Recently Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called on the Obama administration to end its counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan by criticizing the war as not winnable and arguing that the U.S. should instead focus on counterterrorism efforts. Sen. Menendez is not the only critic of the counterinsurgency strategy, but he is one of the most senior ranking, along with Vice President Biden. But is counterinsurgency a tactic or a strategy? Many would argue that it’s a tactic.
Dr. Tom Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University, has written extensively on terrorism, insurgency, counterinsurgency, and peace operations. In his paper, “Resolving Insurgencies,” he explores counterinsurgency as a concept, the implications of its demise, and its legacy. Specifically, he asks “What exactly does winning a contemporary counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign mean–destruction of the insurgent organization, elimination of insurgent leaders, creation of a peaceful stable state that can defend itself, or some kind of negotiated settlement? Difficulty answering this question stems from a disconnect between military and political strategy.”
To contrast Dr. Mockaitis, Dr. David Ucko, assistant professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington DC, takes a different approach. In “Counterinsurgency and Its Discontents” he writes: “Counterinsurgency provides neither a strategy for military intervention nor a campaign plan for deployed soldiers and will fail if mistaken for more than what it is. Counterinsurgency does offer a collection of insights, which, if used in a manner sensitive to local context, can help in the design and execution of expeditionary campaigns.”
Martin van Creveld, internationally renowned military historian, strategist and theorist, has often commented that counterinsurgency tactics used in the operational environment are not enough to win the war in Afghanistan when at the heart of the conflict there is a failed US national strategy.
FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency is the most prominent Department of Defense document that addresses counterinsurgency. It was written because the US Military lacked a common understanding of the issues inherent in counterinsurgency campaigns. It has been said that in 2003, most Army officers knew more about the U.S. Civil War than they did about counterinsurgency. The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual was written to fill that void. But since its release in 2006, has it made a difference in the way in which the US Military conducts counterinsurgency operations? Is counterinsurgency a strategy or a tactic? How is that question reflected in FM 3-24? Are the principles in counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 relevant to current and future operations? What needs to change?
Let us know what you think. (US Army Counterinsurgency Center Staff)
Dr. Tom Mockaitis’ article: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubid=1072
Dr. David Ucko’s article: http://swp-berlin.org/fileadmin/contents/products/research_papers/2011_RP06_uck_ks.pdf
Martin van Creveld article: http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/stories.asp?id=671
Dr. Christopher Paul and Colin Clarke, Evidentiary Validation of FM 3-24: http://www.ndu.edu/press/evidentiary-validation-of-FM-3-24.html