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Debates

Counterinsurgency

27 Oct 2009 15:14

Military strategy, like most human enterprises, has fashions that come and go with changing political and technological circumstances. These tend to originate as innovative responses to thorny strategic problems that have defied resolution by more established means.

Having produced a successful outcome in one instance, these newly proven ideas then become entrenched in the habits or preferences of military organisations — often as a result of their leading exponents being promoted to senior positions – usually until they prove unsuited to the changed circumstances in which they're next employed.

In recent years, the strategy of the moment has been counterinsurgency (COIN), an approach that emphasises protecting local populations, respecting their institutions, listening to their concerns, and providing for their basic needs. The ultimate aim is to alienate the insurgency from local people, who can then either resist the insurgency themselves or at least throw their support behind nascent central institutions, such as the military or police forces, to fight the insurgency on their behalf.

COMMENTS

28 Oct 2009 13:57

Stephan Fruehling is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Program, ANU.

Raoul Heinrichs, for whom I have a great deal of personal respect, illustrates the misunderstandings and half-knowledge that pervade the Australian debate on counterinsurgency (COIN). His arguments are twofold: that COIN is a new 'strategy of the moment' being pushed by Western militaries, and that successes in Iraq were down more to Sunni political realignments than to COIN. On both accounts, he is simply wrong and misinformed – which makes his swipe at GEN McChrystal look all the weaker. 

First, Raoul seems to use the term 'strategy' in an artificially narrow manner limited to tactical and operational aspects of war. It is a very Australian mistake to confuse small-unit tactics or operations against irregular forces with COIN as a strategy. Tactics and operations are important levels of warfare, but strategy is the bridge between the military and political aspects of violence. 

COMMENTS

2 Nov 2009 12:42

I've learned a lot from Stephan Fruehling in recent years. He's a former teacher of mine at ANU and a shrewd analyst of international and strategic affairs. But his recent criticisms of my sceptical take on counterinsurgency (COIN), however forcefully delivered, hit pretty wide of the mark.

First, to distinguish between the various factors that resulted in a more benign environment in post-surge Iraq is not to miss the point of COIN as a strategy, as Stephan claims. The question of which factor was decisive in quelling violence in Iraq is today of real importance, since the confidence — almost zealousness — with which the US military has begun advocating population-centric COIN in Afghanistan appears to rest in large part on a sense of triumphalism over the perceived success of that approach in Iraq.

COMMENTS

4 Nov 2009 13:46

Stephan Fruehling is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Program, ANU.

Raoul Heinrichs' argument remains based on two fundamental but related misunderstandings, of counterinsurgency (COIN) and US strategy in Afghanistan.

Raoul's statement that 'population-centric COIN in Afghanistan appears to rest in large part on a sense of triumphalism over the perceived success of that approach in Iraq' misunderstands the nature of military doctrine. Doctrine is a set of ideas that can inform the development of a strategy – it is not a set of prescriptions, nor is it a template ready to be applied. 

The AirLandBattle manual did not contain GEN Schwarzkopf's famous left hook manoeuvre of the 1991 Gulf War, although it was clearly inspired by it. Similarly, US Army COIN manual FM 3-24 does not contain any COIN plans for Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather sets of ideas that can inform the development of a proper campaign plan.

COMMENTS