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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A 'Digger' writes The Rise and Fall of Western COIN

    Professor Michael Evans, of the Australian Defence College, has a lengthy article in an Australian journal (with free access). Long ago his experience was in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe (where we met in 1985) and he emigrated to Australia in the late 1980's.

    Link:https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/201...terinsurgency/

    The mini bio:
    Michael Evans is the General Sir Francis Hassett Chair of Military Studies at the Australian Defence College, Canberra, and a professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University. He was the lead author of the Australian Army’s December 2009 doctrine manual, Counterinsurgency, and currently co-ordinates an annual course in Irregular Conflict for senior Australian and international military professionals.
    In summary I expect he'd be happy to say "Its a dirty, nasty form of warfare much to be avoided. The supreme irony is the post-9/11 COINdinistas repeated every single mistake from the 1960s and 1970s".

    He wrote early on:
    The West’s record in fighting modern insurgents from the Cold War era to the age of globalisation is characterised by multiple political reverses.
    This article seeks to explain the swift rise and fall of Western counterinsurgency between 2004 and 2014. This is an important task to undertake because, even though the West has now abandoned its brand of post-9/11 counterinsurgency, our Islamist opponents from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan through Al-Shabaab in Somalia to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continue to wage modes of insurgent warfare. We now face the difficult task of crafting an alternative way of war to fight guerrillas and militia forces and, unpalatable though it may be, we must seek to learn lessons from our recent experience with counterinsurgency.


    What struck me in my first two readings was how little attention appears to have been given to non-Western experiences of COIN, notably in India and Southern Africa. Here on SWC we know there are many post-1945 and post-Cold War successes and failures before the latest campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    I often wonder if COIN is necessary not to defeat the local / regional opponent, but to create enough security to enable political dialogue and hopefully peace. My own thinking is influenced by events in Southern Africa, where the "battles were won and the war was lost" as the politicians could not see clearly enough.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-24-2015 at 02:31 PM.
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    A reply from the author to my comments:
    After reading Tom Mahhken's book 'Strategy in Asia', on irregular warfare in Asia that looks at India, Pakistan and SE Asia I came to the conclusion that there is no 'Asian school of COIN'. I will try to PDF same. Mostly, Asian COIN is a variant on Western ideas (India love Kitson-Thompson).
    As for Southern Africa - again British and French ideas dominate. Thompson was the key text for Rhodesia; Beaufre on indirect total strategy for South Africa.
    Looking for indigenous thinking at the strategic level is a bit of a lost cause.
    davidbfpo

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    John Nagl's "Eating Soup with a Knife," revived the Western concept of COIN, a concept based on myths perpetuated by John's inaccurate portrayal of the Vietnam War embraced by so many in liberal academia and now the military. Fortunately, it is being called into question. While anti-COINdista, who I describe as those who argue COIN is the only form of war in the future, and all we have to do is win the people's hearts and minds to achieve our goals, I do think there are gems within our COIN doctrine worth preserving. However, lets not forget it is an armed conflict, and each situation is different, but the skillful use of force will generally prove to be the most effective means to defeat an insurgency. Winning hearts and minds is essential for consolidating those wins unless you envision a nation that lives under perpetual martial law. We have never found the balance, and tend to give insurgents too freedom of action with our current approach.

    The North Vietnamese under Ho were not seen as legitimate by many, in fact Ho ruthlessly killed those in North Vietnam opposed to him. The outcome of the war was not predetermined, North Vietnam simply employed the coercive use of conventional power more effectively. His insurgency in the south was largely suppressed. The fact that the South Vietnamese fought so bravery when the North conducted their final conventional invasion would indicated that despite their internal troubles they didn't want to fall under communist rule. Nor did countries in the region, there was no one with greater knowledge of the region that the former PM of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. He stated the war in Vietnam gave other countries time to build their defenses against communist aggression, so in his view from that aspect it was a win. It was not a war between simply North and South Vietnam, the communists succeeded in taking Laos and Cambodia, and sponsored an insurgency in Thailand. The domino theory actually had merit. Since we can't discuss the Vietnam War honestly, we need to focus on other examples in my view, and there plenty to study.

    I look forward to reading Prof Evan's paper, but based on short excerpt above it does seem we spend too much staring in a mirror when studying COIN. There are numerous non-Western COIN doctrines that do not conform to our current version of COIN. Communists countries around the world, supported by the USSR had their own doctrine for COIN. Iran clearly has its own doctrine. Of course, so did the Nazis (in many respects they paralleled modern day western COIN in words, but not in practice). They may all have parallels with the West, but they were unique to their form of governance.

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Bill, I too have significant problem's with the perspective on COIN captured and propagated into US COIN doctrine by John Nagl - however my primary concerns are nearly a mirror image of your own.

    IMO the US borrowed much of the tactical approach of the Brits in Malaya, but with none of the strategy. What John and most miss about Malaya, IMO, are the strategic lessons, choosing to focus on what the military did in support of the WOG COIN, as actually being the COIN.

    The Brits returned to Malaya bent on restoring the colony, but quickly (compared to the US in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq) came to realize that goal was impossible, and therefore any COIN approach in support of the same would be infeasible. So they gave up on restoring illegitimate government under British governance, and instead shifted to facilitating the growth of legitimate local governance. This demanded the Brits to give up their control; and also to facilitate full participation and opportunity across the entire population. The military merely created the time and space for this to occur.

    The Brits "won" by losing. Their dream of colony dashed by reality, the helped a sovereign commonwealth partner to emerge instead.

    The US, on the other hand, fearful of the spread of communism, sought to quash the legitimacy of Vietnamese independence won over the French by the people of Vietnam. Now, did all Vietnamese want to be communist? Of course not, but a much greater percentage did not want to be French, or under the control of any other external power, such as the US.

    It is a moot point, IMO, to debate the legitimacy of Ho's government with those who saw their interests served best by governance protected by a Western power like France or the US; the essential debate is legitimacy of the governments created/protected by the US in the South. Neither had universal legitimacy, but at least Ho's legitimacy was domestic.

    Good COIN requires governance that seeks to be fully inclusive, that is reasonably controlled by the will of the people, and that is evolutionary in nature. This must be supported by security forces that protect this inclusive, evolutionary system of governance, and not some particular government. The branch that cannot bend, will surely break. When the majority perceive themselves to have effective legal mechanisms to shape governance in the context of their cultural expectations, the number who perceive they must act out illegally and violently will typically be rare and small. There is no fundamental problem with employing reasonable state power against these few, but again, it must be in support of an inclusive, evolutionary system, and not to simply defend a status quo that keeps some man or family in power, or that appears designed to support the fears and interests of some foreign power.

    The US sucks at COIN because we think US control is so much better than what we replaced that people affected by it will not resist. That is beyond nave.

    The nature of governmental action will drive the nature of population response. But the character of governmental action will determine the degree or scope of that population response. Until the US military incorporates a presumption that resistance insurgency will follow invasion; and that revolutionary insurgency will follow any effort to create, shape or protect a foreign government, we will continue to suck at COIN.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 04-28-2015 at 05:37 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Or, to paraphrase a Texas saying, when it comes to COIN, the US is "all hat and no cattle" (with hat being tactical programs, and cattle being a feasible strategic framework).
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Strategy exists at all levels, what you're discussing IMO is little strategy, the strategy of how to "win" a particular operation or smaller scale war. COIN is unique, I know you don't consider it war and I do, but regardless we both understand it has a unique strategic context at the local level. Using the diplomacy, information, military, and economic (DIME) model, despite its limitations, all of these elements can perform at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. In my opinion you're arguing we failed to understand the operational environment and had an ineffective operational approach. Certainly that is true, but we probably disagree on several points on what we did wrong.

    Transitioning to big strategy, you have to look at the war in a global context, and that has little to with so called legitimacy at the local level. It had a much larger Cold War context. At this point in time it had everything to with relative power vis--vis the communist and so called free world. From that perspective the war demonstrated, that the U.S. was willing to stand up against perceived communist aggression. It demonstrated the U.S. was willing to support it allies, and as Lee said it gave time for the still weak governments in SE Asia to strengthen their defenses against USSR sponsored insurgencies. Over time it was realized, although I doubt it was an objective going in, that this war, much like our support to the resistance in Afghanistan helped weaken the USSR, which contributed to its collapse and our subsequent post-Cold War era where we often appear to be strategically adrift.

    I disagree with that view, strategy is simply more complex in a multipolar or non-polar world, so it can't be explained in a Cold War context. Local issues still have global implications, but the implications vary greatly, and need to be considered on their own merits. The last thing we need is a strategy today that parallels our Cold War strategy. It would limit our options and more often than not cause us to mischaracterize issues.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Professor Michael Evans, of the Australian Defence College, has a lengthy article in an Australian journal (with free access). Long ago his experience was in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe (where we met in 1985) and he emigrated to Australia in the late 1980's.

    Link:https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/201...terinsurgency/

    The mini bio:In summary I expect he'd be happy to say "Its a dirty, nasty form of warfare much to be avoided. The supreme irony is the post-9/11 COINdinistas repeated every single mistake from the 1960s and 1970s".

    He wrote early on:


    What struck me in my first two readings was how little attention appears to have been given to non-Western experiences of COIN, notably in India and Southern Africa. Here on SWC we know there are many post-1945 and post-Cold War successes and failures before the latest campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    I often wonder if COIN is necessary not to defeat the local / regional opponent, but to create enough security to enable political dialogue and hopefully peace. My own thinking is influenced by events in Southern Africa, where the "battles were won and the war was lost" as the politicians could not see clearly enough.
    Finally read, "The Rise and Fall of Western COIN," and while the history of its evolution was generally accurate the paper tended to fall apart towards the end.

    I like their description of the confluence of the end of colonialism and the start of the Cold War, and the number of insurgencies it spurred. In my view, this is the insurgency Bob writes about. Mostly local in scope, and the COIN doctrine was 80% political and 20% military, or colonial era COIN.

    The other forms of COIN addressed were modernization (U.S. style) and the more globalized COIN promoted by Kilcullen (the closer to reality in my view). The parallel's they drew between JFK's administration's views on COIN and today's are incredible, but not surprising.

    Where I thought the article fell apart was when the authors confused COIN with CT. Killing UBL was not COIN, it was a direct action mission to kill a mass murderer. It was pure counterterrorism. I'm not aware of anyone in the U.S. who thinks we can defeat an insurgency by killing HVIs, but we can certainly destroy terrorist networks and prevent future attacks.

    There two long term recommendations do little to address the concerns they already identified. In fact their recommendations will simply prolong the mis-practice of COIN. I agree we need to study it as part of a whole, rather than trying to isolate it as a field of separate from the rest of war and strategy, because of course it will be ignored when it fades from immediate interest. However, it seems they're proposing studying the same doctrine that has failed us.

    The second recommendation I somewhat addressed already, they warn we shouldn't develop a parallel illusion with conventional war that Western technology and SOF can bring about lasting strategic results. True, but who said they would? Maybe we need to realize we can't always achieve lasting results and scope our objectives appropriately?

    I loved this parallel in the article.

    In 1987, Charles Maechling, Jr., the Johnson administration official in charge of counterinsurgency in Vietnam wrote of the US effort in South-East Asia during the 1960s:

    [American counterinsurgency] in theory failed in practice since it had to be implemented by an unpopular, unrepresentative local regime The presumption by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in supposing that middle-grade US Army officers and civil servants from the American heartland could create a viable rural society in the middle of a civil war is staggering. There was no way for the Americans to get beneath the surface of Vietnamese life.
    In an eerie parallel, in September 2013, in an article in Foreign Affairs, General Karl W. Eikenberry wrote,

    It was sheer hubris to think that American military personnel without the appropriate language skills and only a superficial understanding of Afghan culture could, on six- or 12-month tours, somehow deliver to Afghan villages everything asked of them by the [2006] COIN manual. The typical 21-year-old marine is hard pressed to win the heart and mind of his mother-in-law; can he really be expected to do the same with an ethnocentric Pashtun tribal elder?
    As the article points out, if you don't have a viable partner, then our current approach to COIN is pretty much doomed. That means we either need to change our objectives or change our approach, yet we usually fail to do either.

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    An article in Open Democracy fits here and it open with, my emphasis in bold:
    The current military escalation against ISIS, French engagement in the Sahel, and numerous UN and regional peacekeeping operations illustrate that military interventions are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Today, most of these interventions, at least nominally, aim at ending armed conflict and (re)building functional states with some degree of inclusive governance. It is a good idea to ask why such policies often fail. Even when narrow stabilization goals are met, such as in a number of French interventions in Chad and the former Zaire, this often occurs at the expense of long-term stability and democratic governance. Interventions rarely, if ever, positively contribute to improving the political environments that originally generated the crises which sparked the interventions in the first place.
    Link:https://www.opendemocracy.net/nathan...rventions-fail


    Clearly not all interventions are COIN or SOIN but the article helps the debate as the author's own focus is on the French, a nation that has often intervened and engaged in COIN.


    The author has a short paper on French interventions:http://www.fondation-pierredubois.ch...in-africa.html


    The author is an American and affiliated to a previously unknown Swiss place of learning.
    davidbfpo

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