Monday, April 10, 2006

Thoughts and Considerations for COIN Ops



I've been doing some analysis in the hopes of understanding the nature of successful COIN ops. These are some of the random insights I've gathered, some through my time in the AOR, some through reading of history and other sources:

1. Military force should be employed in a highly precise manner. To defeat the insurgents you are going to need to use military force. That is a given. You are going to have to fight them. However, the military option is just that, an option. Insurgencies are defeated by strategies that combined military and political options. Military offensives should consider impact on the civilian population and be primarily conducted when there is credible intelligence on high-value targets and concentrations of enemy combatants.
Example: US unit conducts raid against suspected enemy residence. US unit conducts military tactics that end up alienating all residents of suspected enemy location and their neighbors. US unit conducted op based on shaky intel. Suspected enemy location turns out to be the wrong house. You keep doing that enough times and the local population will turn into your enemies even if they were neutral or favorable to you beforehand.

2. Do not underestimate the power of nationalism. We must assume that US forces will be seen as occupiers. We must work our way up from that assumption. A number of influential leaders in and outside the country in question will invariably portray US presence as an imperialistic occupation. Their voices will be heard. Especially if the country we are involved in has a large pool of bored, angry, an unoccupied young men. Nationalism can be strong even within a weak or failed nation state; witness pan-Arab nationalism.
Example: "Wherever, whenever there is occupation, there will be resistance."
Example 2: We are not the only ones guilty of underestimating national will. In Chechnya, the Russians did it too.

3. Be ready to go full spectrum. The US must be ready to conduct operations throughout the full spectrum of operations. This is especially true when conducting operations in the political and military environment of a COIN campaign. The center of gravity(COG) in a COIN campaign is the demographics, the people. The battlespace is in the streets and in the minds of the people. The ideal is to engage the demographic COG in a benign manner. Is not good enough that US forces be well trained in counterinsurgency, but the local forces you train must be as good or better than you at it.
Example: Providing training and equipment to security, firefighting, and medical emergency response units in a effort to improve public safety capabilities of transitional government.

4. It's the economy, stupid. Politics, security, the economy are all tied together in the COIN environment. In the short term, high unemployment just feeds more people into the pool of bored, angry, young men. Economic reconstruction is perhaps the most difficult task in the campaign. The countries in which our forces will be conducting the campaign will be probably be suffering from deep economic problems to begin with. An extraordinary amount of external assistance might be needed before the country in question can operate under its own steam. Also, don't assume that the country's vast natural resources will ensure the quick recovery of the economy.
Example: The assumption that Iraq's economy could quickly recover if the oil fields were not burned. The problems in Iraq's economy were deeper than that.

5. Insurgencies are like water. Insurgencies adapt their shape to wherever they move in the stream. They constantly learn and adapt to the present. They thrive in the complexity and chaos of modern war. They don't have rigid tactics and rarely settle in static positions. The insurgents might fiercely defend a sanctuary for a while. Diehards and suicide squads might stay behind as cannon fodder while the insurgent leadership and high value targets sneak out the back door ready to regroup in another town.
Example: Fallujah. Between 1,200-1,600 insurgents were killed inside the city in Nov 04. Many more insurgents fled the city prior to the operation. Insurgent attacks continued elsewhere in the country.

I've got a few more, but this is me thinking out loud for now.

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