Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good Question; Silly Question

The good news is that apparently the COINdinistas (would COINtras be better? Hmmmm...) are gaining a greater toe-hold on the DoD and in the Army specifically.

One note of interest in all of this is that the Marine Corps is "getting" COIN better than the Army. I've discussed this with a Marine Major at a joint center that takes a great interest in COIN regarding the assistance of foreign governments in the stabilization of their own countries. These guys, who operate in one of a few bubbles in a world filled with "green-suiters," "blue-suiters" and so on, are referred to as "purple-suiters." This is because none of the other sobriquets are apt. "Purple suiters" are "joint" types. Those who play well with others... from other services. This Major ascribed the ability of the Marine Corps to institutionally accept the new doctrine more quickly has to do with the Marine culture of agility, adaptability and the Marine tendency to devolve authority to the lowest practicable level.

And now you know what the military meaning of "purple" is. Made it worthwhile to get out of bed today, didn't it? Anyway, purple is catching on and COINtras are gaining a toehold.

How could you not want to read what's after the jump?

We'll see how this works out, but the signs are somewhat encouraging. Meanwhile, there are some questions out there; one being a current sub-topic in the "national conversation" regarding policy vs strategy, tactics and doctrine. The other is a question posted by Dale Kuehl on the last post. One is silly, one is a pretty good question that begs a coherent response. Both are related like second cousins.

We'll start with the silly, and it's not Mr. Kuehl's question. It's the micro-debate that is largely over, but leaves a gap in the veneer showing an underlying "concern" with becoming good at COIN. The gist of it seems to be an objection, the narrative of which (Reader's Digest condensed version) is that if we get really good at counterinsurgency, our civilian masters may deem it simple and more desirable to run about willy-nilly unseating governments that we deem offensive on a regular basis. The simple answer to that question was put forth that those who truly understand COIN see it as an entirely unpalatable exercise that should be avoided at all costs.

This, of course, begged the question from the opposition of why those selfsame individuals were such proponents of the doctrine. The natural assumption seemed to be that the COINdinista in question was a proponent for some reasons relating to personal enjoyment of the doctrine rather than any expediency related to the situation in which we find ourselves.

The deeper question was whether our civilian masters (whatever administration holds the keys at any given moment, presumably in the future) can be trusted with such capability... the temptation to use such incredible cosmic power being obviously nearly irresistible.

The real answer to this question is a sibling to the answer to Mr. Kuehl's question, which is not silly at all.

Just curious. Why do you think the Army is confusing counter-insurgency and counter-guerrilla? From what I have seen the Army as a whole has embraced counter-insurgency while conducting counter-guerrilla operations. The big difference now from the 1986 Counterguerilla manual is the focus on the people vice an enemy centric approach. ~ Dale Kuehl, posted on "Not Now, Cato!"

There are a number of indicators that the Army has not fully grasped, nor fully committed itself to practicing COIN as if its life depended on it. As noted before on this blog, there is an active counterpoint being made against further promulgation of the doctrine within the Army, the assumption being that we are already masters of this domain. This is not because this assumption is in fact correct. A simple response to this assumption is that the "proof is in the pudding." The pudding that we have produced to this point in Afghanistan is not pudding at all, but instead a weak slurry with lumps of pudding-like material that is being stirred madly by a group of people with a few straws and one plastic spork.

This may seem a bit disjointed, but the answer to the second question is intimately related to the answer to the first. Part of the reason that we are not "getting" COIN, the reason why our pudding is not thickening evenly, is that we are not performing COIN in anything resembling a coherent manner. We've left out significant ingredients. For those who are reading such writers as Tim Lynch at Free Range International and Vampire 6 of Afghanistan Shrugged can easily see some of the serious errors being made in the actual theater of operations. Vampire 6 addresses the mistakes being made in the application of military efforts to secure the population, while Mr. Lynch is a strong advocate of not only military but also civilian COIN-related behaviors.

Lynch, who operates outside of the traditional parameters (meaning he doesn't stay within the Hesco-rimmed sanctuaries which harbor Green Beans Coffee shops and trailer park Burger Kings,) observes that we are making epic mistakes. Not only the Army but also USAID, the State Department and other governmental agencies who are responsible for and capable of making great differences in the security and development of one of the poorest nations on earth, whose security is linked directly to our own, are so busy protecting themselves that our efforts are being watered down to the point of ineffectiveness. Weak slurry... not pudding.

Dale, don't listen to the words and exhortations; look at the results. Here's another clue; we don't know how to measure success. The Army rates its own performance constantly. It does this on an individual basis as well. Every leader gets evaluated on his or her performance. The Army has a couple of forms that are used for this; the OER (Officer Evaluation Report) and the NCOER (Non Commissioned Officer Evaluation Report.) The NCOER is a rigid format. The OER includes something called an OER Support Form. Officers basically tell their supervisors what they are going to do and thereby set the objectives by which they are measured. The support form is done in conjunction with input from the supervisor, but the rated officer himself has a considerable amount of input into what the parameters of his evaluation are to be.

The Army is big on measurables. Most businesses are, too. Here's the beginning of the rub; how do you measure success in a counterinsurgency? In Vietnam we learned that enemy body counts are not a good measure. In fact, counting how many enemy you have killed is so counterproductive as to pretty much ensure that you are not going to be successful. What is most important to the military in a counterinsurgency? Securing the populace. How do you measure that? Do you go by the number of instances where civilians are harmed? Do you go by how many successful incidents of insurgents targeting civilians there are over a period of time? If so, does the loss of civilians to the actions of coalition forces count against a commander... or the whole series of commanders from the most local to the highest in that chain?

Leaders will put their efforts towards the measurables upon which their OER/NCOER is based. They will work for the reward; the good evaluation that sets them above their peers for promotion purposes. Witness these recommendations from the recently released Rand report:

•Introduce the creation, use, and employment of effect-based metrics into all echelons of leader and staff training. Training must include understanding the link between causality or correlation and outcomes, the importance of incorporating local conditions in metric development and assessment, and the use of qualitative and quantitative metrics to form compound metrics for aggregation and interpretation at higher levels of command.
•Conduct systematic reassessment and refinement of metrics at periodic intervals. Review metric baselines to ensure that they remain relevant.
•Establish a doctrinal metric framework that promotes objective definition from the top and identification of input measures from the bottom, with effects as the common link.
•Use a red-team approach to assist in metric development and evolution.
•Portray metrics by using simple, easy-to-understand tools that facilitate commander decisions.

~ Intelligence Operations and Metrics in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rand National Defense Research Institute, November, 2008

While these recommendations had to do with measuring effects (and therefore success) in counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, if OERs were based on such metrics, officers would be exceedingly interested in them, including how they are developed and how they are affected. They are not, currently. Here is one of the effects of the current setup:

That so many leaders at every level were less familiar with counterinsurgency than they should have been means that they failed to educate themselves. ~ ibid.

The Rand authors are not saying these things because they felt like spouting off; they are making recommendations based on the same things that I have seen.

This could go on and on, but there is one more thing upon which I will rest at this point; we are not training our subordinates in COIN. I have been saying this for awhile, and the good people at Rand have seen the same thing. As long as we are not training our junior leadership in COIN, we are not taking it seriously. This despite the fact that most of our junior leaders will not be members of the Army by the time the next major conventional conflict arises. Here is a telling statement as to the importance of well-trained junior leadership and decentralization:

Decentralization, and therefore good junior leadership, is essential to urban-operation mission accomplishment. ~ ibid.

We're not the Lone Ranger in this. The Dutch have apparently realized this and not they are training specifically.

Dutch leaders were concerned when some of their combat-unit soldiers demonstrated intolerance for Afghans in their AO. Recognizing the importance of maintaining positive relations with those able to provide critical intel, they introduced predeployment training that instills in their men and women the vital lesson of taking more than merely their own perspective. (he Royal Netherlands Army is now also considering in-theater reinforcement training in this regard.) ~ ibid.

Not being the only one in the boat doesn't make it any more right to be in it, by the way. Now the Dutch are kicking our butts in mission preparation, by the sound of it, because we don't do any of that. We train for stuff that doesn't happen, like protests outside the FOB. My young SECFOR from New York were better prepared to time warp back to the 1968 Democratic National Convention than they were for Nuristan.

Okay, so how does this tie in to the silly question of why success in our current COIN ventures won't bring us to the verge of empire? Because first, we're not getting it right... yet. The Army does very difficult things, and it's actually full of smart people, including a pretty large number of well-educated smart people. Not only are these people smart and fairly well-educated, but they are also well-trained. Any corporation would give their portion of the bailout to have people who were this well-trained and dedicated. When have you seen Chevrolet send tens of thousands of people overseas and pretty much every single one of them actually went? No, they can't pull that off... because try as they might, they can't get that kind of training and discipline instilled in their employees.

So they just send the jobs instead.

The point is that real, effective COIN is hard. It's complicated and it's hard. If it were less than really really difficult, we would have gotten it right probably sometimes after the first few years to attempting it. COIN? Nope. Never did get it right in Vietnam, and now we're over seven years into it in Afghanistan and we're losing ground. Now, some may say that's because it can't be done.

Slackers. They are like when my son insisted that his shoes were impossible to tie because he was struggling with learning how to tie them. He tried to sell me on the idea that, due to Velcro, shoelace tying was an archaic and dying art. It turned out with the proper training and education, he could indeed master the ancient art of shoelace tying.

There was one more thing that he needed: motivation. If the motivation to develop his new skill had been less than the motivation to assist the good people at 3M in the furtherance of their business growth objectives and their endless pursuit of the Italian shoe market, my son would still be wondering what in the hell rabbits running around trees had to do with footwear.

Those who insist that Afghanistan is too hard or not worth the effort required to actually do the job right are pretty much right along in that vein... except most of them are nearly four feet taller than my son was at that point in his life. The effect is the same. Now, if someone can just figure out how to motivate them to buckle down and learn how to tie this shoe... well, you get the idea.

Oops... there's part of the equation that's been left out.

Sometimes it seems we are the only people dealing with the beladiya [community government]. I have a MiTT [military transition team] with the battalion. There is a [MiTT] with the brigade. There is no equivalent on the civilian side.”

Huh? Civilian side? Yes, civilian side. You see, the biggest reason that we aren't going to take this COIN thing global once (if) we get it right is because it's going to require civilian governmental work, too. You see, one of the really cool things about these Rand guys is that they can see that it takes civilians to teach civilians how to run a government and how to start and run businesses.

Whoa... what a concept. You know what that means, right? Yep... hard work. Hard, tough work that isn't the easiest thing in the world but will bring a deep sense of satisfaction from helping some folks pull themselves up by their bootstraps and grow into the 21st Century. You guessed it... totally against the principles of government employees.

That in itself will prevent future governmental types from getting any screwy ideas about conquering the world in the furtherance of apple pie, baseball and democracy.

There you go... once again Old Blue has saved the world from the Cato-strophic consequences of well-executed COIN to whirled peas.

Actually, Membrain answered the question much more succinctly, but I still had a good time. Thanks for reading.


  1. Old Blue,

    I wish I had something better or more insightful to say. Being new to COIN, and just starting to scratch the surface, I can still see the lack of preparation our soldiers are receiving; and this is only from anecdotal evidence!

    The Marines are much more adept at picking up new stuff; for instance, they took Boyd's OODA and made it their own, almost before anyone else even knew it existed.

    I'm still flabbergasted to find mid level NCOs and even senior O4-6s without any knowledge of Galula. That's a link to his Pacification in Algiers, BTW.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for your efforts. Keep up the good work!

    Albert A Rasch
    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
    The Range Reviews: Tactical

  2. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/10/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  3. "So they just send the jobs instead."


  4. I have a bit of a different perspective having spent the past eight months at the National Training Center training units preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Having had the opportunity to work closely with seven different battalions I would say that leadership at all echelons have a pretty good understanding of COIN and not just from reading, but from actually trying to implement our doctrine. I have only seen one unit who had what I would call a counter-guerrilla focus and they had many aspects of COIN within their operational design.

    We try to build a scenario for the training unit that requires them to balance both lethal and non-lethal operations. While our scenario includes demonstrations (which I believe relevant since I had to deal with several during my time in Baghdad in 2007) it also includes sectarian tensions, mortar and rocket fire, complex attacks, and of course the various types of IEDs. Units also have to deal with local and provincial government, PRTs, ISF/ANSF, and local police. They have to develop projects along with the local civil leaders and their PRT. We are also placing greater emphasis on partnering with host nation security forces.

    We have over two thousand role players to include hundreds of Iraqis or Afghanis depending upon the focus of the rotation to add texture to the environment.

    Every battalion commander I have worked with has developed a pretty solid campaign plan which encompasses several lines of effort to include governance, economic development and information operations in addition to security.

    We take a hard look at how units are doing on what we have labeled Individual Skills in a COIN Environment which includes negotion skills, language skills, counter IED, counter sniper, and every Soldier a sensor and ambassador.

    We also try very hard to stay abreast of latest developments in TTP in theater from both Iraq and Afghanistan and try to incorporate best practices into our training and leader teaches. We try to pull lessons learned from OCs who have just returned from deployment and also try to maintain contact with units in theater. We also send OCs in theater to gather information and best practices. We have included State Department personnel, Law Enforcement Professionals, and the Assymetric Warfare Group to name just a few of the organizations we try to bring into our training.

    We have also worked hard along with JIEDO to try to get units to focus not just on force protection to defeat the IED, but to use intelligence and developing relationships with the people to more effectively identify and target the insurgent network.

    This training is much more complex and advanced than it was when I came through here with my battalion in 2006 and we seek to improve how we replicate the environment in theater for both Iraq and Afghanistan. Bottom line is I think we have come a long way in understanding the COIN fight and it has become institutionalized in the way we train and prepare units for deployment. While we can't duplicate the environment any unit may face, I believe all the maneuver training centers do a pretty damn good job of replicating many of the conditions units will face and force them to think through complex problems in an ambiguous environment.


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