Food For Thought: Reflections on Counter-Insurgency

As I was checking my email, I looked at my linkedIn discussions, a title hooked me in from the US Army Armor and Cavalry group. The discussion is about the “Myth of the Savior Generals” and  the adoption of counter-insurgency tactics and how General Petraeus became that savior.  As you dig deeper into the review of COL Gian Gentile’s book on his use of Counter-Insurgency doctrine:

Then-Lt. Col. Gentile referred to FM 3-24 as a “superb piece of doctrinal writing”, and felt that its middle chapters were particularly useful for commanders in Iraq.  However, he heaped scorn upon a section of the book involving “paradoxes” of counterinsurgency, a concern he reiterates in his 2013 book.  Chief among his complaints was—and still is—that FM 3-24 downplays the use of force. He scoffs at FM 3-24’s maxims that “tactical success guarantees nothing” and that “some of the best weapons don’t shoot.”

The review can be read here..  What I don’t understand in FM 3-24, like COL Gentile, is why it downplays the use of force when fighting insurgents.  I understand we have to win the people, however, I can point to numerous instances where we used much harder tactics and had greater results, Philippine Insurrection, the Indian Wars, the British in Malaya.  It just takes me back to conference I attended back in 2009 during my exchange at ESM-St Cyr when Dr. Daniel Marston took the podium. Dr. Marston spoke about how in the ‘profession of arms’ we always tend to forget how to fight insurgents when we’ve fought insurgencies multiple times in our separate histories.

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  1. Terry Tucker says:

    How does the doctrine downplay the use of force? The use of force is the easy part. The complexity of COIN, Human Dynamics and integrating a diverse group of players to achieve a unity of purpose, seems to require more attention.
    Here is my rebuttal to Gian Gentile. if you want the word copy, i will be glad to send it your way.

  2. Terry Tucker says:

    Here is my Rebuttal to Gian.

    • Mike_Burke says:

      Fascinating–I enjoyed your article very much. I'm one of those guys who think the Army (and maybe Marine) leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan did not understand the nature of the war and fought it the way they thought it should be fought. the fact that we overlaid COIN as a METL task on conventional troop formations, without any real regard for the vastly different staffing and thinking required for the conflict at hand, shows how poorly we thought through how we were going to do these wars. I was lucky–my experience in that part of the world was in the Gulf War, standard two up and one back way of maneuver that resulted in destruction of a conventional force. That's the kind of war we like, but it is not the future. Thanks again.

  3. Slater says:

    Honestly, I do not like this way of war. We're not playing the game to win, and that means being harsh in one hand generous in the other. The reality has been that we have only been generous.

  4. vmijpp says:

    It's not for nothing that counter-insurgency is called "graduate-level war." Endlessly fascinating. Brutal too.