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Seeing the Counterinsurgency Forest From the Trees

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A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that when the Petraeus and Crocker reports hit Washington, there would be all these data points and probably little context within which to make sense of them.

So I contacted a friend of mine to see if he would be willing to help Defense Tech and Military.com readers see the forest from the trees as all these Iraq reports hit the press. Dave Dilegge is editor of the Small Wars Journal, a former intelligence officer in the Marine Corps and a frequent strategic consultant and war gamer for the Corps. Hes very tapped in with the Petraeus, Nagl, Kilcullen, Hoffman (both B. and F.), etc. counterinsurgency brain trust, and knows darn well of what he speaks.

The following is an excerpt of an excerpt from a piece I asked Dave to bang out for the Military.com Warfighters Forum page. Id ask you to read the more comprehensive piece HERE, and to make sure you bookmark the Small Wars Journal page as you try to wrap your brain around all the conflicting information were going to get in the coming weeks on progress in Iraq.

How to Make Sense of the Petraeus Plan...

What follows are historical principles of COIN operations as outlined in the opening pages of FM 3-24.  I've provided some abbreviated commentary on the "things to look for" and potential roadblocks in regards to recent and ongoing operations in Iraq. Again, not to judge, but to provide an insight on how FM 3-24 is playing out in Iraq.

Historical Principles for Counterinsurgency

1. Legitimacy is the Main Objective

This is a big (and elusive) COIN principle (along with Principle 8: "Long-term Commitment") in Iraq - fostering development of effective governance by a legitimate government.

Things to look for: Increased (or decreased) ability of the central government to provide security; selection of national leaders in a manner considered just and fair by a majority of citizens; high level of popular participation and support for political processes; culturally acceptable level of government corruption; culturally acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development; and a high level of acceptance by major social institutions. In the near-term, look for movement on legislative initiatives such as the oil framework law, revenue sharing, and de-Baathification reform.

Roadblocks: Shia insecurity about retaining political dominance, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in armed conflict, and the actions of extremists such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and elements of the Sadrist Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia.

2. Unity of Effort Is Essential

Unity of effort is essential at every echelon and by every organization - military and civilian - U.S., other Coalition and Iraqi. Well-intentioned but uncoordinated actions can cancel each other out and/or provide vulnerabilities suited to be exploited by adversaries.

Things to look for: Continued close cooperation and coordination between Amb. Crocker and Gen. Petraeus and their staffs - same with coalition partners. Close coordination, cooperation and combined operations between Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) and military units. Expansion of the PRT program to include access to previously denied areas in Iraq. Close coordination, cooperation and combined operations between U.S. military and PRTs and Iraqi security forces (local and national).

Roadblocks: If and when non-military capabilities significantly increase (PRTs - non governmental organizations, international and regional organizations) the challenge of conducting coordinated and complementary operations by diverse organizations with inherently parochial objectives. The Iraqi national government's ability to meet the basic needs of the general population and its perceived legitimacy by a majority are the primary obstacles. Without the Iraqi government there can be no 'political' unity of effort.

3. Political Factors Are Primary

One rule of thumb is COIN is 80 percent political action and 20 percent military action. All military and non-military actions should contribute to strengthen the national government's legitimacy.

Things to look for: Any and all indicators of a true national government capable (or becoming capable) and willing to take on those tasks associated with governance of a country. Solid steps towards national reconciliation is key. Again, movement on legislative initiatives such as the oil framework law, revenue sharing, and de-Baathification reform are critical.

Roadblocks: The precarious state of the Iraqi Government due to criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the United Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Increase in divisions between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Sadrists and possible alternate coalitions between Shia factions aimed at constraining Maliki.

4. Counterinsurgents Must Understand the Environment

This is much more than traditional enemy order of battle information.  OIF COIN requires a thorough understanding of Iraqi society and culture. Unfortunately, the insurgents hold a home-field advantage in regards to local knowledge. Therefore, to be effective, Coalition forces and other agencies require expertise in such skills as language and cultural understanding.

Things to look for: Increasing and institutionalizing recent and ongoing efforts across the board in cultural understanding in formal military and non-military doctrine, education, and training. Increasing deployment and integrating with Coalition forces of subject matter experts to include "Human Terrain Teams".

Roadblocks: Time, time and more time to train, educate and deploy. Bureaucratic hurdles in formalizing cultural awareness education, training and doctrine. Availability of subject matter expert advisors in Iraq at the tactical level where the vast majority of diverse cultural interaction occur.

5. Intelligence Drives Operations

Without good intelligence counterinsurgents are blind, wasting energy and often causing unintentional harm while conducting COIN operations. With good intelligence they are like surgeons cutting out cancerous tissue while keeping other vital organs intact.

Things to look for: A concerted effort to push intelligence capabilities down to the lowest tactical level.  This includes the capability to conduct intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination.  Human Intelligence capabilities are key. Formalized and properly resourced company-level intelligence cells are key.  Increase in Iraqi civilian's willingness to provide intelligence/information to coalition and Iraqi Security forces.

Roadblocks: Time and resources (trained personnel and intelligence-related equipment) necessary to provide tactical-level commanders more than the current ad-hoc capabilities. Standardized TTP to facilitate seamless sharing of intelligence between tactical commands and during hand-over to follow-on units/organizations. Policy issues that place barriers on intelligence sharing with non-U.S. Coalition partners and non-military organizations.

6. Insurgents Must be Isolated from Their Cause and Support

It is easier to separate an insurgency from its resources and let it die than to kill every insurgent.  While killing or capturing insurgents is often necessary, especially when based in religious or ideological extremism, killing or capturing every insurgent is impossible and can be counterproductive.  Insurgents must be cut off from their sources of power - and the key source is the civilian population.

Things to look for: Continued local reconciliation building towards national reconciliation. As in Anbar, an increase in local Iraqi leaders coming forward, opposing extremists, and establishing provisional units of neighborhood security volunteers. Government of Iraq support in integrating local volunteers into legitimate institutions to help improve local security.

Roadblocks: Continued sectarian violence and the distrust it produces amongst the Iraqi civilian population. Continued attacks by Al Qaeda, associated insurgent groups, and militia extremists. Continued external support to insurgents - especially by Iran.

7. Security Under the Rule of Law is Essential

The COIN cornerstone is security for the civilian population. Without that security no permanent reforms can be implemented and disorder spreads. Transitioning security duties from COIN combat forces to law enforcement is key. Insurgents must be seen as criminals by the local population. In OIF Iraqi law enforcement organizations must be seen as legitimate and operating under the Rule of Law.

Things to look for: Increased Iraqi security operations with minimal U.S. support. Increased Iraqi government capabilities to provide essential services. Increased presence of regional and international Non-Governmental Organizations.

Roadblocks: Again, the ability of the national government to provide security under the rule of law and continued sectarian violence, continued attacks by Al Qaeda, associated insurgent groups, and militia extremists and continued external support to insurgents.

8. Counterinsurgents Should Prepare for a Long-Term Commitment

Insurgencies are protracted by nature. Constant reaffirmations of commitment, backed by deeds, can overcome a common perception that U.S. COIN forces lack staying power. The perception that the national government has similar will and stamina is critical. At the strategic level, gaining and maintaining U.S. public support for a protracted effort is also critical.

Things to look for: This is huge, and is a very dynamic and complex issue. Congressional actions that extend U.S. COIN efforts in Iraq or set conditions and timelines for withdrawal. U.S. public opinion polls as Congress and candidates often utilize these polls to formulate legislation and platforms. Iraqi public opinion polls that reflect perception on U.S. commitment and confidence in the Iraqi national government's future.

Roadblocks: The Washington Clock vs. the Baghdad Clock - time allocated by the National Command Authority vs. the time needed to successfully conduct COIN operations in Iraq. Operational Tempo - the ability for U.S. military forces to sustain security operations on a level necessary to allow for Iraqi national reconciliation. The ability of the Iraqi national government to achieve reconciliation.

We look forward to more content in the future here at Defense Tech from Dave and his colleagues at the Small Wars Journal.

-- Christian

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