Sunday, December 24, 2006

Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3-24; A Book Review

Major Mike

Writing a book review on a good book is easy. A well written book is consumed at high speed, digested with zeal, and understood with the same clarity that a sun-soaked, crisp, Michigan winter morning presents. The ideas pop. The reader learns, and seeks more.

Such as it was for my first published book review on Robert Timberg’s The Nightingale’s Song. The Nightingale’s Song is a powerful book that easily melded a story around five Naval Academy graduates that all found their places into government during the Reagan era. I put the book down. I went to bed. Got up and hour later, and wrote my review. I signed my publishing release the next day. Easy.

Timberg did such a masterful job with his book I couldn’t sleep…the outlined popped into my head, and I soared through the typing. Done. Easy.

It was much the same with my review on Once Upon a Distant War, by William Prochnau. This is also an excellent book. It revolves around the early reporting in Vietnam. It is replete with recognizable names, and it is wrapped around one of the most compelling events of the last century, the Vietnam War. Again, Once Upon a Distant War proves a focused book…well written, well organized, easy to digest, thought provoking, and educational.

It was a slam dunk for a review. My history degree (American, Asian), and my depth of study of the Vietnam War, made me the perfect bridge for that review. I wrote favorably about a book generally critical of the military and its mishandling of the news, and the reporters of the day. There was some wrangling with the editor of The Marine Corps Gazette, but it was published. Again, Prochnau’s knowledge of the topic, organization, and writing skill made it an easy review to write.

Writing reviews on good books is easy. Sadly, writing reviews on bad books doesn’t seem so easy. This will be my first shot at it.

On December 15th, in the midst of the turmoil in the Pentagon, DOD released the final copy of the Insurgency FM-3-24 (MCWP 3-33.5). For those unfamiliar with the military publication system, this work is to be the “fighting” or operational guide for counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. I was left wanting.

Writing a review on a bad book is daunting. It has taken a solid week of mental gymnastics just to wrap my mind around a way to outline this review. A good review can (and should, so as not to spoil the book for readers) deal in generalities, and flowing complimentary prose. A bad review on a two hundred and sixty page book, however requires a lot of specificity, for the effort that goes into the publication of such a lengthy document deserves to be treated with respect, even if the result misses the mark.

Early in the Introduction 3-24 set this as its lofty goal…

This publication’s purpose is to help prepare Army and Marine Corps leaders to conduct COIN operations anywhere in the world. It provides a foundation for study before deployment and the basis for operations in theater. Perhaps more importantly, it provides techniques for generating and incorporating lessons learned during those operations—an essential requirement for success against today’s adaptive foes. Using these techniques and processes can keep U.S. forces more agile and adaptive than their irregular enemies.”

Typically, one used to sifting through one of these “Green Sleeping Pills” would then be expecting some specificity of options or choices. What we get in Chapter 4, Designing Counterinsurgency Campaigns and Operations, perhaps the crucial foundation for success, is a lot of the following…

4-8. COIN design must be iterative. By their nature, COIN efforts require repeated assessments from different perspectives to see the various factors and relationships required for adequate understanding. Assessment and learning enable incremental improvements to the design. The aim is to rationalize the problem— to construct a logical explanation of observed events and subsequently construct the guiding logic that unravels the problem. The essence of this is the mechanism necessary to achieve success. This mechanism may not be a military activity—or it may involve military actions in support of nonmilitary activities…”

Huh? Followed by…

4-27. In an ideal world, the commander of military forces engaged in COIN operations would enjoy clear and well-defined goals for the campaign from the very beginning. However, the reality is that many goals emerge only as the campaign develops. For this reason, counterinsurgents usually have a combination of defined and emerging goals toward which to work. Likewise, the complex problems encountered during COIN operations can be so difficult to understand that a clear design cannot be developed initially. Often, the best choice is to create iterative solutions to better understand the problem.”

Huh, 2.0? Concluding with the somewhat contradictory to goal…

“…There should only be one campaign and therefore one design. This single campaign should bring in all players, with particular attention placed on the HN participants. Design and operations are integral to the COIN imperative to “Learn and Adapt,” enabling a continuous cycle of design-learn-redesign to achieve the end state.” (my emphasis)

To avoid confusion and contradictory efforts, a certain amount of specificity is needed. This esoteric “what” does not, however lead us to the “how?” There is no “how,” and there is certainly not enough detail to prepare the Operations Officer awaiting deployment to fully integrate his ideas into formulating an effective “design.” The very specific “one campaign/one design” criteria heavily implies strategic or National Command Authority level “design” responsibility, which then, aside form some esoterically described feedback channels, effectively diminishes the field commanders’ ability locally.

View it as if being the Offensive Coordinator for a football team. 3-24, as it is written, would go no farther in providing guidance on wining, than this…

“There are two teams playing football in a stadium. When you have the ball you are offense. When they have the ball you are on defense. You need to get ten yards in four downs in order to keep the ball. Getting across the end line is worth six points. Some people will be rooting for you. Some people will be rooting against you. Now figure out how to win.”

One would expect a few guidelines in order to fit the pieces together into a winning strategy. There are dozens of “offenses” to choose from; there are dozens of wrinkles to each one. There are good plays to run on first and ten; there are bad plays to run on first and ten. There are plays you run in the first quarter to test the opposition; there are plays you save to the fourth quarter to run, in order to surprise them and gain an advantage. There are dozens of defensive schemes to choose from, and dozens of variations of those. Some defenses are run with a big lead; some, more aggressive defenses are run when you’re trailing. Third and long is treated different from fourth and goal.

So, what I was expecting, instead some managerial jargon was some “direction.” I was looking for the integration of conventional patrolling strategies into the various phases of insurgency. I was looking for “plays.” I was expecting some delineation of the patrolling types; let’s say…combat, community security, community stabilization/support building, intelligence gathering, infrastructure security, etc.

I was expecting some tactical considerations for each type…full combat load on an offensive insurgent hunt; maybe no weapons at all on a community stabilization/ support building patrol. Route planning considerations. Analysis points. Insurgency specific tactical reporting…contact reports, community events reports, small business operations statistics, traffic volume reports, but I see none.

I was also looking for some suggestions on how to get inside the insurgent OODA-Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). How can the local commander break up his enemy’s pattern of decision making and throw off his operations? How can he get the enemy to react our initiatives vice us reacting to theirs?

Good football example…using the no-huddle offense after a large gain, or even periodically during a game. Imagine that the offense runs a successful counter play, and break it for thirty-five yards…if I were the coach, my quarterback would have three or four plays that he could call from a no-huddle offense. So, after a big play, the offense would execute the next play as soon as the ball was placed. By doing so, you are “getting inside your opponents OODA-Loop”…you’re breaking down his usual processes and forcing him to adapt to a new set of factors. You are compressing his usual decision making cycle in order to get him to make a mistake. Your next play might not be anything special, but because he has not had time to adjust, you may be more successful than normal.

I expected some of that, but I didn’t get it.

I specifically expected this kind of aggressive thinking in the one area that we are actually losing the war…the information/messaging theater. We should recognize that the MSM is casualty focused, so our enemy is focusing on producing casualties. We have done little to counter this messaging, and we have done nothing to get inside his OODA-Loop. How about measuring commercial traffic through in a variety of communities? How about the number of restaurants open? How about the number of community meetings? How about visits to the zoo? Things that are measurements of normality, or for Warren G. Harding fans…normalcy. By measuring and disseminating this type of data, we begin to counter the insurgents most powerful, but focused messaging…that we are losing the war because of our casualties, and that Iraq is in total chaos. Our messaging would a measure of how “normal” things are.

But hold on, we have to be more agile then that…the first time we continuously report about commercial traffic, they blow up some intersections. If we focus too long on restaurants, they will start targeting restaurants. They will continue to try go win this issue…they will try to get inside our information dissemination OODA-Loop. How do we counter this? We mix it up…we inundate the theater with a wider variety of “measureables,” too numerous to effectively target…open market stalls, GDP, pounds of produce sold, pedestrian traffic, unemployment rates…whatever, but by failing to anticipate his counter we would be surrendering the issue., they would shortly redefine the information fight and we would be on the defensive again. By anticipating their moves, and having effective countermeasures readied, we continue to drive the battle.

There is precious little of this kind of direction in a guide designed to “prepare Army and Marine Corps leaders anywhere in the world.”

Maneuver warfare manuals dictate that speed, lethality, and attacking weak points are the keys to maneuver warfare success. Reading this manual, I am not sure what the keys to success are in fighting an insurgency…except maybe for talking in some jargonesque managerial speak, and spending a lot of time talking about campaign “design.”

Sadly, I don’t think the insurgents in Iraq have any more to worry about today, than they did on December 14th , this document will not prove the difference.

© Michael McBride 2006

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