population and their representatives. In 2006 the United States (U.S.) public’s perception of success or failure of the Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy was concentrated around the concept of massing combat power in time and space, often called the “The Surge.” The term, “The Surge,” condensed a new counterinsurgency strategy into a simple and quantifiable slogan for the sound bite culture surrounding current affairs in the modern world. Unfortunately, counterinsurgency is more complex than “add more and then you win.”

Comment by Gian Gentile:

Joshua said this at the end of the piece:

“…in Afghanistan in 2011, will the victor once again write the history by touting the Afghanistan troop surge of 2010-2011 rather than the decisive operational changes.”

What evidence, I mean hard evidence (and beyond what officers who were part of the Surge recall)that there was a “decisive operational change.”? How much “decisive” operational change can there be in an area security mission where combat forces are dispersed widely and operate in a decentralized manner? This operational framework was in place in Iraq from spring of 2003 on. The answer is that there was not a decisive change in the operational framework. Oh to be sure there were some tweaks made here and there, a few more outposts here and there, but by and large it remained the same.

Unfortunately a narrative has been constructed that posits that a savior General named Petraeus came on board, reinvented his field army operationally and combined with an increase of troops was the primary cause of the lowering of violence. This is a chimera.

Yet folks, especially us in the Army who have spilled blood in these places, want to believe that what happens or doesnt happen is because of us and what we do or dont do, or because of savior generals riding onto the scene.

Yet the foreign policy elite (and many military leaders) in this country love this narrative and want it to stick because it places emphasis and criticism on the mechanics of doing these wars of intervention and state building and away from the strategy and policy that put them into place. Since success in these wars and conflicts are simply a matter of getting the right number of troops on the ground with the right tactics and with the savior general, then they can be won again and again.

As senior Army generals in Afghanistan argue “the right inputs are finally in place,” so too are we already seeing calls in certain quarters for bog in Libya.

But in Iraq it was neither the increase in troops as part of the Surge (as Joshua effectively argues) nor was it a decisive change in operational framework (as he incorrectly asserts) and instead the lowering of violence had to do with other more critical conditions (the spread of the Anbar awakening, the Shia militia stand-down, the physical seperation of Baghdad into sectarian districts) occurring.

The Runaway General

Michael Hastings. Rolling Stone, 22 June 2010.
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/119236

Excerpt:

When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France’s nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose.

A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

Report of the Afghanistan Study Group, June 2010.
http://www.afghanistanstudygroup.org/?page_id=27

Excerpt:

The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them.

On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems.

Speech by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen at Kansas State University

as delivered by Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas Wednesday, 03 March 2010.
http://www.jcs.mil/speech.aspx?ID=1336

Excerpt:

I’ve come to three conclusions – three principles – about the proper use of modern military forces:

1) … military power should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state. Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers. We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior. Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy. We can assist rapidly in disaster-relief efforts, as we did in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake. We can help gather intelligence, support reconnaissance and provide security.

And we can do so on little or no notice. That ease of use is critical for deterrence. An expeditionary force that provides immediate, tangible effects. It is also vital when innocent lives are at risk. So yes, the military may be the best and sometimes the first tool; it should never be the only tool.

2) Force should, to the maximum extent possible, be applied in a precise and principled way.

3) Policy and strategy should constantly struggle with one another. Some in the military no doubt would prefer political leadership that lays out a specific strategy and then gets out of the way, leaving the balance of the implementation to commanders in the field. But the experience of the last nine years tells us two things: A clear strategy for military operations is essential; and that strategy will have to change as those operations evolve. In other words, success in these types of wars is iterative; it is not decisive.

Editor’s Comment:

Mullen’s first principle is dangerous in the extreme. It is a sad reminder of the militarization of the American state. Mullen suffers from an inexplicable amnesia of the horrors of war in the 20th Century.

America will likely be paying a high price for decades to come in what comes around from the quick and easy resort to war in 2002-2003 by policy-makers enthralled with their military instrument. If war is not a last resort, then policy-makers are abject failures as leaders.

Strategic Withdrawal

Steve Coll. The New Yorker, 15 February 2010.
http://defensealt.org/HohGPm

Excerpt:

I have also heard it suggested, however, that the big and visible Helmand operation is being conceived as a sort of “demonstration project” of joint U.S. and Afghan security and governance capabilities – that “clear, hold, and build” there will be constructed as a sort of theme park of revived counterinsurgency practice.

Whatever the durability of the current operation, the Helmand River Valley is not likely to be this war’s decisive locus.

An alternative to COIN: It’s time to adapt our security strategy to leverage America’s conventional strengths

Bernard I. Finel. Armed Froces Journal International, February 2010.
http://www.afji.com/2010/02/4387134

Excerpt:

A fundamental challenge in devising a strategy for the use of American military power is that the world has literally never seen anything like it. The U.S. today has military capabilities at least equal to the rest of the world combined. There is virtually no spot on the globe that could not be targeted by American forces, and at most a small handful of countries that could thwart a determined U.S. effort at regime change — and some of those only by virtue of their possession of nuclear weapons.

American military capabilities are not a potential form of power, subject to use only following a lengthy mobilizing and requiring a long campaign to achieve significant goals. Instead, the U.S. can destroy fixed locations in a matter of hours or at most days, and implement regime change in a matter of weeks or a few months.

Because this capability is so novel — dating only to the end of the Cold War — American strategists lack a clear framework to guide the utilization of this force. They have sought to match capabilities to conceptions of the use of force from a different era, one in which the Cold War made regime change unpalatable due to the risk of escalation and that tended to make localized setbacks appear as loses in a perceived zero-sum competition with the Soviets.

The reason, in other words, that the U.S. didn’t simply remove Fidel Castro from power was that after 1962, the international consequences seemed too high and the goal too risky. The reason American leaders felt compelled to engage in a lengthy counterinsurgency in Vietnam was the concern that a communist victory would have been a setback in the broader struggle. But imagine a world in which there were few or no international consequences to removing Castro from power, and imagine a world in which the commitment to Vietnam was strictly commensurate to the threat that the Vietnamese communists could pose to the U.S. That is the change in context that has occurred over the past 20 years, and the U.S. has not yet adapted.

Editor’s Comment:

And so many in the U.S. choose to ignore how this dominant military power motivates other nations to seek nuclear weaponry or hold tightly to those they have acquired already!

Why COIN Will Fail in Afghanistan

J. Sigger. Arm Chair Generalist, 31 December 2009.
http://defensealt.org/Hm5xE5

Afghanistan Stability / COIN Dynamics Chart

PA Consulting Group. Chart published by Richard Engel in his article “So what is the actual surge strategy?”, NBC News World Blog, 02 December 2009.
http://defensealt.org/HbIAFE

Afghanistan Stability / Coin Dynamics

click on chart for expanded view

Editor’s Comment:

Richard Engel says this chart was made for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I prefer to think that it was drawn for a new magazine called Popular Chaos Illustrated and that the White House is a charter subscriber.