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Thread: Lost Lessons of Counterinsurgency

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Lost Lessons of Counterinsurgency

    Congratulations are in order for Major Niel Smith (many of you know him as Cavguy on the Council), US Army, for submitting the winning entry in this month's Armed Forces Journal essay contest. His entry, Lost Lessons of Counterinsurgency, is indeed one fine read.

    The book that most changed my career path was The Army and Vietnam by Andrew Krepinevich. Krepinevichís book fundamentally altered the approach I took as a company commander during my second Iraq tour in 2006.

    When I returned to Germany in 2004, fresh from my first 15-month tour in Iraq, I was convinced there had to be a better way to fight this kind of conflict. A year of operations in Baghdad and three months fighting the first Sadr rebellion made it clear to me that our strategies and methods were inadequate to meet the demands of the environment. As a new company commander, I had an obligation to become as educated as possible on counterinsurgency. Unfortunately, I didnít know where to begin. As an armor officer, my professional military education to this point included great detail on how to fight at the National Training Center or in the Fulda gap but contained absolutely nothing on counterinsurgency...
    Much more at Armed Forces Journal.

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Thanks Dave. I turned it in about three months ago, was a suprise to find out I'd won about two weeks ago.

    I expect flak from COL Gentile shortly for my choice of book , given his distaste for Dr. Krepinevich's thesis. However, I found his argument works, even if some of his history may be skewed.
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Thanks Dave. I turned it in about three months ago, was a suprise to find out I'd won about two weeks ago.

    I expect flak from COL Gentile shortly for my choice of book , given his distaste for Dr. Krepinevich's thesis. However, I found his argument works, even if some of his history may be skewed.
    Thanks for the link! I found out from Niel, yesterday, but was anxiously awaiting the opportunity to download it.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Good job, Niel!

    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    ...I expect flak from COL Gentile shortly for my choice of book , given his distaste for Dr. Krepinevich's thesis. However, I found his argument works, even if some of his history may be skewed.
    The good Colonel often forgets that most all history is skewed a bit. No matter -- as you note, there are still lessons there.

    Good article.

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    Congrats. Can you explain why you used the words "population control" measures when the term "securing the population" seems to be more popular with your colleagues?
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Means versus ends

    Congrats and well-done Niel. Your paper speaks for many commany commanders out there.


    Quote Originally Posted by Rank amateur View Post
    Can you explain why you used the words "population control" measures when the term "securing the population" seems to be more popular with your colleagues?
    I'll take a stab at this to test my knowledge, and y'all can critique if I'm off a bit.

    RA,

    Simply put, population control is the initial tactic one takes to ultimately achieving the desired endstate of "securing the population." The most descriptive example of population control existed in the Malaysia insurgency.

    Population control can be achieved through movement controls (roadblocks, T-walls, curfews and restrictions on mounted and dismounted movement) and food-restriction measures (an extreme illegal measure of coersive incentives i.e. you help the insurgents then you don't eat).

    Population control is used as a measure refered to in the COIN manual to "stop the bleeding." It is not happy nor nice, but it maybe necessary in extreme situations (i.e. Iraq circa late 2006/early 2007).

    The effects of population control assert government control in an area, restrict an insurgents ability to maneuver and communicate, and it limits the enemies' ability to resupply people, guns, money, etc...All in all, it make life suck for everybody.

    Coupled with intensive patrolling, intelligence gathering, and amnesty programs, population control can lead the community to feel safer, i.e. perceive that the government is securing the populace. As the populace feels safer, then they are more willing to work for the governmnent to provide information.

    As the government gains information on the insurgency, it can degrade the enemy. As the population is secured and the enemy degraded, the government can transition towards stabilization and reconstruction operations.

    There you have it. Classical counter-insurgency in a simple blogpost.

    v/r

    Mike

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    Default Thank you for describing how many of us felt...

    Sir,

    I re-read The Village and then The Army in Vietnam during holiday leave in '05, shortly after returning from Iraq. Anger, frustration, disappointment, and disbelief are all words that describe how I felt throughout this holiday period. My wife and father couldn't understand why I was so mad at myself.

    I'm going to ask my wife to read your article; it does a much better job explaining why than I ever could. Thank you.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Good job, I think...

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    ...RA...Simply put, population control is the initial tactic one takes to ultimately achieving the desired endstate of "securing the population."
    ...
    Population control is used as a measure refered to in the COIN manual to "stop the bleeding." It is not happy nor nice, but it maybe necessary in extreme situations (i.e. Iraq circa late 2006/early 2007).
    ...
    Coupled with intensive patrolling, intelligence gathering, and amnesty programs, population control can lead the community to feel safer, i.e. perceive that the government is securing the populace. As the populace feels safer, then they are more willing to work for the governmnent to provide information.
    ...
    There you have it. Classical counter-insurgency in a simple blogpost.
    (emphasis added / kw)
    Works for me.

    Note that Hearts and Minds are emphatically not being won, rather the ability of the opposition to sway minds is being severely degraded and thus said minds are being forcefully 'persuaded' to flock to the cause of true righteousness (or our side, whichever is appropriate... ).

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post




    I'll take a stab at this to test my knowledge, and y'all can critique if I'm off a bit.
    Well said. Absolutely dead on. Don't you wished someone had taken 5 minutes at the career course to explain that to you prior to 2003?

    The theory behind it is that the insurgent uses the population for everything - intel, support, medical, recruiting, etc. (Trinquier best covers this). So to "defeat" him we have to deny him access to his resources. We talk about "separating the insurgents from the populace", but how?

    One of the historically effective ways is by various levels of population control. The more severe the problem, the more severe the measures needed. Bottom line is that by controlling where and how the population interact, you reduce the ability of the insurgent to organize and contribute. As with all measures, it only works at the appropriate time and level. The basics are ID cards and vehicle registration. The harsher methods include relocation and food rationing. What should be used depends on the situation.

    It may be an impolitic term, but it accurately describes what must be done to (as Mike says) stop the bleeding so there is space to treat the wound, which takes longer.
    Last edited by Cavguy; 11-06-2008 at 03:13 AM.
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Default Good job. Well done

    Excellent stuff. Always been a mystery to me why the US Army has refused to study Vietnam in detail.

    I love how these days we say "complex war fighting" as if Vietnam was "simple." - and note, in Vietnam, you had to be good at COIN and War fighting at the time, on the same day, in the same AO.

    A lot more can be gained from looking at the US in RVN than ever could looking at the UK in Malaya.
    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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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    ...I expect flak from COL Gentile shortly for my choice of book , given his distaste for Dr. Krepinevich's thesis. However, I found his argument works, even if some of his history may be skewed.
    First, I sent a personal email to Niel congratulating him for winning the award from such a reputable publication like AFJ. I thought the article to be articulate in its purpose and argument.

    In a work of history, though, Niel, I am not sure how you can acknowledge that the argument works even though the history, as you say, "is flawed?" A good work of historical scholarship by its nature has a good argument because it has a good use of history.

    This points to a bigger problem with much professional writing in the US Army based on recent combat experience in Iraq and Astan. The bigger problem revolves around looking to the past for a template and then recounting ones own recent combat experience and then having the implicit point that because one writes about the past and juxtaposes that past to current experience then the recent experience somehow has greater meaning. David Fivecoat's new article in MR is an example of this. So is Neil's essay.

    At some point folks should really go back and re-read Clausewitz and heed his guidance that history should inform the commander's judgment and knowledge but never, never, accompany him to the battlefield.

    In a sense, Niel, you are violating St Carl's guidance by having the past of Vietnam as told (wrongly, I might add) by Krepinevich accompany you on your present journey of memory of your recent battlefield experience in Iraq and accounting for it.

    gg

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    Council Member Hacksaw's Avatar
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    Default Gian...

    Old Friend,

    I understand your point, but I think you are wrong with regard to Niel's "use" of history...

    What Niel describes and the purpose of his thesis is to describe how a reading of a book after his first tour angered him because he felt a sense of "betrayal" (my word) because he felt the institutional Army had allowed itself to flush a wealth of knowledge that would have informed its approach in Iraq. The primary thought, Why am I left to find this dust covered book on a shelf in the Frieberg Library, why isn't this in at least a small part included in the PME curricula? After that, it appears that Niel was informed by history on his second tour.

    This essay is mercifly short... the main thesis being the Army has a history of flushing this type of experience... might we learn this time? Not that OIF is the template, but rather we ought to mean it when we say "Full Spectrum" when we educate young leaders.

    That's all i have to say about that, hope the view from Trophy Point is still in color.

    Kirk
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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Well done, Neil!
    "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 William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    In a sense, Niel, you are violating St Carl's guidance by having the past of Vietnam as told (wrongly, I might add) by Krepinevich accompany you on your present journey of memory of your recent battlefield experience in Iraq and accounting for it.
    I think Cavguy's point is that the Army knew stuff in 1973, that it deliberately chose to forget or remain ignorant of in 2003.

    I suspect that the bones of lessons that were taught to Advisors at Di-Ann, in RVN, were no where to be found in Iraq, until pretty recently.
    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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    Default Attaboy

    This warrants a beer -- you can buy me one next time we're together. (Gotta do something with all that prize money).

    I'm too smart to jump into the analytical part of this thread just yet.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Heh. Respondent sayeth:

    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    ...you are violating St Carl's guidance by having the past of Vietnam as told (wrongly, I might add) by Krepinevich accompany you on your present journey of memory of your recent battlefield experience in Iraq and accounting for it. gg
    Deponent sayeth:

    ""The good Colonel often forgets that most all history is skewed a bit. No matter -- as you note, there are still lessons there.""



    Seriously -- Have a good one, gg!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    ...Seriously -- Have a good one, gg!
    wilco, Ken

    gian

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post

    At some point folks should really go back and re-read Clausewitz and heed his guidance that history should inform the commander's judgment and knowledge but never, never, accompany him to the battlefield.

    In a sense, Niel, you are violating St Carl's guidance by having the past of Vietnam as told (wrongly, I might add) by Krepinevich accompany you on your present journey of memory of your recent battlefield experience in Iraq and accounting for it.

    gg

    Sir,

    I will leave it to you to read this - written while I was still in Iraq (prior to further corruption at Leavenworth and pre-SWC membership), to judge whether I adhered to St. Carl's perscription or not.

    I would submit that a secondary point of my essay was to learn from the past, and adapt the prinicples to the present, rather than slavishly adhere to a cookie cutter approach. The whole point of that article was to understand your environment on its own terms and devise an appropriate solution.

    The first point was, of course, we shouldn't have made the mistakes in the first place, because a trip to the library was full with examples of what didn't work in the past.

    Niel
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
    Who is Cavguy?

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    Niel said:

    I would submit that a secondary point of my essay was to learn from the past, and adapt the prinicples to the present, rather than slavishly adhere to a cookie cutter approach. The whole point of that article was to understand your environment on its own terms and devise an appropriate solution.
    Your first sentence contains a contradicition which is basically my whole point. What you call not "slavishly" adhering to a "cookie cutter approach" is essentially what you end up doing in the first clause of the sentence: "to learn from the past, and adapt the principles to the present." Niel, how does one actually "learn" from the past? And your essay itself actually betrays the "cookie cutter" approach that you deny using. In the first couple of paragraphs you explicitly say when reading Krepinevich you got so mad becuase everytime you saw the word Vietnam in it you could have replaced it with the word "Iraq." How is that not cookie cutting?

    And Niel, what if Krepinevich is wrong; or, at least only half right? What if he wrongfully neglected to mention in his book that the reason why Westmoreland had to go conventional with the American Army early on was because there was a substantial regular South Vietnamese communist threat along with a NVA regular threat that he could not just dismiss and go-Galula? What if Krepinevich way overplayed the amount of difference between Westmoreland and Abrams? Basically what if he was just flat wrong in his interpretation of Vietnam? I am sorry buddy, but your essay essentially argues that Vietnam was just like Iraq, only this time since we have the lessons and principles provided to us in books like "The Army and Vietnam" we are on the road to success because we have learned and applied those lessons.

    I submit that history doesnt work that way; that the idea that one can derive principles and lessons from history and apply them directly in the present is chimera.

    What you have done, though, is elevated his book to the oracle truth of Vietnam and justified its correctness with your story of learning and success in Iraq.

    In fact, Niel, as much as you do not want to hear it, your essay fits perfectly in with the Surge Triumph narrative. That Triumph Narrative is based on the trope of Vietnam. That the American Army in Iraq didnt get it, but finally got around to learning through study of books like Krepenivich, and now because of that learning and adapting, we have success, if not victory in Iraq. Tell me how the basic narrative arc within your essay is in contradcition to this?

    And Hack, old friend. The colors are almost gone, but naturally life is sweet on the banks of the Hudson.

    gian

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Wink Sigh. Speaking of selective use of history...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    ...what if Krepinevich is wrong; or, at least only half right?
    What if he is? I submit that most works of history suffer from that problem. Certainly it is my observation, experience and firm conviction that all history I have read covering events in which I was involved and of which I thus have personal knowledge is deficient to nearly or more than that extent. That is, I suspect for ideological reasons, particularly true of Viet Nam. History as writ is an imperfect art.
    What if he wrongfully neglected to mention in his book that the reason why Westmoreland had to go conventional with the American Army early on was because there was a substantial regular South Vietnamese communist threat along with a NVA regular threat that he could not just dismiss and go-Galula?
    He could have mentioned that but he, a 1972 USMA Grad, would have been wrong to do so -- he could not possibly 'know' and thus had to rely on the papers of the MACV Staff -- who were a bigger problem than all the VC Main force in South Viet Nam. They were essentially a spent force -- well, the Staff was,too but I meant the VC Main Force, their combat units -- by early 1965 and that's why Uncle Ho sent the PAVN (later NVA) south in 65 and later -- after Westmoreland had committed to big battles. Giap was a sharp cookie...

    Westmoreland did what he did due to a fundamental operational misunderstanding and a preference or desire to 'win decisiviely.' Laudable aim, wrong venue. Most revisionist looks at Viet Nam have been prompted by his former staff loyalists in a postwar attempt to justify what many perceive as a failure.
    What if Krepinevich way overplayed the amount of difference between Westmoreland and Abrams? Basically what if he was just flat wrong in his interpretation of Vietnam?
    He wasn't 100% right but he was close enough for guvmint work...
    I am sorry buddy, but your essay essentially argues that Vietnam was just like Iraq, only this time since we have the lessons and principles provided to us in books like "The Army and Vietnam" we are on the road to success because we have learned and applied those lessons.
    That was not my or apparently some others sensing of his essay and my perception is that you have elected to take it that way simply to make this point:
    ...your essay fits perfectly in with the Surge Triumph narrative. That Triumph Narrative is based on the trope of Vietnam.
    We can disagree on that as well. That is, disagree on the thrust of his essay...

    As you know, you and I essentially agree on the 'surge.' We differ only in that I mention it (was not necessary and only may have speeded things up slightly) occasionally instead of routinely
    Last edited by Ken White; 11-07-2008 at 05:14 AM. Reason: Typo, has to have...

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