New U.S. Counter-insurgency Doctrine

Stephen DeAngelis

October 5, 2006

Michael Gordon, writing in today’s New York Times, discusses the new U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine being implemented by the Pentagon [“Military Hones a New Strategy on Insurgency“]. The new doctrine, which is scheduled to be published next month, implements many of the ideas that have been introduced by personnel now working for Enterra Solutions. These ideas can found in: Doing Windows: Non-Traditional Military Responses to Complex Emergencies [Washington, DC: CCRP, 1998] by Bradd Hayes, Enterra’s Senior Director of Communications and Research, and Jeffrey Sands; The Pentagon’s New Map [New York: Putnam, 2004] by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Enterra’s Senior Managing Director, and in this blog’s entries about Development-in-a-Box™, which we have also discussed with Pentagon personnel. I’m not trying to overstate our role in this doctrine’s development, I’m just pointing out that its implementation is very heartening for those who have been interested in this subject for some time. Gordon writes:

The doctrine warns against some of the practices used early in the war, when the military operated without an effective counterinsurgency playbook. It cautions against overly aggressive raids and mistreatment of detainees. Instead it emphasizes the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services, and the rapid development of local security forces. The current military leadership in Iraq has already embraced many of the ideas in the doctrine.

Gordon notes what many military analysts said before, this kind of doctrine is manpower intensive to implement leaving “military experts [to] question whether the Army and the Marines have sufficient troops to carry out the doctrine effectively while also preparing for other threats.” Tom Barnett’s answer, of course, has been to develop a System Administrator Force that complements combat forces.

The new doctrine is part of a broader effort to change the culture of a military that has long promoted the virtues of using firepower and battlefield maneuvers in swift, decisive operations against a conventional enemy. “The Army will use this manual to change its entire culture as it transitions to irregular warfare,” said Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who served in 2003 as the acting chief of staff of the Army. “But the Army does not have nearly enough resources, particularly in terms of people, to meet its global responsibilities while making such a significant commitment to irregular warfare.”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. James Baker, former Secretary of State, admitted this morning on ABC’s Good Morning America that the U.S. did not handle the securing-the-peace phase of the Iraq war very well. Had that been done properly (and had the U.S. fielded a System Administrator Force) we probably wouldn’t now have so many of our service people now engaged in counter-insurgency warfare. An old security adage states, “peace is always cheaper than war.” Not only are fewer people required when things are done right, less money is also required. That is the promise of this new doctrine.

The spirit of the document is captured in nine paradoxes that reflect the nimbleness required to win the support of the people and isolate insurgents from their potential base of support — a task so complex that military officers refer to it as the graduate level of war. Instead of massing firepower to destroy Republican Guard troops and other enemy forces, as was required in the opening weeks of the invasion of Iraq, the draft manual emphasizes the importance of minimizing civilian casualties. “The more force used, the less effective it is,” it notes. Stressing the need to build up local institutions and encourage economic development, the manual cautions against putting too much weight on purely military solutions. “Tactical success guarantees nothing,” it says. Noting the need to interact with the people to gather intelligence and understand the civilians’ needs, the doctrine cautions against hunkering down at large bases. “The more you protect your force, the less secure you are,” it asserts.

This doctrine is a long-time coming. Following the debacle in Vietnam, the military wanted to concentrate on the Soviet Union and the acquisition of major weapons systems. Following the end of the Cold War, when it found itself involved in crises in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia, it cried “mission creep” whenever nation-building tasks were sent its way. There were enlightened military leaders who saw the need for such military roles, but they were not in the majority.

A common assumption was that if the military trained for major combat operations, it would be able to easily handle less violent operations like peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. But that assumption proved to be wrong in Iraq; in effect, the military without an up-to-date doctrine. Different units improvised different approaches. The failure by civilian policy makers to prepare for the reconstruction of Iraq compounded the problem.

Today, most of the top military leadership understands the importance of such missions. Let’s hope they receive the political support they need to implement this doctrine successfully. Eventually, this doctrine could form the centerpiece of American foreign policy since it promotes better interagency participation and better cooperation with other governments and militaries as well as international & non-governmental organizations.