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Old 09-18-2007   #1
SWJED
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Default The Col. Gentile collection and debate

Moderator's Note

Being an outsider to the protracted debate in the USA over COIN I am familiar with some of the names and prompted by a new book review of Colonel Gian Gentile's latest book, I have merged six threads today. On a quick review some were single posts and others longer discussions here. This thread was called 'Eating Soup with a Spoon' and is now 'The Col. Gentile collection and debate'. Somehow I suspect there are other threads as 'Gentile' appears in 162 threads, but for now this is enough.(ends).


Eating Soup with a Spoon - Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, Armed Forces Journal

Quote:
The Army's new manual on counterinsurgency operations (COIN), in many respects, is a superb piece of doctrinal writing. The manual, FM 3-24 "Counterinsurgency," is comparable in breadth, clarity and importance to the 1986 FM 100-5 version of "Operations" which came to be known as "AirLand Battle.

The new manual's middle chapters that pertain to the conduct of counterinsurgency operations are especially helpful and relevant to senior commanders in Iraq. But a set of nine paradoxes in the first chapter of the manual removes a piece of reality of counterinsurgency warfare that is crucial for those trying to understand how to operate within it...

Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-08-2013 at 03:29 PM. Reason: Add note after merging
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Old 09-18-2007   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SWJED View Post
Eating Soup with a Spoon - Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, Armed Forces Journal
I, of course, take issue with the basic premise of the article. I believe we treat counterinsurgency as a variant of war not because that is the most strategically effective approach, but because we have been unable to transcend Cold War thinking. We know how to fight wars. We're good at it. So we pretend that things not amenable to warfighting are, in fact, war. It's a classic example of the old adage "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In fact, I think there is an inverse correlation between the extent to which we approach a counterinsurgency campaign as warfighting and the success we meet (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador).

I'll be interested to see how the debate unfolds on the AFJ discussion board.

Last edited by SteveMetz; 09-18-2007 at 09:52 AM.
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Old 09-18-2007   #3
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Default The Hard Sell of COIN

Mom and Pop back home don't want Sonny boy and Sissy schmoozing with the enemy, they want dead enemies first and foremost. The hard sell of COIN goes way beyond a cold war mindset. Financiers and carpetbaggers aren't about to educate the Public to the efficacy and need for COIN, that's for sure and the Military isn't capable at this juncture in our history to take on the task of educating the Public nor is it necessarily their role. For one thing, to enter the Public realm with its informal give and take and free-flow of information and critique with all its ignorance and insight requires latitude and flexibility the Military doesn't fully possess. There is a disconnect in the Public mind between killing and disabling enemies and probably always will be - if you ain't gonna' kill 'em, send in the Peace Corps type of thinking. The COIN learning curve and proving grounds Iraq is providing is being wasted IMO because of an ignorant Public, power hungry politicians and carpetbaggers, in that order. Ultimately, We The People are responsible for our woes and worries, not our Military and not our politicians.
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Old 09-18-2007   #4
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I do not take issue with the fact that War is violent and that COIN is war – in my reading of 3-24, I don’t think it does either. Part of this is my preference to always view doctrine as descriptive and not prescriptive (Unit SOPs are generally prescriptive). I’d also say that I never saw guys on the ground contemplating if it was a good idea or a bad one to shoot a clearly identified AIF setting an IED, carrying an RPG, or PKC, or even setting up a mortar – nobody was confused about the best way of immediately securing the populace was to kill those AIF actively engaged in violent activity. If there was information on a cache or meeting of AIF conducting plans or related activity – a mission was generated as quickly as possible to capture or kill them. The Iraqis and CF I worked with understood that until physical security was established, the other LLOOs would be compromised – they also understood that you had to prepared to quickly transition from conducting a Community Engagement type activity to pouncing on the enemy if he showed the will to contest our control of an area.

At the level where dyed in the wool insurgents seek to impose their will on the population it is a duel & no amount of LLOOs is probably going to convince them to give up - this minority is going to have to be captured or killed by either HN or CF.

I don't think 3-24 advocates sacrificing Tactical success - it just acknowledges that you can't pursue purely lethal Tactical operations and expect that success at that level will translate to Operational and Strategic success in COIN, or for that matter any type of war. Do we want it - you bet - every time we meet that enemy we should relentlessly pursue him until he is captured, killed, denied any freedom of movement, expelled, etc. Tactical success is credibility, and it permits our (friendly forces) own freedom of movement to pursue the LLOOs that can be translated to Operational and Strategic success in a COIN environment.

Clausewitz’s duel where there are winners and losers is appropriate. Within a province or city where insurgents have the initiative and unrestricted freedom of movement then COIN forces (HN or CF) will not – it’s a zero sum game – you either have the initiative or you don’t at what ever level you are considering. The priority for COIN forces at that point goes to seizing and retaining the initiative. This begins with lethal operations at the Tactical & Operational levels, but does not end there. 3-24 recommends transitioning to a mix of security operations and other LLOOs to develop the PMSEII so that while those who will not re-enter society are captured or killed, the conditions which lend credibility to the insurgent message and attract people to the insurgent cause are changed.

Within the COIN environment there are ongoing operations that are going to feel more like the “Other then War” we once doctrinally used to describe those missions. The problem with that doctrinal description was that increasingly those environments proved that they could go to “War” on one side of a city, while on the other side of the city it remained a “Other then” environment. However, you can’t sacrifice the gains you’ve made that permitted a transition on one side of the river to a mix of lethal and LLOOs; and you can’t sacrifice the gains that permitted a larger transition at the provincial level – these are the operations that provide the long term gains because they address the conditions that made the insurgency possible.

At the lower tactical echelons the focus is going to be sharper by comparison with larger echelons. If a BCT has the bulk of a province, it may have two TFs focusing primarily on LLOOs because the conditions permit it. However, the other TF may be clearing insurgents for months – the enemy gets a vote, and may have decided that he is willing to fight and die within the battlespace assigned to that TF. However within the Battlespace assigned to that TF – the part of the city assigned to a specific Company or CO TM may have a local leader that has galvanized the community against the goals of the insurgents – the violence within that community might be limited to assassinations and car bombs targeting the community leadership from insurgents infiltrating that company AOR– but its still lethal. The higher the echelon in COIN, the greater the chance that it contains different types of threats, must pursue different types of LOOs and LLOOs.

I don’t think LTC Nagl or any other contributor to the 3-24 would take issue with that. On the Daily show – he made the remark – I have to paraphrase – “be prepared to kill”. Operrations on the ground would seem to reflect this – the number of AIF killed or captured, the number of caches seized and the limitations of AIF freedom of movement started with, or were generated from our ability to impose our will on the enemy through the use of violence. However, that tactical success was built upon with other LLOOs that engaged the communities and secured additional benefits that could not be attained otherwise. The NGO community and passive IOs can’t conduct COIN because they don’t have the capability to employ violence or contest the armed resistance employed by insurgents – we do. However, because COIN occurs in a Social setting, and is a contest for the will and support of the citizen – we must be able to follow up security by generating the foundations for stability.

No doctrine IMHO should be a prescription for a problem – this is Clausewitz’s recognition that there is a subjective nature to War. Every War is going to be unique in the subjective due to the political context which surrounds it. There are all kinds of political goals by the various enemies we find in Iraq – the subjective nature of War may be different in Baghdad, then Anbar – that’s just the way it is. If we conduct a COIN campaign in another part of the world, those conditions will change along with the subjective nature unique to that War. The Objective nature, that War is violent, it has winners and losers, it is rife with fog, friction and chance, and the more protracted it is- the more chance plays a role, it is a social activity, it makes no sense when divorced from its political context is valid in any War.

The problem with any doctrine that addresses the complexity of War is going to be its interpretation – I’m not sure you can have a doctrine that is going to change that while remaining broad enough in scope to acknowledge both the Objective and Subjective nature of War. Take what works and apply it to the War you (your element) are in, and save the rest when conditions change – that is the value in descriptive doctrine.
Best regards, Rob

Last edited by Rob Thornton; 09-18-2007 at 07:31 PM.
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Old 09-18-2007   #5
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Hi Steve,

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Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
I, of course, take issue with the basic premise of the article. I believe we treat counterinsurgency as a variant of war not because that is the most strategically effective approach, but because we have been unable to transcend Cold War thinking. We know how to fight wars. We're good at it. So we pretend that things not amenable to warfighting are, in fact, war. It's a classic example of the old adage "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
I'm not sure if I agree with your sketch of the causal logic, but I certainly agree with your "act as if" conclusion; at least for the institution qua institution. Still and all, I find Gentile's logic flawed. In particular, the following paragraph really bothers me.

Quote:
Yet the paradoxes actually deceive by making overly simple the reality of counterinsurgency warfare and why it is so hard to conduct it at the ground level for the combat soldier. The eminent scholar and strategic thinker Eliot Cohen noted that counterinsurgency war is still war, and war in its essence is fighting. In trying to teach its readers to eat soup with a knife, the COIN manual discards the essence and reality of counterinsurgency warfare fighting, thereby manifesting its tragic flaw.
Let me pull this apart.

Quote:
Yet the paradoxes actually deceive by making overly simple the reality of counterinsurgency warfare and why it is so hard to conduct it at the ground level for the combat soldier.
I would suggest that the use of paradoxes is a) quite normal in getting anyone to perceive a new viewpoint, b) inherently "simple" in presentation but complex in "unfolding", and c) only deceitful when they contradict already internalized paradoxes (e.g. "Peace through superior firepower", etc.). Anyone who has read any of the major works one Rites of Passage (or symbolism for that matter) knows that paradoxes are crucial in shifting a person from one role to another (the "why's" take much longer to explain, but are partly covered in a previous post of mine). That being said, this sentence is a strawman.

Quote:
The eminent scholar and strategic thinker Eliot Cohen noted that counterinsurgency war is still war, and war in its essence is fighting.
A truly fascinating example of mixing a resort to "traditional authority (in the Weberian sense) with really poor logic. First, the appeal to "traditional authority" - imply that you are quoting, without quoting (or referencing), a scholar. The second point about poor logic is a touch trickier.

Gentile relies on an appeal to traditional authority to define "counterinsurgency war" as "war". The fact that they are perceived as somehow different, shown by the use of "counterinsurgency" as a modifier, appears to be irrelevant to Gentile who proceeds to assert an essence, in the philosophical sense, to "war" and, by a backwards chain of logic, assert the primacy of the same essence to "counterinsurgency war". This neatly avoids the annoying little point that "counterinsurgency war" is perceptually (and linguistically and doctrinally) defined as an intersection set of two classes: counterinsurgency and war. Where is the second "essence"? This brings us to

Quote:
In trying to teach its readers to eat soup with a knife, the COIN manual discards the essence and reality of counterinsurgency warfare fighting, thereby manifesting its tragic flaw.
Given the strawman and illogical "logic" already used, this conclusion is both unavoidable and, at the same time, tragically flawed. What he has missed is that FM 3-24 is, in fact, attempting to define the "essence" if you will of "counterinsurgency", not "war" (i.e. his missed class), and to show the intersection with "war".
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Old 09-18-2007   #6
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In his attempt to tear down the "paradox" of tactical success guarantees nothing, he completely misses the meaning of tactical success itself.

In the article, he completely focuses his perception of tactical success on what it means to his soldiers: their morale and fighting spirit. He discounts the importance of non-kinetic operations and pushes the importance the fight. He doesn't bother to clarify how aggressive engagement is going to help stabilize Iraq or defeat the bad guys - he just states it will keep up the morale and fighting spirit of his troops. This is almost the absolute stereotype of the conventional Armor officer who can't stand anything other than HIC.

Don't misunderstand - I'm certainly not dismissing the importance of troop morale. The "cognitive dissonance" issue he mentions certainly does exist - but the essential concept of the three-block war and troops having to rapidly adapt and shift focus between killing and building has been around far longer than the term itself. Its just been ignored by many in the Big Army.

However, I feel that the major error he makes is of separating the two aspects - killing and rolling up bad guys in this fight is inextricably linked with the essential non-kinetic ops required to stabilize and secure the country. They have to be linked and coordinated, with solid intel driving both into a fused effort. He makes it sound like you have to focus on one or the other; it ain't so, Joe. You have to do both, and that's what makes COIN (especially the impure messy COIN, SASO, CT, LE blend we have in Iraq) so difficult.

...I don't think they play at all fairly, and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can't hear oneself speak--and they don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them--and you've no idea how confusing it is....

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Old 09-18-2007   #7
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I like MarcT's discussion of the illogic of the Gentile piece. Another way of understanding the problem is that Gentile has made a category mistake, sort of as follows:

'Counterinsurgency' (or 'COIN') names a category of things , or a set if you prefer. 'War' likewise names a category of things, or another set. In the passage quoted by MarcT, Gentile asserts, without any argument, that 'COIN' is a subcategory or subset of 'War.' (I suspect he also wants 'COIN' to be a proper subset of 'War,' but that point is not really relevant to this discussion, IMO.) He seems to presume that the set 'COIN' is wholely contained in the set 'War.' He has left out the possibility that the two sets may be completely disjoint (have no members in common) or only partially overlap/intersect (have some members in common). Either of these latter two options could put 'War' and 'COIN' at the same categorical level while Gentile's option makes 'War' a superset, a higher (or more fundamental and, therefore, more inclusive) category than 'COIN.'

Regarding the use of paradox, I submit that when one finds paradoxes in one's explanation that means that one's explanation is not as reflective of the truth (defined here as corresponding to reality) as one would like to believe. Additionally, paradoxes indicate that the truth of one's explanation (truth now defined as coherence, or the "hanging together" of the explanatory story one tells with other beliefs one holds) is not quite as likely as it could be.

Pointing out paradoxes in an explanation, in my experience, is most useful for rejecting that explanation's logical and practical efficacy. In other words, finding paradoxes in one's theory of how to counter an insurgency successfully would indicate that the theory might not be as good as one expects in achieving the desired results on a more universal scale.This is because as one expands the cases to be explained, more things come up that cause "disconnects" (or paradoxes) within one's explnatory schema.

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Originally Posted by marct View Post
I would suggest that the use of paradoxes is a) quite normal in getting anyone to perceive a new viewpoint, b) inherently "simple" in presentation but complex in "unfolding", and c) only deceitful when they contradict already internalized paradoxes (e.g. "Peace through superior firepower", etc.).
. . .
Gentile relies on an appeal to traditional authority to define "counterinsurgency war" as "war". The fact that they are perceived as somehow different, shown by the use of "counterinsurgency" as a modifier, appears to be irrelevant to Gentile who proceeds to assert an essence, in the philosophical sense, to "war" and, by a backwards chain of logic, assert the primacy of the same essence to "counterinsurgency war". This neatly avoids the annoying little point that "counterinsurgency war" is perceptually (and linguistically and doctrinally) defined as an intersection set of two classes: counterinsurgency and war. Where is the second "essence"?
. . .
Given the strawman and illogical "logic" already used, this conclusion is both unavoidable and, at the same time, tragically flawed. What he has missed is that FM 3-24 is, in fact, attempting to define the "essence" if you will of "counterinsurgency", not "war" (i.e. his missed class), and to show the intersection with "war".
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Old 09-18-2007   #8
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Hi WM,

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Another way of understanding the problem is that Gentile has made a category mistake
Agreed. Personally, I prefer the use of fuzzy sets rather than crisp sets since they appear to be more reflective of human thought and characterization - "reality" if you will - but I believe that his argument is flawed in both.

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Regarding the use of paradox, I submit that when one finds paradoxes in one's explanation that means that one's explanation is not as reflective of the truth (defined here as corresponding to reality) as one would like to believe. Additionally, paradoxes indicate that the truth of one's explanation (truth now defined as coherence, or the "hanging together" of the explanatory story one tells with other beliefs one holds) is not quite as likely as it could be.
I'm not sure I agree with you on this - it may be reflective of linguistic limitations pertaining to mapping reality. Still and all, that's a subject that probably needs a long discussion with lots of potables . On the other hand, I would note that there is a difference between using a paradox as an explanatory mechanism vs. using a paradox as an operational mechanism designed to shift perceptions so that a different mapping structure can be perceived (a point Gentile also misses IMO). The paradoxes in FM 3-24 are, to my mind, koans designed to induce a cognitive dissonance with "regular warfighting" perceptions. As such, I don't see them as explanatory paradoxes but, rather, as operational ones. I do agree with you that the use of paradoxes for internal explanation (coherence - your second definition of truth) is a danger sign.

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Originally Posted by wm View Post
Pointing out paradoxes in an explanation, in my experience, is most useful for rejecting that explanation's logical and practical efficacy. In other words, finding paradoxes in one's theory of how to counter an insurgency successfully would indicate that the theory might not be as good as one expects in achieving the desired results on a more universal scale.This is because as one expands the cases to be explained, more things come up that cause "disconnects" (or paradoxes) within one's explnatory schema.
Agreed. In fairness, though, all nomenological deductive theories are prone to this problem - it's an inherent attribute of mapping limitations. What is important, at the operational level or application level is whether or not the theory can "satisfice" in much the same manner as Newtonian physics works quite nicely below .3c. I think Ted's example of the "meaning" of tactical success is a good example of that.
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Old 09-18-2007   #9
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Quote:
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Hi WM,
I would note that there is a difference between using a paradox as an explanatory mechanism vs. using a paradox as an operational mechanism designed to shift perceptions so that a different mapping structure can be perceived (a point Gentile also misses IMO). The paradoxes in FM 3-24 are, to my mind, koans designed to induce a cognitive dissonance with "regular warfighting" perceptions. As such, I don't see them as explanatory paradoxes but, rather, as operational ones.
R. G. Collingwood described an interesting phenomenon in explanations that he called the Fallacy of Swapping Horses (as in "you can't swap horses in the middle of a stream.") I have no qualms about your distinction as long as we remember to keep astride of the same "horse of paradox" as that mounted by the author. The koan comparison is extremely apt IMO. I think we might also call out your use of paradox as a sub-category of cognitive dissonance. Your thoughts?
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Old 09-18-2007   #10
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Default Perhaps Gentile will answer some of these comments...

I'd be curious to see what he has to say regarding what's been posted to date.

That said, I'm also curious as to why there is such a rush to both ignore the heritage of 3-24 and to attempt to have the Army repeat its past mistakes when it comes to COIN. 3-24 is in many ways a direct descendant of the USCM Small Wars Manual, and that clearly didn't damage the Marines' ability to conduct conventional operations. One the reasons 3-24 was needed was the rush to discard lessons learned in Vietnam (and elsewhere)...so in a certain sense the wheel needed to be invented again. I honestly don't think this is a "one or the other" proposition, and attempts to make it so (by either side) really damage the value of what's in 3-24.
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Old 09-18-2007   #11
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Hi WM,

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Originally Posted by wm View Post
R. G. Collingwood described an interesting phenomenon in explanations that he called the Fallacy of Swapping Horses (as in "you can't swap horses in the middle of a stream.") I have no qualms about your distinction as long as we remember to keep astride of the same "horse of paradox" as that mounted by the author. The koan comparison is extremely apt IMO. I think we might also call out your use of paradox as a sub-category of cognitive dissonance. Your thoughts?
Good point. I'm not sure I would call it a sub-category of CD; more of a technology designed to produce CD. Then again, I tend to view symbolic manipulation as a technology, at least in the sense used by Ellul.

One of the more interesting observations about the way paradox operates in religion, and I'm appalled to admit the reference has dropped out of my mind , is that paradoxes are crucial for religions but that the resolution of any paradox will shift the further that you work your way into the religion. I think that the same might apply in a COIN situation. Sorry, I'm looping back to the crisp vs. fuzzy distinction here. "War" has, at least on and off for the past 300 years or so, been a relatively crisp set - well defined rules, protocols, etc. Insurgency and Counter-insurgency, on the other hand, comprise a much more fuzzy set - sometimes "war", sometimes not. I would suspect that the "paradoxes" of "war" in the formal, crisp sense, are both well understood, mapped out and routinized within military institutions, while those of insurgency - counterinsurgency are not. This might explain the hysteresis effect on military institutions during peacetime.

Anyway, that's for another discussion sometime...

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I'd be curious to see what he has to say regarding what's been posted to date.
I am too.
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Old 09-18-2007   #12
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I'd be curious to see what he has to say regarding what's been posted to date.....
Here's another view of Gentile's perspective on COIN:
Quote:
....I went to this event at the Heritage Foundation this morning, titled "When Do You Know You're Winning? Combating Insurgencies - Past, Present, and Future." You can watch video or listen to the mp3 of it yourself if you want to - everything was on the record....

...the truly alarming thing was LTC Gian Gentile's presentation. LTC Gentile commanded a battalion in Baghdad up until a few weeks ago and is now a professor at West Point. He gave a rundown of the metrics he used. I'll list them in the order he presented them, which according to him is the order of importance:

Security:
- Body count (which he acknowledged as "backwards" but justified by referencing some Eliot Cohen article in 2006 that argued "counterinsurgency is still war, and war's essential element is fighting")
- Number of times he is attacked (he wants it to be as low as possible)
- Number of dead bodies found on the street
- Sectarian makeup of Iraqi units he's partnered with
- Number of local tips he gets
- Number of enemy captured

Governance:
- Opening shops on the main street
- Keeping useful local leaders alive
- "Normal" activity of people
- Willingness of Sunnis to travel across Baghdad
- Essential services, employment levels

These seem to be great metrics if your first priority is leaving Iraq with as many soldiers as possible, with little regard to the situation you are leaving to the guys relieving you. It is conducive to holing up in your Forward Operating Base and leaving only to react to events. There is no mention of the local political situation that the security situation is supposed to be oriented around. Furthermore he has as "metrics" things which aren't even nominally under his control, such as the makeup of Iraqi units and the willingness of Sunnis to travel in other commanders' Areas of Responsibility. His emphasis on body count as his primary metric was especially depressing - supposedly we had learned that was a poor metric back in Vietnam (and probably earlier).

LTC Gentile did say some useful things however - he pointed out that the situation can't be measured by quantifiable variables, and that gut feeling and judgment are the overriding variables, and that progress should be presented in a narrative form rather than through graphs, etc. However I was left with a fair amount of questions...
Bolded phrase reflects an aspect of the reported brief that is identical to the article currently under discussion.

Last edited by Jedburgh; 09-18-2007 at 03:43 PM.
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Old 09-18-2007   #13
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Clearly I have struck a nerve in many of the readers of this blog. I will say up front that at least I reply to criticisms made of what I have to say when others of more fame and fortune than I and of rock star status clearly see themselves above the fray of this blog.

Admittedly this piece was written in evocative and impressionistic form. That is to say I wrote this piece from the premise of how the coin’s paradoxes appeared to me when I read it at the end of my combat tour in command of a combat battalion in west-baghdad in 2006.

I must have missed the class as Dr Tyrell states and I never really did get Foucault or Derrida because for the life of me I don’t get what he is telling me. I guess I just must be slow. No matter, I will restate my impression of the coin manual’s paradoxes when I was in combat in Iraq and based on reflection upon my return: my impression was that the paradoxes removed the essence of war which is fighting. You might disagree with what I have to say but I think the logic is pretty clear.

Reference Dr Metz’s implication that I am stuck in the old “cold war mindset” I suggest that he along with so many other experts are the ones stuck in a box. He like so many others are a part of the great narrative that has been constructed on US involvement in iraq. It goes something like the army didn’t’ take coin seriously before the war and because of that the army has screwed up iraq. But happily with the help of experts and some enlightened thinkers within the active army we have now finally figured out how to do it; aka the surge. I argue that this entire construct is flawed. That by and large the American army has done pretty well in Iraq—even prior to the surge--with the strategic and political cards it was dealt. My article in fact threatens the intellectual base of the new coin doctrine because it calls its basic theoretical premises into question. Counterinsurgency war is not “armed social science” as Kilkullen has called it. Instead at its basic level is violence and death; this was my impression after a year in Baghdad.

As for Jedburg’s mean statement that I was hunkered down in a fob I point him to a recent oped piece that I had published in Army Times on that subject. He could also ask any number of 4 star generals on down to the lowest private in my squadron if I “got it” and new how to do coin. And finally, he might try asking other commanders who lost soldiers what their priorities were. I know what I said at that Heritage panel did not fit in with what the coin experts believe actual coin ops should be like, but again my impression of counterinsurgency warfare is that fighting is its basic element and so killing and not being killed were my top priorities. So go ahead Jedburg and ask people who knew of me and I trust you will not get the profile back that you have created on me.

I will pose a counterfactual again that I posted last week on this blog: If the army had read books like Nagl’s before the war and trained and taken seriously coin operations would things be any different in iraq than they are now? If the army had focused predominantly on coin prior to 2003 would the march to Baghdad gone the same way?

In my mind FM3-24 has become the army’s primary operational doctrine, and to its detriment. It has pushed us into doing things that make no sense to me: like arming the enemy of the government that we support; like dogmatically using the tactics of combat outposts in areas where other methods might be better but we do this because a French officer had success with them in the mountains of Algeria in 1958.

I think the coin doctrine has merit and can work under certain conditions; like French Algeria in the late 50s or El Salvador in the 1980s. But Civil War iraq in 2007? What we need is fresh thinking on how to operate there but the seduction of FM 3-24 in our army has pushed us into dogmatism.

One last point. A good friend of mine who was closely involved with the rebuilding of the army and its intellectual base after Vietnam told me recently that prior to its 1986 publication FM 100-5 had at least 110 articles written about it in the years leading up to its publication that fundamentally questioned its theoretical premises. How many articles written in Military Review, Parameters, etc have fundamentally questioned our new coin doctrine? Only a few.

If you want to read a quality piece written by another combat battalion commander read LTC Ross Brown’s recent article in Military Review on his experience in Iraq in 2005. Or ask some of our infantry leaders currently serving in Anbar if they are using FM 3-24 as their operational guide or the older FM 90-8 on counter guerilla operations.

To repeat, war is not “armed social science,” though many of you may want it to be.
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Old 09-18-2007   #14
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Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
Reference Dr Metz’s implication that I am stuck in the old “cold war mindset” I suggest that he along with so many other experts are the ones stuck in a box. He like so many others are a part of the great narrative that has been constructed on US involvement in iraq. It goes something like the army didn’t’ take coin seriously before the war and because of that the army has screwed up iraq. But happily with the help of experts and some enlightened thinkers within the active army we have now finally figured out how to do it; aka the surge. I argue that this entire construct is flawed. That by and large the American army has done pretty well in Iraq—even prior to the surge--with the strategic and political cards it was dealt. My article in fact threatens the intellectual base of the new coin doctrine because it calls its basic theoretical premises into question. Counterinsurgency war is not “armed social science” as Kilkullen has called it. Instead at its basic level is violence and death; this was my impression after a year in Baghdad.
You misstate my point. Agree that the Army has done well in Iraq. The fact that the Army has done well and the chances of ultimate strategic success are still slim illustrates my point exactly: counterinsurgency is not a form of war to be won by the military. Treating it more like war will not alter this.

If we ultimately fail, it will not be because we did not kill enough insurgents. It is, in your phrase, "the strategic and political cards" I have a problem with, not with Army doctrine or performance. War may not be "armed social science" (a phrase, by the way, Dave did not invent--I heard Larry Cable use it at an SF branch conference in the mid 90s). But, by the same token, counterinsurgency is not war. But because we have this great military hammer, we treat all security problems as nails amenable to warfighting.

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Old 09-18-2007   #15
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To repeat, war is not “armed social science,” though many of you may want it to be.
Nor is war always the total "all or nothing" construct that many want it to be. And where exactly did Jedhburg accuse you of hunkering down in a fob?

In any case, I still think the main point of 3-24 is to get people to think about what they're doing. And the Army's track record in preserving any doctrine other than that of massive state-versus-state warfare is abysmal, going all the way back to before the Civil War. The Army as an institution has always enjoyed a certain level of dogmatism in its operational theory.

To pose an answer to your counterfactual, I would say that the situation in Iraq could certainly been different had more senior planners understood the implications of regime change and societal reconstruction...which is part of COIN. Would the march to Baghdad gone the same way? Quite possibly. Again, I present the example of the Marine Corps, which has managed to preserve both a focus on large-scale conflict and a fair stockpile of COIN lessons prior to 3-24's publication.
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Old 09-18-2007   #16
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Default Defeating an insurgency

I will not try to bridge the differences between LtC. Gentile an others. I think most of his metrics make sense despite a different emphasis in the COIN manual. In fact, I think the current operations are doing a better job of destroying the enemy than we were doing with fewer troops. By being in the neighborhoods we are accomplishing two important things. We are denying access to the enemy and we are getting more intelligence on enemy locations through tips. It also means we do not have to buy the same real estate over and over. It is difficult to say that the kinetic operations in the Diyala valley were not aimed at destroying the enemy and his infrastructure in his remaining sanctuary in Iraq.

I think the reports coming out of Anbar provide at least anecdotal evidence that our new allies are not enemies of the central government and are in fact being paid by that government. In other areas we are organizing citizen watches made up of former adversaries who provide their own arms. I suspect this is a transition phase meant to gage their dependability and loyalty.

The Sheiks seem to be the key political component in Iraq to controlling the country. Saddam learned this during his war with Iran and it appears to be holding true as we see groups rallying to our side in both the Sunni and Shia area when the Sheik says to do it.

In short the result of current operations demonstrate less violence against the population by sectarian factions and more effective kinetic operations against both al Qaeda and the Shia militia.
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Old 09-18-2007   #17
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Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile
.....As for Jedburg’s mean statement that I was hunkered down in a fob I point him to a recent oped piece that I had published in Army Times on that subject. He could also ask any number of 4 star generals on down to the lowest private in my squadron if I “got it” and new how to do coin. And finally, he might try asking other commanders who lost soldiers what their priorities were. I know what I said at that Heritage panel did not fit in with what the coin experts believe actual coin ops should be like, but again my impression of counterinsurgency warfare is that fighting is its basic element and so killing and not being killed were my top priorities. So go ahead Jedburg and ask people who knew of me and I trust you will not get the profile back that you have created on me....
I never stated that you "were hunkered down on a FOB". My "mean statement", as you put it, was that your comments were reflective of a stereotypical conventional Armor officer that can't stand anything other than HIC. Thus far, you have not posted anything to counter that perception, other than suggest I go around conducting character interviews. Sir, I do not question your character - I question your grasp of unconventional warfare.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile
....In my mind FM 3-24 has become the army’s primary operational doctrine, and to its detriment. It has pushed us into doing things that make no sense to me: like arming the enemy of the government that we support; like dogmatically using the tactics of combat outposts in areas where other methods might be better but we do this because a French officer had success with them in the mountains of Algeria in 1958.
I think you greatly overstate the influence of FM 3-24. It is an important doctrinal publication, but our Army has seen tremendous change and evolution in doctrinal pubs across the spectrum since 9-11, many of which are completely new and not doctrinal rewrites. However, I refer you back to RTK's post on the interrelationship of operational doctrine. Your constant diatribes against the manual are beginning to sound strident; if you could bring up substantive issues of precisely how it impacts training and other doctrine, that would go a long way towards making your case.

Offhand, I'd also like to say that arming the enemy of the government isn't something that was pushed by anything between the covers of FM 3-24. My view on the matter is stated here.
Quote:
...If you want to read a quality piece written by another combat battalion commander read LTC Ross Brown’s recent article in Military Review on his experience in Iraq in 2005....
If you are referring to his Jan-Feb 07 piece, Commander's Assessment: South Baghdad, you are right, that is a good read. However, he specifically addresses the importance of the core subject which I have said that you either avoid, ignore or dismiss: linking killing with building, the kinetic with the non-kinetic. Other than a summary dismissal of armed social science, I would like to hear you elaborate on the fusion of those two aspects of unconventional warfare, as well as on conventional maneuver units' experience with interagency collaboration (or the lack thereof - as LTC Brown states at the end of his article) at the tactical level.
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Old 09-18-2007   #18
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Hi Folks,

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Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
I must have missed the class as Dr Tyrell states and I never really did get Foucault or Derrida because for the life of me I don’t get what he is telling me. I guess I just must be slow. No matter, I will restate my impression of the coin manual’s paradoxes when I was in combat in Iraq and based on reflection upon my return: my impression was that the paradoxes removed the essence of war which is fighting. You might disagree with what I have to say but I think the logic is pretty clear.
....
Counterinsurgency war is not “armed social science” as Kilkullen has called it. Instead at its basic level is violence and death; this was my impression after a year in Baghdad.
Well, not being a proponent of either Foucault or Derrida, I'm not sure what they have to do with this. However, yes, your logic was clear. Let me use exactly the same logical form that you used.

According to Clausewitz, war is an extension of politics
Politics is a social science,
Therefore war is an armed social science

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
Reference Dr Metz’s implication that I am stuck in the old “cold war mindset” I suggest that he along with so many other experts are the ones stuck in a box. He like so many others are a part of the great narrative that has been constructed on US involvement in iraq. It goes something like the army didn’t’ take coin seriously before the war and because of that the army has screwed up iraq. But happily with the help of experts and some enlightened thinkers within the active army we have now finally figured out how to do it; aka the surge.
That is certainly the extreme form of that particular narrative and I believe that it is a narrative that has gained strength, at least in pop culture, over the past 3-4 years.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
I argue that this entire construct is flawed. That by and large the American army has done pretty well in Iraq—even prior to the surge--with the strategic and political cards it was dealt. My article in fact threatens the intellectual base of the new coin doctrine because it calls its basic theoretical premises into question.
Why do you think it "threatens the intellectual base of the new coin doctrine"? I certainly don't see any attacks on the underlying premises of the doctrine. Also, I would suggest, that FM 3-24 is not meant as a stand alone but, rather, a complement for other types (classes or categories) of warfare.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
I will pose a counterfactual again that I posted last week on this blog: If the army had read books like Nagl’s before the war and trained and taken seriously coin operations would things be any different in iraq than they are now? If the army had focused predominantly on coin prior to 2003 would the march to Baghdad gone the same way?
To answer: possibly. However, let me toss out my own counterfactual: If the Army or, more specifically the planners of the war, had read anything about the Marshall Plan in Germany after WW II, or had bothered to read The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict, then the current COIN fight might have been unnecessary. The goal of a strike such as the march to Baghdad should not be to create more situations for killing, but that is the effect it has had since there was only a limited understanding of either previous Army doctrine (e.g. the occupation strategies of Japan and Germany) or a solid institutionalization of COIN principles.

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Old 09-18-2007   #19
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In an ongoing discussion on this subject with an Air Force officer currently attending U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, I find myself coming to the conclusion that the Cold War model of a smooth continuum from low intensity to high intensity conflict is broken. The break occurs between Low and Mid intensity. The spectrum of conventional conflict, from the smallest fight to superpowers with nukes is a smooth continuum, but Small Wars operations fall in a discrete spectrum.

COIN falls in the Small Wars spectrum. It may be contemporaneous with a conventional fight, as Churchill tried to arrange for the Germans with the SOE and OSS units, and as the Germans arranged for themselves by invading the Balkans. It may be sequel to a conventional war, as for the Allied forces in Germany after WWII, and in Iraq today. It may be a prelude to a conventional war as in Indochina/Viet Nam and as envisioned in classical Latin American guerrilla theory. COIN may also occur in isolation from a conventional fight.

The bottom line is that COIN requires a different skill set than conventional war, and the U.S. military has to be ready for both. The British model as used Ireland and Bosnia is to train for the conventional war, retrain for COIN, and re-retrain after returning from COIN duty. The Canadians dual equip mechanized units with LAVs (wheeled) and tracked vehicles. I hope someone with better knowledge of Canadian doctrine can confirm or deny that they dual train also.

I don't know what would work best for the U.S. We seem to train for the current fight and continue until we've been burned by the other type of fight and throw everything the other direction until the wheel turns and we get burned again. U.S. officers (the ones I talk with at least) seem to like conventional conflict training better, and want to stay in their comfort zone, but they understand that you have to adapt, like it or not. The danger here is that we'll repeat the Air Force's mistake from the fifties and early sixties of thinking that one size of doctrine fits all (the early nuclear Air Force doctrine). (Actually, the Army wasn't much better with the Pentomic Divisions of that era.)

Utter heresy, but perhaps we should indulge the young firebrand Army, AF, and Marine Captains and Navy LTs. Find the smartest and most contrarian, and allow them a shot a writing the new model. It won't happen because of senior egos and rice bowls, but the younglings have some brilliant ideas and radical methods, and giving them looser reins could pay huge dividends.

Last edited by Van; 09-18-2007 at 08:45 PM. Reason: Previous was rushed, mea culpa
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Old 09-18-2007   #20
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and I'm carnivorous. Not to mention you can eat it with a knife or a spoon, whichever's easier and works best (METT-T for MRE's?)...

Van has it right, I think.

Seems to me that LTCs Gentile and Kilcullen are having a techniques disagreement. That's good for everyone. I think FM 3-24 is basically okay, if a tad touchy-feely and I also agree with much of what LTC Gentile says. Thus there's some merit to both sides, IMO -- I suspect, as usual , the average commander will fall in between, most will do it right and ol' METT-T will be the determinant as it always is...

While LTC Gentile alludes to the paradoxes as potentially introducing a mindset it seems to me that he accords it more power than any other document I''ve seen the Army or the Marine Corps publish. I'm afraid our mindset is too deep for one pub to change.

I do disagree with him on one point -- in his comment above he says that the Army has done pretty well in Iraq with the strategic and political cards it was dealt. I agree broadly but would submit the errors in the first eighteen months due to the lack of doctrinal effort and training emphasis on occupation, nation building and counterinsurgency throughout the Army from 1975 until I retired in 1977 and continuing until I retired as a DAC in 1995 were responsible for many those errors. There were a number of people pointing out the likely future and they were diligently ignored. Sort of understandable in the 1975-1990 period; bad ju-ju post 1990, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall...

Which gets to my point (and Van's) -- we have got to be a full spectrum Army.

Along that line, there's another article in the AFJ, Culture Battle by Colonel Henry Foresman Jr. That I think speaks to both 3-24 proponents and believers in LTC Gentile's approach. The culture is the problem. He says several things that I think are pertinent:

Quote:
"This is not to say we should have an Army or military that is not prepared to fight grand wars; rather, we need an Army and a military capable of fighting grand wars and conducting peacekeeping operations, providing military support to civil authority and executing stability and support operations."
He agrees with me; smart guy...

However, he also makes a very valid point that it seems to me that both 3-24 and LTC Gentile barely touch upon:

Quote:
"As Iraq has shown, they can defeat us through information dominance — shaping the message the world sees, whether that message is true or not. They can defeat us by eroding the will of the nation to stay the course."
I believe that is a critical point and the last phrase is the reason. I don't care how good we are. Goesh pointed out that Mr. & Mrs. America are basically cool with body bags but they want results. My sensing is he's absolutely correct and if the perception of Mr. & Mrs America is that we aren't doing well; they'll pull th plug. Techniques then become irrelevant.

Quote:
"The current Army leaders have matured in a culture where they were taught what to think, not how to think..."
My perception also. Good article and bears reading.

Like Steve, I take issue with some of LTC Gian's premises and essentially for the same reason. However, I do not agree that we haven't transcended the Cold war mindset -- I suggest, as does COL Foresman, we haven't transcended the WW II mindset. We are still structured essentially as we are in 1946. For those who say "Brigade Combat Teams," my response is RCT -- with which we fought most of WW II outside the North African Desert. Not to mention Korea then back to Brigades for Viet Nam. Lest I be misunderstood, Brigades are good, Divisions are bad (even if we did err in the structure ot the light infantry Battalions). Notice that we did not do away with the Division...

I think we did not to avoid the two star spaces loss; we may need them to mobilize -- just as we will need the 3K plus Colonels and 3K plus SGM/CSM even though those are the same numbers we had in 1960 with an Army almost twice the size of todays. Mobilization backup is what that's all about but 'mobilization' is (unfortunately and stupidly) a nasty word in Congress. Thus we dissemble to keep the ability to expand tremendously. Prudent; we should. I just think there are better ways to do that.

Creighton Abrams structured the Total Army to force the government to call up the RC to go to war. The tear down of that started in DS/DS because the then CofSA and then DCSOPS hated the idea and fought Congress demands to send ArNG Brigades to Kuwait. Post DS/DS, they continued to do that in various little ways, some effective and some not. What they did not do was prepare for the present (then or now...).

It's mostly about protecting the institution. To fight WW II.

We need to be able to do that but we could be a whole lot smarter in how we go about it and still be prepared to cope with the more likely threats in the next decade or so..
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