Archive for the ‘IRG Paper’ Category

Misplaced Military Priorities

17 April, 2008

IRG member Andrew Exum writes:

‘I have another op-ed in The Guardian’s Comment Is Free making the case for an Obama Administration from the perspective of the counter-insurgent. I give a special shout-out to Comrade Ucko.’


The past seven years have been a painful learning experience for the US army and Marine Corps. After decades spent pretending we would never again fight a protracted counter-insurgency campaign along the lines of the Vietnam war, the US military has found itself in two such conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with no clear end to either in sight.

The intellectual response to Iraq and Afghanistan, however, has been impressive. Stung by ineffective or counter-productive tactics and strategy that cost thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of innocent civilian lives in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military went back to the drawing board to produce a new counter-insurgency doctrine that places the security and welfare of the population at the centre of the mission rather than the destruction of the enemy. Has a military ever before enlisted Human Rights Watch to help it create doctrine? Surely not. The US military, then, deserves praise for its humility and impressive learning curve.

America’s civilian leadership, unfortunately, has not been as intellectually flexible as its uniformed officer corps. In Congress and the department of defence, elected representatives and bureaucrats continue to push the development and acquisition of expensive weapons systems despite the fact the US military is currently fighting two very low-tech wars in which cultural education and language training are more important than the latest fighter jets and artillery systems. Secretary of defence Robert Gates recently expressed exasperation that so much of his budget was being eaten up by the F-22, a state-of-the-art fighter-interceptor that has yet to fly a single mission in the two taxing wars in which the US military finds itself. Surely we need 30,000 more Marines more than we need the F-22.

Read the rest of Andrew’s piece here. Read David Ucko’s related paper, Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency, here.

Update: Check out David Betz’s comments on Andrew’s piece here at the Kings of War blog.


Innovation or Inertia?

24 March, 2008

IRG member Dr. David Ucko has an essay in the current edition of Orbis (Spring 2008, not yet online), the policy journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Entitled Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency, it provides an assessment of how well the US is adapting to the lessons learned from its recent counterinsurgency campaigns, and the extent to which necessary changes are being institutionalised.


Following its encounter with insurgent violence in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has sought to improve the U.S. military’s ability to conduct counterinsurgency. This effort suggests a potential turning-point in the history of the U.S. military, which has traditionally devoted its attention and resources to ‘‘high-intensity’’ or ‘‘conventional’’ combat. Given this institutional culture, what are now the prospects of the U.S. military ‘learning counterinsurgency’? In many ways, the ongoing reorientation is promising and targeted, informed directly by the U.S. campaign in Iraq. At the same time, Pentagon priorities still reveal a remarkable resistance to change, and this in spite of the radically altered strategic environment of the War on Terror. Given this intransigence – and the eventual fallout from the troubled Iraq campaign – the ongoing learning of counterinsurgency might very well fail to produce the type of deep-rooted change needed to truly transform the U.S. military.

Frank Hoffman has written a review of the essay on the Small Wars Journal site, available here.

The full essay is accessible below:

Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency [PDF]

Lessons from Lebanon

18 March, 2008

Two pieces out this week seek to illustrate the lessons that should be drawn from Israel’s disastrous engagement with Hizballah in 2006. The Combat Studies Institute of the US Army Combined Arms Center has published a 96-page monograph by Matt Matthews, entitled We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War [PDF]. Meanwhile, the latest issue of CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, has an article by IRG member and King’s College War Studies PhD candidate Andrew Exum, entitled Drawing the Right Lessons from Israel’s War with Hizb Allah [PDF].

Much in the Matthews piece is perceptive, including the assessment that the IDF adopted a strategy that was over-reliant on air power, technology and a faulty interpretation of effects-based operations:

As enemy rockets rained down on northern Israel, the IDF attempted to orchestrate the strategic cognitive collapse of Hezbollah through the use of air power and precision firepower-based operations. When this failed, the IDF sought to produce the same effects by using its ground forces to conduct limited raids and probes into southern Lebanon. These restrained initiatives designed to create a cognitive perception of defeat also failed to produce the effects necessary to incapacitate Hezbollah. The presence of several IDF mechanized divisions north of the Litani in the first 72 hours of the war, combined with a violent, systematic clearing of Hezbollah’s bunkers and tunnels, might have brought about the cognitive collapse [Chief of the IDF General Staff] Halutz so desperately sought. Unfortunately, the new IDF doctrine failed to incorporate a large land maneuver component into its effects-based approach.

According to Ron Tira, one of the major problems within the IDF was “the over-zealous embrace of the American effects-based operations (EBO) idea. EBO’s aim is to paralyze the enemy’s operational ability, in contrast to destroying its military force. This is achieved by striking the headquarters, lines of communication, and other critical junctions in the military structure. EBO [was] employed in their most distinct form in the Shock and Awe campaign that opened the 2003 Iraq War. However, the Americans used EBO to prepare the way for their ground maneuvers, and not as an alternative to them.”

However, in an echo of the ongoing debate in America regarding whether or not US forces are becoming overly focused on counterinsurgency rather than conventional warfighting, Matthews argues the inability to ‘step-up’ from COIN to conventional operations was key to the IDF’s failure in Lebanon:

Another crucial factor in the IDF’s reverses in southern Lebanon was the dismal performance of its ground forces. Years of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations had seriously diminished its conventional warfighting capabilities. The IDF was completely dismayed to find that its land forces could not conduct a successful ground campaign in southern Lebanon. Although Naveh was heavily criticized, his observations are astute and timely. “The point is, the IDF fell in love with what it was doing with the Palestinians,” he stated. “In fact it became addictive. You know when you fight a war against a rival who’s by all means inferior to you, you may lose a guy here or there, but you’re in total control. It’s nice, you can pretend that you fight the war and yet it’s not really a dangerous war…. I remember talking to five brigade commanders…. I asked them if they had an idea… what it meant to go into battle against a Syrian division? Did they have in mind what a barrage of 10 Syrian artillery battalions looked like?”

In the conventional arena, the IDF ground forces performed unsatisfactorily. The fight at Wadi al-Saluki, for example, revealed the failure of tank commanders and crewmen to use their smokescreen systems, the lack of indirect-fire skills, and the total absence of combined arms proficiency. The IDF lost many of these perishable combat skills during its long years of COIN operations against the Palestinians.

While there is undoubtedly some validity in this argument, it requires qualification. As Exum argues in his article, “The greatest mistake the U.S. military can make in studying the lessons of 2006… is to study the 34 days of fighting that took place in southern Lebanon in July and August of that year without any context.”

The IDF’s failure was not over-learning the principles of counterinsurgency, but not having applied them effectively in the years prior to the 2006 war: “Israel never dealt with the root political problems in southern Lebanon that led to the rise of Hizb Allah. The 2006 war did not take place in a 34-day vacuum; it was merely the latest bloodshed in a dispute between Israel and Hizb Allah that has been fought with varying degrees of intensity since 1982.”

As such:

The 2006 war was not evidence, then, that Israel had over-learned the lessons of counter-insurgency, but rather the opposite: Israel has never effectively learned counter-insurgency in the first place. Even in the West Bank and Gaza, the IDF continues to approach the fighting there as a counter-terrorism mission instead of a counter-insurgency mission. Moreover, while the presence of both a radicalized settler population and historical animosities might preclude the application of an effective counter-insurgency strategy in the Occupied Territories, Israel has never developed and applied counter-insurgency doctrine along the lines of FM 3-24 despite years of experience in irregular warfare dating back to Jewish guerrilla groups in pre-state Israel.

Read the Matthews piece here, and the Exum piece here.

Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare

12 March, 2008

IRG member Sergio Catignani writes…

“Just want to bring to your attention the publication of a new book on COIN titled, “Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare“, which is edited by [IRG members] Daniel Marston and Carter Malkasian. The reviews have been done by some quite distinguished COIN experts.”

Some of these reviews are included below:

‘Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare is an essential primer for any student of this most difficult form of war. Leading authors provide exceptional case studies of 13 modern insurgencies. These authors highlight the critical common factors of successful counterinsurgencies. Just as important, they highlight the differences as a reminder that every insurgency grows from unique cultural, political, economic and social conditions – and each requires a counterinsurgent strategy. Its a must read for anyone who deals with national security.’
TX Hammes

‘This volume edited by Daniel Marston and Carter Malkasian provides an interesting and informative overview of the most important topic in modern warfare–countersinurgency. The editors have recruited an impressive lineup of contributors comprising many of the leading experts from the US and the UK. Together they provide an introduction to some of the leading counterinsurgency campaigns of the 20th century. Soldiers and civilians alike will learn a great deal here to help them better understand the challenges that confront us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.’
Max Boot, senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The Savage Wars of Peace” and “War Made New”

‘Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare” is a fine collection that should contribute significantly to contemporary debates about what leads to success or failure in counterinsurgency. The provocative essays reveal that such conflicts are always unique, requiring counterinsurgent forces to develop cultural awareness and learning organizations if they want to have any hope of victory. And even those mechanisms will fail if military activities are not linked closely to political objectives, and the unified effort is not geared for long term commitment.’
Conrad Crane, lead author of the new Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual

“A wide-ranging, sophisticated anthology that all serious students of counterinsurgency should read and savor. Challenging, candid and provocative.“
Bing West