DC, Nagl, Galula, and the new Army COIN manual

I didn’t mention that when I’m in DC next week for the 2006 Naval S&T Partnership Conference, I will be also sitting in on “Rethinking the Future Nature of Competitions and Conflict” seminar sponsored with LTC John Nagl, author of the excellent book Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (I recommend getting the revised / updated edition). This excellent series – of which the audio, video and presentation are generally available for download – is co-sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Office of Force Transformation and the Office of the Secretary of the Navy.

So speaking of Nagl, while I plan on reviewing his book here, take a look at mcmasterchef’s review of it here (you’ll also get a treat of his Cobra II review (which I have but not read yet).

On the topic of relevant COIN authors, WashingtonPost has Ricks writing a great overview of his book FIASCO, which includes heavy references to David Galula’s excellent book, CounterInsurgency Warfare. (The New York Times review is good.)

Continuing on COIN and relying heavily on outsourcing here, the Armchair Generalist has some comments on the new Army COIN manual. There has been some debate how this manual, which I’ve just skimmed and plan on commented later on (we’ll see about that), got into the open…

Two other useful COIN resources I’ve not seen any comments on – but I’ve been saving for my comments in the near future – are the new USMC Tentative Manual for Countering Irregular Threats and the Iraq Culture Smart Card. The USMC manual is a heavily updated version of the classic 1940 USMC text titled Small Wars Manual (briefly commented on here, quoted from here, and now available as PDF from the USMC Small Wars Center of Excellence).

There is certainly more to come on the COIN front. One of the take-aways from Nagl is how the US military is not a learning organization and the British Army is. Ricks highlights the same thing with his reference to Galula and re-learning. The fact the USMC had a good COIN manual in the 1940’s that was all but forgotten helps this argument. Heck, look at Callwell’s 1906 (not a typo) book Small Wars and you’ll see this opening from exactly a century ago:

“Practically it may be said to include all campaigns other than those where both the opposing sides consist of regular troops. It comprises the expeditions against savages and semi-civilised races by disciplined soldiers, it comprises campaigns undertaken to suppress rebellions and guerilla warfare in all parts of the world where organized armies are struggling against opponents who will not meet them in the open field, and it thus obviously covers operations very varying in their scope and in their conditions.”

I’m sure the Clash of Civilizations adherents would more than agree with the reference to savages. One thing that is seemingly a constant is how irregular war isn’t new. Colonial wars give us insight into pressures against social, ideological, and political networks of power by both sides. Use of the media through shaping the vocabulary or enlisting newspapers (or muckrackers) is simply not new.

Do we relearn? Yes, we apparently must. I have only skimmed parts of Callwell’s book, but it appears to be a valuable tome.

Happy reading…