Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Now That The Cat's Out Of The Bag: I REALLY Like This

The irrepressible Christian Bleuer of Ghosts of Alexander has found the document on the web. This document was posted on the Army's BCKS (Battle Command Knowledge System,) an internal password-protected forum that includes many lines of discussion, one of which (thank God,) is COIN. I don't drag documents off of the more secure side into the public, but now that the cat's out of the bag, let's go.

The document, "Winning in Afghanistan" was written by CPT Carl Thompson, a Maryland Army National Guard officer who is embarking on his fourth tour in the War on Terror Overseas Contingency Operation. It is an amazing document. I have linked to Bleuer's PDF file, as it is the most accessible and readable.

I spoke with CPT Thompson by phone this morning, catching him in the field at Camp Shelby, MS, where he is training for his second deployment as an ETT. It turns out that he's been getting lots of calls from Soldiers who have discovered that 2009 will be their year to experience The Lumpy Suck for the first time, and they are looking for G-2 (intelligence, the straight scoop, the skinny, poop, the word, no BS info) on how to prepare for it. I gave him a quick brief on A.L.L. (Afghan Lessons Learned; the collaborative project recently launched by Bouhammer, WOTN, and Vampire 6 to put non-classified info and advice about Afghanistan out on a single site for the benefit of those headed to Afghanistan for the first time) and he thought it was a great idea. He's suffering through another "Afghan-specific" train-up that lacks real-time, real-world applicability in Afghanistan. We agreed that the Army is just too slow and, for lack of a better word, politically-correct with its training. Some of it is totally irrelevant. It's something that you have to suffer through to earn the right to go downrange so you can forget it and do your real job.

Which is sad, to say the least. I was raised in an Army where, "Train the way you fight, fight the way you train!" was the mantra. Now it's more like, "They taught you WHAT??? Forget everything they taught you. Do this."

This varies from place to place, but we've utterly failed at implementing lessons learned. So, the new repository of scoop will try to balance that, sharing lessons learned on the ground for the benefit of those headed downrange to A'stan in 2009. CPT Thompson has agreed to make a contribution with his excellent piece.

If you Google the phrase, "Winning in Afghanistan," you will find many documents that have it as their title or as part of the title. Thompson's "Winning in Afghanistan" is light years from any of those documents. This document takes COIN from the lofty world of saying COIN to this is how you do COIN in an Afghan village. It gives real-world, gritty, no-shit advice on what you will find when dealing with Afghans, and my head started nodding immediately as I read it the first time.

It is an absolutely fantastic document and should be required reading for all Soldiers going into Afghanistan. There should be a test on it for leaders, and leaders who fail that test should be sent back for remedial training. It should be published on that paper that your credit cards come in... the stuff that won't tear or turn to pulp when it's wet... and issued to each and every Soldier and Marine headed to Afghanistan. This, ladies and gentlemen is the freaking Handbook for COIN Application in Afghanistan. Deploying troops should be required to read Galula's Counterinsurgency: Theory and Practice first, followed immediately by this, given guided discussion time and then tested.

This is a war, and it's time to get serious about winning this war on its own terms. If Soldiers and leaders follow the guidelines in this book, we will win. If they don't, well, you've seen what happens.

It's the best thing since sliced bread.

The document is too big for me to digest its wonders in one posting, but with the permission of the author I will link to it. Bleuer's take on it is good, and from the academic point of view, take a gander at what he has to say about it. He quotes areas that I won't go into in this post. Here is, for me, a significant piece of this that I think says so much; and it's true.

The US military has become more attached to procedures than it is to outcomes. This mindset has the effect of causing us to lose a war and no one cares as long as we are following the procedures. The first step to winning is to stop losing habits. We continue to "check the blocks", so we must be successful because that is how we have now defined success. Success is a completed process, not an outcome to the military. The rotations come and go through Afghanistan, people collect a good OER and an award, but we continue to lose. However, no one is ever held accountable for the failures and everyone just continues to cycle through and get a "go" for their career. Consider a few issues:

- We have well educated officers leading capable soldiers. Our enemy is generally led by illiterate or partially literate commanders with part-time minimally trained soldiers -- yet the enemy is winning
- We bring billions of dollars into a country to try and win a war. Our enemy doesn't spend 1/1000th of the money we do, but they are holding their own -- and winning
- The strategy for many is not to win or defeat the enemy. It is to rotate through and go home with a good award and OER or NCOER
- We cannot get scopes for weapons in-country, but we had so much new office furniture and flat-screen television sets on the FOBs people were throwing away things that still worked

How can we possibly be losing in a war we should be easily winning? Because we are tied to a myriad of multiple processes that are not outcome based. Additionally, these processes are completely uncoordinated. For the military, the process is definitely more important than the results. The processes must be followed even if they result in the unnecessary loss of life, equipment or even a war. This mentality must change drastically for us to achieve victory.

What the leadership, across the board from lieutenant to general, needs to realize for us to win is that everything needs to be oriented toward what works on the ground. Every person at every level is putting in place a policy. There are policies for going to sick call, leaving the wire, taking prisoners, writing memos, reporting to higher, etc. Most of these policies were put into place in order to make it easier for someone in a bureaucracy to do their job. This does not make it easier for the person on the ground to do their job or to win the war. It makes it harder. Every policy or rule throughout the military is one of two things: an enabler or distracter. There is nothing else. What happens is a soldier is required to take an action or not allowed to take an action according to a policy. That policy either helps him accomplish his mission and win the war or it distracts him from his mission and makes it tougher to win.

There are multiple policies in place that prevent us from winning and there are more being added every day. We were doing better in 2002-2005 when soldiers were unobtrusively running around Afghanistan in ordinary pickup trucks and no body armor. Now we have large HMMVs that limit us to certain roads and are required to wear large amounts of body armor which prevent us from moving. We have lost our flexibility, maneuverability and versatility because someone who is not even fighting (and probably never has) wrote a policy about what the soldier needs to do n the ground at all times
These policies put into place and stacked on top of each other, have eroded our combat effectiveness. In some areas it has made our soldiers useless and combat ineffective. From stateside training to operations in theatre, there are multiple policies put in place that PREVENT us from winning. The argument can easily be made that we are a tougher obstacle than the enemy. Policies are usually put in place based on the assumption that if the last guy did X, then the next guy needs to do X + Y. The problem is that X was good enough and should have been left alone. The addition of Y canceled any value X originally had.

There is one key element to remember in all of this -- there is a limited amount of time and effort for anything. If we need to win, we need to be flexible enough to do what it takes to achieve victory and not let people who are completely enamored with policies and procedures get in the way. They look at victory as a nice, clean bureaucratic system. Victory should be seen as dead enemy, reliable governance and a peaceful place for people to live.

CPT Thompson has put this all together with a direct clarity that is truly impressive. There is no getting lost in the weeds. I, and others, have said much of this, but this document brings it all together so nicely. This needs the widest possible dissemination, and to be published as a handbook in its own right.

In short, I really like it. I look forward to meeting CPT Thompson some day.


  1. This is a great find. I'm going to sit down with it this evening and really give it the good going over that it deserves.

    I have a thumb drive, and a DVD where I have downloaded all the best of COIN. If and when I get to A'stan, I am going to do a John Boyd and create all sorts of little brothers and sisters of these documents.

    As I mention previously, I had a run in with a West Point graduate infantry Colonel. Son of a bitch, didn't know who Galula was, never heard of him. I asked him what passed for an education now-a-days that he was that clueless. I think he got a little mad with me because at that point he drew up to his full six feet 2 or 3 inches and started to loom.

    I reminded him that my son may be in his command one day soon. I expected the Colonel to be fully informed and educated on what he had to contend with in Afghanistan. I expect the Colonel to be a consummate war fighter and know his shit. Because if I, a civilian with no degree, no professional schools, no West Point, Levenworth, or anything, knew who Galula was, then god damn it, so should the god damned Colonel!!!

    By that point I had a full head of steam and fury. You don't become a colonel without some diplomatic skill. He quickly answered that he was in fact unaware of this and that it must be an important document if I was that passionate about it. I asked the desk clerk for a pen and wrote down Galula, Pacification in Algiers, Rand Corp, and told him to start there.

    Thanks for everything you do to help in this war. Your observations, links, articles, and contacts are saving lives every day. Keep it up.

    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.
    The Range Reviews: Tactical.

  2. I totally agree with the kudos you have given Cpt. Thompson's article. I read "Ghosts..." regularly, so I had already read the article. Although I am just a mother whose son spent 15 months in A-stan, based on my son's comments, as few as they were, about his experiences there, I think Cpt. Thompson has zeroed in on what the entire Armed Forces, THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES (caps for emphasis!) and the American people need to know. Good work by him, by you and by Bluer for publicizing these facts.

  3. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/30/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  4. CPT Thompson's observation on the procedural focus of the modern military is frighteningly accurate. It is not only in A'stan but all throughtout the Army. We make no effort to adapt to the situation. And because an incident resulted in an injury then we apply a solution to EVERY situation that results in lower combat effectiveness. Oh and by the way, if you do show some initiative and do what works you may subject to UCMJ for not following a policy that was dreamed up in an office far from the battelfield (possibly in different part of the world). We no longer value flexibility or initiative(which is what made us the greatest fighting force to ever field an army back in the day), but attempt to manage the fight from an office in a FOB far from the field.

  5. "Every person at every level is putting in place a policy....These policies put into place and stacked on top of each other, have eroded our combat effectiveness. In some areas it has made our soldiers useless and combat ineffective."

    CPT Thomson has just described the United States Government and it's operating philosophy, beginning in the 1960's. This comes from the legal philosophy of "enclave" law it really means there will be no enclave where the law does not intrude, and a rule or law for every situation in life one encounters.

    It's aptly deconstructed and critiqued in
    "The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America" by Philip K Howard.

    And the "what!! forget everything they told you" struck a chord.

    And it's also interesting that Shelby is still chasing the Thursday night donkey.

  6. Just got back myself: agreed, excellent document. Just as applicable to the Canadian AO where I was. Some of my own thoughts on the Thompson article posted here:


  7. At least give the link to the Battle Command Knowledge System (BCKS) Professional Forum where the good Captain originally posted it:
    BCKS COIN Forum

    Yes, you need to have an AKO user ID and Password to get on there, it is NIPR and there are quite a bit of FOUO products.

    Go to to see them all.

    We have forums on:
    Civil Affairs and PSYOP Net
    COIN Operations (Counterinsurgency Operations)
    Domestic Operations
    Electronic Warfare
    IED Defeat
    MI Space
    NCO Net
    Red Teaming (RT) Central
    Sniper Defeat
    Transition Teams
    ...and quite a few others.



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