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Thread: Sisyphus and Counterinsurgency

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Default Sisyphus and Counterinsurgency

    My latest article excerpt:

    In Greek legend, Sisyphus was a king condemned by the gods to roll a huge rock up a hill only to have it roll down again for eternity. Students of counterinsurgency often feel like Sisyphus, as the United States Army continually resists institutionalizing counterinsurgency across the force, only to have to re-learn the lessons at a heavy price later before preparing to discard them again.

    About a month ago, I was asked to deliver a short presentation to the Canadian Army on tactical counterinsurgency lessons learned over the past years in Iraq. What initially seemed like an easy task quickly became difficult as I synthesized the complex and varied experiences of US Army units into relevant and concise points transferrable to a foreign army. After a long night, I produced ten observations that reflect enduring lessons from Iraq that would resonate with military audiences. They are:

    Learn from the past.
    Learn to ask understanding questions.
    Data is not understanding.
    Mass all of your resources to achieve the objective.
    Security matters.
    Population control is critical for success.
    Build human infrastructure alongside the physical.
    Understand perceptions matter far more than truth.
    Communicate effectively.

    None of these are new, nor are they all inclusive, as significant areas are not covered. They do represent a start point for discussion about counterinsurgency operations at the tactical level.
    The rest is on the blog here.

    Comments welcome.
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
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    Council Member reed11b's Avatar
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    Fantastic!! Keep up the good work.
    Reed
    P.S. Your "quality of leadership" advice is making it to the right ears.

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Unless we can protect the population of an unstable area continuously, they are unlikely to provide information needed by the counterinsurgent to combat the enemy.

    You can't make it clearer or simpler than that! Doing this will never be wrong. You just have to do it. Let someone else worry about end-states!
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Sometimes, it just boils down to the basics. This is a great piece, and a memory jogger that sometimes, you aren't as #### hot as you think you are. It takes going back to the basics in the same manner that the 28 Articles tried to bring things down to earth

    I have tried to wrap my head around this business of LOO management, LOO metrics for measures of effectiveness, and the linkage of objectives and tasks/purpose, and I have come to agree with Neil's section arguing that data is not understanding. Heck, I've always argued that there is a distinct difference between knowledge and understanding...now I wonder if data is even knowledge.

    Without jacking this thread too much, all this LOO stuff could easily be coordinated, recorded, and tracked using the standard Marine Corps-issue lime green log book that fits into a cargo pocket. When I asked a Regimental-level IO manager recently what to make of the massive spreadsheets, templates, methodologies and spreadsheets embedded in their sharepoint page, it took some time for him to figure out where to start...There is something wrong in that.

    LOO folks are commuting to work in some AOs, and it is as fundamentally wrong to do that as it is to have your security elements commute to work. Perhaps if we made the essential services LOO dude live at the water plant project until it was finished, the POA&M might get compressed and executed more quickly.

    The ice-cream cone continues to lick itself, over and over it seems.

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    Council Member sullygoarmy's Avatar
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    Neil, great article buddy.
    "But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet withstanding, go out to meet it."

    -Thucydides

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Good one, Niel...

    Great job in concisely hitting the critical points.

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Saw this in the blog today:

    Hayes is unequivocal in naming the key to the 24th MEU's success in Helmand province: "It's a real simple concept -- we learned during this mission that the best way to combat this type of enemy is to mass forces and stay. We actually replaced a small British force that was spread thin trying to cover too much ground with too few troops. Instead, we flooded a town that was strategically important to the enemy with overwhelming forces. That's the way you can win this kind of fight -- with boots on the ground."
    It seems to work in A-Stan too.
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Works everywhere in most COIN conditions, the problem

    is adequate capability in both quantity and quality and, as always, being at the right place at the right time.

    Lacking adequate capability, failure to be in time and selection of the wrong places can complicate the processes significantly. Lot of varied political inputs and impacts on those factors, many unfortunately outside military control...

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    Council Member Mark O'Neill's Avatar
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    Default Niel, thanks for a simple, effective and

    hence useful piece.

    best,

    Mark

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    Great article. I'm posting it to our servers here.

    Let me jack up the problem to the next higher level, and ask your input. As an ISAF planner, I argued just what you were saying, that we had to flood areas to gain and maintain control. The problem was, there weren't enough infantrymen available to 'flood' all the areas we needed, ultimately, to control. In fact, there were only enough to 'flood' a handfull.

    So, from an operational viewpoint, when you don't have the resources to control everything, how do you go about selecting which areas are most important?

    Our discussions devolved into a three-cornered argument:

    Position 1: Concentrate your forces in selected areas to properly secure them. Start with those areas that are already relatively pacified. Grow the ANA and ANP in those areas until they can take over, and then move to the next targeted area. Wash, rinse, repeat, gradually extending your influence outward until you have squeezed the enemy out entirely. This is the classic oil-spot treatment; the downside is that you let the rest of the country go to hell in a hand-basket while you are securing your selected areas.

    Position 2: Basically the same, except you start off securing the 'hot spots', the most difficult areas. This is initially tougher, with higher casualties, less success at the front end, but - supposedly - will lead to greater and quicker success at the back end.

    Position 3: Politically and militarily it does not make sense to abandon parts of the country. Whatever local success you may gain in your oil-spots will be more than counterbalanced by the impression that you are retreating from the countryside. Far better to maintain a presence throughout the area by spreading your infantry thin and maintaining your ability to influence events and disrupt enemy activities wherever you choose.

    Interested to get your thoughts on the above. I also have a corollary question that came up: the need for an operational reserve. I argued that a reserve force of infantry was a luxury we could not afford, that maintaining an infantry reserve in COIN was like maintaining an artillery reserve in conventional warfare: a misuse of scarce assets.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Having operated under conditions allied to all your positions

    in several countries, I'm totally convinced that Position 2. is the most likely to lead to success and Position 3. is the worst possible choice with one caveat -- unless a viable operational reserve is maintained and used as stated below. Even then it offers what will appear to most observers as a very tentative and excessively cautious effort that can be an incentive to the bad guys to try harder...

    In any of your positions, such a reserve is not a waste it can and should be used on economy of force and presence (read; saturation patrolling in random areas) missions throughout the region while avoiding decisive engagement to enable commitment to rapid reinforcing missions -- among other things, this can preclude excessive use of less than discriminating air power or artillery.

    You will accrue higher casualty rates. You'll also enhance your chances of success in a shorter period.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Position 2 also seems to be the most successful historically. I can think of a number of examples from the Indian Wars alone, and if one factors in the Philippines and the Marine experience in the interwar period the number grows.

    You do need a reserve, although I would contend that it doesn't have to be infantry per se. Cavalry/armor can fill the reaction force role to perfection, while depending on the terrain you can use airmobility to solve some of the speed problems (the Marines became quite good at this after 1969, and the First Cav had many successes as well). Of course these factors are heavily influenced by terrain (both natural and man-made), but to not have a reserve of some sort is to surrender the initiative, and that's never a good idea.
    "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 Cavguy's Avatar
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    Eden,

    Excellent question which I won't be able to answer in detail because of my day job, so here's a stab.

    I submit for an operational design I'll call option 4. I also drafted a commander’s intent for Afghanistan based on what should be done based on my article. Having been to Afghanistan, you can tell me if it is feasible or not.

    1) You must secure your urban centers. I agree with John McCuen that you don't uncover your semi-secure urban base to chase insurgents in the wild. The enemy wants you to do that so he can infiltrate and begin building the political and operational cells in the now-undermanned cities while you chase his bands in the bush, and then look back to find your cities on fire. I think this is what the Taliban is doing now - political organization as a prelude to military organization in Kabul and Kandahar. If your capital(s) aren't secure, then nothing is. Identify the critical symbolic and economically important points and begin to secure them fully.

    2) I sometimes relate the operational design used to secure Ramadi (which I think is transferrable) to a maneuver battle. We "fixed" the enemy by building combat outposts in "hot spots" downtown - fighting an attrition battle (reducing his force) but also limiting his ability to maneuver (hence the "fix"). We then "flanked" him in the permissive areas, focusing on securing them using clear, hold, build, and gaining local auxillaries capable of providing security. Once we built enough force, the auxiliaries were able to exert influence to clear the "hot spots".

    Also like a maneuver battle, you have to look for the unexpected opportunities. In maneuver battles we would designate NAI's to identify enemy decision points and/or opportunities, and position forces to react accordingly. In COIN it is no different, but instead of terrain based NAI's, you are looking for human terrain based NAI's. Just like a maneuver battle, you have to be positioned to exploit the opening when it is identified, which allows you to truly get inside the enemy's rear and really unhinge him.

    3) This brings me to a reserve. I would argue that it is always good to have a reserve, given enough troops to adequately "hold". The key is that you must have some forces able to respond to developing opportunities on short notice. I hate to cop-out, but METT-TC applies to the size and composition of the reserve. However, if not employed the reserve should be employed to tasks such as building local capacity. This could be a combination Airmoble and Cavalry-like striking force.

    4) Finally, you need a victory - something to give people - local and international - hope. Tal Afar and Ramadi were those examples. We have to find someplace and make an example out of it. Note also that the Iraq narrative didn’t turn until violence was arrested in *Baghdad*. As long as daylight prision breaks occur in Kabul the population won’t believe in their government’s ability to protect them.


    Immediate action: Afghanistan:

    Without having been there, something along the following would be my immediate operational plan for Afghanistan given limited forces.

    Purpose: Coalition and Afghan forces defeat insurgent political and military networks in major population centers to deny the Taliban access to the urban population.

    Key Tasks:
    - Implement population control measures to prevent insurgent freedom of movement and deny logistical supply. This includes identity cards, food rationing, biometrics, vehicle licensing, census registration, and possibly rationing of key goods as appropriate.
    - Develop host nation institutions to counter enemy political mobilization.
    - Develop competent national security forces augmented by local auxiliaries to prevent insurgent infiltration into population centers, backed up by on call coalition force QRF backup. Focus on a neighborhood by neighborhood security zone plan.
    - Conduct operations to disrupt rural insurgent forces and organizations to prevent reinforcement of urban organizations.
    - Creation of competent local administration and leadership.

    Endstate:

    Major cities of Afghanistan secured by local forces, capably administered by local leaders, and free of major insurgent activity. Coalition and ANA forces postured to expand into smaller towns and villages, to secure economic infrastructure to expand security. Taliban forces disrupted and unable to influence major population centers.

    Once this phase is complete, fight moves to the rural areas.

    So in summary:

    1) Main Effort: Focus on securing Kabul and Kandahar, and rooting out insurgent political and military cells. Establish population control to deny insurgent freedom of movement. Develop capable military and political organizations to maintain security and free coalition troops (clear, hold, build). Focused IO campaign to show improvement in the key cities.

    2) Supporting Effort: Mobile strike force(s) "fix" the enemy in the rural areas, conducting targeted operations to keep them attritted and unable to mass to mobile formation status. Goal (at this point) is not to secure and win the populace, but to keep the enemy from influencing the city effort, and preventing establishment of "base areas" and sanctuary, keeping the enemy off balance and unable to expand effectively while the cities are secured. This may involve strongpoint/outpost operations to act as "fly bait" for insurgent forces. Units work to develop local and tribal security alliances as a secondary effort. (Kitson style intel driven operations)


    As with all war-winning plans derived in 30 minutes or less – I stand by for the council to tell me why what I proposed is infeasible and what it is missing.

    Niel
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    Council Member reed11b's Avatar
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    At the risk of sounding flippant, isn't that very simalier to the Soviet plan? Why would it work now?
    Reed

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    1) Main Effort: Focus on securing Kabul and Kandahar, and rooting out insurgent political and military cells. Establish population control to deny insurgent freedom of movement. Develop capable military and political organizations to maintain security and free coalition troops (clear, hold, build). Focused IO campaign to show improvement in the key cities.

    2) Supporting Effort: Mobile strike force(s) "fix" the enemy in the rural areas, conducting targeted operations to keep them attritted and unable to mass to mobile formation status. Goal (at this point) is not to secure and win the populace, but to keep the enemy from influencing the city effort, and preventing establishment of "base areas" and sanctuary, keeping the enemy off balance and unable to expand effectively while the cities are secured. This may involve strongpoint/outpost operations to act as "fly bait" for insurgent forces. Units work to develop local and tribal security alliances as a secondary effort. (Kitson style intel driven operations)
    I have to agree with reed11b to some extent. Economy of force out in the bush would have a hard time being successful as a supporting effort, especially since the cities have never been the base of power in that country from what I have read and think I understand.

    Folks in a Rhodesia tried something slightly similar, and they had a hard time against the guys "who had all the time".

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    I have to agree with reed11b to some extent. Economy of force out in the bush would have a hard time being successful as a supporting effort, especially since the cities have never been the base of power in that country from what I have read and think I understand.

    Folks in a Rhodesia tried something slightly similar, and they had a hard time against the guys "who had all the time".
    Two brief responses (sorry short on time) to you and reed.

    1) Reed, the Soviets were not beaten militarily, only politically due to cost and popular opinion. The Russians took many more casualties than we have and also had a different operational template. And as I understand it, Kabul and Kandahar were relatively calm until the Taleban drove in and toppled the harsh puppet government left behind.

    Our imperative then is to maintain domestic and Afghani political will for the war. To do that, the capitols at a minimum need to be secure, and the government has to provide something worth being loyal to.

    Recent news highlights that unlike 1989, the Taleban has created significant political networks in both Kandahar and Kabul over the last year, which are undermining the government through murder/intimidation campaigns and parallel governmental systems. These are festering while BCT's tend to chase insurgents in the wild. The Pakistani border cannot be sealed, and frankly, we can't fix the problem that allows a sanctuary there. So our only option, given we can't eliminate the sanctuary (I don't think we could if we wanted to or had access), is to defeat the Taleban politically by making it in the population's interest to reject the Taleban and support the central and/or government. Those forces must be secure/strong enough to resist Taleban infiltration.

    Remember, this is a fight for political will. Reporters live in the major cities. Attacks in major cities, like they did in Baghdad, attract attention. Arresting violence in the capitol changed the all-important political narrative. Now you see articles like Dexter Filkins' NYT article today, stating how much better Baghdad is, which has changed perceptions of the US domestic populace on the war.
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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    I have to agree with reed11b to some extent. Economy of force out in the bush would have a hard time being successful as a supporting effort, especially since the cities have never been the base of power in that country from what I have read and think I understand.
    As long as the enemy can cause chaos and fear in your capitol unabated, you are losing.

    A government that cannot impose order in its own capitol is one not strong enough to stand or attract loyalty.

    Look at the effect of the Marriott bombing in Pakistan today. Same principle.
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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Thumbs up A few thoughts

    First Cav, very well articulated and clear article, my favorite kind

    Second As Cav suggested Although on the face of it much may sound familiar about the approaches Ru/Coalition the differences are the key. If we use an example of the laser. A laser is a laser but its uses vary based on how its used, where its used, to what extent its used, and if its used.

    IMHO he's dead on with the need for confirmed security in the large cities. Without that it would seem anything anywhere else would amount to very little in so far as the population and the international communities grading of efforts there. Perception matters.

    Second, There are not only limits to how much the coalition or the HN can offer in terms of resources and manpower, but maybe just as importantly limits to how much the outer regions can hold out against enemy intimidation campaigns without risking their own established local security and autonomy under the longstanding traditions. If that history is overcome by enemy actions then there will be major changes in the overall countries dynamics as evrything leadership wise will be going topsy-turvy.

    There has got to be a tie between the larger govt and those regions which sets the ROE for interactions between the two and some way for the HN to actually be able to fulfill obligated protections within that structure. Therein is the requirement to recognize with whom and where you can create alliances which actually help to forward the larger goal.

    As to AQ/TAL/ETC as Ken has mentioned before the military Wack a mole is occasionally a useful tool and in many cases may be the only one available for at least short periods of time. The key there would be to find ways to ensure these periods don't cost you or the HN more on the POL front than you are gaining on the Kinetic side

    I think as Operations continue along these lines we would see what has been talked about on other threads in that each commander's intents will have to adjust and adapt to the changing tides which happen. The ultimate endstate is simply we don't give up and they have no choice but to.
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    As with all war-winning plans derived in 30 minutes or less – I stand by for the council to tell me why what I proposed is infeasible and what it is missing.

    Niel
    Cavguy,

    Yours and other's points about having to hold the cities in Afghanistan is utterly correct and utterly crucial. NATO has to clean out and then hold the cities, while the ANA and National Police are given the time to build up their own strength and to assume full control of the major cities themselves first, and then to take the fight out into the countryside. If not to decisively defeat the Taleban and -like groups, then at least to contain them, sort of. Even the best scenario I can think of will still see a campaign season out in the countryside each year for years to come. But that is at least doable. As long as Pakistan keeps treading water, that is.

    Edited to Add: The ANA and National Police have no practical hope of securing anything like even a majority of the countryside by themselves; that will come down to making political deals (or more accurately, alliances) with tribal and clan leaders, etc. in return for their joining in a common effort against the Taleban. In short, the National Government has to approach and treat the the tribes as more or less equal allies, not as another outsider imposing their ways.
    Last edited by Norfolk; 09-21-2008 at 06:49 PM.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default You're correct in western terms, no question.

    CavGuy:

    For the ME and South Asia where cities and capitals are a recent phenomenon, the certainty is far less if it exists at all -- though there is no question that AQ, The Talib, et.al. are smart enough to use that parameter as a psyops tool even if they know better. Rural populations worldwide don't think nearly as highly of cities as urban dwellers do, nor do they care much for or have much respect for urban dwellers. That is particularly true among mountain folks.

    Pakistan is indeed an example of the principle -- it has suffered such bombings in the cities since 1947. It's still there...

    Added note: % of Population urban; Iraq > 70; Afghanistan ~ 24 , Pakistan ~ 34%
    Last edited by Ken White; 09-21-2008 at 07:21 PM. Reason: Addendum

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