Still, unless one has at least a passing familiarity with COIN doctrine and its practical applications in Iraq, then one is in danger of seeing "The Surge" as little more than a shallow attempt to bolster what had been a demonstrably failing strategy by simply throwing more troops at the problem. This is most emphatically not the case, though --as usual-- you'd never know it by relying solely on the MSM as a source. In point of fact, the Surge in troop levels was only the most visible aspect of what was clearly a fundamental shift in strategy, one which has been paying tremendous dividends...and just in the nick of time!
I recently encountered a couple of articles which present some very vivid pictures of COIN doctrine in action, and I thought I'd take a few moments to share them.
The first is an article from the Small Wars Journal, by Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, who is currently serving as special adviser for counterinsurgency to Secretary of State Rice. It is a wonderful insight into the thinking behind COIN tactics and strategy, organized around a set of "commandments" for military units rotating into an AO where insurgents compete for the public's cooperation. I simply cannot do it justice in a short summary, as it is so pithily written, filled with nuggets like these:
Counterinsurgency is armed social work; an attempt to redress basic social and political problems while being shot at. This makes civil affairs a central counterinsurgency activity, not an afterthought. It is how you restructure the environment to displace the enemy from it. In your company sector, civil affairs must focus on meeting basic needs first, then progress up Maslow’s hierarchy as each
successive need is met.
This is about as far from the "whack-a-mole" strategy which had previously been employed (and to which those like Barack Obama would have us return) as can be imagined. The crucial element in successful COIN operations is the intimate understanding of the host nation's society on as fine-grained a level as possible, such that the subtle signs of opposition or cooperation can become apparent and insurgents' tactics anticipated and interdicted. It is the kind of warfare which becomes possible when one's military is a highly trained and professional force of volunteers, versus a mob of conscripts.
Kilcullen's article is targeted at the level of Company commanders, and very skillfully addresses the concerns of those who must organize the activities of that number of fighters. At a much finer level of resolution is this article, by Captain Craig Coppock, US Army. It is a remarkable document which yields a wealth of practical insights into the day-to-day activities of a counterinsurgent operating at the level of the platoon or individual rifleman. The stress is clearly on the formation of intimate connections with the local population. It is by taking the time to establish relationships and gather extremely detailed data on the fine points of the AO ("Area of Operations") that the individual soldier, Marine, etc. is able to "get inside the enemy's planning cycle," and anticipate the next attack.
Readers who have never served nor intend to serve in the military (like myself) may wonder why I am directing their attention to articles which are so clearly aimed at those brave souls who choose to pursue a career in service of their country. The simple fact is that, as I have previously stated, most of us looking in from the outside will tend to have little to no idea of what it is that our military actually does on its various missions. If there is one idea that COIN operators must internalize and eternally apply, it is that a lack of understanding can lead to serious mistakes. The fact that such mistakes do not tend to be fatal for the rest of us the way they can be for those who are more directly in harm's way does not make it any less crucial that we try and minimize the number of conclusions we reach with incomplete or distorted information. Whether it is knowing which house to strike, based on information gathered from locals whose trust a soldier has painstakingly cultivated, or knowing which candidate should get our vote, based on a comprehensive and deeply-considered evaluation of well-sourced information, the consequences for our Nation and for the world in which it exists can be just as weighty.
One of the pieces of advice in the Coppock article is to vary one's patrolling habits, and so avoid predictable patterns which an alert enemy can exploit. Similarly, an over-reliance on established habits of thought and ideology are ripe targets for cynically manipulative operatives of political campaigns (to say nothing of advertising agencies and criminals). Taking the time to think inside of unfamiliar spaces can insulate us against such sneak attacks. It rewards the (considerable!) effort that it requires with the satisfaction of knowing that one has outmaneuvered even the most wily of adversaries. And so, as it goes for COIN, so does it go with citizenship and liberty as a whole:
Embrace counterinsurgency. It is not the cut and dry direct action fight that we all trained for. It is a thinking man’s game. You must outsmart your enemy. Do not get discouraged when you do not see immediate results. Some areas will be more resistant than others. This is not a reason to write the AO off as a lost cause. You just have a lot of work to do. Start small, start safe. Changing the dynamic of a neighborhood takes time.