Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report has been on the streets for several days, and the hype has died down considerably. Meanwhile, another document has just been released from the government printing office, though to considerably less fanfare.

Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, was released on December 15th, 2006.

This is not an updated version of an old manual, but instead a new manual altogether. Prior to its release as a doctrinal product of both the Army and Marine Corps two days ago, counterinsurgency was little more than an afterthought in a manual called Stability Operations. In Stability, counterinsurgency shared the same or less space with subjects like disaster response and humanitarian assistance. Counterinsurgency doctrine withered on the vine after the American experience in Vietnam.

Why so long with no doctrine on this important military task, one might ask (especially when, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the developing world seemed to shatter into hundreds of little seething armed camps)? A light-hearted answer, that might not be too far from the mark, is that the generals may have thought if they did not prepare (ie train, equip and educate) their forces for a counterinsurgency, perhaps they would never have to fight one. I jest of course, but sometimes I wonder. . .

In any case, the manual is out. No doubt it is full of lessons from the fertile fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. I plan to print and read it over the next several days (although, admittedly, I am behind a bit in my professional reading; the Iraq Study Group Report is collecting dust on my night stand). Interesting to note is the intellectual tone of the manual’s introduction:

The military forces that successfully defeat insurgencies are usually those able to overcome their institutional inclination to wage conventional war against insurgents. They learn how to practice COIN [counterinsurgency] and apply that knowledge. . . in COIN, the side that learns faster and adapts more rapidly—the better learning organization—usually wins. Counterinsurgencies have been called learning competitions. Thus, this publication identifies “Learn and Adapt” as a modern COIN imperative for U.S. forces.

Well said, if not too timely.

No doubt the excellent book by Professor John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife influenced this manual. Soup is a great book, and it aptly discusses the problems first-rate militaries have waging war against insurgents.

Further reading for those interested in counterinsurgency should definitely include Counterinsurgency: Theory and Practice, a classic work on the subject by David Galula.

Post Script. Counterterrorism Blog gives a bit more background on the manual (including links to the pdf) here.

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