My problem with Counter Insurgency (COIN) is not that I am up-close and personal nor that I am at 30,000' and missing the 'lay of the land': I am seeing things from orbit that don't naturally appear to either view. My hope is that such distance is not detachment, but trying to utilize the proper scope so that when actions at both 30,000' and 1:1 show up, I can try and understand what they mean, how they interact and why this is so. To do that I try to examine sources across the board, beyond traditional and well known views, but those that seem to offer a better chance of understanding what COIN is and how it adjusts due to multiple variables. Most of those are on the ground, some of those are from 30,000' and a few come from the orbital view: clearing the swamp of alligators isn't, necessarily, helped by shooting the poor things nor by drawing them away to other food sources, not by trying to dam up the river to drive them off which, instead, just sends them someplace else.
In COIN we get Malay, Mao, Kenya, Mau-Mau, Algeria, and all sorts of other places that so many joyously point to for this or that rule of thumb or part of doctrine. Those do help! But also understanding the overall point of COIN via DIME and its limitations is necessary: by concentrating on DIME you may pay a higher toll.
That link takes you to my article on DIME views of COIN, those being Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic. Seen in the scope of human affairs those are things known as vectors and they are highly emblematic of the industrial and post-industrial age and carry the positives and negatives of those views with them. By trying to squeeze everything into DIME, we have lost our cents, so to speak, and have problems breaking down unitary thought into other currency pieces. The DIME vector has concept has not worked in other COIN areas as well or at all, in many cases: Kashmir, Kosovo, Bosnia, Lebanon, Chechnya.
There is a central thematic problem to these places that remains unaddressed by current COIN views at 1:1 and 30,000' that is evident at the orbital view by seeing these unsuccessful COIN campaigns AS unsuccessful COIN campaigns. And as these all utilize industrial and post-industrial schema for COIN, they point out the flaws and deep flaws of limiting our knowledge to a base that is strictly adhering to a industrial and post-industrial foundation. And yet the foundation of why these things do not succeed is at the heart of all successful military planning: logistics.
Addressing population attitudes via COIN is all well and good, as well as killing off fighters which is a necessity and primary point of proving you are there to do your work. Cutting off the 'rat lines' is the primary goal of these two things as, without resupply, succor or any way to get new fighters into an area that is 'cleared' those trying to foment an insurgency suddenly find that the locals are being well supplied to kill *them* while they are running out of ammo, men and, ultimately, time. This has been seen ever since the drive to Tal Afar to cut off the Euphrates 'rat lines' and start to section off the insurgency. That was not only a kinetic fight, but it served as the basis to start shutting down the easy routes of re-supply and drove the insurgency to start integrating with organized criminal networks. By the beginning of 2005 the entire nature of the insurgency had changed as the 'quick and easy' supply routes were starting to become interdicted and that meant fewer individuals per operation could be infiltrated into Iraq.
Afghanistan, due to its mountain warfare nature, needs something different than flat land approaches as aircraft, vehicles and men need to be adapted to that climate and elevation. The logistics approach is still necessary, but that must conform to nearly 3,000 years of mountain warfare views and NOT to traditional COIN views. I am all *for* sending US Marines to Afghanistan but only AFTER they have gone through the nearly 1 year long adjustment and acclimation to mountain warfare fighting: I want them to survive and craft a victorious outcome, not be wheezing due to lack of oxygen and starving due to lack of supplies. Mountain warfare COIN has many of the same basics as flat land COIN, but the severe adjustments and the environment demands must be acknowledged up front and adjusted for. Bemoaning a lack of 'commitment' and 'over reliance on small forces' is an indication that the individual is not addressing COIN in an MW environment. The forces being drawn-down in Iraq *now* should not show up in Afghanistan until this time in 2008 or early 2009 if you want a successful COIN campaign and not force worn out through pure exhaustion due to altitude and not being acclimated to it. Even with that the basics of MW are that small forces are King in that environment and the last 'large force' that was highly successful was waged by the 10,000 men under Alexander the Great. This I examined in a Mountain Warfare article and is highly pertinent to the difference in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their similarities.
I will, slowly, be merging these two concepts together, but it is an indirect path and that will take a couple of articles to do. That path in Iraq was one of the most quintessentially obvious effects of 'rat line' interdiction and reliance upon organized crime: the nature of the insurgency changed and drastically in Western Iraq. Organized crime is used to delivering goods in bulk and people in small quantities due to the ease of bulk good shipment and storage in the modern era. In reviewing a piece by Ray Robison about the evident decline of terrorism, I pointed out the salient feature of the insurgency as follows: it was dominated by localized conditions, not by overall effort. In Afghanistan the view of the problem centers in Pakistan and the major supporting organizations around al Qaeda led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's organizations, which spread all the way to Burma. Al Qaeda, even with differences on the ground with Hekmatyar's organizing philosophy had not distanced itself from them or those organizations from al Qaeda. That is because al Qaeda needs the funding source from heroin more than it requires ideological purity. In Iraq I pointed out an earlier view of mine garnered after reading the MNF-I reports for AUG 2006:
4) The entire insurgency is turning into a high-cost, low personnel affair. When you have lots of extra weapons, often 2:1 or 3:1 per individuals captured, and so much damn ammo, what you are seeing is pre-preparation in *hopes* of doing something to get lots more recruits. If any of these groups could get a major foothold in Iraq to do *that* the Nation *would* descend into chaos. And this is at a time when the new Iraqi Army has *proven* itself capable of independent operations and is capable of handling tricky situations on their own. That said that is only their battle-tested groups. Green troops probably are getting rotated through Baghdad and a couple of other hot spots and then rotated *out* to the provinces they control for more normal patrol duties. But with their skill, they are now catching the individuals that are acting like insurgents. After first-hand experience they are seeing things that untrained troops would overlook.From that comes the absolute necessity of having to cut off the 'rat lines' even when that won't stop the influx of arms, explosives, outside fighters and other material goods.
This is something that every manager in the business world instinctively knows, even if they have never stated it, but just had to look at a balance sheet. And while the US Armed Forces have plenty of folks from the business world (and, indeed internally as these rules work regardless of organization) they do not show up in the combat realm for some reason. Even those running logistics systems and Theater Commanders don't get this too easily as we concentrate on our own supplies and their impacts almost to the exclusivity of the effects interdiction in a COIN environment can and do have. That series of reports starting in mid-2006 described a highly different sort of insurgency than a Maoist or Mau-Mau or any of the sorts given in traditional COIN work. It is anomalous without a proper framework and that has yet to be given, either at a doctrinal or 1:1 level in the streets. It is blazingly obvious once pointed out and the effectiveness of cutting off 'rat lines' and then addressing organized crime comes directly into focus.
The Iraqi Western insurgency had a large number of huge weapon's caches discovered, often in the ton range. Huge amounts of weapons, equipment, ammo, and logistical supplies were all over the place and found on a daily basis. What was missing?
COIN strategy addresses logistics in an overview fashion, at best, concentrating on direct population communication as well as killing insurgents. Getting to the way that insurgents are supplied, reinforced, trained, and controlled becomes a subsidiary goal of COIN while 'turning the population' via various endeavors gets put to the forefront. These two things are inseparable in COIN, and any strategy that does not roll-up the 'rat lines' in *both* insurgent and organized crime levels will fail in the long term. The reason that guards become an important indicator of an insurgency is that it tells how well you are doing on both fronts: supplies are useless without people to use them and people need to be trained, armed and supplied to keep an insurgency going. After all of the concentration society places on goods, the actual raw material for insurgent operations, we neglect the single highest cost item of any organization, from business to insurgency: people.
Motivated people are good, but not sufficient to run an insurgency. Individuals, even the 'one use' suicide bomber must be: found, recruited, kept track of, sustained until deployment, given some basics of COINTEL, supplied with any necessary goods until use, and then actually supplied with weapons and equipment for deployment. That stuff is not cheap, ask any charitable organization that uses volunteers and they will tell you the story of the expense of using volunteers. Terrorist and insurgent operations have the exact, same, problem: it costs a lot of money to keep people around. And even though guards are the lowest of the low rungs in an insurgency, it cannot operate without them and any insurgency that is a going concern ought to at least be able to guard itself and its equipment. When an insurgency can no longer guard its capital expense goods, that means they are down to guarding their daily operational personnel. By AUG 2006 the insurgency had become 'equipment rich, man poor'.
What does this mean to your forward combat operations group given a COIN role?
First you have a *lot* of different missions!!
1) Combat Ops - They don't go away and become a vital way to counter insurgent attacks, show that you are there to protect the population and help any of the population that is there to seek shelter and give them aid after a mission. Once a combat operations group, in detail, starts to cover ground, it must *always* have it covered and demonstrate, in force, that this is the case.
2) Patrols - The bane of combat soldiers around the planet is patrols. In 'hot areas' these become the second most critical thing done after countering insurgents by fighting them. Patrols are not an 'augment' to combat, they are a separate mission type used not only to cover ground gained in combat ops, but to ensure safety of supply lines to other bases and to start COIN ops on the ground by changing patrol types and routes.
Different route types are an obvious part of physical security, and mapping out the human terrain by patrols is necessary to the long term mission, especially foot patrols in areas that have seen combat. The goal is to find the GO/NO-GO zones and to start encroaching on the NO-GO ones via Combat Ops, foot patrol and other means. This is part of the Human Terrain mission that will be covered separately, but patrolling to ensure terrain is necessary as people shift faster than mountains do, by and large.
The mixture of patrol types is done not only for an entire patrol, but within a given patrol, so that ones that start in vehicles may end up becoming a dismounted type and vice-versa. Additionally the use of helicopter based missioning for patrols should not be neglected via the Air Cav concept in Urban Terrain. Designate 'sudden appearance' points where a patrol can be airlifted in and have air cover, then synthesize that with ground based work so that a complete mixture of people never knowing how, where, when or what mode of transport will ever be used on a given patrol.
If patrols ever become routine and you have obvious NO-GO zones, something is wrong. Actually, that is true even if it all become GO zones... mix it up and randomly.
On the Theater and Strategic side, mapping out how insurgents shift their logistics means giving the ground forces different things to do. And just like in local patrolling, the mixture of types is also as important as well as the use of UAV assets. UAV integration at all scales gives autonomous support for operations and critical overwatch so as to be able to counter insurgent tactics rapidly.
And all the necessities seen at the fine-grain scale also scale upwards all the way to the Theater level. Insurgencies have an OODA loop that is often longer than that of National troops and that needs to be exploited. Especially as an insurgency is winding down, their commanders tend to be: young, inexperienced and liable to make critical mistakes. The advantage of being the veteran force is to be exploited on patrol duties.
3) Human Terrain shaping - The first two points are critical ones for shaping human terrain and expectations of local individuals. Often the type of attitude necessary for high intensity combat or long term patrol needs is not the same one necessary for human terrain interaction, and yet it is vital up and down the scale. This is, perhaps, the fuzziest part of COIN and is highly variable due to population type, culture, ethnic outlook, and overall societal experience.
The over-riding difference between the Axis forces of WWII and those of Iraq or Afghanistan is not equipment, but societal: those that ruled before the US armed forces arrived, did so in ways alien to the industrial and Western outlook on how Nations should be run. In both places the loyalty to Nation is fierce, but the actual respect of government was and is minuscule. This is foreign to our way of thinking and that is due to the high amount of societal acculturation in the US to put Nation and National government into a similar plane of respect. The US, however, did not start out that way and was, in many ways, closer to Iraq and Afghanistan in the decades after the signing of the Constitution than anything we have in modern terms. As was done in America, there is a high degree of affiliation to being a Nation, but a low degree of trust for National government. In these societies even provincial or city government is not trusted over much and the more traditional forms of government based on tribal affiliation holds sway.
These mission types are not the entire affair, but include an aspect that DIME does not address: society.
COIN work is a form of warfare to help cleanse society of elements that are working to bring down the government of that society and, often, the societal structure as a whole.
DIME is a set of analytical tools that are highly prescribed by working at a higher level above local society (neighborhood, village, town, city) and concentrate on the National and International arena.
As part of that adjustment for detailed work, COIN also addresses something that is indigenous to society and yet not addressed by DIME, either, and that is religion. After nearly a century of having everything attributed to high level activities, such as the 'economy' or to 'governmental support programs', the population of the US is highly geared towards a DIME outlook and falters heavily when faced with COIN. DIME is highly 'civilized' and attempts to be clean-cut, while COIN is the work to ensure that society is sustained and can protect itself at the lowest possible level, using tools provided by the DIME concept, and yet adjust those generic tools to specific circumstances.
As part of the civilizing process of the industrial age in the 20th century, the Western world came to so highly prize the DIME concept, that the actual concept of COIN could only be sustained by the armed forces and by that singular culture that recognizes that force is not just a means of attack, but a means of protecting society: the culture of the United States. That basis had a founding in European culture, which was highly tribal even during the formation of Nation states, and that had diversity of religious viewpoints that had led to a huge death-toll in the name of the Prince of Peace. That culture that came to the New World and to the Northern Hemisphere brought with it that basic set of understandings:
1) Society is the basis for good that happens in Nations - The bounty of good comes from society and the freedom of individuals within that society to make a better life for themselves and their fellow citizens. By leading a good life one sustains not only themselves, but society, by being a part of it.
2) Governments are a curb to the negatives of society and individuals - Those things that are harmful to society must be curbed, and yet not to the point of totalitarian views. When government tries to instantiate 'the good' it removes choice from the citizens of what good is and how it should be best sustained. In the absence of choice, there is no 'good' that is sustained, and government then uses its harsh means to enforce 'the good' to the detriment of individuals and society.
3) Government has some necessary functions to represent all of the Nation - If individuals were left up to make decisions on their own, with no accountability, for the entirety of society, then chaos would ensue. Would we want individuals to decide that those wishing to despoil a neighborhood should be supported? Would we want individuals to get entire Nations embroiled in war without any recourse or accountability upon them? Government wields those things for the society and Nation, which requires that ordinary citizens cede these rights to the greater whole of the Nation.
4) To protect society against government turned totalitarian force is allowed for individuals to practice with accountability within society - The tools of self defense, hunting, and the ability to disarm those who would cause harm also serve as a check against government that decides to remove all ability of citizens to defend themselves as a 'good'. That is no 'good' but an evil under the guise that 'police' or the military are the best ways to defend individuals, ignoring that those Nations that try that end up with 'police states', 'military dictatorships' and tyrannical government.
The 20th century eroded each of these concepts in Europe and the United States so that individuals no longer looked to themselves for solutions but, instead, looked towards government to be the source of goods and the good of society.
Robert Kaplan addresses this in an article in The American Interest Online "On Forgetting The Obvious" from the July/August 2007 edition of their magazine. The breakout of wars into three classes is an artifact of the 20th century and he describes them:
The problem, as Stokesbury explains, arises not with little or big wars, but with middle-sized ones, of which the public is very much aware thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, but is nevertheless confused as to its goals. These “in-between” wars are bloody affairs in which we are forced to place a high value on the individual because of our universal values, even as the enemy does not. Abu Ghraib, which showed America at its worst, does not register in terms of barbarity compared to what the enemy was doing on a daily basis in Iraq at the very same time. But because “in-between” wars lack the context provided by clear stakes and personal commitment, the average citizen is more easily knocked off a moral balance by a media culture whose avocation is not to inform but to win market share.On the large scale there are the huge Nation state wars of the 20th century, World Wars I and II. The small scale wars are the 'peace keeping' conflicts and 'conflicts other than war' which require a military deployment, which are so small as to not raise much interest in the public. Those "in-between" are the medium scale conflicts: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq.
The outlook on these wars is driven not by Nationalism but by media, especially in the latter half of the 20th century and the dawn of the 21st century. By not having the National outlook of a large-scale conflict or the inability to relate to the small-scale type, the Union and its People have just enough contact with the war to see it but not enough to understand the need of it. With that said, while Mr. Kaplan sees this as a an outgrowth of the 20th century, this dichotomy is, instead, one that has existed in the Union since its founding. Indeed, the idea that there would ever be a wide ranging involvement of the People in military affairs is one born of the 20th century and the Draft.
This concept had only been used once by the US before the 20th century and that was in the Civil War where both sides utilized conscription to gather armies for that war. Every other conflict that the US has been in, from the Barbary Wars to the War of 1812 to the Spanish-American War to the Mexican-American War to the Philippine-American War, has been fought by volunteers. What America had in the 19th century, however, was a rough frontier that required pioneering spirit and ability to quickly organize communities in self-defense. War was not a distant subject to America and the small scale and near continuous wars against the Native American population from the Colonial era to the end of the 19th century required a different view of arms, fighting and warfare that their modern counterparts living in settled territory do not have today.
Nationalism was a part of that, and Mr. Kaplan is correct in pointing to that unifying factor that our effete, modern culture wishes to divorce itself from. He is also correct that in getting a culture unwilling to fight over anything, one gets a culture not worth fighting for and that soon disintegrates in disunion either from the outside or the inside. This shift from Nationalist outlook to one of Transnationalist that adheres to no guiding ethos, save that no culture is better than any other, creates an atmosphere of anomie in Western democratic Nations. By having no centralized concept of the role one plays in society, by adhering to mere personal liberty for the benefit of self alone, society itself decays and the governing structures follow suit as they are supposed to in a democracy. As a form of government democracy is not an unalloyed good nor perfect: it is representative directly of the society that utilizes it and is, thus, only as strong or as weak as that society is.
That shift of American culture and the 'trusting the expert' has caused American culture to wither absent any form of cross-cultural opposition that poses a threat requiring that we understand war as individuals. By placing education in the hands of over-educated 'experts' that form their own guild and require licenses, a profession that was once proud for free-thinkers has turned into a moribund wasteland of thought and reflexive ideology. So, too, in politics have 'think tanks' taken over the role of indigenous political views that are diverse and representative of the People across the Nation. Even something as simple as trade and economics, has now become a set of two religious dogmas, which allow no deviation from them as the 'experts' in them castigate any that vary from 'the true path'.
These shifts are ones away from hands-on DIY views and one towards passive acceptance of established views which one then takes up so as to close thoughts that might interfere with those views. Not only do few Americans actually know anyone in the armed forces, but we have slowly removed the concept from education, and thus our culture, that the profession of arms IS a profession and worthy occupation in and of itself. Without frontier and opponents that could come at any moment where one would meet sudden and gruesome death, America has pacified herself and, thus, lost the foundation for the tools of DIME and the cleansing ability of COIN to re-invigorate culture.
By thinking in only terms of the theoretical and then leaving that up to 'experts', Americans only get sparse overview of what something like warfare *means* but no idea of what it actually is in a visceral way. In becoming so distant from these concepts on a meaningful scale, and by asserting theoretical or ideological absolutes, individuals that make up the Nation fail the Nation and the support of their society in the most meaningful way possible: they cannot experience either and so become disaffected from their fellow man in a state of anomie. There are very few Nations that can last long as a disassociated set of individuals who hold no higher ideal amongst them beyond being only individuals and refusing all ties to society. That is not Anarchy, which theorizes no government but does need society.
That is chaos itself, where personal liberty has no greater values over it and no responsibilities save to the wants of the individual. The end-state of such libertarian thought is not perfect liberty, but perfect disunion, disaffection and barbarism as each individual goes out purely for themselves and no longer gives thought to society as a whole. By holding nothing dear that is above them, there is no need to defend a Nation or society and thus those disappear and the Law of Nature returns. Of course that is in theory, by the Theory and Practice Conundrum things never get that bad... but they don't, of necessity, get better either. It is that concept of the Theory and Practice conundrum that plagues ideologically pure movements of the West, like Socialism, that makes many things sound relatively plausible but, in putting them into effect, the plausibility breaks down. One does not get that view of the Theory and Practice Conundrum from Ivory Tower pontification, but in getting one's hands messy in actually trying to do things that seem so easy when described... and always turn out longer and harder than the description suggests.
End of Part 1