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Thread: Adapt Or Die

  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Adapt Or Die

    Adapt Or Die - Greg Grant, Government Executive commentary.

    Soldiers need a new set of skills and qualities to succeed at counterinsurgency.

    "Forget everything you've been taught about this place, because it's either wrong or it's useless. Your education begins now," Army Sgt. James Jennings told a group of soldiers new to Baghdad in 2005. The grizzled veteran tried to teach his charges the complexities of counterinsurgency, where the battle is decided less by overwhelming firepower than by winning over hearts and minds.

    He spoke with authority, having spent nearly a year patrolling restive western Baghdad. Jennings told the soldiers the Army was waging an entirely new type of war in which the traditional skills of fire and maneuver were less important than softer skills, such as cultural awareness and building trust and confidence among the Iraqi people.

    Even though the Army has been fighting the shadowy insurgency for four years in Iraq, it has been slow to change its conventional approach: massing firepower on an enemy's formations.

    The United States invaded Iraq with the world's most technologically advanced army and soon found itself losing to a nimble, adaptive enemy whose most effective weapons are the cell phone and Internet. The speed with which insurgents in Iraq adapt has confounded American military leaders. Army officers say they change tactics almost weekly because it takes insurgent cells just days to adjust to new techniques.

    Thinking and adaptive. That's how Army officers almost universally describe the insurgents. They don't follow the predictable patterns of computer simulations, especially when facing death. Their adaptability stems in part from jihadi Web sites filled with lessons learned, dissections of successful and unsuccessful attacks on American troops, and insight about new tactics and weapons.

    The Army remains too laden with tradition, too conservative, too hierarchical and rule-bound to cope effectively with its new enemy. Counterinsurgency is small-unit warfare, so leadership and command must devolve to lower levels. The most important field commanders are sergeants, lieutenants and captains - their decisions have strategic implications. But the Army remains focused on making brigades stronger and empowering generals. The Army must change. Its focus must shift to platoons and empowering junior officers - captains like Ike Sallee, for instance...

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    Council Member Dominique R. Poirier's Avatar
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    Very good paper and pertinent thoughts and questions, but of little avail to anyone is looking for promotion, maybe.
    Last edited by Dominique R. Poirier; 08-03-2007 at 06:28 AM.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Echo that - a good read

    COIN does not sit easily with counter-terrorism in the police / law enforcement environment, even in the U.K. where we have decades of experience in Northern Ireland. Two years after the London 7/7 bombings there is little sign of adaptation, lots of money being spent and more people. Getting information from the community remains in the "too difficult to do" basket.

    I would not advoacte sending UK police managers / leaders to Iraq, but this article, like others, shows there is much to learn from a high intensity operational 'art'.

    Meantime back to my "armchair" and thanks again to this site. What agree with a Frenchman? Whatever next!

    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Dominique R. Poirier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Meantime back to my "armchair" and thanks again to this site. What agree with a Frenchman? Whatever next!

    davidbfpo
    David,
    Your way of writing in English leaves room for ambiguity, somehow. However, I assume that the end of your comment was aimed at French in general and at me in particular.

    Well, I agree with you about French people, as I made it clear, previously. I’ll let you know that I do not consider myself as French even though I am, from an administrative standpoint. I’m considered as a target in this country and, everyday, since years, some people in here strive to put me into trouble.

    So, no offense!

    By the way, may I assume that you express similar sentiments toward the country in which you reside since you joined the council of the SWJ (and, are you blacklisted too)?

    Sincerly,
    Last edited by Dominique R. Poirier; 08-03-2007 at 11:42 AM.

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    Council Member T. Jefferson's Avatar
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    Seems to me that the same preference for top down structure that has served us well in the past is also part of the problem in helping to catalyze a workable political structure in Iraq.

    Clearly the elected central government is a government in name only, there seems to be very little real substance there. I find myself thinking that our efforts should center on helping the Iraqis to create effective local governments. In other words a grass roots structure.
    Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.

    It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to
    ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be
    neglected.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Ok a bit different view....

    Even though the Army has been fighting the shadowy insurgency for four years in Iraq, it has been slow to change its conventional approach: massing firepower on an enemy's formations.
    This is dillettante tripe wrapped in quasi-intellectual babble.

    The article presumes that no one in the Army aside from the small unit leaders in the field "gets it."

    That is not true--we got it years ago. And in this fight we have been getting it from day one. I can assure you that from the very first, we have at JRTC seen this as a small unit fight--buttressed by observation from theater.

    The real issue is those who do not get it and who resist, delay, or block adaptation. There I would look to senior leadership and especially senior leadership via the proponent system.

    As for trotting out the Israeli model for training--give me a break. The assumption that the IDF paras are on a higher plain of learning is --here you go, Ken White--more bovine excreta

    Tom

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    Council Member Mark O'Neill's Avatar
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    Hmmm,

    Nicely written article - but, for mine, 100% ignorant.

    You can 'lose' a COIN fight at each level of war - Tac, Op and Strat. But you can only win it at one level - the Strategic.

    Yes, it is an imperative that you have tac forces that act in the correct manner. Yes, you need a comprehensive OP level Campaign plan where COIN agencies are properly synchronised - and yes, it all comes to nought if the Strategic level is 'wrong'.

    An insurgency reflects an 'ill' in a society or a state that causes people to become insurgent. The historical record tells us that many have tried to do well in COIN by being tactically or operationallly 'proficient' but have ultimately failed. I tender the Rhodesians or the Apartheid era South Africans as examples. Great at tactical and operational levels , dud strategic concepts.

    Here is the crunch. The Military do not 'own' the strategic level in COIN. That belongs firmly in a 'western' liberal democacy to the Politicians (what I tend to think of partially as 'Huntington's curse' , but that is another rant....)and what we in Australia call the 'WOG" ('Whole of Government') or , in the USA 'The Interagency'.

    ANYONE WHO BELIEVES THE MILITARY ALONE CAN 'WIN' THE COIN FIGHT IS A FOOL. IT TAKES A NATION.


    Read that Blog offering with that idea in mind and then see if you agree with the author. end rant, climb off soapbox .....
    Last edited by Mark O'Neill; 08-03-2007 at 01:29 PM. Reason: fixing up bad use of caps

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Fostering people with similar capabilities will require tearing down the Army and rebuilding it, says retired Army Maj. Donald Vandergriff, a vocal proponent of changing the leadership development program to create adaptive officers better suited for irregular warfare. He says the Army retains an Industrial Age development system, which is highly centralized and hierarchical and overly reliant on scripted training exercises that inculcate neither creativity nor innovation. "Young lieutenants call it the 'followership' course. They're told where to go, what to do, where to sign in [and] constantly lectured," Vandergriff says.
    Unfortunately very true. Tom and I decided not to ride the party line, but that doesn't always follow with praise, even if you turn out right.

    So, it's survival...which is exactly what we did. Not too shabby for a two-man team surrounded by nearly 800,000.

    It's going to take a bit more time for the senior leadership in DC to listen to the conclusions of an NCO and Officer in the middle of nowhere, even if they happen to be knee-deep in Sierra.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Mark,

    Agreed with one exception.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    An insurgency reflects an 'ill' in a society or a state that causes people to become insurgent.
    This is an assumption based out of older communications technologies where a "community" is geographically based. Nowadays, when a "community" can, and often is, global, the "ills" that lead to an insurgency are those defined by the community, not the state or society alone. If you want early historical examples, the earliest I can think of is the Bar Kochba revolt which was financed and supported (intel, recruitment, etc.) by a diaspora community. Later examples include the actions of the 5th Comintern (redefinition of a situation as an "ill") and the RC development of liberation theology in Central America. Today, the irhabists are using the same format of "redefinition".

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    Hi Mark,

    Agreed with one exception.



    This is an assumption based out of older communications technologies where a "community" is geographically based. Nowadays, when a "community" can, and often is, global, the "ills" that lead to an insurgency are those defined by the community, not the state or society alone. If you want early historical examples, the earliest I can think of is the Bar Kochba revolt which was financed and supported (intel, recruitment, etc.) by a diaspora community. Later examples include the actions of the 5th Comintern (redefinition of a situation as an "ill") and the RC development of liberation theology in Central America. Today, the irhabists are using the same format of "redefinition".

    Marc

    Hi Marc,
    Sounds much like Sub-Sahara albeit a tad more complicated at times.

    DIA called it "The Phenomenon of Failed States". Leading to the development of mass-based social movements in an attempt to address typically social problems. Nigeria's "Bakassi Boys" were used as references then regarding armed groups.

    Economic opportunities were used to control people, dominating local markets...kinda sorta social domination 'buying of' your competition - if you will ().

    The Belg told me the 'new owners' granted access to money, weapons, and protection from rivals which supposedly marginalizing ideologic agendas among the 'staff'.

    Well, it sounded good back in 89

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Even though the Army has been fighting the shadowy insurgency for four years in Iraq, it has been slow to change its conventional approach: massing firepower on an enemy's formations.

    The United States invaded Iraq with the world's most technologically advanced army and soon found itself losing to a nimble, adaptive enemy whose most effective weapons are the cell phone and Internet. The speed with which insurgents in Iraq adapt has confounded American military leaders. Army officers say they change tactics almost weekly because it takes insurgent cells just days to adjust to new techniques.
    Whenever I read statements like that I always wonder about the writer's understanding of just how hard it is to do simple things in combat - call it friction if you want.

    I'd argue that for the size of the U.S. Military, or for any organization our size we've done OK at changing. So what does it take to move from "OK" to "really good"?

    Consider that change is not just "cause we want to" - our responsibilities as defined by roles and missions, strategic documents etc. are self imposed (at the strategic level) constraints. Those constraints drive a host of other constraints - budgets, programs, etc. To change those requires accepting risk at all levels that will justify the type of changes of scale and speed some have called for - but its still risk. If you are going to go before the political leadership and talk about them signing up for risk, then you better be prepared to explain why we should do it and how we are going to mitigate it.

    The further you go up the food chain, the more miltary leadership has to converse (sometimes argue?) with political leadership. This is as true with regards to our own government as it is with foreign governments.

    I'd also argue there is more opportunity to adapt at the tactical level, in fact that is usually where trends occur and then are communicated up, become codified and institutionalized. It could be that as "change that works" makes its way up, its risk is mitigated through promotion (could be an idea or person), dissemination into the mainstream (through CALL, OES/NCOES or others), or by the sheer value of its success. Adaptation at the operational and strategic levels occur over a broader period of time through the effort required to ovecome the physics resisting change. This might also be overcome by a dynamic figure at the top - but even that is prone to resistance from the intitution - ala "we'll just wait the bastard out".

    So big change in big organizations is not easy. Its a damnable process given life by the fear of getting it too far wrong or by protection of rice bowls. The relevance and utility of change are not going to be as plain as the nose on your face to everybody at the same time -particularly if their perspective is radically different from yours or if the gap is large - does anybody really think that SEN X with no military experience fundamentally understands what SGT Y does in Ramadi - or vice-versa? You have to bridge that in a way that makes sense to everybody.

    We can do somethings better with minimal organizational risk - like: promotion of leaders who have demonstrated ability in line with our professed values so that they become a broader and more influential agent of change; recognizing the need for at least a portion of our force to reflect current and immediate realities while still pursuing other capabilities we may require in the long term; and conversing more fully with political leadership to match ends, ways and means that result in an up to date assessment of how we see our strategic roles.

    It makes you wonder if one of the key reasons it takes so long to win a COIN campaign is because it takes so long to institutionalize change in a manner that we are able to mobilize all the resources and organize at all levels in a manner that makes sense?

    I've seen allot of indications over the past couple of months that the organization is adapting and willing to discuss reflecting capabilities that seem to make sense at the expense of some % other capabilities. Documents like NSPD-44, the weight given to SSTRO be on par with other military missions, the curicula at the AWC, the congressional emphasis on MRAP, the retired guest speakers themes we've seen here, the discussion by many inside D.C. even the latest presidiential candidate speeches would seem to indicate as a whole, we are starting to get it.

    I just hope we get it right!
    Last edited by Rob Thornton; 08-03-2007 at 05:37 PM.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    This is dillettante tripe wrapped in quasi-intellectual babble.

    The article presumes that no one in the Army aside from the small unit leaders in the field "gets it."

    That is not true--we got it years ago. And in this fight we have been getting it from day one. I can assure you that from the very first, we have at JRTC seen this as a small unit fight--buttressed by observation from theater.

    The real issue is those who do not get it and who resist, delay, or block adaptation. There I would look to senior leadership and especially senior leadership via the proponent system.

    As for trotting out the Israeli model for training--give me a break. The assumption that the IDF paras are on a higher plain of learning is --here you go, Ken White--more bovine excreta

    Tom
    Agreed. Anyone who bothers to actually crack open a book (as opposed to the History Channel condensed version) and READ about this stuff would be amazed at just how quickly the Army has learned in Iraq as compared to Vietnam (for one example). There are certain "system" reflexes that remain more or less untouched (mostly personnel and promotion areas), but on the operational side the learning has taken place at a much faster pace than we've seen before.

    The patterns of obstruction to learning are, I would argue, the same as they were in Vietnam: senior leadership that either doesn't get it or DOESN'T want to get it. To me there's a difference. There are people who just can't understand COIN and what's needed to survive and possibly thrive in such an environment. Then there are others who understand it, but either cling to old systems out of habit or to secure their own positions. The same level of blocking, incorrect evaluation metrics, and plain obstructionism took place in Vietnam, aided by a system that didn't want to learn and what was in essence a disposable Army created to do the fighting.

    Things are different now. An all-volunteer force is an investment, and with that comes a mindset that encourages protecting that investment. It may not always be obvious, but when you're protecting that investment (and trying to maintain it), you'll be looking for ways to do things better. That includes learning how to fight an enemy that you might not have trained to face before.

    Sorry for the ramble...it's Friday after all.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member Mark O'Neill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    Hi Mark,

    Agreed with one exception.



    This is an assumption based out of older communications technologies where a "community" is geographically based. Nowadays, when a "community" can, and often is, global, the "ills" that lead to an insurgency are those defined by the community, not the state or society alone. If you want early historical examples, the earliest I can think of is the Bar Kochba revolt which was financed and supported (intel, recruitment, etc.) by a diaspora community. Later examples include the actions of the 5th Comintern (redefinition of a situation as an "ill") and the RC development of liberation theology in Central America. Today, the irhabists are using the same format of "redefinition".

    Marc

    G'Day Marc,

    You have assumed that I have used 'society' in the sense of a body of humans anchored to a locale. I actually intended it in the wider sense that you have described, so I think we are in violent agreement.

    Rob,

    I tend to agree with you - from the evidence readily available it would seem that the US Military has done a good job of realisation and adaptation (never easy to do for any organisation, let alone a military) in a relatively short time. OK, it is not perfect, but few things are in life.

    The main problem is that whilst this change and adaptation has been 100% necessary for the continued prosecution of the 'fight', it is not of itself a strategic 'end'.

    I believe that many of the commentators fail to realise that a COIN adapted military is merely an enabler for success (in the same way a COIN adapted interagency would be), and that the success sought can only be gained through adept use of this and all the other tools required at the strategic level.

    The ongoing fascination that commentators and pundits have with the mechanics and metrics of the 'surge' is an indication of this failure to 'get' the distinction between the elements of coherent strategy and their relative places. Not many of them seem to have considered the possibility that the surge could be spectacularly successful, and still achieve nothing practicable regarding the root causes of the current conflict.

    Cheers

    Mark

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Well said. Particularly the last sentence.

    ..........

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Not many of them seem to have considered the possibility that the surge could be spectacularly successful, and still achieve nothing practicable regarding the root causes of the current conflict.
    Absolutely true and terribly dangerous in its implications if the policy side does not get it...

    Tom

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hey Mark,

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    You have assumed that I have used 'society' in the sense of a body of humans anchored to a locale. I actually intended it in the wider sense that you have described, so I think we are in violent agreement.
    LOLOL - what's that famous comment about the US and Britain? "two countries divided by a common language" or something like that? Maybe we should update that to 4 countries .

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    I tend to agree with you - from the evidence readily available it would seem that the US Military has done a good job of realisation and adaptation (never easy to do for any organisation, let alone a military) in a relatively short time. OK, it is not perfect, but few things are in life.
    Totally agreed. What I find especially intriguing about he speed of shifting (I'm not quite ready to use "adaptation" yet - "diffusion" may be a better term) is that it was showing up as early as the initial invasion of Iraq.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    The main problem is that whilst this change and adaptation has been 100% necessary for the continued prosecution of the 'fight', it is not of itself a strategic 'end'.
    Bingo. To make it even worse, the rhetoric has been aimed as if the military could "win". We've debated that ad nauseum, but I am struck once again by the nature of the politicians who are more concerned with getting elected than with playing their part in "winning", since it is, ultimately, a political.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    The ongoing fascination that commentators and pundits have with the mechanics and metrics of the 'surge' is an indication of this failure to 'get' the distinction between the elements of coherent strategy and their relative places. Not many of them seem to have considered the possibility that the surge could be spectacularly successful, and still achieve nothing practicable regarding the root causes of the current conflict.
    I suspect, in my more cynical moments, that it is a case of CYA by the politicians. Many of them refuse to accept that they can be held responsible in a war for victory or defeat. Right now, I wish we had a few more statesmen and a few less politicians....

    Marc
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    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Mark O'Neill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    LOLOL - what's that famous comment about the US and Britain? "two countries divided by a common language" or something like that? Maybe we should update that to 4 countries .
    Marc, I reckon you are spot on.

    I remember doing a COA brief during a Prairie Warrior Exercise at Leavenworth a few years back and summing up the preferred COA as the 'pushover try' option, puzzled looks by all in the room except the Brit 0-5 Exchange Instructor and the CG who had been to Camberley....

    The phrase' the whole nine yards' was used in translation, but I do not think it quite captures the same sense of accomplishment.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    Marc, I reckon you are spot on.

    I remember doing a COA brief during a Prairie Warrior Exercise at Leavenworth a few years back and summing up the preferred COA as the 'pushover try' option, puzzled looks by all in the room except the Brit 0-5 Exchange Instructor and the CG who had been to Camberley....

    The phrase' the whole nine yards' was used in translation, but I do not think it quite captures the same sense of accomplishment.
    Too true . I hate to say it, but only 5% or so of Canadians would get it .

    Marc
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    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
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    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Default Random comments

    We need to remember the enemy in COIN. He, too, adapts or dies. If he plays his hand poorly and our side plays its hand just a little better, we win and he loses - vice versa. In the end, our strategy, operations, and tactics do not need to be perfect, just better than the enemy's. I wonder how many COINs have been won at the margins.

    One really interesting question is why the Army and USMC have adapted so much more rapidly than they did in Vietnam. I suspect that it involves less resistance at more senior levels to change. Part of that has to do with 15 years of reasonable emphasis at CGSC on MOOTW/LIC/and all the other 100 names. Part of it has to do with pretty good doctrine for much of that time in FM 100-20 (1990) and JP 3-07 (1995) and related doctrine pubs like FM 100-23 for any who cared to refer to them. Clearly, some officers have had experiences that have made them ready to draw analogies to COIN ops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, it seems likely, that unlike several past instances , there was a cadre of senior and relatively senior officers who, when brought together, could and did provide a critical mass for change on the ground.

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    I'm currently a squad leader in Iraq and a PTT chief, I advise the Iraqi Police daily and here is my take on COIN and the Army. Hardly anyone, even the officers, really understand the fundamentals of counterinsurgency. We received no formal training in counterinsurgency before we deployed, although I was able to arrange a company wide screening of "the battle of Algiers" at our armory before we left. My local university had an amazing collection of books on counterinsurgency in deep storage, “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice” by David Galula was last checked out in 1968.

    Intel is the only coin in the realm of counterinsurgency. How many times did I read that before I deployed and it’s absolutely true. The US Army needs to be organized around collecting, processing, analyzing and disseminating actionable Intel. My company TOC still has no Intel analyst assigned as part of our TOE. Fortunately, our TOC has a former Navy Intel guy and believe it our not, he forwards his analysis to BN and BDE for them to use and it’s supposed to be the other way around.

    One time I was at one of my police station and a civilian walked in and wanted to give some information, I asked casually if he wouldn’t mind going to the FOB and talking with our people. This guy was angry; some Foreign Jihadis had moved into his neighborhood and were making a mess of things, so he agreed. When I radioed back to our TOC they said that our FOB force protection guys didn't want him on the FOB and to give him the number for the TIP line. When I did so, he looked at me and replied "Why are you insulting me like this?" I hope this Iraqi civilian didn't know where Osama Bin Laden was staying. The police chief was able to talk to him later for some time and we got some useful information.

    Cultural Awareness-it’s amazing to me that active duty soldiers on their second and third tour lack Arab cultural sensitivity. Once, a soldier, not from our unit, deliberately spit on an Iraqi Policeman while riding in a Bradley going thru an Iraqi ECP. Within minutes, the entire police station was going to walk out and quit and 15 minutes later the Commanding General for the entire province was notified. It took hours of diplomacy and negotiation for this incident to pass. One soldier can have an affect, negative or positive, on the entire mission.

    The real experts in this war are the NCO’s and Lt’s who leave the wire every day and interact with the local populace.

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