This U.S. Military Will Surprise You

Al Globus, October 2007

"Kindness and compassion can often be as important as killing and capturing insurgents" -- page 167 of guess where ...

It's from the General Petraeus lead U.S. Army - Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 2006. This amazing book includes some other very interesting bits:

  1. "Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, [counterinsurgency] efforts cannot succeed." page 303.
  2. "Provoking combat usually plays into the enemy's hands by undermining the population's confidence." page 300.
  3. "Success in counterinsurgency operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support." Page 199.
  4. Under 'Unsuccessful practices' page 51:
  5. "An operation that kills five insurgents is counterproductive if collateral damage leads to the recruitment of fifty more" page 45.
  6. "... use indiscriminate force, target civilians, and abuse prisoners. These actions can threaten popular support ... essential for ... success." page 220.
  7. "Normally, counterinsurgents ... minimize potential loss of life." page 45
  8. "When Soldiers and Marines interact with the populace, encourage them to treat people with respect ..." page 166.
  9. "Lose Moral Legitimacy, Lose the War," page 252. "In the end, failure to comply with moral and legal restrictions against torture severely undermined French efforts and contributed to their loss despite several significant military victories [in Algeria]."
  10. "Insurgents may try to goad Soldiers and Marines into lashing out at the local populace or making a similar mistake." page 294
The first one is the crucial one: you win wars like Iraq and Afghanistan not by destroying the enemy, but by gaining the support of the population. Furthermore (see n #3), you must address the fundamental causes that drive the insurgency. Unfortunately, the fundamental cause of the Iraq insurgency is occupation by a foreign, infidel (from the Iraqi point of view) army: ours. For the first 6-9 months Americans could travel freely in Iraq without fear because we were regarded as liberators. Not any more. We are regarded as an army of occupation and treated accordingly. Outside of Kurdistan, Americans can't go anywhere in Iraq today without big-time security.

When one thinks of the pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib, or the recent polls that indicate about 40-50% of U.S. military in Iraq do not think Iraqi's should be treated with respect, and the fact, repeated several times in the manual, that foreign forces will eventually be viewed as occupiers not liberators, one realizes that the odds are not with us in Iraq.

The last item above is also important. The purpose of most terrorist attacks is to goad the government into an over-reaction that destroys its legitimacy and support. This is exactly what happened to America after 9/11. While the invasion of Afghanistan was, and is, supported by the international community and the American people, the invasion of Iraq was precisely the over-reaction al Qaeda was hoping for. It has weakened the U.S., destroyed much of our international support, and divided our people. 9/11 was a tactical victory for bin Laden, but the invasion of Iraq was a strategic victory of first order for America's enemies.

On page 192 there is a section on measuring counterinsurgency progress. In principle, one can use this to determine how things are going. In practice, you can't get most of this information out of the media. Here's the measures and what little data I've got on Iraq. If you have better or more data on these, please let me know.
MeasureData from IraqConclusion
Acts of violence Up almost constantly for four years, down a little in the last month Losing, but stay tuned
Dislocated civilians About two million Iraqis have left the country. Many more are internally displaced. Losing
Human movement and religious attendance Large religious gatherings of Shia's have been reported in southern Iraq, including up to a million Iranian visitors per year Going well in some Shia areas
Presence and activity of small- and medium-sized businesses No data ???
Level of agricultural activity No data ???
Presence or absence of associations No data ???
Participation in elections High Winning
Government services available Very poor Losing
Freedom of movement of people, goods, and communications Very poor for westerners. No data for locals Losing
Tax revenue No data ???
Industry exports Apparently very low Losing
Employment/unemployment rate Very high unemployment Losing
Availability of electricity Spotty at best Losing
Specific attacks on infrastructure Many Losing

Note the measures that aren't there: insurgents killed, suspects detained, weapons captured, etc. These measures don't tell you much, because victory comes not from force of arms, but rather from the people's support.

Overall conclusion: while there are bright spots, basically we're getting creamed.

The republican, right-wing, macho, tough-guy, kill-em approach to this war has failed, is failing, and will continue to fail for fundamental reasons. You don't win by killing insurgents, as necessary as that may be. You don't win by bad-mouthing Arabs or Muslims. You don't win by domination. You win by gaining the support of the Iraqi and Afghan people. Listen to the right-wing talking heads and see if they are heading in that direction (hint: no).

Here's a few other gems from the Field Manual. Note how completely out-of-sync these are with the republican, right-wing, macho, tough-guy approach to the war:

  1. "Civil considerations may be the primary determinant of victory" page 257.
  2. "Insurgents are not necessarily misled or naive. Much of their success may stem from bad government policies or security forces that alienate the local populace." page 288.
  3. "Most importantly, know that military operations create temporary breathing space. But to prevail, civilian agencies need long-term development and stabilization." page 290.
  4. "Give the populace some way to voice their opinions and grievances, even if that activity appears at first to cause friction." page 162.
  5. "Respect host-nation security forces leaders in public and private. Show the populace that their security forces have earned counterinsurgents' respect." page 168.
  6. "Admit mistakes (or actions perceived as mistakes) quickly." page 162.
  7. "Treat detainees professionally and publicize their treatment." page 162.
  8. "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the US Government, regardless of nationality of physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." page 250.
  9. "Bases must be set up so that they do not project an image of undue permanency or a posture suggesting a long-term foreign occupation. Similarly, logistic postures that project an image of unduly luxurious living by foreign forces while HN [Host Nation] civilians suffer in poverty should be avoided. Such postures undermine the COIN [COunterINsurgency] message and missions." page 261.
  10. Constant, unpredictable activity over time deters attacks and creates a more secure environment. Accomplishing this requires one- to two-thirds of the force to be on patrol at any time, day or night." page 295.

Note: the Manual explicitly states that it owes most of the concept to the classic Counterinsurgency Warfare by David Galula. After reading this work some time ago I came to the conclusion that we were losing (although had not yet lost) in Iraq and Afghanistan. See Not Winning or Losing? for my thoughts at the time.