Counterinsurgency Today: A Review of Eric T. Olson’s “Some of the Best Weapons for Counterinsurgents Do Not Shoot”

By Efe Sevin

The long-lasting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to increased inquiry into the concepts and practices of counterinsurgency (COIN). Eric T. Olson, in his work, focuses on the importance of reconstruction attempts in COIN operations and discusses the role of military. The author served in the U.S. Army for over three decades and retired as a Major General. Currently, Mr. Olson is an independent defense contractor and works with Army brigades and provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) who are preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. As the title suggests, his monograph considers such reconstruction attempts to have uttermost importance in successful military operations.

Continue reading “Counterinsurgency Today: A Review of Eric T. Olson’s “Some of the Best Weapons for Counterinsurgents Do Not Shoot”

Cartel Info Ops: Power and Counter-power in Mexico’s Drug War

By John P. Sullivan

Mexico’s cartels are increasingly using refined information operations (info ops) to wage their war against each other and the Mexican state, as noted in a recent post “Mexican narcos step up their information war” here at MountainRunner. These info ops include the calculated use of instrumental and symbolic violence to shape the conflict environment.  The result: attacks on media outlets, and kidnappings and assassinations of journalists by narco-cartels to obscure operations and silence critics.  Editors and journalists turn to self-censorship to protect themselves; others have become virtual mouthpieces for the gangs and cartels, only publishing materials the cartels approve.  Cartels are now beginning to issue press releases to control the information space–through censorship and cartel co-option of reportage. Finally, the public, government and even cartels are increasingly using new media (horizontal means of mass self-communication) to influence and understand the raging criminal insurgencies.

Continue reading “Cartel Info Ops: Power and Counter-power in Mexico’s Drug War

Communicating Their Own Story: Progress in the Afghan National Security Force


By Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV

“The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armory of the modern commander.” – T.E. Lawrence

Lawrence’s words continue to ring true. In conflicts from the First World War to Korea; from Vietnam to the Gulf War, the nation that wins the information battle tends to win the larger war. Today, America and her partners are engaged in a fight that is every bit as important as its earlier wars: ensuring that Afghanistan is secure, independent, and free of the forces that launched attacks on the people of the world on September 11, 2001. It is a contest that requires painful sacrifices of blood and treasure but one that, if the lessons of history hold, can only be won on the information battlefield.

NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) and its partners have been charged with assisting the Afghan government in building the capabilities and capacities necessary for the Afghan National Security Force to defend their homeland. While many of NTM-A’s efforts focus on enabling the Afghans to pursue the physical battle – improving skill with weapons, providing leadership and tactics training, and constructing logistics and intelligence systems – the organization has invested significant resources into assisting the Afghans in carrying the information fight to the Taliban and the nation’s other enemies.

Continue reading “Communicating Their Own Story: Progress in the Afghan National Security Force

Event: 9th Annual Information Operations – Europe

The UK-based Defence IQ has announced the date and venue for the 9th annual Information Operations Europe conference. The event will take place June 29-30, 2010, at the Bloomsbury Hotel in London. The agenda is available.

Topics include:

  • Media in Modern Warfare, by Major General Gordon Messenger, Director of Strategic Communications, UK MoD
  • UK’s Influence Capability, by Air Commodore Robert Judson, Head of Targeting and Information Operations, UK MoD
  • Where Counterinsurgency meets Culture, by Eric Sutphin, Chief Target Audience Analyst, Combined Joint Psychological Operations Task Force, ISAF HQ, NATO
  • Audience Engagement in Afghanistan, by Maryann Maguire, Director of Communications (DCSU), Afghan Specialist Joint Implementation Team, UK MoD
  • Countering Violent Extremism, by James Barber, Information Operations Division, HQ US Africa Command
  • Influence and Intelligence Opportunities of Virtual Worlds, by Professor George Stein, Cyberspace & Info Ops Study Centre, Air War College, US Air Force
  • Future of Cultural Information Engagement, by Matt Bigge, CEO, Strategic Social

I will be there and will present on Now Media (tentatively 4p of Day 1) and participating on a panel (11.40a Day 1) with:

  • Air Commodore Robert Judson, Head of Targeting and Information Operations, UK MoD
  • Brigadier Mark Van der Lande, Head of Defence Public Relations, Directorate General and Media Communications, UK MoD
  • Sarah Nagelmann, Strategic Communications Advisor to US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO

Required Reading: 100 Years of COIN: What new have we Learned?

From David Betz at Kings College:

…2006 may represent something of a watershed; it’s probably too soon to tell but my hunch is that the stuff which John Mackinlay and David Kilcullen are writing about global insurgency is significant. Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla has garnered a ton of deserved praise. And having seen several chapters of Mackinlay’s book The Insurgent Archipelago which is about to be published, I think he pushes the envelope further still. He reckons that there has been a sea change from Maoist to ‘Post-Maoist’ insurgency: Maoist insurgent objectives were national whereas Post-Maoist objectives are global; the population involved in Maoist insurgency was manageable (albeit with difficulty) whereas the populations (note the plural) involved in Post-Maoist insurgency are dispersed and unmanageable; the centre of gravity in Maoist insurgency was local or national whereas in Post-Maoist insurgency it is multiple and possibly irrelevant; the all important subversion process in Maoist insurgency was top-down whereas in Post-Maoist insurgency it is bottom-up; Maoist insurgent organization was vertical and structured whereas in Post-Maoism it is an unstructured network; and whereas Maoist insurgency took place in a real and territorial context the Post-Maoist variant’s vital operational environment is virtual. My question is whether this is still insurgency or has it evolved into something else sufficiently different as to be actually something else?

Read the whole thing here. As the excerpt above indicates, Effective COIN is more, much more, than bullets and bombs, it is about influence.

See also:

Merging Public Affairs, PSYOP, IO

Briefly and without comment,

Press, "Psy Ops" to merge at NATO Afghan HQ-sources

29 Nov 2008 06:56:49 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Jon Hemming

KABUL, Nov 29 (Reuters) – The U.S. general commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan has ordered a merger of the office that releases news with "Psy Ops", which deals with propaganda, a move that goes against the alliance’s policy, three officials said.

The move has worried Washington’s European NATO allies — Germany has already threatened to pull out of media operations in Afghanistan — and the officials said it could undermine the credibility of information released to the public.

Seven years into the war against the Taliban, insurgent influence is spreading closer to the capital and Afghans are becoming increasingly disenchanted at the presence of some 65,000 foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Taliban militants, through their website, telephone text messages and frequent calls to reporters, are also gaining ground in the information war, analysts say.

U.S. General David McKiernan, the commander of 50,000 troops from more than 40 nations in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ordered the combination of the Public Affairs Office (PAO), Information Operations and Psy Ops (Psychological Operations) from Dec. 1, said a NATO official with detailed knowledge of the move.

The friction in the second paragraph is perhaps the most interesting. There is pressure to align the fences between the practices of PA, IO, and PSYOP. General McKiernan is doing what many want, and I know McKiernan’s PAO “gets it” as well.

Read the whole thing here.

Al-Qaeda is not the only threat

John Sullivan, the co-founder of the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning group and lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, focusing on emerging threats, reminds us that Al-Qaeda is not the only threat. As such, public diplomacy and strategic communication planning that focuses only on Al-Qaeda is too limiting.

From Danger Room:

While the public and media are occupied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential conflict with Iran, the downward spiral in Pakistan, and a global economic meltdown, a new, rapidly-evolving danger — narco-cartels and gangs — has been developing in Mexico and Latin America. And it has the potential to trump global terrorism as a threat to the United States.

Read the rest at Danger Room and a longer article on Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency at Defense and the National Interest.

Counterinsurgency: A Guide for Policy-Makers

It’s not surprising that books about the wars we are in are so popular, but who would have thought some of the most popular readings would be U.S. Army doctrine? The purpose of doctrine is to provide guidance on how – and often why – to conduct operations. They used to be dry reads but now they are written to be accessible by those both inside and outside the military.

The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, also known as FM 3-24, did remarkably well. The Army’s recently revised Operations Manual, or FM 3-0, is also popular. However, while FM 3-24 still does reasonably well on Amazon (over a year old and it’s in the top 5,000), the latest addition to the public library is the Stability Operations Manual, or FM 3-07. This is doing very well with apparently more then 250,000 downloads in the last three weeks. The growing popularity of official U.S. military instruction manuals is fascinating. It is likely a factor of both the militarization of our foreign policy and the transition of our Armed Forces to a learning organization that has the wherewithal and desire to understand and adapt to changing conditions.

The resources available to permit the time and manpower to develop these manuals and to reinforce the iterative learning processes is one the rest of Government lacks – save perhaps for the USIP. As a result, there has been a paucity of equivalent material aimed at policy-makers.

However, there is a new book that’s due to hit the market next month that addresses this void: Counterinsurgency: A Guide for Policy-Makers. At The Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman writes about the book:

There are lessons in the handbook that the U.S. government has clearly been reluctant to adopt. It explicitly instructs policy-makers to “co-opt” insurgents whenever possible — something that the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the “evils” of Iraqi and Afghan insurgents makes problematic.”The purpose of COIN,” the handbook says, “is to build popular support for a government while suppressing or co-opting an insurgent movement.”

Kilcullen added that negotiations are a two-way street in counterinsurgency. “A government that offers [insurgents] no concessions [will] usually lose,” he said, but “an insurgency that offers no concessions will usually lose.” Another piece of advice — one that resonates in the wake of the administration’s torture scandals — simply reads, “Respect People.”

Similarly, the handbook attempts to integrate civilian and military agencies into a concerted strategy — something the Bush administration has been unable to substantively accomplish in Iraq and Afghanistan. “COIN planning should integrate civilian and military capabilities across each of the four COIN strategy functions of security, politics, economics and information,” it reads.

More to come here at MountainRunner.


“The “militarization” of diplomacy exists and is accelerating.” – A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future: Fixing the Crisis in Diplomatic Readiness from the American Academy of Diplomacy. (see also this post)

“The trends across the board are not going in the right direction. And I would anticipate next year would be a tougher year.” – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, The New York Times.

“The announcement last week that the United States will relocate its London embassy from Grosvenor Square, in the heart of the British capital, to an out-of-the-way spot south of the River Thames may be good news for property developers, but should concern almost everyone else. The London move is the latest and most dramatic example of a worrying trend toward vastly scaling down American public diplomacy abroad, abandoning embassies that were once beacons of American culture and openness in favour of walled suburban fortresses.” – Globe and Mail, 6 October 2008 (h/t KAE)

“The New York Times’ Web site is getting more global, and is going bye-bye.” – Forbes, 7 October 2008 (h/t KAE)

“There was no single silver bullet, but rather a multifaceted strategy crafted and carried out by those in Baghdad — not, despite recent claims, in Washington.” – Linda Robinson in the Washington Post (see also Tom Barnett)

“Whatever the final form it takes, the establishment of Africom is a good idea whose time has come — finally. The command’s emphasis on civil-military integration and a low-key operational profile is appropriate and well suited to its mission. We should wish it well.” – Bob Killebrew, Africom Stands-Up. (see also this post)

Others discuss the “Phallo-Fascism of a Vainglorious Anthropologist”

Briefly, if you read Sharon Weinberger’s Do Pentagon Studs Make You Want to Bite Your Fist? last week, you may be interested in the following:

From Max Forte at Open Anthropology is the post “Me so horny, me love you long time”: The Phallo-Fascism of a Vainglorious Anthropologist in the Academilitary (2.7)

This post could have been titled, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”  …

McFate has apparently learned enough from her gender and sexuality courses in anthropology — and let me stop to thank Yale University once again for unleashing this little darling onto the world — to know how to turn them inside out. Indeed, I myself often “joke” with students that, “If you want to learn the arts of dictatorship, repression, and control, you can find all the answers in anthropology, especially in the more radical courses.”

And this from friend Marc Tyrrell, Of joking relationships:

I do agree with Max in that I seriously doubt anything on the I LUV A MAN IN A UNIFORM! blog should be taken with any more than a grain of salt. It is an ongoing joke. But, having talked with her, I seriously doubt that it is a either about “laughing all the way to the bank” or “get[ting] fired”. Having had her scholarship attacked as “shoddy“, and being accused of being a spy both for the military and corporations, I would suggest that she is certainly under a large amount of pressure not only from the Pentagon but, also, from her fellow Anthropologists (and with friends like this, who needs enemies?).

That’s it.  Read ’em yourself.

Reading lists on ethnographic intelligence/human terrain mapping, and some thoughts on same

Check out CTLab’s reading list on Ethnographic Intelligence and Human Terrain Mapping. 

At the same time, I’ll point out a reading list I’m putting together on the same topic (very draft at this time, subject to radical change and expansion), except it goes by the name of Public Diplomacy.  We seem to forget that the bilateral nature of exchanges and information that is what was and is public diplomacy are essentially tools of intelligence.  Cultural and educational exchange are the “slow” transmission and information activities are the “fast”, but both seek to provide intelligence on what the Other thinks, operates, and ticks and to provide the Other with insight into how you think, operate, and tick. 

Don’t tell public diplomats this, they usually cringe at the suggestion.  But that’s not how it always was. 

The difference between the two lists is the scientific approach and methodology.  One uses experts to dissect the mind of one side while the other strives to increase the awareness and knowledge of both sides about the other.  One expert imparts deep knowledge versus having many people with qualified insights.  Both are necessary, neither is fully supported. 

Afghanistan: Americans have the wristwatches, but who has the time?

Two suggested reads on Afghanistan.  First, read John Mackinlay’s The Taliban’s Propaganda of the Deed Strategy.  In this post King’s College’s Insurgency Research Group blog, Mackinlay recognizes that the Taliban has learned the value of media (citing a to-be-published paper by Steve Tatham) and, his dominant theme, admonishes the media for accepting the propaganda. 

The [National Day attack] demonstrates a classic propaganda of the deed partnership in which the insurgents with growing skill select a media-significant target and with witless incomprehension international reporters beam the most sensationally damning images of the event around the world so as to deliver the worst possible interpretation. There is no need for a Taliban subtext or even a photo caption, the images speak powerfully for themselves sending messages of a stricken regime put to flight in their gilded uniforms by the daring fighters of the Taliban.

Mackinlay concludes with questions:

Why not explain the propaganda context of their images or better still embargo the use of all images when reporting a sensational terrorist incident, including the endless resuscitation of images of previous attacks? But short-termism and golden–goose-egg syndrome ensure that no ambitious editor will forgo immediate profit to prevent the emergence of a regime in which their own function would be banned.

Continue reading “Afghanistan: Americans have the wristwatches, but who has the time?

GOOOOOOD MORNING IRAQ! Engaging the people with more than foot patrols, on the air in Iraq

Radio Station coverage in Iraq Noah Schachtman at Danger Room has a brief post on the transformation of a unit from traditional warfighting to being effective at counterinsurgency.  I’ll be brief as well, but not as brief as Noah, who gives the heads on an Army Times article ‘Our unit is the transformation’: Unexpected mission leads battalion to be a constant presence on the streets of Tikrit.

The second caller of the day sounded drunk. He demanded to know why the Americans had not built new schools or hospitals.

Turns out, he also was blind.

he began losing his sight five years earlier and couldn’t find a doctor.

“Now I can’t see a camel,” he told Lt. Col. Rick Rhyne, who was sitting in a cramped radio studio along with an interpreter and the show’s host, a gregarious fellow known only as Mr. Lebanon.

The blind caller blamed his failed eyesight on the U.S. presence. Rhyne, commander of the 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, told the caller about the new construction and other activities coalition forces had provided that were aimed at improving lives of the locals.

The article gives some good examples of the value of personal contact and the product of building trust at the tactical level.

There is payback on the morale of our forces as well:

Pfc. Ellis Branch, also a member of the engineer unit, actually wants to be in the city.

“I like it a lot better. I can’t stand sitting in one truck for more than 10 hours up and down [Main Supply Route] Tampa,” he said. “Being boots on ground feels like you’re accomplishing something.”

One last comment: a dollar says LTC Rhyne won’t, even if scheduled, appear at the DoD Blogger’s Roundtable. 

Subtitle for this post: America’s public diplomacy wears combat boots…

Worth Reading (fixed link)

Briefly, a few links worth reading as you start your Monday…

Unrestricted Warfare Symposium 2008: Proceedings are available online

Whether you did or did not attend this year’s URW Symposium at Johns Hopkins University (10-11 March 2008), the proceedings are available online (hard copy typically arrives much later, but I didn’t couldn’t make it this year, so I won’t be getting a book).  A few presentations stand out, even if 80% of the content was surely in the accompanying narrative. 

The first is COL Karen Lloyd’s Experiences from the Field: Using Information Operations to Defeat AQAM (al-Qaeda and Associated Movements).  COL Lloyd is from J3, Joint IO Warfare Center.  The slides don’t give away anything new, except for one not about AQAM:


Effects-Based Public Affairs.  More on this later.

See also Mark Stout’s (Institute for Defense Analysis) Listening to the Adversary About the “War of Ideas” as well as the rest here.

A model strategic communication plan from where you wouldn’t expect it

One of the most famous aphorisms of Edward R. Murrow is his statement on the “last three feet”: The really crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.  The importance of face-to-face, personal contact in counterinsurgency cannot be emphasized enough.  Engaging in this last three feet requires more than figuring out the right words and establishing a grammar to communicate with locals.  It means understanding we have a “say-do” gap (the propaganda of deeds versus the propaganda of words) that requires emphasizing actions over words and public and private pronouncements. 

TF134coverMarine Corps General Doug Stone, commander of Task Force 134, Detainee Operations, in Iraq has just signed off on a smart strategic communication plan that should be used as a model for other units.  It clearly communicates intent and provides guidance and has the buy-in of General Petraeus. 

It makes perfect sense to focus on detainee operations.  As Stone notes, “detainee operations is certainly a battlefield; it is the battlefield of the mind, and it is one of the most important fights in counterinsurgency.”  Besides the fact he has a captive audience, by definition, his charges have decided to take significant action against the Coalition.  For more on the operations of TF134, read this post

The primary audience and the primary target of the plan is the Task Force itself, which, as one reviewer noted, is a statement that the military culture still requires tweaking.  The challenge will be, according to another reviewer, translating the high-level guidance into action. 

The plan isn’t long, so if you’re at all interested, I suggest you read it.  To encourage that, excerpts from the Overview and Purpose are below the fold. 

Continue reading “A model strategic communication plan from where you wouldn’t expect it

Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency: to some, a natural pairing, to others, not so much

This should be interesting.  This weekend the University of Chicago holds a conference titled Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency that will explore

Anthropology’s relationship to the United States’ global projection of its power, while simultaneously mounting an anthropological inquiry into the nature of that power and of the changing world in which it operates.

Don’t mistake this as a chance to discuss revisions to the Counterinsurgency Manual.  On the contrary, 

We seek ethnographic understanding of global responses to recent deployments of the US military, and of US military actions in comparison to other forms of coercion, compellance, and intervention.  Reading US military theorists, we seek to understand the emerging interest in study of culture in the broad context of military responses to US military failures (and opportunities).  We pursue the full implications of the connection now being sought by the US military between culture and insurgency and turn an anthropological lens on the nature of violence and order in the current era.

The presenters are a varied group and, for the most part, will probably do their best at Ivory Tower analysis to talk past each other.  Below the fold are a few of the abstracts that caught my eye for the “1.6” day event (cocktails/keynote Friday night + all day Saturday + half of Sunday).

Continue reading “Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency: to some, a natural pairing, to others, not so much

Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power

Ernest J. Wilson, III, the Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at USC, has an article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (sub req’d) titled “Hard power, Soft Power, Smart Power.” 

In this paper Ernie argues the zero-sum relationship between hard and soft power must be replaced by a dynamic application of power, hard and soft, across a continuum appropriate for time and place known as Smart Power. 

Continue reading “Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power

Information Operations From an Asian Perspective

Update: At the request of the author, MAJ James Yin, the paper is removed pending publication in the Journal of Information Warfare, co-authored with Phil Taylor.  I’ll post a link when it’s available.

Another paper on Information Operations by a Major, this time it’s MAJ James Yin of the Singapore Armed Forces.  It was presented at the Information Operations & Influence Activity Symposium at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.  MAJ Yin’s abstract:

This paper is a comparative study of the practice of influence in its various forms i.e. propaganda, public diplomacy, psychological operations, public affairs, cyberwarfare, EW etc. in Asia. It will highlight the state of development, differences in concepts, organization and application of influence in Asian countries as compared to the Western models dominating discussions on information operations and influence today. By doing so, it attempts to provide alternative angles of approaching information operations and influence that could contribute to the generation of solutions to address challenges faced by policy-makers and practitioners today. Finally, such a study will serve to broaden the body of knowledge in influence to include both Eastern and Western viewpoints.

Yin examines China, Japan, and Taiwan “based on their ability to influence the balance of power in Asia-Pacific and their propensity to use cyber warfare” and Thailand because of its COIN operations against Muslim insurgents. 

Yin is currently at the University of Leeds (no doubt working with Phil Taylor) and wisely incorporated Smith-Mundt into his analysis (although he cited colleague Mike Waller’s Public Diplomacy Reader and not this blog…). 

If IO is in anyway interesting to you, this is required reading.  Hat tip goes to Under the Influence by David Bailey.

See also: Planning to Influence by USMC MAJ Matt Morgan

Headlines and Links

Some quick links to other posts you should read.  No time to comment.

Also, in case you missed it, from Inside the Pentagon (sub req’d):

The Pentagon’s Strategic Communication Integration Group (SCIG) ceased to exist this month, opening a new chapter in the department’s efforts to communicate with the world. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England decided not to renew the group’s charter, so it expired March 1, officials familiar with the decision told Inside the Pentagon. The termination of the group was not announced publicly. …

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen complained that officials are too fixated on the word “strategic” when in reality the lines between strategic, operational and tactical issues are blurred almost beyond distinction, particularly in the realm of communications (ITP, Jan. 10, p1). In a memo to England, Mullen argued that U.S. deeds — not Pentagon Web sites or communications plans – are the best way to impart the country’s intentions on the world stage. The Pentagon should focus less on promoting its own story globally and more on listening to Muslims worldwide and understanding the subtleties of that community, the admiral wrote. …

And then lastly, since this has been the week of putting forth operational and strategic arguments on the use of information and persuasion, and as one colleague has noted my, um, disagreement with Smith-Mundt (although he makes one statement that’s untrue, I’ll let you figure figure out which of the three it is), a piece of domestic propaganda that today we think is illegal across the board (which reminds me of this distantly related post):