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.

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#1 Afghan People, #2 Afghan National Security Force

COIN-Fox Company

The tactical guys in the field understand the significance of influence. From Command Sergeant Major Michael T. Hall at NATO ISAF HQ:

[The words on this cardboard] encapsulates everything we’re trying to achieve in Afghanistan at the strategic, operational and tactical level on a single piece of cardboard that is understood and practiced at every level in Fox Company.

We have all have got to take the mental leap and realize that the best way to protect ourselves and the population is thru the Afghan people and the ANSF.

Everywhere we build trust, there are examples of this. The ANSF are, our relief, treat them that way, help develop them that way, and understand it has to be an Afghan way, or it will not be sustainable and everyone knows that. We have to push as hard as we can, but the push can only be lead by example, and sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough, but, remember, we have tours, this is life for them.

The cardboard reads from Fox Company 2/2 US Marines reads:

Best counter to IEDs: #1 The Afghan people, #2 ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] partners and then metal detectors, dogs, [Afghan] BOSS, [Airplanes], etc. More than 80% of our IED finds have been the direct result of tips from local nationals because of the respect that you show to the people – and because they’ve watched you ruthlessly close with and destroy the enemy. Never forget that the best X-IED TTP’s = #1 the Afghan people & #2 our ANSF partners.

See also:

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.

American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: the Pentagon’s $300 million to “engage and inspire”

American public diplomacy wears combat boots. Not only is the Pentagon in the critical last three feet of engagement virtually and in person with audiences around the globe, especially in contested areas, but it is the Defense Department that is putting up the money to expand public diplomacy. The Pentagon’s 3-year, $300 million contract for private companies to “engage and inspire” Iraqis to support U.S. objectives and the Iraqi government, described by Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, is more than an effort five years too late. It is one more shining example of the significant failure of the U.S. Government to come to grips with the present need and commit the resources necessary to engage in the Second Great War of Ideas that began in earnest nearly a decade ago.

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Cultural Warfare, continued

A vigourous discussion on an earlier post "How Not to Conduct Cultural Warfare" (to be continued here in a new category "Cultural Warfare") should have a greater obvious context with recent news. As Eccentric Star ("Murdered US Soldiers Linked to Rape & Murder of Iraqi Civilians") notes:

A link — however tenuous — between the two US soldiers who were abducted, tortured, and murdered in Iraq recently and the rape of an Iraqi woman and subsequent murder of her and her family is explosive. From an Iraqi’s perspective, this must make the insurgents who killed the US soldiers look more like righteous avengers than anything else.

At some point who we are, or rather how we see ourselves, becomes disjointed with what we do. At some point, what we do is who we are, especially if it is repeated often enough. Put yourself in the shoes of locals and consider the trend from their perspective. Cultural warfare and public diplomacy (wartime and peacetime sides of the same coin) does this and the Haditha videos (commented on in How Not to Conduct Cultural Warfare) reinforces stereotypes, the wrong stereotypes.

From the US side, Shawn Howard in The Difference Between Us and Them, writing before the news of the rape, echoed a sentiment leaning toward "kill them all, let [insert deity here] sort ’em out" (by the way, I’m not being politically correct, it’s just a tool to ack different perspectives… for all I care, assume God is written there):

…These insurgents have a long pattern of obscene violence that goes well beyond the rules of engagement.

I will not argue that the U.S. military and the private contractors are always choir boys….Also, when we find out about alleged atrocities, we investigate them and hold people accountable.  The insurgents are praised when they commit disgusting atrocities….

What we are fighting is a barbaric culture that refuses to develop into a civilized society.  Even if we stay for a decade, we will never be able to teach them to respect human life.  That is a fight we will not win.

This last paragraph essentially echoes Dan of tdaxp (in the comments here) in our recent discussion, most notably [for this discussion, I’ll move past the comment about investigating and holding contractors accountable]:

Iraq and Afghanistan are not Core [as in Core-Gap of Barnett’s Pentagon’s New Map] states that somehow went off the rails (like Germany and Japan did). They are from the deepest part of the AfroIslamic Gap.

As such a "hearts and minds," or even a narrow Westernization, strategy is out of the question . Attempting to make Iraqi Shia and Sunni like us because of who we are is a fools errand. So would attempting the reverse. Neither is much possible. We’re not going to enrage Iraqis with things like this. Too little, too late.

There is little need for our side to descend to aggregations of Them into a collective evil. It is wrong to say

…the "All in all, I’d rather not have Americans here right now" ship has long since sailed. Those Iraqis that support us do so because they think we can improve their lives…

There are more Iraqis that would support us if a) procedures and policies of both military and private forces and reconstruction efforts considered locals as assets and part of the solution, and b) fear keeps many from secretly or openly from supporting us and hence pushing away criminal and "insurgent" groups.

The reality is, now and in the past (another dig against tempo-centric and situational unaware 4GW here), that an overall environment is necessary to bring out allies as force multipliers (consider the role and purpose of the Green Berets and the fact we don’t need warm and cuddly friendships, just a mutual understanding who the bad guy is).

David Galula, writing in his 1965 CounterInsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, noted the clear need to get the population on your side which you do not do by alienating them. As an example, Galula cites mainland Chinese who, when expected to side with Nationalists during a quick hit and run in fact fought back viciously. Why? Because they knew where they were living and reality of the attack (not to free the people but simply to prick the side of Mao).

Does cultural intelligence matter? Consider this CS Monitor story "What US wants in its troops: cultural savvy" (and many other references to be posted soon, but the CS Monitor article was timely… posted this evening). If cultural awareness matters on the battlefield to diffuse or prevent tensions, why not in peacetime? Hence, public diplomacy… CW (cultural warfare) is a variant of PD (public diplomacy).