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The Last COIN Lecture

This is my last lecture at the counterinsurgency training center here in Kabul; I am humbled, deeply humbled and honored to have had the privilege of working with such a fine team; you have taught me much and my hope is that I was able to impart some small measure to you as well.

Science, History and Art all have something in common: they all depend on metaphor, on the recognition of patterns, and the realization that something is like something else to focus attention on a vantage point. On where we have been.

We only know our future by the past we project into it; in a sense our history is all we have.

Lets briefly explore this sense of history with an example:

I would like to begin with a brief look at the war; Many Americans opposed it, Europe was hostile to the idea as well, conventional operations were generally speaking successful, but it was clear that post-conflict or phase IV operations was a catastrophe, an enemy defeated in battle resumed resistance after his army had been shattered.

We do not need to rehash the amount of violence and misery. But in retrospect was our effort at social engineering despite our best intentions, simply impossible to attempt or a failure of good execution? In retrospect, of course the real central theme is Good idea impossible to achieve or Good idea badly executed?

This example is critical for it describes the US Civil War; for how the political elements are inextricably tied to the social and economic elements and failing to understanding the past is as important to understanding the present and the future.

There is a broader historical context but it is also clearly more than just the broader historical context as COIN does not always easily lend itself to rapid tactical learning.

Additionally a survey of US doctrinal manuals and publication dates provides clues that our true focus after WW II was guerrilla and counter-guerrilla operations and not COIN. For example: following WW II it was FM 31-20, Operations against Guerilla Forces, dated 1951; ten years later it was FM 31-15, Operations against Irregular Forces; by 1963 doctrine had morphed into two manual – Counter Guerrilla Operations and US Counterinsurgency Force; by 1990 it was Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict with a heavy emphasis on light forces in Full Spectrum Operations.

In essence, with perfect hindsight, it might beg the question: regarding counterinsurgency, where has been our frame of reference and focus been on?

The military instrument is only one portion of the overall COIN effort.

We seem to have trouble with identifying continuity with the past as revolutions, small wars and insurrections seem to be treated more as an episode in time than a kind of war. Even strategy treated as a idea with a continuous history is interesting but the results of success seem to be only just more plausible than definitive, while failure becomes an object lesson in what not to do. What we have with doctrine is a set of principles learned from history; and with these principles we expect to project into the future and to predict some measure of success.

For instance, consider the following historical tenets: the political nature of insurgency and counterinsurgency defies codification; it is difficult to understand the relationship between political and military action, the public is critical of operations, and a multinational coalition must act with unity of purpose and unity of command; and while these historical principles have proven valid over time this appears to be an unprecedented challenge to the current coalition.

The whole of government or comprehensive and integrated approach is not new; one only needs to think of Gwynn, Roosevelt, Churchill, Thompson and Kitson. Achieving this integration though is problematic as one considers how best to integrate and leverage resources such as UNAMA, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, US Aid and a host of agencies that are operating in your operating environment.



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Counterinsurgency Training Center Kabul
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Titel: The Last COIN Lecture